52 Weeks of Creative: Week 17

I really, really, really want to not be doing this anymore. :p  WHY?  You say.

1.  I don’t have any ideas.

2.  My life has gotten complicated.

3.  I like sleep.

And really, the ultimate reason;  IT’S JUST SO HARD.

But, we carry on.  I’m not a quitter.  Never have been.  Never will be.

This week we finished a film.  THE film.  What film is this?  Well at the end of March we entered a month-long film contest called The Fiery Wheel-O-Rama.  We were given the genre Vampire Movie, the location A Car in the Woods, and 5 plot points of which we needed to pick 3.  We used:

1. Broken fingers.

2.  A menacing phone call.

3.  A heart attack.

And then they gave us a month to make a film.  Now, this isn’t like the 48, at least, it shouldn’t be.  We’ve done that, here.  But writing, filming and editing a movie in that time frame is still really difficult.  Not bad.  There is no complaining here.  I had an excuse to make a film and have it screened in front of other filmmakers.

Bring.  It.  On.

Preproduction went well.  I wrote a version of the script, thought it was too violent, and rewrote the entire thing.  We had an advantage in this genre, actually, because I wrote a feature last year that was a vampire film.  It was meant to be a web series that when edited together made a feature.  So all the characters, the crime world of vampires, the look and feel and motivations and backstory…All that was done.  I just needed an original plot line for a new short film.

My fear throughout this whole process was that it would be too complicated or only understandable to me and the other people who’ve read the feature.  I wanted to create something that felt like it was part of a greater story and a greater world, but I didn’t want the audience to feel like they weren’t part of the experience or get confused.

You tell me if we succeeded.

The morning of the shoot was early.  But optimism ruled.  We had amazing actors, great equipment, and my crew was ready to do the whole 14 hour thing.

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Then I got a call from my lead actress.  She was sick and unable to come.  There was no way around it.  We couldn’t postpone, we didn’t have time.  I couldn’t bring in another actress that short notice.  We didn’t have time to bring someone new it, anyway.  The light’s only good for a certain amount of time…And it was getting away from us.

So I took a deep breath and stepped in.  I knew the work better than anyone.  I’m the right age and gender.  I didn’t have the look I had wanted–I’m not Italian in any way.  And my personality isn’t as suited to the original version of the character.

But things can be changed.

Directing and acting at the same time is really, really, really difficult.  It’s hard to pay attention to everything that needs attention.  Also, method acting isn’t conducive to happy set experiences.  Why?

We were making a dark film.  Bad things happen.  The same emotions that I needed for the character would come out as I was directing, even if me as a person wasn’t really supposed to be feeling them.  I needed to be sad, grief-stricken, upset, angry, determined, conflicted, in love, fearful…and let a man I had just met drag me all over the woods.  My friends watched all this with rising unease.  I don’t act in films.  I have a history of theater and stage performance, but that ended 6 years ago.

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I had an advantage though.  I knew exactly what I looked like in the view of the lens.  I knew exactly how big my facial expressions needed to be and exactly where to stand or move to stay onscreen.  I am used to cameras and lights and people all around me on set.  I am comfortable with my friends and their various jobs.

I know, this doesn’t sound like acting at all.  But on-camera acting is all about the environment.  You may be a great actor, but if you can’t act in the environment of people in your face and staying within the boundaries of the lens…You can’t act for movies.  A lot of time you’re imagining the entire scene.  There’s no actor sitting there for you to react to.  There’s no woods or gunshot or blood.  It’s the actor’s job to make the audience believe that all those things are real, and are really there.

Acting for the camera is also best when the actor feels safe.  Acting is inherently vulnerability.  You are letting other people see all your emotions, real emotions, even if those aren’t the exact ways that you as a person would normally express them.  Again, I had an advantage over other actors because hey, these were almost all of my closest friends and my boyfriend.  No matter what went down–and some of this stuff was so difficult that my friends found it hard to watch–I knew that I was safe to express everything that needed to be expressed.

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We started the day at 7:30am.  We finished at 10pm, I think.  We took over a week to edit.  We turned it in on time.  The screening happened.

Then I made a trailer.  Soon we’ll post the whole film–it’s about 9 minutes long.  But here’s the trailer:

As always, feel free to comment with feedback, ideas or creative projects of your own!

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52 Weeks of Creative: Week 12

EDIT:

Here’s the link to our Indiegogo campaign: Keep Coming Back.

A looooooooooooooong time ago I received an email from a school friend of mine.  She was wondering if I would be interested in revising/rewriting her screenplay.  Basically shehad written out her story of how she had gotten out of a life of drug addiction.

So I did research.  And I talked to a paramedic.  And I listened to her descriptions.

And I rewrote and wrote a screenplay called Keep Coming Back.

We of course wanted to produce the film.  For my 12th week, I made a promo video for the project.  This is us, talking up our project, which will shortly be live on Indiegogo.com.

52 Weeks of Creative: Week 3

Okay, I made it to week 3.  But I didn’t do this project alone, not by a long shot.  I worked with 6 of my very favorite people, some of whom were in the first films I ever made.

Here’s what we did:  I wanted to film a fight scene, because I haven’t done that legitly.  Filming and editing fighting is a little different than other filming and editing.  It’s supposed to be more frenetic and alive, giving the viewer a feeling of being in the action or alongside the characters.

I wrote a basic script outline, based off of an old project that involved sword fighting and elvish clothing.  I say OUTLINE, because it was more like guidelines than a real script.  We got half-way through fight choreography and decided to kill off a character.

I think I like guidelines.

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Paul shot nearly all of it, and didn’t drop my baby.

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Kevin allowed me to put lots of makeup on him and try on totally absurd costumes.

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Anna choreographed all the fighting, and also fought our villain, Cody.  Cody was a trooper with all the stuff we made him do.

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Lindsey did script supervision, a coffee run, some makeup and other magical things behind the scenes.  And Sarah let me get all in her face and then was tied up for a few hours without complaint.

We made some mistakes.  I know this.  There are some shots we should’ve gotten, some sound that could’ve been better.  If we’d had the time we could’ve learned the fighting a few days before and really been dangerous.

But overall, these people did fantastic.  Not only did they devote an entire Saturday to run around in elvish clothing and fall down in the melting, icky snow, but agreed to put it all on camera.  I was very impressed that all 4 of the actors learned this fight in a few hours.  And even without lines, I know exactly how they feel.

Special thanks to my boss, Jeremy, because he allowed us to use a lot of his equipment.  When I told him we were filming sword fighting, he went a little pale, but trusted that no swords would be hitting any of his lenses.  Thanks for trusting me, man.  We didn’t let ya down.


This was my absolute favorite day of filming.  Ever.  In over 7 years.  These are my friends, and also, apparently, my crew.

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Webseries Inceptions

I’ve been working on webseries.  This isn’t news.  A few months ago we filmed the first episode of Things We Do in Public, which turned out great.  This is a silly comedy–really silly.

And I love that.

I have a DP friend.  He wants to make dramas.  HARSH dramas.

This makes me sad.

In ways.  Anyway, I have been working on a serious webseries for him–I mentioned the vampire aspect, yes?–and I have finished the first episode.

Yeah.

It’s not happy.  It’s not even…funny.  It makes me think of one of my favorite films:  Inception.  It’s not like Inception at all.  No dreams or totems or architecture.  But it is like Inception.

Why?

Inception is a great movie.  It’s dramatic, action-packed, has depth of story and amazing visuals.  The actors are all fantastic and solid.  The editing is beyond reproach.  I mean, you have to pay attention to that movie, but it is edited in a way that makes it understandable.

But it lacks comedy.  Almost entirely.

Don’t misunderstand.  I think this movie needs no alteration.  But I find the lack of funny slightly disheartening.  I can’t watch it all the time.

I think movies should entertain.  Also, a friend of mine once said, “Fiction a way is to help us understand life.”  When I write, I try to create something that accomplishes both these things.  But mainly, I try to give you a little bit of sunshine, something that makes you forget or let go.

I hope that in the next episode I can create some moments of comedy.  I hope that we’re not always just making sense of life.  I hope sometimes we’re letting life go and laughing.

And laughing.

Story

“By the 1990s script development in Hollywood climbed to over $500 million per annum, three quarters of which is paid to writers for options and rewrites on films that will never be made.  Despite a half-billion dollars and the exhaustive efforts of development personnel, Hollywood cannot find better material than it produces.  The hard-to-believe truth is that what we see on the screen each year is a reasonable reflection of the best writing of the last few years.

Many screenwriters, however, cannot face this downtown fact and live in the exurbs of illusion, convinced that Hollywood is blind to their talent.  With rare exceptions, unrecognized genius is a myth.  First-rate screenplays are at least optioned if not made.  For writers who can tell a quality story, it’s a seller’s market–always has been, always will be.  Hollywood has a secure international business for hundreds of films each year, and they will be made.  Most will open, run a few weeks, close, and be mercifully forgotten.”

~Robert McKee, Story

My DP friend has forcibly loaned me his copy of Story.  I have a lot of trouble reading non-fiction, which is why I didn’t read it in film school when my teacher repeatedly recommended it.

Well I’m reading it.

Thanks.

And I take great comfort in the above passage.  To some people this may sound depressing–a lot of my friends have little respect for most of the movies coming out of Hollywood.  If this lot is the top-of-the-line, what hope do we have for future films?

That’s where my own self-conceitedness takes flight.  I know I can write better or at least as good as those films.  I was taught screenwriting by an expert.  Mentored by genius writers and storytellers.  Critiqued by friends and family and you, whoever you are.

But mostly, I really, really, really want to make films.  That will be seen.  And you can’t stop someone when they really want something.

Hollywood taught me that.

Lucasfilm

I went looking for articles about Lucasfilm and the buy-out by Disney.  I wanted to research enough to present an accurate opinion in the post.

Instead, I found a post by Bret D. Asbury, and he said a lot of really good things.  I don’t agree with everything, of course.  Below is a quote from his article.  I found that he approached the subject of new Star Wars movies in the most open-minded, yet fan conscious way I have heard so far.

“I do not mean to suggest that Episodes I-III are cinematic masterpieces, any more so than Episodes IV-VI are. I only wish to point out that the prequels also have their moments of excellence. It follows that the sharp distinction between the original trilogy (wonderful) and the second trilogy (rubbish) is unwarranted—both are flawed, yet for long stretches remarkably entertaining space operas. Today’s kids seem to understand this better than their parents, who are often so concerned with protecting the legacy of their beloved films that they can’t appreciate the new ones. My son and his friends embrace Mace Windu as much as Luke Skywalker and are just as scared of Darth Maul as they are of Darth Vader. To them, Star Wars is a captivating, six-film succession, each episode replete with a healthy dose of quirky characters, action, and mystery.”

(Find the rest of his article here: By Bret D. Asbury)

I grew up with the Star Wars movies.  When the new ones came out I was still a kid.  All my opinions of them were jaded by my older siblings and my dad.  I believed that “Ani” Skywalker was a bad actor because everyone else said he was.

Then I learned to screenwrite.

Have you ever listened to the dialog in the Star Wars movies, regardless of who’s speaking or the episode number?  Have you ever seen Hayden Christensen in another movie besides Star Wars?  What about Mark Hamill?

Then how do you know that these guys are bad actors?  Mark Hamill got in a terrible car accident between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  His face was a bit disfigured.  I mean, they stopped promoting him as the pretty boy in that movie, or didn’t you notice?

Sometimes when we grow up with things we love them like newlyweds.

I suggest you re-watch the Star Wars films.  Watch them like a screenwriter.  You’ll see the bad dialog, plot holes and inconsistencies.  You’ll see the mistakes and 70s weirdness.

Or don’t.

I mean, we all love things unreasonably, don’t we?  Don’t worry, I still love Ferngully, Jurassic ParkLord of the Rings, and the Spiderman cartoon.  And I will defend them forever.

(Here’s a link to interesting Star Wars info: 100 Things You Didn’t Know About The Empire Strikes Back)

Book Writing to Screenwriting to Book Writing

I started writing books.  Then my brother made me run camera for his films when he was a teenager.  I also provided scream noises for one of his horror movies.  And I think I was a vampire victim at some point.

Ketchup on my neck smelled great.

Anyway, I partly blame him for getting me into movies.  When I wrote my first film it was an adaptation of one of my books.  A medieval fantasy story.

In my last semester of Screenwriting, the comment was made in class that it was impossible to work in two writing disciplines at the same time.  Writing a book and writing a screenplay were so different that it would be too hard.  You would fail.

I disagree.

I think it’s entirely possible to write books and screenplays at the same time.  I think some authors write books that are screenplays already.  The technical aspect of writing a screenplay is very different from a book, but writers are technical by nature.  Work hard and you can do it.

The more I learn about screenwriting, the better book writer I become.

A few hours ago I switched from writing on my time-travel adventure book to editing that Stephen King screen adaptation.  I had to remind myself of the story and the medium.  I was able to forge ahead and finish the editing.

Writing in Public

Was sitting in that coffee place yesterday, working on a screenplay.  After a little while, my director dude, producer of all, man-in-charge showed up.  We proceeded to speak in-depth about the screenplay: story problems, actors, special effects, shooting time, budget and other things I might not remember at this moment.

We segued into an animated discussion of space travel and ship design and how long it takes to get to Venus.  With two such scifi nerds as us, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.  I think we only heatedly disagreed on the age of the characters.

While we were talking, loudly and in public, the guy at the table next to us piped in.  He explained that he was retired military.  He informed us that the government never denied the existence of alien spacecraft and that way back when he was in the military they had things like iPads, except they were more advanced.  He concluded that there was advanced alien technology here on earth.

Okay, thanks.

I looked at my director/big cheese to gauge his reaction to all this.  He just smiled good-naturedly and thanked the man for his input.

It made me wonder, how many cultures in the world would allow perfect strangers the opportunity to converse about government conspiracies?  I happen to be writing a script about aliens.  He happens to be ex-military and know about aliens and UFOs.  What are the odds that we would sit next to each other in that coffee place?

This is another great reason to write in public.  You never know who you might meet.  They may make a better story than the one you’re slaving over.

Screenwriting for the third time

I’m in the midst of modifying a Stephen King short story into a screenplay.  It presents some challenges.  Remember what I said about books being internal and movies being external?  Yeah, this story is a prime example of that.

It’s first person, for starters.

Much of the story takes place in flashbacks and narration.  Some of the story contains references to things that I don’t understand or am too young to know about.  Part of the story is so disturbing that I’m not sure how much should be shown in a film.

But, it’s a great experience so far.

My teacher taught us that in screenwriting you have to make choices.  I teach my acting students to “commit.”  Basically, in all writing and acting once you make a decision you need to stick with it.  Go to the place that is inevitable with that kind of decision.

When modifying any other medium into a screenplay, there are things that have to change.  Choices are not just important, but necessary.  I had a lot of friends who got all annoyed about LOTR and the changes that Peter Jackson made to the story.  But I even if I don’t agree with every change he made, I see that the changes made a better movie.

Let’s get back to what I learned before my last semester of film school.

There was a second magic thing that I discovered about screenwriting while on Christmas vacation.  It was: Write the screenplay however the heck you want and break all the rules, as long as you show the story.

Yup.

I learned to be a rebel.

Screenwriting

Screenwriting was my favorite class in college.  It was a brutal class, too.  I kept at it, and eventually I made it into a group of writers who were all Master’s students, except one.  This was a big deal for me, who was in the last year of my Bachelor’s degree.

At the start of the semester of screenwriting 3 we pitched a screenplay idea and then spent the next 2 and 1/2 months writing a feature.  Most screenwriters take six months to a year to write a feature.  If they’re fast.  (Christopher Nolan took 10 years writing Inception with his brother.)

A feature is between 90 and 120 pages long.  My teacher was kind and preferred scripts to be about 95 pages.  Mid-way through 2 and 1/2 months, we had to present the first 10 pages.  That meant my teacher read the prose out loud and my classmates read the dialog out loud.

Then everyone had a chance to tear the script to shreds and stomp on it, all with a smile.  Sometimes with great relish.  If you survived this first presentation–in screenwriting 2 we had a student get completely trashed that night–you would return to class a few weeks later with the finished script, modified per suggestions.

Round 2.

This is me after class.

At the end of the semester, I had a screenplay that no one understood except me and a deepening resolve to quit before my last semester of film school.  But over Christmas break something clicked.  Something changed.

I came back.  Screenwriting 4 wasn’t even ready for me.  I tore up that semester with a sci-fi script that succeeded in smashing all my classmates’ expectations.

And it was fun.

Next post I will share some of the things that occurred to me over that break, but until then, keep writing.  Just because you’re the only one who gets it now doesn’t mean it will always be that way.