FEAR DOESN’T EXIST

Fear doesn’t exist, it’s created.  The anxiety we feel which can make fear comes from either not knowing something, or actual danger.  Danger exists, sure; but that isn’t fear.  It’s possible to erase fear from our entire lives if we simply understand what it is that’s provoking us to create fear.  I know it’s possible because I’ve been successful at eliminating it from my experience.

Someone I was working with recently has anxiety over legal agreements.  Somewhere along the way while growing up he decided that legal jargon was “over his head” and “confusing” and so on.  Because he decided these ideas, he created a fear that paralyzes him whenever he’s in a situation where a contract must be signed.

I explained each sentence to him one at a time.  It was very difficult because the fear he’d created was so intense, that although he understood each time I taught him what the words meant, he’d fall back into fear the moment I stopped talking.

Eventually, I pointed out to him that he had made some decisions to just be afraid, and that if he wanted to, he had the power to remove the fear by making decisions to understand the English language (which of course he already knew, and well, as he’s a writer).

People are crippled by fear all the time, and when I tell people they have the power to remove fear from their lives simply by finding out what triggers that fear inside them, they look totally befuddled.

If you’d like to remove fear from your life – maybe from a specific place you hold fear (such as fear of snakes, spiders, and so on), or maybe a more significant fear (such as fear of flying, driving, social interaction, and so on) – simply book some consulting time with me and we’ll tackle your fears together.  Depending on the topic, it usually is something we can conquer fairly easily and in a short amount of time.

HELL TOWN: Review by Andrew Shearer for VOLUME ATHENS

HELL TOWN
Review by Andrew Shearer for VOLUME ATHENS

You can’t just run around making comedies about high school murder and mayhem anymore. It’s far too serious a subject, and even now, revisiting a classic like “Heathers” (1988) feels a little wrong. There’s a reason why Hollywood opted for adapting “The Hunger Games” rather than doing an English-language remake of “Battle Royale.” If you’re going to make a movie where kids are killing one another in the hallways, you’d better be doing so with a straight face.

Unless you’re Steve Balderson.

When I saw his first film, “Pep Squad”, (2000) I couldn’t believe anyone would have the audacity to release such a film (it was actually made in 1998). Centered around a girl named Cherry who goes on a violent rampage after not being nominated for homecoming queen, Balderson’s world was about as far from reality as you could get. To call it irresponsible film making would be a compliment, as there was no attempt made at holding up a mirror to the potentially disastrous consequences of teenage angst in American society. It was gross, it was hilarious, and it was necessary.

Cut to over a decade and thirteen features later, Balderson makes a return of sorts to his roots with “Hell Town”, a wildly original exercise in what John Waters once called “the theatre of the ridiculous”. Presented as three episodes of a non-existent television series, Balderson and co-director Elizabeth Spear (“Roundball”) throw out traditional story structure by placing the viewer in the middle of an already established set of characters up to their eyeballs in high drama. Trish (Krysten Day) is a Marsha Brady clone making a list of potential prom dates, Bobby (Blake Cordell) is secretly in love with track star Jesse (Owen Lawless), Mother Manly (Pleasant Gehman) is in a coma, and that’s just a small piece of it.

Also, there’s a serial killer that’s bumping everyone off, one by one. Fans of “Friday The 13th” will enjoy the creative spin on the famous arrow kill and will delight in the unbelievable “death by donuts” scene, but there’s something for the “Twin Peaks” crowd as well: Gehman also plays a dual role as the attending nurse (sharing nearly ever scene with a comatose version of herself) and one character is replaced with another actor between episodes. It’s surreal, it’s disgusting, it’s high camp, and yet there are still moments of quiet, understated artistry that speak of film makers with more on their minds than just spilling blood and making jokes.

Despite its blatant disregard for anything resembling political correctness, there is more going on with “Hell Town” than your typical indie shocker. Balderson and Spear never go for the cheap laugh, the obvious gag or the tried-and-true high school genre stereotype. Nothing happens the way you expect it to, no one behaves quite the way their appearance would suggest, and the silliness has a razor sharp edge that pokes you any time you’ve started to get too comfortable. Best of all, “Hell Town” exposes most television series for what they are: a glorified soap opera hidden under a higher concept, making you wait far too long to see anything happen.

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Next week April 23, 2015, the Austin Horror Society presents the world premiere of HELL TOWN in Austin, TX at the Alamo Drafthouse.  Open to the public.  Cast & crew in attendance.
Tickets and details: www.DIKENGA.com

HELL TOWN: Review by UK film critic MJ Simpson

HELL TOWN
Review by UK film critic MJ SImpson

For those of us who have been following Steve Balderson’s career, Hell Town is exactly what we have come to expect, in that it is completely unexpected. For starters, it’s a horror film. A black comedy, certainly, but revolving around a serial killer, and some of the deaths are quite unpleasant and gruesome (in a blackly comic sort of way).

Steve’s work has bordered on horror before: Pep Squad was a tale of high school psychopathic murder dark enough to play at genre festivals like Fantasporto (where I saw it, and first met Steve’s producer father Clark). His sophomore work (and magnum opus), the stunning Firecracker certainly contained some disturbingly horrific elements, not least its Browning-ian use of real sideshow freaks. And before Pep Squad Steve even made an amateur, feature-length vampire film. But this is his first full-bodied horror flick.

It’s also a soap opera. Not figuratively or metaphorically but literally. Taking the concept of the three-act structure to its logical conclusion, Steve and co-director Elizabeth Spear have fashioned the story as three consecutive mid-season episodes of a fictitious TV serial, including opening and closing credits (inspired partly by the modern habit of watching TV episodes back to back in a ‘box set’). The acting is deliberately mannered (as is the direction) but not over-the-top or played for laughs. We’re not watching Acorn Antiques here.

The story concerns two families: the Manlys and the Gables. Trish Gable (Krysten Day, a regular at Wamego’s Columbian Theatre) is the perky, peppy blonde prom queen looking to give away her “other virginity” to the right guy. Her bitter, jealous sister Laura is played by BeckiJo Neill in ‘episode 7’ and then recast without explanation from ‘episode 8’ onwards in the person of Jennifer Grace (Marybelle in The Casserole Club), who looks almost nothing at all like her predecessor. Bobby (Blake Cordell) is their slender, effete brother who is not entirely out. Moody emo BJ (Sarah Napier) and their father (Jeff Montague) complete the family. (Montague is missing from the IMDB cast list, possibly because of… well, you can google the guy.)

The Manly boys do their best to live up to their name by wandering around shirtless for much of the film. There’s Blaze Manly (Matt Weight, also co-producer: Ian in Occupying Ed), his brothers Butch (Ben Windholz) and Jesse (Owen Lawless) plus sister Chanel (Amanda Deibert, standing out among a strong cast). Deibert was Tiffany in The Far Flung Star and Lucy in Occupying Ed; she has horror previous including Andrew Muto’s Blood Runs Black and was even in a Creep Creepersin movie! Chanel is Trish Gable’s nemesis and, in a running gag, works in every dining/retail establishment in town. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Steve Balderson joint without a role for Pleasant Gehman and here you get two Plezes for the price of one. She is ‘Mother Manly’, lying comatose on a bed throughout, and also the scheming nurse who cares for her.

Among all the unrequited crushes, backstabbing bitchiness, repressed sexuality, sibling rivalry and general small-town angst, there is the little matter of the ‘Letter Jacket Killer’ who is offing local youngsters in a variety of sadistic ways. Well, I say ‘youngsters’ but in the grand tradition of American movies, all these ‘high school students’ are clearly in their mid-twenties. And within the artificiality of the soap opera conceit, that is exactly as it should be.

The two-headed directorial beast that is Steve and Liz manages proceedings with an acute awareness of both soaps and slashers, never missing a trick for a camera cliché, a hackneyed line of dialogue or an overwrought bit of plotting. It’s a truism that you have to be very good at something in order to effectively lampoon a bad version of that thing without yourself appearing bad, and that’s certainly the case here (the sine qua non of this principle is, in my humble opinion, the Bonzos track ‘Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold’ – what do you mean, you’ve never heard it?). Anyway, Steve is of course a hugely talented and experienced film-maker whose career I have been following for the best part of two decades. Elizabeth Spear is a new name to me.

According to the IMDB (and with all the caveats such a phrase implies) she has made seven previous features since 2003, including dramas, comedies, a documentary, a war film; some of them co-directed with other people. It would seem from Hell Town that she meshes well with Steve B. But then a real TV soap would have different directors for different episodes anyway.

I’m no soap-watcher but I do like a nice slice of horror and Hell Town works admirably as a pastiche of the slasher genre, benefitting (I believe) from having been made by somebody who normally works well outside said genre. Far too many ‘slasher comedies’ are lamentably unfunny and self-indulgent: of interest only to obsessive slasher fans, the sort who don’t care about character, only about deaths. By presenting the tale of the Letter Jacket Killer as a slice of soap opera, Steve and Liz foreground the characters. And although some of the minor ones outside of the two main families have little time to register before becoming bloody corpses, we can infer that we would have known them a whole lot better if we had seen Season One and the preceding six episodes of Season Two. (There is an opening caption explaining that the entire first and third seasons on Hell Town have been lost, and I really hope that Steve makes a lot more of this fictitious ‘real story’ behind the series when he starts publicising Hell Town, mainly because there’s so much fun to be had there.)

Jake Jackson supplied the excellent special effects make-up for the various kills. This is his second film gig following a thriller called Erasure; he has also worked on stage productions of Shrek, Young Frankenstein and The Tempest. Nancy Cox provided the regular hair and make-up.

Several of the supporting cast were also in Occupying Ed and The Far Flung Star. Michael Page, Connor Lloyd Crews and Chris Pudlo all receive ‘additional writing’ credits. Cinematographer Daniel G Stephens, who has previously worked with both directors, credited here with ‘special photographic effects’, lights every scene with a TV sensibility that doesn’t detract from the movie experience. And an extra special treat for long-time Balderfans is the return to the fold of the legend that is Betty O, for the first time since Stuck!, here appearing as a TV news reporter.

Hell Town is a hoot to watch and gives every impression of having been a hoot to make, which I think is characteristic of Steve’s films in this  part of his career. It’s not quite up there with the wonderful Occupying Ed, partly because the soap opera conceit necessarily robs the film of a layer of sincerity. On the other hand, I much preferred it to Steve’s two lightweight international capers The Far Flung Star and Culture Shock. It’s a real treat to see Steve working within the horror genre and bringing that unique Wamego touch to the tired tropes and corny clichés that we all know and love.

MJS rating: A-

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On April 23, 2015, The Austin Horror Society will present the world premiere of HELL TOWN in Austin Texas at the Alamo Drafthouse.  For details visit the website: www.DIKENGA.com

ACTORS AND THE MEDIA

It always amuses me when actors pretend to get shy around the media.  Most of them, even if they deny it, are actors because they love and crave attention.  As children, they were the first to jump up in front of a group and “perform.”

Many actors are also pretty insecure people.  I mean, think about it.  They turn their life’s objective into avoiding their true selves in exchange for always being somebody else.  The good ones get paid for it.  Sometimes, actors find out there’s very little time left to be themselves, and some might even forget who they used to be all together.

Actors could also be called professional liars.  The good ones are so good at lying, that you actually believe what they’re saying and feeling.  Even though it’s totally fake.  I mean, it’s a movie, right!?  Someone wrote that for him or her to say.  And in some cases, this isn’t always exclusive to their performances on screen.  Sometimes the good actors can achieve amazing results in normal day-to-day life.

Anyway, if you’re a director or producer and you ever come upon an actor who is shy around the media, or afraid to do interviews with the press, you might need to pretend you understand them, and hold their hands, but know, deep down, by the time they get into the interview they’ll be all lit up, performing, doing what they do best.  And they always eat it up.  You’ll see.

Depending on the actor, it may be a good idea to give them a script to follow.  Some actors are brilliant at improvisation.  But many need a back-story, a character arc and a sheet of dialogue.  Or, at least, talking bullet points.

I like to supply my actors with a go-to bullet point list of topics to discuss about our movie.  Questions to answer in a precise way, using careful language.  Sometimes I’ll even include a list of topics to avoid, such as, giving away any plot secrets, or proprietary information.

Another idea I’ve advised other filmmakers in the past, is to be a kind of go-between with the media.  Have the interviewer send you the questions first, so you can look over them and make sure there’s nothing offensive asked, or anything that might cause the project harm.  And, likewise, maybe there’s a question asked the actor would otherwise not know how to answer—so you can tell the actor what to say.

Or, you could simply tell the interviewer you’ll pass along their email address or phone number to the actor and let the actor take it from there.  I guess it depends on which way make you more comfortable.  Some of the more famous actors don’t like having their email or number given out, so in most cases dealing with a celebrity of any kind, this will be the best avenue to take.

Actors are a funny bunch, and of course I was generalizing their personalities at the start of this article.  Not every actor acts like that, and not all of them are ruthless self-absorbed fame-hungry monsters.  Some of my greatest friends are amazing actors and their gifts and talent are greatly appreciated.  Without actors, there’s no such thing as a movie.  So we need them.  And we need to cherish them.  But, when it comes time to promote your movie, you might need to nudge them a little bit this way or that.

YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE

No matter what you do, it is impossible to please everybody.  There will always be a percentage of people who hate what you create, no matter what it is.  There’s nothing you can do about it.  However, once you realize this is a true statement, you can best position your work to exist in an environment where the majority of the people will like it.

My first film PEP SQUAD is a satirical comedy about school violence.  It’s in the same vein as John Waters’ SERIAL MOM or that movie HEATHERS from the 80s.  When Hollywood Video wanted to release the movie, they decided to market it as a horror film.  I thought this was a terrible idea, because there’s nothing about the movie that remotely resembles a horror film.  And, I knew that if an unsuspecting viewer, who was out to find a horror film, rented or purchased PEP SQUAD, he or she would be totally disappointed because it didn’t meet their expectations.  That kind of marketing is the most stupid because, I would think, the whole point is to make as much money as possible from the release of a movie.  Instead, by marketing it to the wrong audience, they shot themselves in the foot.

Same thing happened with my film FIRECRACKER.  The distributors wanted to put artwork on the cover featuring a Ferris Wheel and carnival with blood dripping off the letters.  I was like, “Really?! Are you serious?”  After a lengthy email educating the distributors about good design and bad design, they agreed to use the artwork I’d originally created for the film.  There were elements in FIRECRACKER that were horrific, but it was a sort of Gothic Horror, or a classic Shakespearean Tragedy.  Again, it wasn’t a horror film.  I wondered what the obsession is with every distribution company trying to market their movies as horror films.  Yes, horror films sell really well.  So buy a horror film.  Don’t try to pretend the film is horror even if it isn’t.

A similar thing nearly happened to my film CASSEROLE CLUB.  It’s a film about the disintegration of married life.  Although there are sex scenes, and situations, there is nothing “sexy” about it.  Yet the distributors wanted to change the title to SWING PARTY ’69 because they were certain it would show up sooner on the Video On Demand channels.  I put my foot down, as did some of the actors in the film, and just wouldn’t let them change the title.  Any viewer expecting a sexy romp wouldn’t like it a bit once it turned serious and emotionally heavy.  The only people who dislike that film are precisely the ones who put it on thinking they’re about to watch some kind of soft-core porn.  Like the distributors obsessed with marketing every movie as a horror film, if you market every movie as a sexy soft-core number, you’ll alienate people and you won’t live up to meeting the expectations of your viewers.

This article isn’t intended to be about marketing, but I illustrate those two examples as a means to explain the following.  Your project—whatever it may be—is what it is.  No matter what you do, 75% of the people will like it, and 25% won’t.  If you try and disguise the project to please everyone, and gain the respect of the people who don’t like it, you will alienate some of the people who would’ve liked it.  Always leaving you with a percentage of people who hate what you’re doing.

Instead of paying any attention to the people who dislike what you’re doing, my advice is to focus on the 75% who do.  Market to that group and embrace those people.  Ignore the rest.  There will always be a negative review, a group of people who hate it.  There’s nothing you can do about them.  They’re stuck that way forever.  Instead, focus your attention on meeting the expectations of the people who do like what you’re doing.  If your latest movie is loved by kids 14-19 year olds, who cares what the 35 year old thinks.  Market the movie to kids!  That is one of the recipes for success.

EVERY FILM IS REALLY THREE

Did you know that every movie is actually made up of three different movies?  By the time you’ve seen it, the film you’re watching has gone through metamorphosis at least three times.  I’m not talking about different endings, re-shoots, and the like.  I’m talking about how the film changes its form between conception to screening.

At first there is the film you write, then the film you shoot, and next the film you edit.  Each of those is a different film.  Sometimes the differences between each step can be drastic.  Sometimes, the transitions are subtler.  But it is a fact that no movie remains the same as it first appeared paper by the time you reach completion of the image.

First-time filmmakers usually struggle with this.  Panicking about how to capture every line exactly as it’s written (and if they wrote the script, they’re even worse).  Yelling at actors until they get it perfect.  Making them do twenty takes because they keep forgetting that word.  Fighting with an editor because he shifted some lines, rearranged some scenes, or got rid of them entirely.

I know I struggled with this when I started, but no one bothered to tell me this until after I’d made a few movies.  But then one day, I heard, “There is the film you write, the film you shoot, and the film you edit.”  It was like a new world of possibility and freedom opened up.  Learning how to adapt into this way of thinking has helped strengthen each step of the process.  My screenplays have benefited, my on-the-set shooting time is more productive, and the post-production and editing process comes together seamlessly.

There will always be a word in the screenplay that an actor changes, forgets, or the editor removes.  There will always be sequences that flow differently when acted out than when they were imagined on paper.

Opening yourself up to the metamorphosis in the process will present opportunity when you least expect it.  On a recent film project, there was a scene that included the prop of an actress blowing bubbles.  You know, those small kids toys of soapy water that, when you stick the wand in and blow through, creates bubbles that float around the room.  Well, I found the perfect bubbles set on eBay for $4.  So I ordered them.

When they arrived, I was shocked to find a plastic gun that shoots bubbles and glows with plastic LED lights.  Instead of sending it back, I thought, well, this was supposed to happen.  I was meant to use this in the movie.  And, you know what, the scene worked out so much better with the bubble gun then I’d have ever imagined.

Had I been the kind of hard-nosed director who wanted to stick to the written word, I’d have sent the gun back and demanded the bubbles I’d originally ordered.  And, had I done that, sure, the scene would’ve played out as it was written on paper, but, it would not have been as exciting as how it ended up with the bubble gun.

The other thing I like to do when shooting is keep the writer from ever visiting the set.  For me personally, I like the freedom to focus my perception on the translation of the material without having someone’s eyes over my shoulder the entire time.

Frankie Krainz is a brilliant screenwriter I’ve worked with multiple times.  And I respect him as a person on top of that.  He always insisted he’d keep to himself, quietly in the corner, but could be please visit the set.  I explained to him that even if he did keep quiet, I would be aware of his presence, and that a voice in my left ear would constantly be second-guessing everything I was doing.  What would Frankie think about that?  How is Frankie feeling about this?  So to prevent that distraction and any loss of my own confidence, I decided to make it a rule to never have the writer of the project appear on set while filming.

My advice is to keep oneself open to any possibilities of change along the way.  From writing, to filming something differently than it was written, to editing a scene in a totally new way.  Once, I re-wrote a scene in the editing room to spectacular results.  Putting the first line third, and the second line first, and so on.  It’s fascinating what can happen if you’re open to the possibilities.

STOP WITH THE PROSE, ALREADY

Fairly frequently I’m given an unsolicited screenplay to read, to consider directing, or to give my two–cents on.  I try my hardest to not read any of them.  But every now and again, curiosity takes hold, and I’ll open one up.  Sometimes the scripts are filled with spelling errors, stilted dialogue, boring scenes, you name it, but there is one mistake I see most often across the board: too much ink on the page and not enough white space.

Screenplays aren’t novels.

The purpose of a screenplay is entirely different than that of a novel.  I could go as far as to say screenplays aren’t even meant to be read.  I know that might sound weird.  But, think about it.  What is the purpose of a screenplay?  Screenplays are meant to be spoken, heard and watched.

Screenplays are a map.

They should be made up of great dialogue, with brief descriptions of specific actions that happen when nothing is being spoken.

I agree that scripts should include some prose to set the tone and hint at the atmosphere, but my advice is to keep it light.  We do not need to know the year, make and model of a car, or learn about the squeaky door, or the broken windshield wipers.  We just need to know it’s an old, shitty car.  Allow the reader to imagine whatever they want.  Even then, their imagination will hinder how they interpret your story.  No one will totally “get it” until they SEE it.

In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, he writes:

CUT TO:
Young Alvy at the food-stand concession watching three military men representing the Army, the Navy and the Marines arm in arm with a blond woman in a skirted bathing suit.  They all turn and run toward the foreground.  The girl stops before the camera to lean over and throw a kiss.  The sign over the concession reads “Steve’s Famous Clam Bar.  Ice Cold Beer,” and the roller coaster is moving in full gear in the background.

That would be much easier to read if it looked like this:

EXT. STEVE’S FAMOUS CLAM BAR – DAY
Young Alvy watches three military men arm in arm with a woman in a bathing suit.
They run towards us.
The girl stops to lean over and –
throw us a kiss.
The roller coaster is moving in the background.

By adding more white to the page, we’re able to move through the description faster, getting back to the dialogue.  Some might argue that Woody Allen’s prose adds a different kind of atmosphere than mine does.  I say that in either case, no one watching the film will ever know how it was written.  And not everyone making the film is going to imagine that shot exactly as the director will see it and film it, so it doesn’t matter.

When you’re watching a movie you can’t read what the script says.  So why not keep the paper light, effortless and easy to use?

If there is something visually specific in your screenplay that you’d like to communicate to the reader, my advice is to attach a visual design book to accompany the script.  Sometimes I’ll include storyboards, costume designs, even hairstyles.  For my film FIRECRACKER, I even incorporated images into the screenplay and provided music to listen to while reading it.

Most people in the Industry will tell you never to do that.  But don’t listen to them.  They’re just stuck in a box.  Do what YOU want.  I did it, and it worked.  Shortly after sending my FIRECRACKER script to him, Dennis Hopper called me up personally and invited me to his house.  When I was there Dennis told me he wanted to be in the film and added, “This is one of the best screenplays I’ve ever read.”

I’ve read dreadful screenplays that made spectacular, dazzling, poetic movies, and I’ve read brilliant screenplays that have made terribly uninteresting movies.  At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the illustration of the vision, the poetry of the dialogue and performers who can nail it.

The Wamego Trilogy

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its initial release, I am making the WAMEGO TRILOGY available for FREE on Vimeo.  Spread the word and share these documentaries with every filmmaker (aspiring or professional) you know.

“Dreams are made of this stuff… Missing here are power-lunches and power-trips. Which is a breath of that fresh Kansas air.” – AFTERTASTE MAGAZINE

“Perfect! If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you’d be a complete fool not to watch all the docs in this trilogy… There’s a lesson to be learned from the Baldersons.”
FILM THREAT

“Hollywood should be jealous.” – ICON MAGAZINE

“Literally thousands of miles away from the world of red carpets, cocaine nose-jobs and botoxed to the bone, anorexic 40-year-old women pretending to be 21, Wamego is a world full of cinematic dreams and devoid of pretension.”
HOFSTRA CHRONICLE

“Steve Balderson’s approach to his work is not just a breath of fresh air – it is a gale-force wind that just may huff and puff and blow that famous Hollywood sign down right before the film industry’s eyes.”
OREGON DAILY EMERALD

“A constant reminder to never give up or give in…”
ALL ABOUT TOWN MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO is a testament to the hard work ethic of the Midwest. It proves that with determination, anything is possible – even making a feature film by yourself, in the middle of nowhere!”
LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD

“What was ‘Lost in La Mancha’ could easily be ‘Found in Wamego’ … A warmfelt, honest lesson how to realize your dream without sharing a bed with the devil.”
PLANB MAGAZINE, NORWAY

“Balderson serves a fat slice of humble pie to his Hollywood peers. A reality-check to inspire indie artists worldwide!”
THE BLACKSMOKE ORGANISATION, UK

“Those who have filmmaking ambitions of their own will get a little more…”
MICRO-FILM MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO will have a league of moviemakers clicking their heels to be transported to the Kansan, Do-It-Yourself state of mind.”
BRAD JEWELL

“It’s fascinating, entertaining, inspiring.”
PLAYLOUDER, UK

“The documentary, more than any other movie-in-process film, actually demonstrates how to make a movie. It’s not a tedious and silly art school exercise, but a deep look into the thinking, perspective and determination that a filmmaker has to have in order to get a vision on the screen. Wamego is good story telling… A rich tale with fully developed characters, a well-developed plot and layers of conflict… Wamego is recommended viewing… Shows those professionals from LA how things should be done.”
DISCOVERY PUBLICATIONS

WORDS AND IMAGES

Roberto Rossellini, the director, and Isabella’s father, once said, “Do you know how many words it takes to adequately explain an image that will register, in your mind, the total meaning in a split second?”

Let’s think about that for a moment.

I don’t know the answer to his question, but my first thought is that it would take an enormous amount of words.  There are endless ways to describe something.  Those of us who have studied scene analysis from already completed movies know that a simple five-minute scene might take an entire day to film.  Stepping back another level, we examine the script for that scene and discover it’s only a couple pages long.  And when we examine the script used during the filming, we discover how little of what we see on screen had been previously written.

Films are made up of pictures, which spawn emotions and tug at our full understanding of feelings and perspective.  Even when the viewer is looking at the same scene, each person will be watching it from a different history.  People come from different backgrounds, different upbringings, and each have different viewpoints.

There are only a couple reasons I can see for a screenplay.  One is to communicate to the actors what they will say and (to some degree) where they should stand, move or sit.  Although the director, or each actor, may change that to suit the actual location of filming, or rhythm of the scene when its played out.  Another purpose for a screenplay is to keep track of the skeleton of the story.  If the skeleton is solid, and the foundation secure, the scenes themselves might end up in any number of possible outcomes.

It is totally possible to shoot a movie without using a traditional screenplay.  If you intend to do this, my advice is to work with really great actors.  Especially if they have any kind of writing background or improv coaching.  Actors Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy joined their director Richard Linklater with Best Screenplay Oscar nominations for the BEFORE SUNSET and BEFORE MIDNIGHT movies because they made those movies in this fashion.

I’ve recently started working on a similar project and am extremely excited to experience what it’s like to work in a world like that.  There is something ultimately freeing about it, and that excites me.

STRUCTURE is the best word I can use to describe prepping for something like this.  Each scene has a purpose.  Every scene in a movie starts at 1 and ends at 3.  There will always be a 2 in between.  Of course you can just decide whatever is the most obvious way to get from 1 to 3 and use that, but you might find there are several ways to move through 2 that will still lead you to 3.  So why not film the alternative 2’s and decide in the editing room which one works the best?

Sometimes there is no time or budget for this kind of filmmaking, and I understand that on certain days during your shoot you might not have that kind of ultimate freedom.  But my suggestion is to find that freedom whenever you can.  And remember that freedom is what makes a truly independent filmmaker.

So you want to be a screenwriter?

You’ve decided to write a script and make it big.  You’ve found a great story that, for some reason, you think other people want to read (or see for that matter).  You’ve written it and are now ready to shop your script to producers and directors.  Shopping your script is the first mistake, which I shall address on another day, but if you are determined to have someone else make your movie – there is something you should know.

Not only has The Industry become lazy and formulaic when it comes to storytelling (and you’ll have to comply as well), it is now imperative that every screenplay must look and feel identical.  Coming up with a good idea to write about is one thing.  Coming up with a good idea people are willing to pay for is another.  But the most important thing – the thing they never tell you – is that you MUST BIND YOUR SCRIPT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!

Never mind the story.  Never mind the content.  It’s come down to this: If your script does not have those common, unsightly and second-rate brass “brads” attached to the top hole and bottom hole – your project is worthless.  They will tell you that only amateurs go to Kinko’s.  Because “everyone” knows you MUST OBEY THE RULE OF THE BRASS “BRAD”!

Never make the horrible mistake of placing it in a three-ring binder.  And never, ever, put “brads” in all three holes!  Because “everyone” knows you’re supposed to only use the top hole and bottom hole.  A writer I once knew told me his script was returned unread because he’d placed a “brad” in the center hole.  As ludicrous as this might seem, this is no joke.  It’s really happening to people.

Most of Hollywood can’t understand how to read something unless it has these brass fasteners.  But let that be a lesson.  Do I really want to work with people who are obsessed with the binding and not interested in my cast, financing, marketing plan or that seemingly, from their point of view, irrelevant part known as cinematography?  Come to think of it: No… I don’t.  I want to work with people who can understand pictures and sentences, too.

On my street, I bind scripts professionally.  I love the look and feel of it.  The appearance says: QUALITY.  DISTINCTIVE.  IMAGINATIVE.  And those emotions happen before reading the first sentence!  Going one step further, I like to include photographs and sketches that assist in setting moods and atmospheres – the kinds of things that separate a motion picture from a novel.

Still, it doesn’t do any good.  Several years ago, a woman named Elizabeth called me from Miramax and said she was excited to read my script.  I made the horrible mistake of sending it to her.  Several days later, she telephoned and told me, “It’s perfect for Dimension, so I sent it to them.”  I was livid because she was passing it around without my approval.  I asked for her to return it at once.

I received the script the following day.  When it arrived, I found it had been completely dismantled.  The crucial photographs were removed from the script, and the binding was replaced by those stupid second-rate brass fasteners!

Now, it’s not like I only had a few pictures.  I’d actually placed one on every other page. So it was clear to me that someone had wasted an entire afternoon going through the script page by page and removing 125 pictures.  Isn’t that silly?  They had to make it look like all the other scripts in order to understand it!  Also, I looked up on staples.com and those stupid “brads” are called “standard punch brass fasteners.”  So next time you hear a dimwitted industry executive say “brads” you will know the extent of his or her mental capacity.

There is something to be said about going against the norm.  Doing things in an unorthodox manner separates you and your material from the millions of people and scripts milling about the basin.  But for some reason – fear of not fitting in, perhaps – most people will continue to worship the “brass brad mentality” and end up looking like everyone else.  Sure, they’ll fit in.  But no one will see them because seven million other people have done exactly the same.

My advice?  If you feel the need to write something clever – simply eat something spicy and the feeling will pass.  You’ll be much happier in the end.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine in 2004.)