Thursday, November 13, 2008

My Movie Plan

Every time I go to the American Film Market I get depressed. Not due to all of the cruddy movies among the Oscar hopefuls... but because none of the cruddy movies are mine - movies that I have made. You see, AFM is filled with people who were selling cell phones a couple of years ago... and now they are movie producers. I see these guys and realize they have no talent, no taste, and are making films. What do they have? Balls.

I am uncomfortable - that’s a code word for scared sh!tless - to put all of the pieces together and then ask someone for a bunch of money that isn’t mine to make a movie... which will be the first thing I’ve produced that wasn’t some silly “student film”. What if I screw up? I have no idea what the hell I’m doing - why would anyone give me money?

I think it's good to think of *all* of the ways you can either break in, or make a living in this biz. Isn't screenwriting part of making movies? If I didn't want to be involved in making movies, I'd be writing novels and short stories. Though I have written both (I'm a writer first) I am a SCREENwriter, and have monkeyed around making little short films (and an ill-advised Super 8 feature). I know a bunch of screenwriters who went to film school, and many trying to break in who work in crew jobs. One of the things I think can help you with your writing is to make some short films. And being on a set teaches you all kinds of things about what works on paper but doesn't work at all on film. Screenwriting is part of film making - and many people interested in writing movies are interested in movies and making movies.

I’ve joked before that the main reason why I’m a screenwriter is because paper costs a lot less than 16mm film. And I can write whatever budget I want... but when I was making movies, it was whatever was in my checking account that wasn’t earmarked for rent and food.

Now, I have learned one thing in my past life making short films and that Super 8mm feature - I am not cut out for directing. My idea of heaven is to sit alone in my room and write, not be bombarded with questions and problems from the crew and cast. I think you need to have a huge ego and be a major extrovert to enjoy directing. But I know a lot about directing, and I have done it... and I am planning to make my own little movie, hopefully next year. (The plan was to make it between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I'm working on this assignment and haven't written the script for my movie, yet.)

One of the things I've realized is that even though I probably know more than many of the people making low budget movies today, I am afraid to take the *responsibility* of making a movie on someone else's money, since I've never done that before. I had a friend back in my community college days who never spent a cent on any of his films - he always found someone else to put up the money (often me or one of his other friends) - he also had no trouble asking people to give him rent money. This guy made a pile of films, and had no problem asking people for money to make features. I never learned how to do that... and seems that I still haven't. So my plan is to do what I did back in the day, which is what I advise people to do on message boards - I'm funding a feature out of pocket. Some of the money from my current assignment is going to make a no-budget feature.

And the cool thing about this project...

When you work every day in the biz, it sometimes isn't fun anymore. I long for those old days when I was making movies with my buddies on 8mm and Super 8mm and 16mm (whenever I could afford it). We all used to crew on each other's films, and it was kind of a party with a movie as the outcome. In fact, at one point we would have regular house parties and make a film for each of them. Making the film was often more fun than the party! So I've decided to recapture those old days by making the film with my old friends back home (who all have day jobs now, but regularly make shorts for festivals and competitions). Each of us will rotate through as director, working as camera or gaffer or some other position when we aren't calling the shots. Shot digi. Edited on a laptop. Everything will be beg, borrowed, stolen... with catering by Little Caesar's $5 pizza. No permits - I just hope we can outrun the police as old farts the way we used to as 20 year olds. Part of my screenwriting process will be finding what we have access to and using that in the story, but I have found some cheap stock footage of building implosions that I'm going to use some cheap fire and explosion CGI plug ins on, and some car crash footage, too. In the old days, on that feature, I figured out how to blow up a car without any explosion, and that's even easier in this CGI age. The idea is to find everything we have access to that is production value and put it in the script. This is going to be the same as those shorts we were making decades ago - ind of a party with a film to show for it.

For me, personally, it's a way to make a film in my comfort zone... then use my connections with distribs to get it on the shelves at Blockbuster, and let the distrib offer me money for the next film (again, in my comfort zone). I think once I've made one, it'll be easier to accept the responsibility to make the next with someone else's cash. And it may even open some interesting screenwriting doors for me. Basically, I’m trying to find a way around all of my fears to reach my goal. Now, this is the coward’s way out - I’m not confronting my fear and resolving my problems like a good protagonist. But I am achieving my goal. This is kind of like training wheels on a bicycle - when you get your balance, you can take them off. I need the training wheels for the first film.

Here’s the project:

Building Contractor Dave Jackson checks into a hotel for his 20 year High School Reunion the following day. A knock at the door. When Jackson answers, no one there. Just a manila envelope. Inside the envelope: A man's photo, several bundles of twenty dollar bills, and a 357 Magnum. Jackson realizes the envelope has been delivered to the wrong room... And the hit man is after him! Caught between hitman and victim, regular guy Dave Jackson must fight to survive.

This project is being designed as a web-serial, 12 segments at 7 minutes each, with 11 cliff-hangers. That adds up to 84 minutes, which gives us a feature to sell on DVD once the serial has run online. The plan is to give away the first couple of episodes, then go subscription for the rest. This project will shoot in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have access to some interesting locations, and plan to guerrilla shoot at a bunch of landmark locations to increase production value. The cool thing is that my friends and I can easily alternate directing with this kind of format. And all of the cliff-hangers will give it a 24 feel, and keep it exciting.

Once I know what I have to work with, I’ll write a script that takes advantage of those elements (plus all of the locations I plan to steal - there *will* be some sort of chase on a BART train and look for all of the San Francisco landmarks as part of the story). Then we’ll put together a cast and shoot it, probably over 6 weekends - though it may be 5 weekends in the Bay Area and one weekend in Los Angeles that might include some names in confined cameos. Or maybe a single day in LA, depends on how things work out. Probably late summer of next year, so that it will be ready to sell at AFM next year. There are some actors, musicians and comics that live in the Bay Area, and maybe we can get a couple in the film - that’s a long shot, but you gotta try those things. On my pocket change budget, I don’t need names to break even...

And if the movie doesn’t sell? It will be a blast making it. I’ll keep you posted when things happen. Right now I'm still slugging it wout with this assignment.

I think we live in a time of amazing possibilities for people who want to be involved in making films (which includes screenwiting) - you can actually make a feature film for very little money and get it to the audience in a variety of ways. Internet, standard distribs, self distribution. As someone who is part of making films.... that usually start out okay and end up sucking... it would be nice to have one that isn’t rewritten by damned dirty apes or changed by clueless directors or otherwise damaged on the way to the screen. And if NEAR HIT sucks, I’ll have only myself to blame. And I’m okay with that.

- Bill


Emily Blake said...

This sounds awesome. I look forward to reading the progress.

Marty said...

Your blog ALWAYS teaches me something new about the screenwriting business, thank you for continuing to post. I too, would love to be able to claim the title screenwriter someday - until then I look to writers like you for inspiration.

E.C. Henry said...

LOVE the ambition, Bill. Have fun with friends when making moives; you have it all figured out, Bill.

Can't bring myself to write shorts. No passion for it. I like writing feature films that entertain the masses.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Richard McNally said...

Like the concept; people usually get nervous about attending reunions and this time someone is entitled to be scared s---less. Making the familiar new, you can't go wrong there.

Andrew Bellware said...

I think you hit the nail on the head: make sure it's still fun. Otherwise, why do it? ;-)

(And I wait with baited breath to find out what your distributor friends have to say about Blockbuster...)

Christina said...

I live in SF. Need a script supervisor? :-)

ObiDonWan said...

intriguing, Bill.
And once you begin this movie, you could also make a movie about some guys getting together to make a movie (this one) and Someone is killing them off one by one.
And it's Tarantino!

David CC Erickson said...


rorybaldwin said...

I wish i lived in SF this is the sort of thing I'd get involved in!

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