Monday, December 14, 2009

New *Improved* Movie Plan

Okay, some of you folks have been wondering what the heck happened with that movie I was making... and so have I! Well, there have been some hurdles and some plot twists and some major changes. Here’s what happened...

At the end of last year, when I landed the top secret studio remake gig, I was also planning on making my own little ultra-low budget movie to retain my sanity, have fun, experiment with the internet as a delivery system, recapture my youth by working with a bunch of old friends I used to make movies with when I was in my 20s, and get some practical experience for a proposed book on writing low, ultra-low, and no budget movies. All I need was enough disposable income to make the movie... and the top secret remake gig would provide that.

I had an old story that I really liked called NEAR HIT that was ambitious as hell, but I would have a pretty good cushion with that top secret remake income, so if I went over budget I could still finish the film. I wouldn’t film myself into the poorhouse, or end up with half a film and no money to finish it... and the cast scattered to the wind so that when I *did* have the money to finish it I could not find the lead actor, or maybe he shaved his head for a role or got a sex change or something.

Before I sold the script that allowed me to tell my boss at the warehouse to take this job and shove it, and I moved to Los Angeles for the fame and fortune of being a professional screenwriter, I used to make movies on Super 8mm film, 16mm film, and video. Because I owned a video camera and deck and lights and a union day job, I produced some projects that my friends directed. At one point I came up with a TWILIGHT ZONE type project for public access TV called SHADOWS. I wrote a few 24 minute scripts, provided the camera and deck and lights and sometimes meals and other costs, and my friends and I directed them. Though this was supposed to be fun, all kinds of complications ensued including one friend pretty much screwing over everyone he knew and doing many things that were shocking and unforgivable. Sorry, there will be no blog entry to explain that.

Anyway, back to the lead actor getting a sex change thing... My friend Curt Wells was one of the people making episodes and I wrote him a cool one called GIRL OF MY DREAMS about a guy in a dead end job and failing marriage who suddenly begins dreaming about that one big love he had in college. Remember your first real love? After having these dreams, he becomes obsessed with her - where is she now? Does she still dream of him the way he dreams of her? He hires a private eye to track here down while he comes up with a scheme to embezzle a bunch of money from his company and dump his nagging wife so that he and dream-girl can live happily ever after in some exotic local. So Curt finds an actor to play this guy and starts making the film - there is no pay for anyone, all of this is for the actor’s reel and for fun. Curt gets about halfway through filming and something happens - probably health related, because Curt had heart problems - and filming stops. When Curt gets ready to do some filming again, the unpaid actor has literally shaved his head and looks completely different... and Curt can not find any wig or toupee on a no-budget budget that looks even close to real. This means the project is shelved until the lead actor decides to grow his hair back... if he ever decides.

Um, I didn’t want that to happen to us on NEAR HIT, so it was important that we shoot all of it at once and not have to close down production because I ran out of money because the project was too ambitious for the amount of money I had in my disposable income column. When the secret studio remake thing kept being delayed... and then completely lost momentum and seemed to be shelved... I realized I would have to come up with something much less ambitious than NEAR HIT.

So I decided the best bet might be to do some sort of anthology movie, like the SHADOWS project many years ago. That way, we could make it one episode at a time and wouldn’t have to worry about some lead actor shaving their head because we could probably make an episode in 1 or 2 weekends. My killer mouse SHADOWS episode was made in 2 weekends and ran 24 minutes. If we could make 3 or 4 episodes and do a wrap-around, we could easily get to 85-90 minutes, even if some of the episodes were short. But what would be the hook? I started to look for something, and discovered some work by a writer in public domain. This writer was not known for horror stories, but like all writers, was struggling to earn a living and if someone was paying for horror stories he wrote them. The horror stories were practically unknown, but had once been collected in a book that was available used. Bought it, and the horror stories lacked... horror. No wonder nobody knew this guy wrote horror stories - they sucked. All had a kernel of horror in them, but the writer went in the wrong direction!

But, I could “adapt” the stories and take them in the right direction. Use the set up from the original stories and make them work as horror. The plan was to write up the first one and shoot it over the holidays (basically - now). But the added problem with these stories was that they were period stories, and tough to adapt to 2010, and that the least complicated one - that I would want to start out with - took place out doors. And it rains in my home town over the holidays... and is freezing cold when it is not raining. Probably better to schedule this for summer.

And the anthology format is kind of iffy in the low & no budget world.
And horror seems to be saturated right now.
And I really wasn’t sure that this old writer would be enough of a hook to sell the film.
And I might be trading one set of complications for another - period and outdoors.

Then my flurry of meetings and projects hit, and I would have no time to shoot anything over the holidays - I have writing to do!

Now I might have enough disposable income to do something less complicated (unless the top secret studio remake kicks in), but what?

Well, 15 years ago a producer wanted me to come in and pitch some sequel ideas to a low budget thriller they had made. I came up with a way to expand that GIRL OF MY DREAMS Shadows episode into a feature with all kinds of twists and turns and 3 times more new material. The 24 page script would become 90 pages. They loved my pitch, but there was one big complication - I landed a better paying script job. I think that was one of the years where I had 3 films made in one year. I was too busy to write this low paying sequel... but I had a friend. My buddy hadn’t sold a script, yet, but I’d read one of his that just kicked ass. So I gave him a call and asked if he wanted an assignment that I didn’t have time for. Of course he said yes. The producer made one of the conditions that I would have to guarantee his work - do a rewrite on my friend’s script if it wasn’t good enough. I reluctantly agreed, wondering where I would squeeze in the time to do that rewrite. I warned my friend that he needed to schedule in a couple of days before handing in the script to polish it so that they would have confidence in him and let him do the rewrites instead of calling me. Not a problem. So I wrote out all of the notes from my pitch as well as any ideas I had and any suggestions on how to make the script cool. I had a complete step outline, plus the 24 page original script, too. This was like an instant script - just add writing. He could do anything he wanted with characters and dialogue and scenes and actions, as long as he followed the basic story I had pitched to the producer. And the producer would pay him half in advance and half when he handed in the script. My friend would be a professional writer - and have a produced script.

And then everything went wrong. He choked. That happens more often than you might imagine. I’m thinking of doing a Script Tip about it. Writers think, “If only I had a chance”, then someone gives them that chance and the fantasy turns to reality and they worry that they might fail... and all of that worry actually makes them fail. Hey, it’s just a bunch of writing on paper! No reason to worry. If you get to the point where someone is going to give you that chance, it’s because you have *earned it*. You are good enough. So, just write it! Well, my friend did not write it. And he had to give back the advance. And the producer was not happy with me, and also needed a finished script like yesterday so that they could make their film, and ended up buying something off the street and hammering it into a sequel to their film.

And I still have that step outline and all of those notes... somewhere.

Because that was a low budget movie, it had limited locations and limited characters and limited effects... but all kinds of cool ideas that could be filmed for next to nothing. Most of the story took place in a house... and one of my cohorts on this low to no-budget film project has a brand new luxury house in the Bay Area. Hmmm, a set we own and control! A limited cast, so less chance of someone shaving their head... though this was the same project where that happened and ruined Curt’s film.

But the big problem: where did I put those notes from 15 years ago?

In my office is the Closet Of Doom - filled with hundreds of notebooks and binders and scripts and short stories and half written novels and anything else that I think I will probably never need again. It was in one of those hundreds of notebooks. Problem is, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I began writing an index on the outside of my notebooks for the contents within. So for the 13 years worth of notebooks between when I began writing the contents on the front covers and the notebook I was looking for... oh, and all of the notebooks *before that*... I had no way to know what was inside except opening them up and looking at page after page. VERY time consuming.

Add to that - I am busy right now with this flurry of meetings and assignments and it may take weeks of searching to find this stuff. Would be nice to see what it is now, so that I can tell my cohorts about it over the holidays. I knew that in the outline for the new 75 pages (unwritten) there were all kinds of cool ideas... but what were they? I can’t remember. All I can remember is that the producer thought they were cool ideas, too. When I reread the 24 page version of the script, I could not figure out how the hell I’d come up with any way to expand it. It was self contained. It had a beginning and middle and end. It was 24 pages. So I decided to give myself one hour to search through all of those notebooks in the Closet Of Doom. One hour.

And I find it within that hour. By accident.

So I now have the step outline and all of the notes to turn GIRL OF MY DREAMS into a feature - and the ideas really are cool. There’s a big high concept grafted on that works perfectly and turns this into a low budget MATRIX kind of thing (outline written before THE MATRIX, and going in a different direction than that film). And there’s a cool subplot grafted on that is filled with inexpensive thrills and plot twists. Some of the things that were off screen because they were too expensive to shoot in 1995 are now possible to do onscreen digitally for little or no money. This is gonna be cool. The problems on the horizon are all talent related. We will be shooting it in the San Francisco Bay Area, and one of the female roles may be difficult to cast... and we also need someone who does practical effects up there. There is no pay.

The NEAR HIT project is not abandoned, nor is that public domain anthology thing; they are just postponed until I find the money to do them. The plan has always been that if the first one works out, we just keep making one every year for fun. Using anything made on the last one to pay for the next one, and hopefully each one gets bigger.

So, once I get done with this flurry of projects, I use this ancient step outline to expand that short script and hopefully we film it in the summer when it isn’t raining. Hopefully we will figure out the casting and practical effects stuff between now and then. Oh, and I have to come up with another title and figure out how to break this story up into 5 to 7 minute webisodes and maybe add a couple of “confined cameos” so that I can cast some actor friends from Los Angeles if I find some extra money.

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Story Is Change - and the new Clint Eastwood movie INVICTUS.
Yesterday's Dinner: Pork Roast and salad at home.

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Christopher said...

It could have been health or it could have been Curt got distracted. Too close to call with Curt.

Christian H. said...

Long read. I can say that I try to write shorts as the Act 3. It takes a change or two but you can start anywhere if you proceed correctly.

I actually have my first short in Pre right now and made a deal with the director on an extended version.

Here's hoping the short version does well.

The Moviequill said...

I continually hold out hope somebody gives me a break one day

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