And Here We Go!

This film has been in the works for years. Don’t believe me? Well, check out this blog’s first entry… from February 2nd, 2013.

That’s right (or… write?)! I have been working on this movie, in one way or another, for five years now. So much has happened since then: the birth of my son, a number of film scripts written for hire, even two moves which includes-

STOP. There is no time to reminisce.

Because our film is about to have its World Premiere!

DCIFF_Laurel_OfficialSelection_2018.png

Here we go!

That’s right, on February 17th all of our work comes to the next stage of development, which is BRINGING IT TO THE PEOPLE in the D.C. Independent Film Festival. And while I’d love to reminisce about everything that has happened in the past years, all the struggles and rejections and triumphs and little victories that make up this journey, I don’t have time.

Because we still have to finish this movie.

Wait, what?

Audio Post. And color correction! And VFX! And the final credit roll. And we are less than four weeks from premiere. I mean, tickets are already on sale. So what do we do?

Four weeks is long enough to get it all done (after all, we did shoot most of this movie over two weeks.

First, the final audio mix. This past Friday Beau, Katie and I watched the entire film with the sound team and attacked the few trouble spots. Now we are immersed in the world of color, and there’s so much to do still, but-

-but take a minute. Scroll back to the top of the post. Look at those laurels! Actually, don’t scroll back, I’ll put them here again so you don’t strain your scrolling finger:

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It’s important, after five years of hard work, from writing to developing to fund raising to everything else, we now have the wonderful opportunity to look at time differently…

…a milestone time:

Saturday, February 17th
7:45pm
Burke Theater
Naval Heritage Center
Washington D.C.

And here we go!

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Setting the Date

This blog has chronicled the process of making a movie. So far, it’s all been hypothetical. Well, a script has been written, rewritten, read aloud, read aloud in front of an audience, found a producer, and submitted to a variety of places. But it still only exists on the page. And in this blog. And in my brain.

But no more.

It’s time to step on the railing of the balcony, stretch my arms, and see if this movie can fly.

It’s time to set a date. So here it comes… are you sitting down? Good. Because:

Closure will begin principal photography in January 2017.

Save the Date.png

You read that correctly.

I now open the floor to questions. Yes you, in the back.

Is the script finalized?
Hardly. I am still adjusting beats, adding scenes, honing characters, and a wide variety of other changes.

Do you have money yet?
Nope.

Like, no money?
Well, I do have $18.51 in my pocket RIGHT NOW. Both otherwise, no money. Yet. But we are working on it. We have a plan. More to come soon.

Have you set the cast?
Not yet. A lot depends on availability. Shooting in January will work to our benefit. Most productions are shut down, and it’s not pilot season yet, so most actors are either at Sundance or staring at cracks on the ceiling, waiting for the phone to ring. And while I have actors in mind for many of the roles, there may be some interesting names thrown into the hat.

So the script isn’t locked. You don’t have any money. Or a cast.
That is correct.

Are you crazy?
(Adjusting tin foil helmet). Sorry, what was the question? (Notices a cat). Woof woof!

So how do you expect to pull everything off by January?
Because deadlines mean everything!

January isn’t an arbitrary dart toss to the calendar. Beau the producer is available then. Our star is working until mid-December and only then becomes available. Does that give us enough time to get everything done? I hope so.

But what’s important here is that with a deadline, everything escalates. The stakes are higher. Every filmmaker strives for perfection, but we all know that doesn’t exist. When I started this blog over three years ago chronicling this project, I thought things will move quicker. But they only move at the speed I set.

So let’s pick up the speed, shall we?

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Hang on!

 

 

Stone Soup: Making It

No more talk. Time for action.

Do you remember the old folk story Stone Soup? As one variation of the story goes, a group of travelers enter a small village with an empty pot. After asking for food and are turned down by the locals, they build a fire, add water to the pot, plus a stone. One of the locals ask what the travelers are making. They reply they are heating up delicious stone soup and are willing to share it with everyone, but could use some garnish. The local returns with some carrots to add to the broth. One by one, the locals add something to the soup: salt, celery, creme fraiche (okay, maybe in the Top Chef version), and eventually there is a full pot of soup for everyone.

A very tasty rock

A very tasty rock

Depending on your point of view, this tale is a lesson in Communism or simply making the most of what you have. And this lesson more than applies to making a low-budget film. Even though my goal is to make a movie on my terms, that doesn’t mean I will be working alone. Actually, it’s the opposite: it will take dozens, if not hundreds of people to bring this movie to light. Actors, designers, crew members, producers, investors… the list goes on and on, and could be daunting if I think too much about it. But none of it will happen if I don’t start putting that soup on to boil.

So the stone is the script. I am the traveler. You all are the villagers. The narrator of this story? I’m going with Morgan Freeman. Go ahead and picture it:

“Our story begins with the written word. Words assemble to form sentences. A story. And then there are others. Others will join, to breathe life into the story. To make it a world. A new universe.”

Thanks, Mr. Freeman. Nice job.

After discussing Closure with my manager, he made a suggestion: set a date. Go for it. See how the pieces fall.

I’ve heard this advice before, and it makes total sense. Without a deadline, things won’t get finished. Before I had been saying this:

“I’m gearing up to make a movie Closure. Hoping all the pieces will come together and someday, if all the pieces come together, we can hopefully make a movie.”

From now on, I’m flipping the script and saying this:

“My movie Closure will shoot in the fall of 2015.”

Big difference, right? So how much money have I raised to get from the first sentence to the second? Is the script production ready? Who else is involved? Am I crazy? The answers are none, certainly not, no one yet, and purple flying cow. But by telling the world “it is happening” instead of “I hope it happens someday” then the world is likelier to respond favorably.

The risk is, of course, that it might not happen. I may start the ball rolling and I might fail. It may take longer than expected. People will laugh at my failure, or at least enjoy the schadenfreude of “ha, he said he was going to do something and he didn’t. What a failure.” I can’t be afraid of failure. A wise friend once told me that we aren’t actually afraid of failure, but afraid of success. By doing nothing, we are already failing.

In the past I would use the analogy of jumping off a cliff. But now that I’m a little older and slightly wiser, I don’t like the danger of that. Instead, I’ll say the following:

“In 2015, let’s make some soup.”

Sprinting through Sorkinland

I want to live in an Aaron Sorkin world.

Not pictured: me

Not pictured: me

Not any particular world. I was a fan of Sports Night and The West Wing. I enjoy The Newsroom. And I firmly believe that Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a television show.

But I don’t want to live in any of these particular worlds. I don’t want to produce sports television, cable news television, or run the world from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I don’t need all my conversations to be filled with witty banter or confusing sexual innuendo.

But what I love about those worlds is the urgency. Things are always happening and things need to get done right now and if these things don’t get done right now then the world will either stop spinning or explode into dust or wait did you kiss me what does that mean and I don’t know if I feel that way about you but Congress is about to shut down and this network is about to shut us down and she’s about to quit and he’s going to get fired and we need to keep this scandal buried and we need to expose this scandal and it all needs to happen before noon or 8pm or tomorrow or RIGHT NOW.

People either thrive in this environment or they run away, screaming. If my personal life was filled each day with the DRAMA those characters endure, I’d long ago have jumped off a bridge or moved to a fishing boat in Central America. However, as a freelance writer it is difficult to maintain the urgency. If you are working on a network TV show, then certainly there are deadlines always looming. But for those of us who are not (at the moment, of course) it is difficult to stay on track without the clock constantly ticking overhead. Projects get sidetracked by other projects, by life, by errands and chores, or by a West Wing marathon on TV. I can fool myself and say that watching and deleting 20% of my DVR catalog is being productive, but we all know it isn’t the truth.

In the two weeks leading up to the table read of my script Closure, I worked harder on the script than I had in months. The final three days were frenetic…I had to get it done. There was a deadline. And this deadline was arbitrary; no one was making me finish the script. After all, this particular project is one I want to do myself. But because I had given myself a deadline and invited people to take part in it, there was now a need for urgency. I got it done. It may not have been 100% exactly what I wanted, but it was definitely progress.

In the days following the reading I could feel myself sliding back into laziness. I spent less time at the computer and more time in front of the TV. I knew that to nip that slide in the bud, I had to take a page from the Book of Sorkin: deadlines. Right Now.

So I did. I noticed that the deadline for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference was in a week, and I had wanted to submit Little Black Boxes, the play I presented at The Actors Studio this summer. But I hadn’t done the rewrites, even though I knew sort of what I wanted to accomplish. So now was the time. Deadline! And it helped. I dove back into the script, completed revisions, and filled out the application online and submitted. In a Sorkin sense, I failed: I filed the application with nearly 48 hours left until the deadline. In Sorkin’s world Dana Whitaker or Mac would be screaming “5 seconds” as I ran down the hall with the paperwork, sweating and swearing under my breath. And again, this deadline is arbitrary. The world would not stop spinning if I didn’t submit. The laws of percentages say I won’t get accepted. But still, I took my script to a new level, and that alone is victory.

And now I’m addicted to the adrenaline high. I don’t want to slide back into a DVR-induced coma. I need another deadline. So here’s my newest goal: in addition to the other writing work I have to do (because Sorkin characters can multitask) I will finish the outline of another play I’ve been working on (and sat on for months), do the revisions on the first act, and complete the new draft. Then the next week I will send it to a director who expressed interest. The time is now.

Reading Recap

Two days prior to the reading, and I am all about revisions. I would happily delay work on the script and procrastinate (look, more baseball on TV!) but I wanted to get the script to the cast at least a day in advance so they could have the option of reading it in advance. Plus, to be green, those who had e-readers needed to get it on their devices. So I worked late into Thursday evening, and Friday before and after work I continued my paper edit. By 5pm I had completed paper edits and sat in front of the computer to input all the changes. By 6pm Catia had returned from her commercial shoot, and since it was her birthday, we opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate, then I continued with my paper edits. That is one stereotype I do not fit, the writer who drinks through the process. Fortunately I was almost done and I nursed my glass. Around 7pm I finished, saved the script, and sent a pdf to the cast. No proofreading here, gonna fly by the seat of my pants.

Saturday a quick trip to the local copy store to print out copies for the e-readerless (double sided, you’re welcome Mother Earth) and before I knew it, time was up. Let’s begin.

The last time I heard a script read out loud was my debacle with The Actors Studio in July. I was not concerned this time; after all, it’s a closed reading, just a handful of talented actors who all happen to be friends. A few other respected listeners. A positive room.

Reading 10-12-13 1

Talented actors hard at work.

And it went well. The pace moved quickly. There were more laughs than I anticipated. The actors connected with each other. Sure, the flaws were glaring when the dialogue was heard out loud. It didn’t go far enough with some of the protagonist’s obstacles, and some moments weren’t believable, but all in all it was a success. The script works.  With a little reworking and revision, this could be something. I am satisfied.

After the reading I opted not to have a group discussion, which sort of threw the cast for a loop. Ordinarily following a reading everyone would sit around and discuss, but since we started a bit late and since the reading was turning into a birthday party for my wife with other guests about to arrive, I decided to abandon the usual critique session and talk to people individually or in smaller groups, throughout the evening. This worked out surprisingly well as people could speak freely without considering the opinions of others. Plus, this allowed me to hear similar opinions without worrying about bandwagon opinions, which are those from people who might agree with something that they wouldn’t have considered on their own. There was some general consensus, though:

* The script is too procedural. Much is revealed in conversation, which isn’t active. And similarly:

* Be more visual and less married to text. A common problem for us playwrights who switch to film. Not insurmountable, my scripts are getting more visual the more I write, but something to always consider. Talk in images when possible. One great note I received from a writer friend who watched the reading is to consider approach each scene as a dance.

Now I will take a few days away from the script to stew it over, but I am encouraged and excited to take this to the next step.

Progress…and a deadline

So I jumped off the diving board.

Not pictured: me Pictured: someone on fire

Not pictured: me
Pictured: someone else on fire

Too dramatic? I’ll tone it down in the next edit. The point is that I leapt. It’s time to move things forward with my script, and there is no turning back.

First: picked my actors. A tougher job than I thought, considering I wrote the script with specific actors who I personally know  in mind. The hard part was deciding who gets in at this early stage. There are easily a dozen actors I have in mind for roles that I did not consider for this reading because I don’t benefit for a large room at this time. For now, just a core group of people with the more substantial parts.

Second: picked three possible dates for a reading. A generous friend donated his apartment; cleared the dates with him.

Third: composed the email: “Can you do the reading? Are you interested? Do any of these dates work for you? Do you know who I am?” Send.

Fourth: held my breath. Didn’t take long. Half of the actors wrote back within an hour, giving their preferred dates. Hopefully the rest will get back in touch over the weekend. All tentative dates are less than two weeks away.

Fifth: Now that there is a deadline, it’s time to start the script revision. Go!

 

Stay on target…

It has been a busy few months with multiple script deadlines.  The August 1st deadline for It is Done was met, and the August 15th deadline for my next script will be met on time. I should enjoy this temporary oasis. I have a meeting next week to get going on rewrites for It is Done, and a few other meetings on potentially new projects. All this aside, the script I am writing to make myself, the reason for the creation of this blog, sits there, staring at me.

And it should; I’ve neglected it. I keep coming up with excuses to avoid working on it. They are legitimate excuses, as I have other paying projects, family visiting, etc., but at the end of the day they are just that: excuses.

So it’s time for another self-imposed deadline: in September I will hear this script read aloud.

A scary prospect. So far only one person has read it, and there needs to be some major rewrites before I can unleash it on others, but there is no point in waiting. I need to dive back in and damn the consequences, which will likely be extra work on top of my workload.

But being ambitious shouldn’t scare me. I learned a valuable lesson on multitasking during the first semester of my senior year at Skidmore College. That semester I took on a large course load, plus I co-directed a musical in the theater department. Plus I executive produced the National College Comedy Festival, which would take place early in the second semester. Plus I worked a part time job as a campus tour guide. Plus I had my first serious girlfriend. Plus I spent plenty of time partying like the average college senior (take that however you like). Clearly I had a LOT on my plate. But here’s the interesting twist:

That semester was the ONLY semester in college that I made the Dean’s List.

Multitasking isn’t technically correct, as it is not really possible to do two major activities at the same time (I’m not talking walking and chewing gum, folks). Instead, when I had a lot to do, I became hyper-focused. If I only had 30 minutes to study that night, then that 30 minutes was used fully and efficiently. There is no time to waste time.

I’m not advocating overextending myself, but I can certainly push myself harder. Sure I have multiple projects going at the same time, and hopefully even more on the horizon, but that’s no reason to stop working on the reason for this blog.

It’s not like I have to study for any midterms or finals.