Friday, February 24, 2006

Tearing up & tearing down

So as I've been writing of late I've been in my WRITING phase, and it always never amazes me on how a story can evolve once pen is put to paper. I've mentioned that the key to writing is re-writing, but how much re-writing can one do until you begin to chase your own tail, and become unproductive. I'm half way through a script when I suddenly make changes and my story becomes something different then what I originally wanted, yet it something I that I was striving for and that is a two character piece. Cinema is a visual medium, and one that should lend itself to visuals, but dialogue and character development can not be ignored. You want the audience to identify with certain characters or their traits. It's how you get the audience involved and how you prevent them from changing the channel or worse yet press the "stop" button on their DVD players or VCR's. Usually I begin to tear up a script after completing the first draft, but here I'm tearing it down before it's halfway done. This becomes frustrating to me, and I sometimes get mad at myself for not planning it out better, but that's the evolution of writing a script. Sometimes the characters you create can and will change a stories focus. Maybe the theme remains the same, but the story takes a sort of detour and uncovers other themes that are buried in the work. In my case it's "redemption" for both characters and how they go about it. Again I find myself in the crime genre which I like. There are no black & whites here, and I like playing with audience's assumptions. I've always hated the Hollywood stereotype of the various characters in movies. The prostitute with a heart of gold, the killer who is sexual repressed, and the clean cut hero with no flaws. Life isn't like that, and I like to show a bit more complexity in characters and story. Sure movies were meant to entertain, but I like to think that the audience likes good stories which deal with real-life type characters, and not stereotypes. Maybe I'm wrong, but I do believe that a story can work if presented intelligently, and realistically. I may be fighting an up hill battle on this, but it's my battle, and one I like taking on.

I hope to be a bit more visual with this film. I am a student of cinematography, and once fancied myself a pretty good camera man, or if you like cinematographer, so along with the character development I'm trying to see the film visually. I do plan on filming in HDV, and by doing so I hope to make it a more visual experience. But the visuals have to work with the story, and though I do write CAMERA instructions into my script I've been taught that one should not do this. Since I will be directing this it's okay, and it gives me more to work with, but it is a directors job to translate the script into a visual reality. This is done after the script is locked, and after seeing where one will film. Locations can provide a good source of visuals for a film, but it is the directors call.

So for now I'm just trying to get it down on paper, and occasionally I'll fixate on a visual that may propel the story forward. But tearing up and tearing down the script before it's finished can be frustrating and make it seem that the script will never get done. It is the STORY that counts and right now I need to concentrate on that. When one wears many hats it's hard to get very objective since one has to also deal with the realities of production and it's limitations in money. The process of tearing up and tearing down a script goes on even into production, and slowly the film takes shape. Most say a script is a sort of blueprint of a film, and it may or may not be followed to the letter since realities of film-making can crop up in all phases of it's production. Maybe that's why I like film-making so much. It evolves over time, and it's that evolution that always amazes me and awes me.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Walt Stillman

There's a great little interview done by Josh Horowitz with Whit Stillman about what Mr. Stillman has been up to since 1998. You may remember Stillman as the director of "Metropolitan" & "The Last Days of Disco". Apparently Mr. Stillman has been living in Paris, and is writing. I always wondered what had happened to Stillman, and now know.

It has always been my plan to create NOT just one film, but a body of work. I don't think I can create a film that would ever break out and create a feeding frenzy among distributors, but I do believe I have it within myself to create a body of work that has certain themes running through them. Of course this becomes harder and harder since a lot of my time is involved in ordinary mundane things as family and work. I say mundane with a wink and a nod because both have their complexity and their uniqueness. How does an artist find time to do his or her art when life keeps getting in the way. You certainly can't put your life on hold and wait for your artistic expressions to take off. You would miss most of life, and what it has to offer, so you do the time management thing, and see if it works. There are days where you cannot manage to do anything creative because most of the day has sapped you're creative output, and then there are the days where creativity is brimming forth, and you cannot stop the flow of it. So how does the artist do it? How does she or he manage his or her time? I find it hard to work when I force myself to try and be creative. It usually never works, and the results are mediocre at best. I try and find a balance, and work on things when the spirit moves me. I always have a notebook handy, and I have stopped and managed to jot down ideas and thoughts in my private journal where I later pick up on the idea I had. It works most times, and sometimes it gives me time to work on the idea in my head. When I finally sit down and write the ideas come forth, and either work out or don't. I also try to carry a camera with me where ever possible. Nothing fancy. Just a simple small digital camera which can be used as a simple point & shoot type of camera.

All in all it's hard to be creative and I guess that's why I found the Walt Witmann interview interesting. Surly someone as creative and talented as Stillmann would not have a problem getting another film made, but it seems he does. We all have lulls, and I think it's a good thing. These lulls helps us digest what we've learned so far from our artistic endeavors, and makes us a better artists. I just hope my next expression is better, and not too far off in the distance.

Friday, February 17, 2006


So as I am writing the writing becomes more detailed, and the story blossoms into something bigger. I can already see where I'll cut things, and where there is room for improvement. I had originally wanted to just make a simple two character type film, and it has now mushroomed into something a bit more complex. It usually does happen that way, but when you wear more then one hat on a film lines begin to blur, and one can be in conflict with oneself when jobs begin to overlap. Hence the title of this post co-conspirators. A filmmaker is as good as his or her team is, and being one who is a team of one can be frustrating at least in the beginning phase of the filmmaking process. As I've said before I've tried to have co-conspirators in making films, but it has always not worked for me for one reason or the other. I thought the problem was me for a long time, but it wasn't. You see I have a strong passion for filmmaking, and have found few people who share that passion and are serious about the making of films. Now you may say wait a minute, I have passion, and I have just enough passion as you. That's all well and good, but do you have the nerve to take it to the next step. To put up or shut up, and to put in not ONLY your blood sweat and tears, but also your MONEY.

Yes it does come down to the almighty dollar. Filmmaking is expensive, and one can loose him or herself in the technical aspect of making a movie, but it takes dollars to create, and if your not ready to put up the cash how can you ever create something. I'm not talking about buying cameras, and filmmaking equipment. I'm talking hiring people to work for YOU. I see a lot of productions made that advertise "no money, but tape provided". Now I don't know what world you live in, but in my world the rent/mortgage needs to be paid each month, and I need to feed, cloth and provide for my family. Everyone does, and it's a fact, but maybe and just maybe for your first film you get volunteers to help you create your film. However don't expect them to stick around when an opportunity for a paying gig comes up, so you better be Houdini and pop that sucker out quick like lickety split, or otherwise you'll loose your talent and or crew to the realities of life. Yes I did pay people on my film, and that's how I got done in the amount of time I got done. Now I know we all scream poverty at first, and we hope and pray that this will be the definitive film for you, and will put you on the map, and hopefully your next film will be with pay, but I'm here to say "don't bet on it".

It's easy writing your epic in your room alone with nothing but the glow of your monitor to illuminate you, but after getting it done on paper, and then breaking it down, and creating a schedule you better have help. I learned that doing it all can distract you, and when you are focused on just getting it done you can loose sight of the movie. So hire a PM (production manager), and get him or her on board as soon as you can. Some scenes in my film actually were better when I listened to some of the crew, and they were helpful. They were also grateful to being paid, and cashing that check. It basically says to them that I honor their work by paying them. These aren't big bucks either, but they are being compensated for their time, and that's important. I haven't found a way around this, and if you're serious about doing a film you'll have to confront this problem sooner or later.

Way back in my youth I had what you might call co-conspirators, but as I was serious about doing a film others were seemingly not, and as they say it all fell apart. Partners are good, when they are backed-up with deeds and not only words. Filmmaking is a grueling process, and it takes not only money , but lots of time to do. We are all not the same and we are individuals with our own set of priorities. If you have partners make sure they are on the same page as you. That means sit down and hammer all your differences out, and decide who does what, and how. Spell it out. Write a contract, and sign it. I'm dead serious. You say you're all friends and you don't need that. Well I'm saying because you are friends you'll need it more then ever. Like Michael says in "The Godfather" it's nothing personal, just business, but in art it's ALWAYS personal. Sure movies are commerce, but they are an art form, and are subject to the rules that everyone is a critic, and EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION. This includes your partners. You can go round in circles forever debating this or that, but you need to respect the chain of command. Director, producer, writer, etc. In pre-production get it all out in the open, and settle it there. Don't let it slide until production, because in production you need unity of thought. Get it done. Time is ticking, and money is being spent. In production there is NO TIME to bring up differences or have an ego fight. Remember this and all will go well. Don't and you risk having it come crashing down on you.

So that leads me being the lone wolf, which can suck, but it does get the job done. I can say that it's all me, but I'd be lying there too. My partner is my wife, and she has ventured with me into the insanity of moviemaking, and made it a sane and creatively fulfilling endeavor. I am still seeking co-conspirators still. You'd think I'd stop, and just give up, but I can't. I'm more then enough willing to work on other peoples projects, but my time is limited, and so it's at a premium. I've learned to talk things out, and see where each person stands. I don't hold anyone in contempt for NOT joining the madness. We all have a master to serve and we all need to live. Creditors, landlords, banks won't wait for their money. You can't tell people that this is for art's sake. All art has a price, and one should be willing to pay that price to create it. If you aren't then how can you evolve into a better filmmaker.

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Digital Frontier

The above picture is of Ben Rekhi, who is the director & writer of a film called "Waterborne". It is the first feature google video is putting up on their web site for downloads of his movie. Rekhi is one of the first filmmakers to be doing this, and most likely he won't be the last. Alternative distribution for films and shorts are cropping up everyday. Technology is out pacing outmoded distribution outlets via the introduction of the i-pod, and the PS2 players. In "Waterborne", a film about a terrorist attack on LA's water supply, filmmaker Rekhi has bypassed traditional media distribution, and has put more of the power of distribution in his own hands. For awhile "Waterborne" was available for free as a downloadable movie at google's new site. It is now available as a download for $3.99, and will be released on DVD through MTI video in late February. Earlier this month Steven Soderbergh released his film "Bubble" in select theaters, and as a digital download at the same time, but then again that's old news covered elsewhere in this blog. You can also find an interview of Ben Rekhi at Etopia media, and find out how and why he went the way he did.

I'm personal excited about this new way of doing business. I myself am looking into this for my film, and seeing if a small time video producer like myself can distribute this way. Of course when posted one needs to generate traffic, and how does one compete with all the traffic the Internet brings to everyone. Is there an audience for a dark neo-noir like "Deadly Obsessions"?, and if so how do I draw them to the web site. All good questions which have answers, but my first hurtle is to get it on-line, and then draw people in. That's if there is interest. Remember folks it's all about the market place, and you live or die by that market place.

I wanted to make "Deadly Obsessions" because I wanted to prove to myself and others that it could be done. Getting it completed was a tough chore, and one I'm proud of. The next thing is selling the film, which is a much harder thing to do. I should be happy that there may be a possible market out there for this type of film. It's just I need to find my audience, and finding them and getting the message across is difficult, but not impossible. So for you doubters out there I have only one thing to say and that is "watch me". Hopefully another by-product of this endeavor is to connect with other like minded film-makers. If it only does that I'd be happy, and I've already started the process, so let's hope there's a movement on that front. Sometimes this business can be so competitive, and it plays one film-maker against another. Hopefully this alternative way of distributing ones film will empower filmmakers to ban together, and create better films. We'll nolonger be subservient to Hollywood distributors, but only to OUR audiences, who in the long run make us successful artists.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Finding time to write

So as I'm writing new material my story seems to expand, and go into a different direction then I thought it would. Don't I plot out my story with outlines, and index cards as they say in upteen books on "screenwriting". Eventually I do, but not when it's the first draft. I work off some notes that I've taken, and a synopsis I''ve written. After all you do have to know where your story is going. You just can't blindly type, and expect to finish a screenplay. First drafts can be hell, and sometimes they're fun to wrestle with. Stream of consciousness can be a great aphrodisiac when the moment hits you. But sometimes it's hard because the possibilities are endless, and you need to know where the characters are going, and what will happen next. That's where I'm at now. I thought I would write about hatred, and revenge, and instead I'm writing about not only revenge, but about loss, and grief. So the screenplay opened up on me and now I feel I need to take it to it's logical conclusion. Not the ending I had originally thought of, but one where there is a bit of hope in the end. Of course I do this with many hats on, which is limiting , yet interestingly enough stimulating. The producer in me says watch your locations, and limit your characters. The director wants more drama, and the photographer wants it to be more visual. I had intended to have one main location in the story where the story unfolds. I've modified the idea, and have instead begun using locations where I know I can get, and ones where I won't have to lay out cash for. They are still limited, but you work with what you got, and several years ago I did not have these resources, and now I'll use them to my advantage.

George Romero did a film called Martin where the similar production techniques were used. Small crew, limited locations, and few actors, and it works quite nice, but even Romero had more money then I do, so it's bare bones production as usual, yet I'm trying to write something I like, and would be proud of because like all things independent I'm going to be living with this for some time.