Tuesday, October 03, 2006

You either have it or you don't.

That's a Woody Allen quote. I was reading this book called "Moviemakers' Master Class" the other night and Woody Allen was one of the directors that was highlighted. He was basically talking about the fact that you either are a filmmaker and you have talent or you don't. I tend to agree, though I don't feel as if I'm the one to make that assessment for my own abilities. So maybe I am, maybe I'm not. Until someone in a position of power in the industry tells me I suck and should pack it in, I'll probably keep trying. I know I'm always hyper critical of my own material and while I think I'm doing a job that's average or perhaps a bit better, I never assign superlatives to my own work or skills - I feel this is an exercise for the profoundly arrogant. I like to let the viewer make the call. Yet astonishingly, there are people at this level that like to talk about how great they and their films are and that and it always makes me want to puke.

The other thing that I took from this book was something that Martin Scorsese observed when he was reviewing films for students one year at NYU. His observation was basically that the student films, while technically well executed were all pretty flat and uninspiring. He basically felt that the reason was that the intention - the message or what they were trying to say with the film just wasn't there. While I've always felt that I'd taken a message or an emotion away from the very best films I've watched, it never really dawned on me (completely) as a filmmaker that I should try to understand what people should try to take away from my film in terms of a feeling, emotion or message. I've always sort of known that, but for some reason, it was never really cemented in my primitive brain until I read that.

Life experience does help improve the quality of a film. That was pretty much a universal theme in two of the books that I'd read on directors this weekend. The other constant theme was this notion of the script being the most important thing - it's not everything - but it is the most important element of a great film. Why? Because as Woody says, you can have a great script that's acted pretty marginally and still end up with a great movie. But a bad script with all the budget and production values in the world and best performances won't make even a decent film. Well.. Duh... How many times has that been demonstrated in the industry?

So that's why script and story are king with me.

Another draft of Heist is done. A few tweaks aside, I'm feeling good about the story, but want to send it back out for another coverage report ASAP.

Todd is in town working on some local indie stuff, so we've also begun some preliminary casting work. He's been managing the postings and we've had some responses, but I've not seen head shots yet. We want to do callbacks for some of the parts and get the people on tape to see how they are.

So here's a quote from me (though I'm sure someone else has already said it) : There is no such thing as bad acting, only bad direction. Why? Because the director is responsible for getting the performance and yelling cut/print at the end of the take. We are all actors, and there should be no reason that under the right conditions any of us could deliver a convincing performance on film. Skilled directors such as Spielberg have shown that it's possible to get a totally convincing performance from non professional actors, so why shouldn't I be able to do that? If I can't get a good performance out of someone that's not experienced, then there's only one answer - I suck as a director. An actor may not fit the role, or may not work in the part, but that's not the actor's fault. That's bad casting. So I'm convinced more than ever now that if this movie sucks it won't be because of the script, it'll be because I didn't do my job as a director, because I plan on making sure the script is pretty airtight before we shoot. I think everyone is on board with that though.

I won't be attending NHFX this year. Bit of a shame since there were a few films that I was hoping to see.

I plan on trying to enlist the help of the Nashua Chamber of Commerce in the production of Heist. I want to see if I can get some local businesses to offer help with locations and logistics support and in general just have the blessing of the town in terms of using it as a backdrop for the film.

That's it for now. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Summer of roller coasters...

So for those that still have feeds or that even care any more, the reason that this blog as started in the first place was to track the progress of an indie feature called "Heist" that my partner James Tauber and I are working on. Well, at long last, I've finished another draft based on some changes that James and I had discussed back in March. Yes March :)

Between finishing the school project and getting an edit of a TV show proof of concept edited that I'd put together back in December, things had just gotten a bit crazy and distracted. In addition, an LA production company had become interested in Coaches back in late May, and I spent the better part of the summer talking to them and chasing down the local PBS stations to try and generate some type of interest in "This was America" (which as of today seems to have finally paid off - more on that in another post).

Rather than give detailed updates on all the other projects that I have in the air, I'm going to get the blog focused back exclusively on Heist and try to stay focused personally on it so that I can get that moving in the right direction.

James purchased that camera that we'll use to shoot the film a few months back and has since invested more money in a special adapter that will allow us to use a much wider variety of lenses than we could otherwise. So I'm pretty excited about that.

I'm looking forward to James' comments on the new draft. I've also sent a copy to Todd Poudrier who will be taking on the lead role of "Eddie". Once I have comments back, I'll make some more adjustments and send it out for another coverage report. I found the last coverage report pretty helpful and though it did identify some problems with the story, I felt that it was largely positive and I was left feeling like the things that I was trying to accomplish in the script were not only working but for the most part were executed pretty soundly.

The new draft however is a pretty significant departure from the last version, but I view that as a good thing, because the twists are much better in this version - though it remains to be seen if I've exceuted them well enough... I threw out a bunch of stuff that I'd worked pretty hard on in the previous draft, but I learned long ago that you just never justify the amount of time that you spend on anything. If it's not working, it's out - regardless of the amount of time you spent on it.

Todd pointed out that the Eddie character is starting to feel a bit like a working class version of Dean Keaton (the Gabriel Byrne character in The Usual Suspects) which is cool. It sort of funny because Todd looks a bit like Gabriel Byrne. While the story for Heist may not be quite as complex, or clever as TUS, it's starting to feel as though it could have its own moments that give you that "boy that was a fun film" feeling. We'll see... :)

Another local filmmaker that I'd met through Todd recently finished a feature that he'd been working on since 2003. When I saw the initial screening in early 2005, I have to say that I was pretty impressed with a good many of the performances and with the technical quality and execution of the film. The story however, seemed to suffer from having too many unresolved and disjointed plot lines. I don't want something like that to happen with Heist, so getting coverage from external sources to me is key. While I don't want to sacrifice my integrity as a writer by allowing too many outside forces to shape my project, what I do want is a well executed story that has great characters, excellent moments, good writing and "oh my god" twists. I just don't see how you get those elements by working entirely on your own. You need to be open enough to hear what's wrong or not working.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Screening of "This Was America" (school project) a resounding success!

The school project that I've been working on so diligently these past several weeks is "in the can" and was screened before the student body and staff of Fairgrounds Middle School in Nashua yesterday.

I was amazed at the reaction of the students. They were applauding almost every segment, and couldn't get over the look. The staff was amazed as well. It turned out that the librarian worked at the NH public TV affiliate a short time ago and has a great network of contacts there. She wants to see if they'll air it. This will of course mean requesting broader licenses for the music (not to mention clearances from the parents of the kids that are in it) - Florentine films and Jay Ungar (writer for "Ashokan Farewell" www.ashokan.org) granted limited use rights only. However, I think that if both Florentine and Jay know that there's an airing they may be willing to work something out - but I'll worry about that when the request comes in.

I also have at least two indie producers that were sufficiently impressed by the quality to offer to pitch the concept to some network contacts that they have.

The project came in at about 35 minutes. So.. Another one for the reel - and it was well worth it I must say.

Final stats were that it was produced for about $1,000 and took roughly 300 hours of my time to complete.

However, this "little film" came at a cost. A seemingly unending string of late nights to complete the project on time have had an impact on my health. Last night I fell into my bed at 6:00 and slept like a log all night - never moved once - and managed to sleep until 9:00 this morning. While the extra sleep was great, I'm still not 100%. I was pretty weak all day and seemed to have a hard time doing even trivial work out in the yard - nearly fainted once. I think it's fatigue.

Work has resumed on Heist. I worked on it for over an hour today just re-reading the script and getting back up to speed with where I'd left off. So I'm starting to get back in the groove with that.

I was informed last night that the Discovery Channel has (finally) seen the trailer for my "Big Idea Hunt" reality show concept, but there's no word from the prod co that I'm working with regarding a reaction. Hope to hear something soon though.

As for Star Coaches, there's a really surprising amount of momentum building behind it at Original. Still waiting to hear more, but it's looking positive thus far.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The school project that I've been working on is finally complete!

The plan is to show it to the student body and faculty this week. I've yet to do the credits and there's on voice over that we need to get, but the vast majority of the work is completed. I have to say it looks really much better than I'd hoped. There are a few gaps in continuity, but itworks. When I consider how quickly the thing came together, there's really nothing to complain about. I'm quite proud of the fact that it came in at about 35 minutes, and that I was able to shoot direct and edit the entire thing myself. What a great learning project this has been.

Todd Poudrier, the actor who played Matt in "Alibi Phone Network" came over the other night to do some readings of Heist. It was a lot of fun to hear the dialog come to life. It was great for a number of reasons. Perhaps the biggest of which is that it helped uncover problems with some of the dialog. I took notes and made corrections as we read. It felt great to finally get working on that again. My hope is that we can shoot a few test scenes soon and use the footage for a trailer to help generate interest. Now that the school project is done, I can start focusing on that project again.

For the first time since I've been hearing from people in LA that they like my stuff, I actually feel as though things are really starting to happen for my projects. I've basically arrived at the conclusion that things will never move as quickly as you want them to in this business. It's now been about 6 weeks since I heard from Vin Di Bona that they loved Big Idea Hunt and wanted to shop it. I heard Friday that they're finally ready to talk to networks and things should move quickly from here on out.

At long last, I finally was able to get Original Productions (www.origprod.com) to look at my "Star Coaches" trailer. They said that they loved it and asked for a DVD which I sent them last week. It was encouraging to get an email back saying that they did get the DVD and will be letting me know what the next steps are. Most companies never do even that, they typically just ask you to send it and you never hear from them again. I'm hoping this is an indication that they *really* do think there is something to the concept. But again, one big thing that I've learned is that having someone say "they love it" while encouraging doesn't really mean it will translate to a deal. If anything, it at least allows you to start a relationship with the prod co, and shows them what you're capable of.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Today we obtained official permission to use the music from Ken Burn's "The Civil War"!

I'm still trying to get the school project done. I started on another segment last night, and realized that each segment is taking between 6 and 8 hours to edit. The segments run from 3 to 6 minutes in length. The kids did a most excellent job with content, their on camera interviews and a good selection of images to cut to.

However, there's a lot of work that goes into trying to make each one as interesting and as much fun to watch as the next. I'm trying to mix things up so that they're not all following exactly the same format, yet they all need to remain consistent stylistically. So its something of a challenge. Picking the right music has been hard, along with selecting the right images from the ones that I have to chose from without over using them.

The part of the day that was interesting was this...

So I'd always struggled a bit with the music. I wasn't sure at first what I was going to do. There was a classical musician at work that I'd talked to, but unfortunately didn't have the time to commit to it. So I started thinking that I'd be stuck using royalty free stuff or whatever I could construct from loops in Acid - a music/sound editing package that came with my video editing package.

Until I was sure what I'd do, I started using the sound track from Ken Burn's "The Civil War" as placeholder music. It really took the thing to a new level.

I still was struggling with a couple of things. First, it's copyighted material. Second, we've really been harping on the kids to make sure that they tell their story in their own words. There's a big push on plagiarizing material, so using copyrighted material without the proper permission does not set a very good example. Time is really a factor, and trying to get music any other way would have been daunting given the amount of time I'd been spending on editing. Having something already done that was done for something in roughly the same time period would be a huge help.

So today, I put a call into Florentine Films, Ken Burn's production company. I spoke with Brenda Heath, the CFO. I was delighted to hear that she was willing to help with our project. She asked that I email her a list of the songs that we wanted to use and she'd make sure that there were no issues.

Within the hour, I had a response back saying that as long as the music was used for the project and we wouldn't charge admission or distribute it in any other form, we were good!

Wow.. I can't reallyput into words how good that made me feel - what a relief to know that we could use what we needed for the project with their approval. I'm having so much fun and I'm so pleased with the results that it would be really hard if they'd said we couldn't or shouldn't use it. In addition, I keep hearing that the kids, staff and faculty are anxiously awaiting each new segment as I get it ready. The buzz is huge at the school now and I really don't want to let them down.

I sent an email to Ralph so that he could pass along the good news to the class. He was pretty excited to know that we had the blessing from "the master" (or at least from his CFO) that we could use the music for our little project from what is arguably one of the most successful documentary films of all time.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

School project is coming together nicely.

I've often felt that there's such an education crisis in this country. It's been so great being able to give something back and help kids and faculty alike have fun with the learning process.

I've now got three segments completed, two of which I'll have links to at the end of this post. Note that the cuts that I'll provide the links to are still rough, but they'll give you an idea of how things are looking.

I have to say that I've underestimated these kids a bit. The process basically was that they'd research a person or event between the years 1812 and 1860, then "produce" a segment. By this I mean that they'd be soley responsible for developing the content of the segment - I'd shoot, direct and edit it. The assignment called for them to be "interviewed" or appear as experts in their respective segments and tell something about the topic that they were responsible for in their own words. They also had the option of having a narrator provide a lead in and a conclusion/lead out of their segments as well. For some of them, the narrative fell right out of the interviews and the on-camera information that they'd provided, so no narration was really necessary.

Initially, some of the others seemed a bit weak, mostly because for whatever reason, I hadn't been given copies of their lead in/lead out narrations, and wasn't sure if there were enough information in them to help round out the piece. Yesterday, I went in to record voice overs with the English teacher, Adam Brown, on the team for this group of students. Since I wanted the project to be about the kids and the faculty and give them their chance in the spot light - I wanted a faculty member doing the narrations. Ralph talked to Adam and he agreed to do them for us. Adam's voice was so perfect, I can't really believe it. He sounded like someone that could actually have a future in voice over work. He had such a warm, well rounded tone and wonderful enunciation and was great to work with.

Anyway, what I think I was most blown away by was the quality of the writing the kids had done in these narrations. Very well done. This one segment that I'd finished last night wasn't looking like much at first, but with the addition of their well crafted narrations, the piece came together wonderfully. For a group of kids who'd never done anything like this before, I have to say that I'm damn impressed with the results thus far. Overall, I'd really have to say that this has far exceeded my expectations. It's not perfect, and there are things yet to fix, however, it's coming along so nicely, and I find myself so energized by the work these kids have put into it, that I find it difficult to know when to quit at night. Last night I was up until 2:00 AM working on a segment.

Yesterday, I went into their class with the two nearly completed segments I'd been working on(attached below). I popped the DVD in and the kids started just cheering, ooing and ahhing... Afterward, they were all asking me, "Mr. Bennett, when will I get to see mine?" it was such a great experience. So rewarding and uplifting to see them all so excited and responding so positively to the project.

For me, it was validation of the value of arts in education. This exercise taught them not just about having fun with a filmmaking project, but it taught them the importance of research and knowing and understanding a topic. It taught them about presentation, story and structure. For many of them, despite the fact that they were so terribly nervous about being on camera, it also helped give them some confidence as well. I can't remember a more rewarding experience in my life than seeing these kids so engaged and excited about something that can be as mundane and boring as a history class.

Below are links to two clips.

Please note: I've had to remove the following links. I've been given very specific rights to use the music contained in them and do not wish to violate that agreement.

"Star Spangled Banner" This clip features the history teacher, Ralph Sommers. Teachers have a tough life. They work their asses off, are often under paid, unappreciated and really don't seem to have much fun these days. And after having to endure a gut wrenching round of budget cuts, Ralph and his team (not to mention the rest of the staff at the school) were feeling a bit beaten down. Since I wanted this piece to be about the kids and their teachers, I wanted to make sure that Ralph had a chance to have fun with it too. The student that was responsible for this particular topic was so painfully shy, there was no way we could ask her to appear on camera. Her research was flawless and the piece that she prepared was wonderful. So based on her outline, I asked Ralph to tell the story of the Star Spangled Banner. This was done in one take - he did such a nice job. It's a little dark at the moment, but I've fixed that in a new cut - just haven't had time to render and upload.

"The Abolishionist Movement" This clip features my son Travis (the one talking about the anti slavery society) and his partner Josh. While they did have narrations prepared that lead into and out of the piece, I consulted with them after editing and thought that it stood so well on its own that perhaps it didn't need them. We're still deciding, so they may appear in the final cut. Josh did a fine job with the presentation of his materials, but we may rerecord the final two voiceovers for the final cut.

And yes, in case the style of the film left any doubt in your minds, I am a _huge_ Ken Burns fan... :)

Friday, May 12, 2006

The learning continues...

OK, so I'd mentioned in previous posts that I wanted to learn to do everything on my own so that in the unlikely event I had to shoot anything on my own, I could do it.

So in my previous post, I'd included a link to a clip that I'd cut from footage that I shot with my son Travis for the school documentary that I've been helping out with. Shooting the exteriors was pretty easy - no people to deal with, the images are pretty static, and I had plenty of time to work out various issues with the camera.

Last Friday, we were ready to shoot interviews with the kids so that they could talk about the subject that they had selected. I went to Rule Broadcast systems, got the gear and made it back to the School at 1:00. Problem was, we needed to start shooting at 1:00. So there were a bunch of kids, all ready to go, and here I am rushing to set the gear up to shoot the interviews. While I've had ample experience now working with experienced crews for this type of shoot, I've never had to worry about both the technical AND the producer/director aspect at the same time. So this was my first outing trying to shoot and direct real people with sound.

I get the camera and the lighting set up great - the images look wonderful and all, but I can't find the damn headphone jack on the DVX (camera) to monitor the sound. I consult the manual and find it but, as I go to plug in the phones, my hand slips and the jack goes into the iris remote plug instead, plunging the image into complete darkness.


So I'm thinking, fuck... I just killed the camera. While the display was still showing tape position and battery information there was no picture. So for the first time in front of the kids, I'm really looking like a dork and they're no doubt wondering, "does this guy really know what the hell he's doing?". My confidence was shredding fast I can tell you and I was very concerned that the project had come to an abrupt, gut wrenching halt right at that moment.

To add to the pressure, the history teacher that I'd been working with, Ralph Sommers, had just got through telling me what a morale boost my project had been for the school staff - who had just endured a round of cuts. He said "this is really the type of thing that we all need here to lift our spirits and get people thinking positive again". Great. And here I am with a dead camera, not one minute of student interview on tape, and it's looking like I'll have to shut the the thing down because I goofed and shorted something out in the camera. The pressure was needless to say, very much on.
I called Rule in a controlled panic (but a panic nonetheless) and discovered that pluging phones into the iris jack just causes the iris to go fully closed - duh. Hence the loss of picture, but not everything else on the camera.... Whew... OK good, now I won't have to pay for the $4,000 camera.

To top things off, I also had problems with the external mic. I had the mic plugged in and figured out that I had to select the correct external input, but for some reason, nothing was coming through on the mic - and time is running out fast because we could only keep the kids after school for so long.

I try the other battery. No good. I got my assistant to find another batter somewhere else in the building. Still nothing. So I ended up shooting the first couple interviews with the on camera mic. Out of frustration, I started playing with the cable, and finally, it worked, but I'd shot three groups of kids (they were working in teams of two) with the on camera mic.

Turns out that the problem was coming from the 10 foot cable that had come with the sound kit. The 20 footer that they'd given me worked great, and I switched over to that. I thought I was going crazy. Oh well, lesson learned.

While the images on the groups with the external mic came out awesome, the sound SUCKED.

With the sound problem worked out, I went back in the following Monday and did re-shoots for the groups that I'd done with just the on camera mic. The highlight of this was one girl in the class who struggled with her presentation the Friday before. Though she was not one of the kids that had a problem with the sound, she'd asked if her interview could be re-shot and it ended up being perhaps the best one in the group.

I've been cutting things like crazy trying to get the student film finished so that I can show them rough cuts next week. I think I'm on track to do that. It's been fun and I'm learning a lot. The response of the kids and the faculty has been great and I'm hoping to have a finished product soon.

Heist is on hold for the moment - until I get this school project completed.

One of my TV shows was making the rounds in NYC this week. Major LA prodco had taken it to a bunch of networks to pitch. I've heard nothing yet, but have reached a point where I'm not getting excited about anything until there's a deal on the table.

I came up with yet another show concept to develop, but I'm guessing that I'm not the only one that's on the trail of this one so we'll see what happens with it. I made calls to the people that I want to base it on this morning, but something tells me that I won't hear back as I'm sure I'm not the first one to the table with an offer to develop something around them.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Wow - long time no post...

So I've been pre-occupied with my TV show concept that I shot back in December. Interest has been really amazing. So far, two pretty major production companies have both said that they really thought the trailer was well done and that the concept should sell. The one that I've been working with the most, (the larger of the two) has been providing notes back to me on a daily basis to tweak the trailer for upcoming pitch sessions that they have with Discovery, A&E and Bravo. Still, I'm not letting myself get too excited about it until there's talk of a deal.

I'm still working on Heist, and I'm still very intent on moving forward with it. Since getting the coverage report back, James and I have come up with some really good changes that I think make it considerably better. I'm almost done with the new draft. Once that's complete, I'll be sending it out for a final coverage report.

I'm also helping my son Travis's 8th grade honors social studies class produce a short, documentary style film that covers 1800 -1860. To get the project started, I went out with Travis to shoot some footage for the film. The idea is that each of the kids in the class will have to produce a segment of the film by doing the research, selecting the images and either being interviewed as an expert on the topic, or providing text for a narrator to say over their images. I wanted to have our own collection of stock stuff to cut to, so I went to Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH and the Lowell textile mills in Lowell Mass. The footage looked great, and I'm hoping to get more.

So between all my side projects, it's been tough finding the time to complete Heist. At the same time, I don't want to rush it and neither does James.

Here's a link to the intro that I cut together for the short film. This is my voice on here. The finished version will have one of the faculty members from the Trav's middle school doing all the voice overs and narrations.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Got my ass kicked on the first coverage report for Heist.

Something that I can say that I was expecting, for more than one reason:

- The script is pretty much a first draft.

- I used a bunch of non-standard screenplay style elements. - Mostly because I knew that I wasn't trying to sell the script, and wanted to annotate it as I went for production. This was entirely my fault - I should have let the coverage service know this.

- There were some things in the script that never felt that I handled well and my failure to deal with them resulted in getting nailed for it.

The opening comment was "I liked this script, but I wanted to like it better". So I was encouraged by that. If I went on the story analysis by itself, it wasn't that terrible as all of the problems can be addressed. Another comment that was made which I was very encouraged by was "Characterization and dialog was nicely crafted, your skills here made the story worth reading and was a saving grace."

I think had this reader known upfront that I was not interested in selling the screenplay and was going to be producing it independently, they would have more forgiving on the style points, though they did point out some things that in general I should refrain from, such as the use of ellipses, parenthetical where the emotion or reaction is obvious from the context, etc. However, in an early draft, you're bound to have more in the draft than you need - so I'm not concerned about it that stuff is easily fixable.

There were some things that the reader seemed to miss - some because I did a shitty job writing and others because they weren't looking closely enough - something I've seen before with coverage readers. They got most of it, and provided some good comments. The one thing that I was hoping to pull off was for people to have sympathy for Eddie and Gail. I seem to have done this very well, which made me feel good.

Overall, the report served its purpose, and I'll be sorting through the things that I think I need to fix, and get it ready to go out again.

There's always the "slight sting" ("That's pride fucking with you. You fight through that shit" - Marcellus Wallace - Pulp Fiction) when you read one of these reports for the first time. But the trick is to figure out what you did well, what you did bad and determine if the thing is salvageable. I think that based on the comment that the reader makes at the start - "I liked this script.." Tells me that I did something right so its worth investing more time.

I think that I did overdo the crossovers a bit and made it more confusing that it needed to be. It may be worthwhile to go back to a simpler formula and focus more on the character driven aspects than making the plot so overly complex. I did get pretty high marks for character development and dialog so perhaps differentiating the story by making it a more compelling character piece may be the way to go.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Heist is out for its first coverage report.

I'm anxiously awaiting the feedback. I kept going over in my head today what I thought the reviewer might come back with... Things like "This is like every other caper movie I've ever seen.", "seriously lacking in depth" "Dialog doesn't feel authentic".

The way I view it, by setting myself up for the worst possible review, I don't have quite as far to fall. :)

I'm planning on sending the script out for a second coverage report this week. James and I discussed that idea of getting three reports on the same draft and comparing notes - so that's what I plan to do.

I'm making great progress with "Rescuing Champ". At 70 pages, it should be pretty easy to finish in the next week or so. Note that I've been working on this concept since early 2003. The first 60 or so pages pretty much wrote themselves, but I've just had a hell of a time getting back to it. The last couple of weeks, it's been undergoing a pretty serious overhaul, and it's finally to the point where I feel I can continue on and finish it.

So far, it feels like a decent, interesting family film even if it is a bit formulaic. I'd sent the early draft (60 odd pages) to Mitch to see if I was headed in a good direction. His basic feedback was that it was full of "great moments" but was lacking a few things. Mostly in the areas of character development and challenges for the hero. I feel like I've made good progress on correcting those flaws. I plan to have Champ ready for its first coverage report by next week, then I'll send it to a story consultant for a real in depth review.

I've found a local story consultant that I plan to try out with "Champ" http://www.su-city-pictures.com/ is the web site. She's located in Exeter, which is about an hour away (and where I grew up actually). The woman that runs the site and the service, Susan Kouguell, appears to have done a lot of work in the industry. She seems appealing because apart from her background and experience in the industry, she offers one hour sessions face to face to go over her analysis which is nice. I've been dealing with LA based people for so long over the phone, it seems as though it would be nice to have at least one face to face meeting from a story consultant.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Damn, have I been bad at maintaining this blog....

Time has been at a bit of a premium. We were on vacation last week for a couple of days, and I've been writing like crazy.

I finished another draft of Heist and I've been working on completing another script called "Rescuing Champ". More details on that later.

I was trying to explain writing screenplays to someone last week. The analogy that I typically use is that it's like a jigsaw puzzle, where you have all these pieces and you have to try to make sure that they fit together tightly. Sometimes the pieces don't fit, and you have to flip them around and try them in different places.

When I was into music producing a few years ago, I bumped into a fairly big name producer at a studio in Boston. He explained music production as almost like painting with sound - you build up layers of sound and each sound provides its own "color" to the tune. The trick is to balance the colors as you would in a painting so that its pleasing and so that each sound has its own place and purpose in the mix. Writing is similar. Each of the characters, story elements etc. is like a color, and like music or paintings, the trick is to find the balance of all the elements.

I think that this draft is very tight, has great balance, good arcs and resolution. There are things that can still be tuned, for sure, but I feel the best about this draft in terms of the story and the flow. I'm going to WGA register it now, and get it reviewed for grammar and basic structural problems then send it out for its first coverage report.

More to come.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Draft 3 completed of Heist!

Apologies for not being as diligent with my blog posts. Work has been crazy and my kids have been sick, but still, I've managed to squeeze in enough time to complete a second and third draft.

Based on feedback from James on my first draft, I'd incorporated some new changes and twists. I also included what I felt was a more satisfying showdown between two of the principals. While it still fell a little flat, both James and I felt as though we were on a much better direction. I think that the latest draft fills most of the holes. However, I still think that we'll need another draft or two to clean things up and get the dialog in shape. I finished the new (third) draft and sent it to James tonight.

I also managed to find time this weekend to work on a screenplay that I'd put on the back burner for the past year or so. I had about 65 pages written of it. It's a kids movie called "Rescuing Champ". My daughter gave me the idea for it. She was tickled that I've resumed work on it. I managed to get most of the way through the draft that I'd been working on - did a bunch of clean up and changed some of the plot a bit. I don't want to say too much about what it's about just yet. I don't have it registered. Once I complete it, I'll post a synopsis.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Good feedback from James on the initial draft..

It was funny because when we talked about it, it was almost as if I knew what parts were going to fall flat for him, and I was right about most of them. He was right to tear apart what he did, and it was great because it challenged me as a writer to develop solutions that would hold up to his standard. As a result, I think we have a story that's quite a bit better than I'd hoped for already.

I've only managed to get through a rework of the opening this weekend. Not because I'm at a loss of words - more so a lack of time. I had a request for a synopsis of another of my screenplays over the weekend from a company called Andrew Lauren Productions in New York. ALP is the production company that brought us "The Squid and the Whale" which I've not seen yet but hope to soon. It would be great if they followed up with a request of the script based on the synopsis.

James bought a new camera - the one that we'll be using to shoot Heist. Its the JVC GY-hd101E. It's HDV, so the resolution is better, AND you can use different lenses with it, which is cool. I'm very fired up about it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Heist script is finished!

Well, I at least have a completed draft.

It came in at 101 pages. I think there's some trimming that will get it down a few pages. I may even discover that entire scenes can be removed.

For now though, I'm just going to wallow a bit in the satisfaction of having completed another feature length screenplay. I've sent the finished draft to James, and though he seemed pretty happy with the first 75 pages, I'm prepared to deal with the fact that he may not like the ending, but as I've said before, that's not a tragedy - there's a lot of ways that it could have gone, and I tried to pick the one that provided some emotional satisfaction, a bit of redemption and a fresh start for one of the principals. We can always rework it. I'm not scared of doing that at all.

This is the first film where I've tried to delve heavily in the development of themes throughout. It was fun and I think that it helps provide a richness to the story.

There were a few thematic elements that I feel good about that go with the film that carry across all the characters. The one of the heist for example is one that carries across just about all the principals. The main characters all seem to be looking for a quick solution to a problem which they're solving or planning to solve through some nefarious means.

One of the other themes that I play around with a bit is this notion of something being right under your nose that you're completely unaware of being there. Still another, is this idea of how seemingly simply mistakes or actions can result in situations that can dramatically change the entire landscape of a situation - or someone's life.

There are other themes that I play with - themes with dialog, etc. and I have to say that it was a great exercise as a writer. Whether or not I pulled this thematic development off remains to be seen, but I have to say that I did enjoy it.

Regardless of its success, it was a great exercise. I'm pretty confident that whatever might be wrong with it can be fixed. I feel that I've created some strong, well defined characters. While it is every bit a crime/suspense/thriller it's also an interesting character piece on a number of levels. Still, it will be interesting to start getting the outside views on what I've done.

So the plan is to get notes back from James, incorporate those, then have my initial review by my "English major neighbor" friend. She'll do all the clean up work on it grammatically, look for good structure and provide a good initial set of story basic story and structure notes.

Once these are incorporated, I'll send the script out for its first coverage report, which I may decide to publish parts of in this blog.

Work on planning and pre-production will hopefully will pick up considerably from here.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another productive weekend...

After some much needed support on the direction that heist is going in, I could hardly wait for the weekend to arrive so that I could write.

However, due to commitments that I had elsewhere, I could only get a few hours in. Fortunately, that translated to lots of cleanup and almost 10 new pages for a total of about 75...

Where at one point I'd been worried about being able to stretch the story to 80 pages, I'm now wondering if I'll be able to get it in under 90. I don't think that will more than 90 though, 95 max.

A good friend and supporter of various projects of mine over the years, Dave (don't want to mention full names until I check with him) has agreed to help with the firearm education, safety and selection for the film. He's a certified NRA safety instructor, film enthusiast, gun collector and all around great guy to have on your team for just about any project, film or otherwise so I really look forward to working with him on Heist. Having Dave will really help bring the production values to a new level. Not that there's a ton of gun sequences, but what's there will look real now - no question.

James is on his way back home to Perth Australia now. He'll be back in May.. I'm hoping to wrap the script soon so that we can start preproduction work.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Positive feedback from James on the nearly completed draft of Heist.

I sent him the 66 pages that I've completed. I waited pretty impatiently for him to get back to me with his thoughts. When I finally saw the first line of his email response (which was "You bastard! How could you leave me hanging like that!") I felt that I was on a good track. :)

Of course, he's still waiting to see if I can pull the ending off. As he put it, I seem to have "just the right number of balls in the air" but he was also quick to point out that I could still screw it up. I'm abundantly aware of that, but even if I do a crappy ending the first time out, its not a tragedy, that's what rewrites are for.... :) The timing on the ending will be tough, so I expect some rework - especially with all the details that are involved.

All the things that I've so far been concerned about; authenticity of the characters, pacing, overall story, holding interest, etc. all seem to be right where they need to be. So that was good, and has encouraged me to dig into it again this weekend to try to complete it.

I have been chipping at it in bits at night, but I'll need at least another 10 solid hours of dedicated time to complete it.

I was inspired yesterday by the success of another Robert Rodriguez disciple, Roger Ingraham. Roger produced and directed the feature "Moonshine" which was an official selection at Sundance this year. The report that I heard on the news last night said that he was 22 years old. In his interview, he said that he'd produced the film for about $9,200 and that included a car crash scene.. When he said that he'd read "The 10 minute film school" by Rodriguez, I couldn't help but grin. It was so great to hear about someone who has applied these low budget techniques with such great success. They mentioned that Miramax and New Line Cinema had requested private screenings at Sundance.. The memorable comment from the interview was "The hardest thing about the project was just deciding to do it." :)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Thinking about writing seems to have served me well this week..

I managed to write about 14 pages today! So I'm getting close to a finished draft. There's just a couple of problems. I'm questioning some of the placement of some of the scenes and I'm not sure that I've varied my locations enough. All are solvable problems, but there are times when I feel it getting bland because of that..

On the positive side, I've come up with some plot devices that I think are working pretty well, and I'm building up to what I think is a good ending.

However... That said, so few people have seen the script, Its not clear to me if it's really any good.. This is where the writers doubt starts to creep in from behind. There are moments when I think about how it will look and play out on screen and go "damn that's cool".. But it's still just a first draft, and my guess is that it'll need lots of tweaking and a couple more drafts before its anything close to being perfect. I feel right now as though I'm still in the process of fleshing out the story. Once its complete, I'll find all the fat, have a chance to think about my characters, plot devices, pacing, all that and really rework it where it needs it. I'm just on a mad rush to "FADE OUT" because I can see the rest of the story playing out in my head - even though some of the particulars are still a little on the hazy side.

I'm anxious to get the draft completed so that I can send it out for coverage as well. I won't do that until I've had James give me his notes.

I managed to find time to watch the DVX DVD that accompanied the DVX 100 book. Even though I know its replacement has already hit the street (the HVX 200) I'm still impressed by how much you can do with the DVX 100A/B cameras. Some of the examples they had on the dvd were pretty impressive. The thing that I really like about it is that the explanations are very clear and have really helped expand my understanding of digital cinematography. The explanations of the different settings relating to things like color temperature, depth of field, chroma level settings and gamma were all very educational and applicable to more than just the DVX cameras; and (once again) I highly recommend it for any aspiring digital DP.

So it looks as though I'll miss my first major deadline; getting the script done by the end of January. However, I think I may only be late by a week. I feel like I'll have time to write this week, but not enough to finish by Tuesday.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I realize that thinking about writing is not actually the same is writing, but for me sometimes, its pretty close..

As I'd mentioned in my previous post, I made excellent progress over last weekend on the script for Heist. Unfortuantely this week, I haven't had the opportunity to build on that success by getting actual physical pages written. I have however, been thinking about writing quite a bit. The little movie projector in my head lets me play and replay new scenes over and over again in my mind until I have them worked out to the point where they'll go quickly when I write them. In fact, many of the new pages that I added over the weekend were "pre-written" in my head so when I went to write them, it was almost no work at all.

Its always tough to say how many pages the scenes in my head will translate to when I go to write them, but I think I've got at least another 5 pages worked out. We'll see.

Amazon is telling me that the book that I orderd "Killer Camera Rigs.. " was unsourcable by them. Bummer. Wish they could have let me know sooner, it's going on two weeks since I put the order in through them. I'll have to try buying it directly from the site that I originally found it on.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Great weekend writing!

While I fell slightly short of my goal, I feel as though things are flowing really well. I also had some moments where new twists and things came into play.. I'm up to about 48 pages, but I did about 3 pages worth of re-writes on top of the new pages that I'd written..

Also, I managed to find some time to read "The DVX Book". If you're even thinking about using this camera, this book is a great investment because it not only explains the DVX, but how things work in the camera, standards, and just a bunch of good stuff any digital cinematographer would want to know. Lots of really useful information, pretty techie, but not so bad that it's incomprehensible.

In looking at the latest cut of my new reality concept again and again and again, I have to say how grateful I am to the editor I worked with last week who truly pulled it all together, Ryan Little. While he used we used my original trailer as a guide, Ryan pulled out some footage from the shoot that really made the trailer more compelling and enhanced it quite a bit beyond what it had been. His addition of the cool graphics at the start and finish of the piece were a great touch as well. Lots of nice touches, as well as great value additions to the narrative. He's very pro to work with and I hope to work with him again on something soon. He's done a really kick ass job on two of my concept trailers.. I'm hoping that I can say more about them soon, but for now, I have to reveal as little as possible. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

One of the books that I ordered last week, "The DVX Book" by Barry W. Green came in. I've been wanting pretty badly to dig into it. I just haven't had the time.. I really need to devote more time to writing.. I was flipping through it though, and it looks pretty detailed. It also comes with a DVD with lots of examples and tutorials for the camera.

James Tauber turned me on to John August's blog which contains "tons of useful information on screenwriting". I've been going through it, and it does have a lot decent information and advice. I'd recommend it. It was interesting that in one section he talked about how early in his career, he'd try to save scenes that he liked at all cost and was reluctant to cut them. I pointed out in an earlier post that I'd learned from Mitch that you need to be able to toss stuff it doesn't work no matter how great you thought it was. There was a time when I'd cling to scenes, pages or dialog, but now I just toss it if its not working.

I went to see Steven Spielberg's "Munich" last night and was once again reminded why he's such a genius and will always be one of my favorite all time directors. There was a time that I recall that he seemed to be in a rut with his films in that that (to me at least) they all had a very familiar "feel" to them. His capacity to break from his style and re-invent himself is something that to me underscores his brilliance. I felt that with Munich, he once again excelled at not only telling an incredible story, but making it visually intense and convincing where it needed to be. He also did what he seems to have an innate ability to do which is put you in the head of the characters and establish that emotional connection to them. His ability to extract an absolutely convincing and compelling performance from even the smallest supporting members of the cast never ceases to amaze me.

That said.. I can't say that I've been that blown away by every single one of his efforts. War of the Worlds had its moments, and was visually amazing, action packed and well acted and produced as all his films are. Overall, I guess I was expecting a more interesting treatment of the story. I found some of the plot devices unconvincing. I still like the original better.

Enough of the critics corner.. :)

Working on Heist tonight... I have lots of stuff I've been wanting to incorporate. I'm trying to top 50 pages by the end of the weekend.

Completed another edit of my new reality concept trailer, which I think came out pretty good. This new cut was done on Final Cut Pro. I exported the edit decision list (known as an EDL) from Vegas, and that served as a guide for the new cut. We kept the basic flow, beginning and ending points, but extended it to about 1:44. It was previously about 1:10. The new footage that we worked in really helped to demonstrate what the episodes might look like. I hope that it can be sold soon, it would be a nice way to finance some of Heist. :)

Thursday, January 19, 2006

1/18 was my anniversary, so I didn't get much done with anything relating to Heist.

James and I had a great talk the other night about the film. He's fully on board, which I'd hoped for.

He's recommended that rather than shooting on the DVX 100A, we shoot on the Panasonic HVX200. Based on what I've read thus far, it sounds like a great idea. I do have that book on the DVX coming in, but I'm guessing that there'll be a decent percentage of the information that will hold true for the HVX - we'll see. I'll also very likely use the DVX on other projects, so its not like ordering the book was a total waste of money.

The only thing that's unclear at this point is what the rental rates will be. If you were to extrapolate based on the cost of the camera, it seems as though it may (at least initially) end up in the 250-300/day range, nearly twice that of the DVX, but it may be worth it.

I've had a couple of people read my draft in progress of Heist so that I could get some early impressions. The general comment is that it's good, and leaves people wanting more. Great, I'm on a good track, maybe. The ultimate test (the Mitch test) will be the real wake up call.

One comment that I heard today was that it was good, they were left wanting more, but there wasn't anyone that was "likeable" yet. I can remember having felt the same way about Vincent Vega and his cohort Jules in the first 30 or so minutes of Pulp Fiction. I thought they were funny interesting characters and I liked them for that reason, but they didn't really have me cheering for them. It was more like I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I was disappointed when Vincent was shot by Butch only because I thought that was the last we'd see of him and his antics with Jules. It was great when he was brought back for "The Bonnie Situation"...

I was talking with someone regarding script review and they were saying that they had someone locally that would read for them. I asked if the reviewer had ever sold anything or had any of their work produced, to which they replied no.. I was later thinking that while its good that they're at least having the script read by someone else, I still think its better if you can find a writer that's either sold something or had something produced by a real studio to do your final reviews. Not that they're always going to have the best (or even the right) advice, but I think they may be more likely to have a better sense of what's a good idea or not than someone that's never sold anything... I mean, would you have someone that's only practiced doing brain surgery on cadavers remove your tumor? Perhaps that's an extreme example, but you get the idea.. :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself in doing this, but I've started researching some of the things that I think will cost a lot in the production of Heist.

I've found some very convincing semi-automatic weapons (8mm) that are blank firing. At $89 each I think that I could buy a few and not break the bank. The only thing that concerns me is safety. Even though I can get away with never having a shot in the film that shows a wide of someone getting shot, firearms of any classification are a safety issue. Since they're 8mm and not 9mm, they can (according to the manufacturer) never be made to fire a real round, but they're purported to have the same look and heft of the real thing, so at least it won't look as though anyone is wielding a toy.. Still, I plan to talk with a friend of mine who is an NRA gun safety instructor, and the local police in the town where I plan to shoot (the movie and the guns.. :) ) so that we're not descended upon by a swat team by mistake..

The stock on this particular model is wood, but that can easily be sprayed black to give it the appearance of a glock or something more modern. I think that they were saying that this model was meant to look more like an older military side arm, but I'm pretty confident no one will know the difference.

As I've said before, the armored car is the trickiest of all the set pieces, but I'm pretty confident there has to be someone out there that owns one that they'd be willing to rent for a weekend. I'm confident that we could get everything we need in terms of coverage in a day, day and a half tops.

Almost at 40 pages, so I'm just about half way there with the script. Thought of some good twists that were inspired by a film that James Tauber turned me on to called "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels". While Heist will not have the comedic tone of the LSTSB, I think that the twists may be as effective.

I reviewed my edits tonight from a couple days ago on my reality concept. I like them, but I don't think they're all that well suited for the pitch reel. There is one segment that I will put in which in essence is where this guy had come in, gotten all pissed off at the star of the show, yelled at him a bit, then left. I was off shooting B roll when he was actually doing all the yelling, but I did get a parting shot of him and enough of the star's immediate reaction following the altercation to make a quickie segment work for the pitch reel. I interviewed the star of the show afterwards, and got some great sound bytes about the argument. So while I missed the actual altercation, I think I got enough to give a good indication that this guy has to put up with a lot of crap from the people that he deals with every day. Sorry to sound so mysterious and evasive about the actual events, but I can't give away one of my best ideas!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Good progress on the screenplay today. I made the progress that I was hoping to. Mostly continuing to work in the Gail character. The original Heist script started out as an idea for a short, but it kept getting longer and longer.

As I've added things, I think its become more interesting. I still have 50 pages to go before it can really be considered "feature length". Rule of thumb is that one page of screenplay equates to roughly one minute of scrren time. I have 35 pages now, so I'll need roughly 85 pages before I can call it done. I think I have enough story to make that happen now.

I think that from a production standpoint, the trickiest thing will be the armored car, but I'm sure that if we get creative, that can be solved.

My goal is to have the screenplay done by the end of January.


I did some more editing on my new reality concept reel last night. What I need to do now is let it sit for a day or so to see if I still like what I did. I think that I like the way the segments are coming together and most of it flows nicely together. A couple of the new segments sort of feel out of place, but I like what's in them. I just have to either work on some sort of bridge to get to them in the piece, or lose them altogether.. We'll see.

I'm working on Heist today, I'm hoping to get 5 or more pages done.

I was watching AMC's Sunday Morning Shootout this morning. They had Matt Dillon and writer/director Paul Haggis from the movie Crash which is up for a Golden Globe. It was interesting because Crash was made with a pretty low budget by Hollywood standards (around 6 million) and was shut down a number of times due to lack of funding. I was struck by this because Paul Haggis is working with the likes of Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg on various projects - very much a player.

Paul was talking about how they had to get creative due to their financial constraints. He talked about how they used the same bedroom for two different locations in the film. They shot it in one direction for a bedroom scene for the Matt Dillion character, then painted the opposite walls red, dressed it differently, then used it for a different character's bedroom scene. So there was a fair bit of discussion on how the pressure to work with a small budget brings a creative energy to the shoot. I found it helpful. Its a pretty good show, and I try to catch it every Sunday.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Was re-reading my post from last night - a bit long winded, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the importance of trying to get people other than your friends and family to look at your script. I also wanted to share my process for getting my work reviewed. Not that its the best one or the right one or that it will always produce stellar results. At the very least what it does is get you out of the vacuum.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to work on Heist tonight.

I had to spend some time editing something that I shot with a crew from Nashua back in December. Its a documentary style reality show concept that I developed, directed and produced.

This is the second documentary style reality show that I've developed and produced a concept reel for. The idea behind these little concept reels is that you're trying to capture the characters in a way that might convince network execs that there's enough to build a show on. You're also trying to capture elements of what they do and show how that might form the basis for stories that the episodes would be based on.

I've had a great time working on my concept reels and I've had some excellent crews and a lot of fun along the way. I've learned a lot about shooting and producing on the fly - real challenging.

After playing around with editing for the past month or so (I use Vegas 6.0 for the PC) its easy to understand what an important role editing plays in this medium. With a film, you at least have the screenplay to serve as a guide. With documentary style unscripted stuff, you have to take this mass of footage, rough out a story line and just keep working it until you have something that flows.. It's pretty challenging, but it really helps you develop the skills to build good narrative flow with the footage. I love it...

I plan on spending some serious time on Heist this weekend. I'm hoping my other books come in as well..

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Confession: The first screenplay that I ever wrote sucked. Period.

I think that for most first time writers, unless you're a genius, this is pretty much status quo. Now of course, I didn't think it sucked. While I didn't know or think that it sucked, I did know enough to hire someone that could tell me if it sucked or not.

I can't remember his name, but the first guy (it just happened to be a guy in this case, I've had plenty of coverage from women readers as well) that I hired to read one of my scripts was one of these people that reads (and/or suffers) stacks and stacks of scripts that come into the big studios in LA. These readers then write what's called a coverage report which essentially is the cliff notes version of the script. From these coverage reports, the development execs will decide which scripts from the stack they'll take home for their weekend reads.

The reader that I hired read for some big studios, Paramount among them. I was struck by the fact that despite his connections and working with development execs, he had still never sold one of his own scripts - shows you how tough it is to break into this business..


He basically ripped my script to shreds - and rightfully so, I might add - but the feedback was incredibly useful and from that I basically threw out everything but the concept and started from scratch.

The next guy that I hired was an actual produced Hollywood writer and his name was Mitch Klebanoff. Hiring Mitch was one of the smartest things I ever did because Mitch taught me more than any screenwriting book or class. He completely kicked my literary ass and really got me thinking about story, structure, character development and how never to justify the time that you put into something. If it doesn't fit, throw it out and don't look back - regardless of how cool you think it will look on screen, or how much you love the line that closes the scene. If it doesn't tell you something about a character or doesn't move the story forward, it's filler and basically a waste of screen time.

The other thing that Mitch did was to assure me that every meeting with him would be like any meeting I could expect to have with a producer trying to understand why I put something in the script and what it all meant... I have to admit that there are few things that I've paid for in my life that included someone yelling at me most of the time, but it worked. The fear of fucking up and facing his wrath each week kept me on my toes. The cool thing about Mitch is that if you did a great job, he'd really let you know, but you knew that you earned it.. He didn't give you anything. For that reason, I think he's one of the best writing coaches/mentors out there.

Another thing that I learned was that until you've written at least 5 or 10 drafts of something, it's never done. Someone (could have been Mitch) once told me writing is re-writing, especially in Hollywood.

I have a great relationship with Mitch, and he's done a lot to help me as a writer and producer. One of the things that surprised me early in our discussions was him mentioning that he hires people to read and critique his work (or gets other writers to look it over and offer notes). Why? Because it makes sense. You can't do this in a vacuum. So the other thing that became abundantly clear was that if you can't take someone telling you that you've got a shitty script or just a bad idea, you're in the wrong game.. :)

So, regardless of how much I think I may have learned in my five short years as a writer, I'll always hire someone to do coverage on the script and/or hire someone like Mitch to critique it.

While I have a small group of friends who I know will give me honest feedback, I'd never rely on that entirely before turning something in to either a contest or sending it out to a producer.

I typically start the search for suckiness and the cheese extraction (process by which all the cheesy scenes and dialog are purged) by taking my finished drafts to an English major neighbor of mine who lives up the street and she'll find all the grammatical type stuff and give me a pure review of the story, its good points and bad. I'll then revise and send it out to at least two coverage sites. However, before I do that, I'll typically register with the writers guild (WGAE) - which is as good a method of protection as a copyright, and you get the registration number back a lot quicker.

The two sites that I've found to give decent coverage are www.scriptshark.com and www.soyouwannasellascript.com. You end up paying about $150 a reading, but you'll get back pretty comprehensive notes on problems with story, character development, dialog and an overall rating of the script in a bunch of categories.

If the coverage is generally favorable from the two sites, I'll send it to Mitch to see if it passes his hard ass Hollywood writer test. If he thinks its good, then I'll copyright. While copyrighting isn't a huge pain in the ass, I just can't get myself to spend the money for the certificate if people think the script is shit. Why bother?

I plan on following this same process with this script. So by the time I'm done getting the script in shape, I'll end up spending $800 - $900 just to get enough sample opinions from people in the business to ensure that it doesn't suck and also to help me get the script in shape.

The thing I always keep in my head is that just because I think something is cool doesn't mean it will resonate with enough people to justify me making it or that a studio might want to buy it.

So this ends up being a decision point.

If after getting Heist in shape and the coverage and the Mitch critique aren't favorable enough, I may end pulling the plug on Heist and look for something else to produce.

While I'm on a mission to do this, I have no desire to add my name to the growing list of indie filmmakers that have a great looking movie with a story that sucks or an idea that no one cares about.

Last night, I worked on cleaning the pages up that I wrote on Tuesday night and cleaned up some inconsistencies that cropped up as a result of adding in Gail. This is the infamous ripple effect.. This was a big change, but fortunately, the ripples were small (mainly because the script is still relatively small), but sometimes small changes can have the inverse effect, so whenever you change something, however small, you invariably end up having to read and re-read to catch all the stuff that may have been affected by the change.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

As I was expecting, I've found dozens of references on various discussion boards to Robert Rodriguez's success with his $7,000 movie, "El Mariachi".

However, in reading a lot of the posts, I think a lot of people miss a few things...

People talk about the fact that the look of the film "really isn't that great" and wouldn't pass muster at a lot of festivals today. I beg to differ. While it had much better production values than the stuff he was gunning for at the time (the hordes of cheaply produced movies in the Latino market in the late 80's/early 90's) it also had an excellent story and was much better acted and directed than a lot of what you see in festivals today.

I think that what agents and studio execs saw in Robert was that while his film may not have been letter perfect - he simply got it. "It" being good filmmaking. Telling a story with the camera, the "hero" formula, good structure, and adding production value not simply for the sake of it, but because it supported the story. The other thing that I think bowled people over is that he did it in spite of the fact that he didn't have a huge budget. That was his genius. That's what it's about.

Keep in mind that this is not at all a generalization, because I think there are a lot of talented people that frequent the discussion boards I've been checking out (www.dvinfo.net and www.dvxuser.com), but it seems that a lot of these techies spend way too much time debating things like the difference between 16mm and mini DV, which carries more clout at festivals (film or digital), DV vs. HDV vs HD, this cam vs. that cam, why editing on a Mac is so much better than on a PC yada, yada, yada.. They focus so much on how the thing will look.. I will concede that many of these people are amazing - they know the equipment and the technical aspects of filmmaking backwards and forwards and they can shoot something that's technically stunning - I mean some of this stuff out there *really* is first rate...

But what the hell good is any of it if your story and performances suck? To me, this is the true challenge in filmmaking. While look is very important to me, it's still not as important as these two aspects - in other words, you shouldn't focus on it to the point where story and performance are ignored. This is the principal challenge that I intend to focus on with Heist.

If someone were to ask me what makes a great movie, I'd have to respond that for the time that I was there watching it, I was suckered into thinking that what I was watching was real - I believed it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Busy night..

I ordered yet another book..

While I want very badly to have James be the DP (director of photography) on Heist, I'm not sure if the schedules will work out, so I've gone out and purchased a book and DVD with tutorials on how to operate the Panasonic DVX100A which is the camera that we shot our short film
"Alibi Phone Network" on. Anyway, the book is supposed to be the definitive guide on the camera. I need to learn how to operate it. I'm not worried about composition. I think I've always had a decent eye for that, but I need to become an expert on that camera so that I can ensure a decent look on the film if I don't have James with me.

I spent a lot of time on various DV boards and while they're very helpful, they can also drive you nuts as well. So many opinions and it's all sometimes tough to sort through and figure out what might be best for you or your project.

I pulled up the script for Heist which I hadn't looked at in a while. It's quite a bit shorter than I remember (by almost half, so I must have been thinking of another script that I've been working on). Not a problem. It's in pretty damn good shape (what's there is anyway). I did some work on the opening scene and started working a new character into the first act. It felt good because it flowed really well and the two scenes that I added (about three pages) took almost no time to write. That felt good - back in the grove. The new character, Gail, will be a challenge to play - she's sort of complex. Lots of issues, lost soul, but I like her. She could have turned out much differently if it weren't for her childhood. I was once told that when you bring a character into a story, you need to understand everything there is to know about them, even though we're seeing just a small slice of them in the film. You need to know what makes them tick, their history, etc. So it helps for me to think of them as people in my life that I know. Odd I know, but it helps make them more real for me.

I talked to my friend
Todd Poudrier tonight, an actor from Boston who was one of the male leads in Alibi. He's moving to LA, but it sounds as if he'd be back to shoot Heist which was a relief because I'd always pictured him in the role of Eddie. I started writing Heist after Alibi and always had Todd in mind when I wrote the part of Eddie. He even came over one night to read one of the scenes that I'd written to see how it sounded. He's Eddie.. It's great.

I've revealed my plan to a few friends now who I think may secretly consider me nuts for taking this on, but what the hell.. I'm convinced that while shorts are great learning tools, there's not much point in doing another one. We made it into a bunch of decent festivals with Alibi. For this next project, I'd rather spend the time and money on something that could teach me more about features which is what I wanted to do in the first place.

Last night I finished the Robert Rodriguez book "Rebel Without A Crew: or How A 23-Year-Old Filmmaker With $7,000 Became A Hollywood Player".

It came in the mail from Amazon on Saturday, but I couldn't dig into it until I got back from snowboarding on Sunday evening.

It's basically a diary that tells the story of the making of his breakout film "El Mariachi" and how he did it on an ultra low ($7,000) budget and hit it big. My friend James Tauber told me that there was a more recent example of a high tech guy who shot a film for 7k and won the grand jury prize at Sundance, but I can never remember the name of it. I'll have to ask him (again).

I could not put the book down. To say that I was inspired by it is an understatement. He shot "El Mariachi" hoping to sell it on the Latino direct to video market, but on his way to doing that, he managed to get connected with an agent at ICM who within a matter of weeks had the entire town buzzing about this kid and his $7,000 movie. Then a bidding war basically broke out over Robert and his movie.

I suppose that you could say that he got the deal of the century, and that what happened to him is rare, but he produced a great film with a cool story. It struck me that these big agents can create a buzz about anyone and have it consume Hollywood overnight, but after watching "El Mariachi" I can see why they were so excited. The kid had talent. The chances are pretty low that what happened to him would happen to me, but they're even lower if I don't produce a feature at all, right?

Robert Rodriguez accomplished this amazing feat back in 1991/92. The technology and some of the techniques that he used in producing "El Mariachi" were the functional equivalent of stone knives when compared to today's technology.. But that didn't stop him which was what was so cool about it.

Still, a lot of things that he did and the advice that he had that are relevant to indie filmmaking regardless of the technology involved. Much of it really came down to planning. Knowing what he wanted ahead of time so he'd know where to put the camera when he shot, and also making editing decisions on the fly while he was shooting.

I was astounded by how he shot the film silent, then used a radio shack microphone and a cheapy Merantz cassette tape recorder to record the sound (dialog and effects) to the scene which he would later sync up in post. The fact that the audio went out of sync in several places was solved by simply cutting away before the actors lips went out of sync with the audio.

This was also done in the days before low cost computer based editing, so all 2000 cuts in the movie were done by hand on video tape (not the actual 16 mm film that was used).

While I won't have the technological limitations that he had, I'll have similar budget constraints, so the challenges will be rather significant. But he pointed out in his book, problems and challenges test creativity, the more creative you are, the easier it is to find solutions to your problems... We'll see..

I've ordered another book, "Killer Camera Rigs That You Can Build: How to Build Your Own Camera Cranes, Car Mounts, Stabilizers, Dollies, and More". The thought is that if I'm going to cram a ton of production value into this thing, I'll need to build some of my own rigs to keep the costs down. That will be fun, so I'm looking forward to it.

I've got a half finished script called "Heist" that I'll be going over for the next few days to see what can be done to complete it. I sort of have the story arc of the main characters completed in my head, but I think that I'll need at least one more minor subplot to fill it out. More to come... Stay tuned.