HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 4 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE, TWO, and THREE.

The STUCK! shoot was marvelous.

One of the best parts was the food.  See, when the cast and crew are only a handful of people it is possible to go to someone’s home for a dinner party.  You can eat superior food.  Feeding 42 people on a traditional crew likely means scraps and bulk-made meals.  And there is no intimacy about that kind of thing.  With a set like mine we eat homemade slow-cooked masterpieces every night.  We can sit around the same table.  It becomes a far more rewarding experience.

Like WATCH OUT, the STUCK! shooting days were just as efficient.  We’d work from 9 AM and wrap around 5 or 6 PM.  We worked every day with no days off.  It took less than two weeks to complete.

The reviews were amazing:  Film Threat writes, “Balderson just doesn’t make simple films, and this is no exception. It’s not in the words, or the plot or the story; but it’s in the air, it’s in the beat, it’s in the very soul of the work.” The LA Weekly said it was “Revolutionary.”  And UK Critic MJ Simpson writes, “Steve Balderson is the best-kept secret in American independent cinema. He makes his own films – which are unfailingly brilliant – and the rest of the world very, very gradually catches up with him.”

In February, 2010, the American Cinematheque hosted the LA Premiere of STUCK! at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.  The cast was there with me to present the film and do a Q&A after the screening.  One of the people in the audience mentioned that because all the actors were there, talking enthusiastically about this new way of filmmaking, it spoke volumes about the process.

I signed a deal with a sales agent who is selling STUCK! to buyers around the globe.

In the fall of 2010, I put together another top-secret film shoot and produced my film THE CASSEROLE CLUB.  A couple new stars joined the group for this shoot: namely Kevin Richardson (from the Backstreet Boys), Daniela Sea (from the L Word), and acclaimed stage actress Jennifer Grace.  We made the film in Palm Springs in exactly the same way we made STUCK! and WATCH OUT.  The entire experience is captured in director Anthony Pedone’s documentary CAMP CASSEROLE.

The shoot was a lot like summer film camp.  We rented a few vacation homes that would serve as the locations, and also would house all of us.  Staying together in the same place was magical.  Each day we’d gather to film scenes, and if any actors weren’t working, they would lounge by the pool, read a book, and basically turn their time on the set as a vacation.  This aspect of the shoot was the best.  I made sure that we’re doing the work we need to do, but it’s just as important for me to create an atmosphere that is a rewarding experience personally.

Each evening we would have a meal sponsored by one of the cast or crew, or friends and family.  Imagine being at summer camp and coming together over a meal and singing Kumbaya.  That’s exactly what it was like!  Only instead of singing Kumbaya, per se, several people would pull out their guitars and do an impromptu acoustic concert; or, there would be fun short films being made; or, night swimming and gazing up at the stars with a great conversation.

One of my favorite moments filming THE CASSEROLE CLUB came whenever we needed to do some exterior shots around the Palm Springs area.  We’d just jump in my car and drive around until we’d find the greatest place, jump out, film it, then rush back to the car and speed away as if nothing ever happened.  This is the kind of freedom I love work in.  It’s exhilarating.

THE CASSEROLE CLUB premiered at Visionfest`11 in New York City where we were nominated for 9 Independent Vision Awards and won 5: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Kevin Richardson, Best Actress for Susan Traylor, Best Production Design.  And the most overwhelming compliment came in 2012 when the U.S. Library of Congress invited the film to be a part of its permanent collection.

Making films in today’s distribution landscape is drastically different than it was even a few years ago.  It is very important to spend as little money possible to make your films.  If your film cost $200,000 that’s fine.  But maybe you could try to find a way to make two movies for $100,000 instead of putting all your eggs in one basket.

Be realistic when you’re planning your expenses.  Regardless of the storyline, regardless of the actors, stars or location, if you think your project will make $100,000 in sales, your best bet at sustainability is to make sure that project costs less than that.

These are just some of the ways the distribution landscape has changed the way films are made.

HOW DISTRIBUTION CHANGED FILM: Part 3 of 4

Click here to read PARTS ONE and TWO.

We began doing research on the best equipment to invest in, best sound package, and best HD camera (we judged each camera based on the level of color captured, best sound captured, and overall user experience).  Months later, we had the whole set up.

I was ready to make my next narrative feature.  And I wouldn’t need so much money after all.  By owning my own equipment, omitting unnecessary personnel and expenses, and keeping costs as low as possible, it would be possible to make a feature film for little more than the price of a used Toyota.

This also appealed to investors.  Distribution has changed significantly since the glory days of the million-dollar buys at Film Festivals.  That simply wasn’t happening any more.  A top sales rep told me, “no company is buying low-budget independently made films for more than $50,000 up front.  And if you get that much you’d be one of the lucky ones.”

The first project to test if my new renegade style of filmmaking would even work or not, was an adaptation of Joseph Suglia’s dazzling novel WATCH OUT.  Could I really make a feature-length movie using only two people on my crew, with me doing all the camerawork, and still make it high-quality art?

The answer was a big loud YES.

WATCH OUT, which became my third feature film, was shot in two weeks.  Our working days were incredibly light.  We’d start shooting at 9 AM and on a few days we were done by 4 PM.  It felt like summer camp and everyone had a ball.

The film was highly praised by critics as “One of the great cult films of all time, (MJ Simpson).”  WATCH OUT also premiered at the Raindance Film Festival in London to sold-out crowds, where it was nominated for Best International Feature.

A review in Film Threat wrote, “(Balderson) makes movies that are so gorgeous that it’s not unreasonable to say that, cinematographically at least; he’s the equal of an Argento or Kubrick in their prime. Some people have perfect vocal pitch, Steve has perfect visual composition.”

I repeated the road-show tour concept we did for FIRECRACKER and released WATCH OUT theatrically in 2008 to sold-out audiences in the “Stop Turning Me On” world tour, to promote the self-distributed DVD release several months later, where it debuted at #24 on Amazon.com’s Top 100.

The third and final installment of the WAMEGO TRILOGY on DIY Filmmaking (WAMEGO: ULTIMATUM) chronicles how we did it.

Once I knew we could do it, I decided to raise the bar a bit more and experiment with a cast of all well-known actors.  The production would cost and be the same = the film would be shot in my new renegade style, without permits and in a secretive manner.  There would be no equipment trucks lining the street, no craft service table, no excessive lighting or camera gear, no substantial crews, or anything to attract attention.  The cast and crew would resemble tourists, which would give the production the freedom to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted.

With no make-up or costume person the cast would be required to do their own make-up, take care of their own costumes.  We’d all be staying in people’s homes, not hotels, and would have to accept there would be no cash per diem.

I approached several stars, some I’d worked with before, and others I hadn’t, and to my astonishment, they all agreed.

That project, my fourth film, became STUCK!

When I called SAG to ask them if they had special deals for projects under $50,000 they laughed at me and said, “It’s impossible to make a feature-length film for less than $50,000.”  They also said I “needed to seek professional help.”  Actual words.

But, they were wrong.  I had just proven it was possible with WATCH OUT.  I thought about telling them, but decided that they were just like those insecure filmmakers who needed all that phony “stuff” for passers-by.  Trying to educate SAG on the reality of the world was going to be a waste of time.

(To be continued next week)

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.

CONTINUITY

Face it.  The only people who care about continuity are people who care about continuity.  The majority of people watching a movie don’t think about it at all.  Instead, they’re watching the movie.  People who care about continuity aren’t watching the movie—they’re watching props and costumes.

It’s okay to encourage people making the movie to be aware of continuity, but there’s no reason to be obsessive over it.  Your actors usually look the same in the morning as they do a couple hours later, do they not?  Unless you’re shooting a scene that will take three days to film, it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.

In ancient times, it did take the studios three full days to shoot a single scene.  So it was important to make sure the costumes and hairdos looked the same, since in the final movie the scene might only be 90 seconds long.  And if there were drastic changes in such short timeframe, it would be visually jarring to the audience.  But those days are long gone.  Now it just takes a few hours to shoot a scene.

But there are still people who obsess over continuity.  I’m here to tell you that unless it’s a really stupid mistake, it doesn’t matter.  The viewer will still watch, and continue watching, until they have to get up and go to the loo.

Imagine a scene where a woman is wearing red as she climbs into a car.  The car speeds away.  In the next shot, the car stops, she gets out, and is wearing blue.

People obsessed over continuity will go on and on about that being a horrible mistake.  Whereas any normal person can see she’s obviously changed clothes, so it must be a different time or different day.  Often times in movies directors, or costumers, will use a change of clothes as an unconscious suggestion that time has passed.  So there is no continuity error there.  Just an error in the eyes of the person obsessed with continuity.

Now, of course, if the scene that follows is a luncheon, and the woman wearing blue sits down and miraculously, without getting up, she’s suddenly wearing purple, well, that would be a stupid continuity mistake.

Sometimes I like to dress my actors in the same costume throughout the entire movie.  Have a look at CULTURE SHOCK.  With the exception of a few scenes, all the actors are wearing the same things throughout.  I used the children’s cartoon SCOOBY DOO as the aesthetic template.  Daphne, for example, always wears that purple dress and lime-green scarf.  Velma is always in that hideous Orange sweater.  Shaggy is always in that green shirt.  Yet, has any person watching the show ever stopped and said, “Wait a minute.  She was wearing that yesterday.  Obviously must have been out all night.  What a slut.”  No.  No one says that.

Aside from being a fun artistic choice to dress your actors in the same costume for the entire film, it eliminates the need for a costume person.  The actors can just take care of their clothes themselves!  If you decide to do that, be sure to bring enough Fabreeze, or buy two identical outfits, because you will stink after five days wearing the same clothes on a movie set.

EDIT WHILE YOU WORK

An effective way to save time and money during your production is to be aware of editing during each process.

The first time I’m aware of editing comes at the beginning, when I’m doing a shot list, or storyboards for the film.  I can see in my mind how the scene will be cut together, and how the rhythm of the shots will affect the pace of the movie.  Of course some of these ideas will change during the actual filming process.  But, overall, I get a really clear sense about what the viewer will experience at this early stage.

If I get the sense that the scene will end on this shot, or that shot, or in a certain moment, I will make a note in the screenplay.  Sometimes this means crossing out entire sequences.  The screenwriters I’ve worked with in my career are usually fine with this, but I can understand how sometimes screenwriters might react in a negative way.  My advice: just don’t tell them.  Or, have an agreement in place to begin with that you have creative control.

If I know I’m not going to use a particular shot in the final movie, why bother wasting the time or money on the set by filming it?

Perhaps not every person who considers himself or herself a director can see this, or know this ahead of time.  I’d suggest that if you can’t foresee what the viewer will be going through, you aren’t equipped to be a director.  Cause I really believe that’s the whole point.  In that case, perhaps you should turn your attention to working in another aspect of filmmaking, or perhaps take up film criticism professionally.

Being involved in the editing process is the easiest way to get the hang of rhythm, timing and pacing.  Every director should be his or her own film editor at least during one phase of the editing process.  It’s okay to have help on technical matters, and to bring in additional editors for multiple points of view, but the director should know when to stop the scene, where to make the cut.  Having that knowledge will help shape the way you write and film your movies.

Back to the set.  There was a scene in my film OCCUPYING ED where Holly Hinton and Christopher Sams are lying on the floor playing chess.  There’s a great subtle dolly move inching closer and closer to them throughout the scene.  When the dolly stops, she calls out checkmate, and that’s where the scene ends.

However, in the screenplay the scene continued.  There was another page of dialogue and a couple of jokes.  I didn’t think the jokes were funny, even though everyone else on set disagreed with me.  I thought about filming the rest of the scene in order to test this later (had each test viewer thought the jokes were funny, maybe I’d keep them in even if I didn’t).  But, I decided to not film them, and to just end the scene at checkmate.  It just felt right.  I knew that even had we filmed the rest of the scene as it was written, I’d be cutting it out in the editing room.  It made no sense to waste the next 45 minutes shooting the rest of the scene when I knew it wouldn’t make it into the film.  I decided it was best to just go on to the next shot, the next scene.

If you’ve only made a couple of movies, and aren’t confident yet you can do this, my advice is to go ahead and shoot the scene as it’s written, and decide later.  After you’ve made more than a dozen or two movies it’ll become second nature, and you’ll feel great about saving the time and money on set.

Tale of the Emerald Digger

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s the most beautiful stone in the world.  You’ll never stop thinking about it.  You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, let me see it! I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says as he unwraps the emerald from a cloth.

“Oh.  It’s…. It’s…. GREEN.”

“Well, yes, it’s an emerald.”

“But nobody has an emerald!  Nobody wants an emerald.  People love diamonds.  They’re used to seeing diamonds.  They’ve never seen this before.”

“Yes, that’s what I said – You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“Why not?”

“Well it’s cut different.  It’s square.  It’s green.  It’s obviously not finished.”

“How would it be perfect for you?”

“Well, it’d be perfect if it’s round, or marquee shaped, and cut this way, and, well, clear…”

“Oh, you mean – like a diamond?”

“Yes.”

The man with the most exquisite emerald has a choice: Sell the emerald to the diamond buyer for next to nothing – or go to the emerald specialty house.

The digger goes across town to the Jeweler who specializes in emeralds.

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s the most beautiful stone in the world.  You’ll never stop thinking about it.  You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, let me see it!  I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says, unwrapping the emerald from a cloth.

“Oh.  It’s…. It’s…. TOO BIG.”

“Well, yes, it’s the largest emerald on earth.  It would make a great necklace.”

“But nobody has an emerald this big!  Nobody wants an emerald necklace.  People love really small and short emeralds.  They love emerald earrings.  They’ve never seen this before.”

“Yes that’s what I said – You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“Why not?”

“Well it’s too big, and too heavy.  It’s obviously not finished.”

“How would it be perfect for you?”

“Well, it’d be perfect if it was small, tiny even, and cut this way, and, well, not so large…”

“Oh, you mean – like earrings?”

“Yes.”

So the digger takes a good look at his emerald.  It probably once belonged to the Pharaohs of Egypt.  It is the largest most amazing emerald the world has ever seen – or will ever see.  But he’s grown tired of walking all over town.  He’s getting hungry and worn-out.  He needs the money to pay for dinner.  So he goes home to think it over.

Late that night, the distraught digger goes deep into the middle of town to have a secret meeting with an old jewelry cutter.  The digger has one last look at the emerald, admiring its magnificence.  And he hands it over.  The emerald is cut in half, and half again, ending up in dozens of smaller, tiny pieces – cut exactly like the jeweler mentioned.

The next day, the digger returns to the emerald specialty Jeweler.

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s exactly what you want.  You’ve seen this every day. There’s nothing shocking here.  It’s usual, typical.  Traditional.”

“Oh, let me see it!  I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says as he unwraps the cloth and dozens and dozens of tiny emeralds spill out into a lovely green pile.

“Oh.  They’re… They’re so small… No, this isn’t at all what I had in mind.”

“Well, but you said people want earrings.  You said people want short and small emeralds.”

“Yes, but we’re going out of business.  The diamond jeweler down the street has been taking all our clients.  Everyone wants a diamond.  So we’re getting rid of our inventory and stocking up on diamonds.  Do you have any diamonds to sell me?”

“No.  I’m an emerald digger.  I hunt for emeralds.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“I see.”

“Come back to see me when you’ve got a diamond.  Or better yet – where is that huge emerald you brought in the other day?”

“Well, I cut it up, to make it perfect for you, so you’d buy it.”

“You idiot!  You idiot!  You didn’t cut up that big emerald to make these smaller stones!  Did you?  We just got a call from the finest museum in the world.  They want to pay big bucks for an emerald like that one.  Because emeralds are going extinct!  It was one of the last remaining on earth!  What with all this diamond craze happening, it would’ve been the finest emerald anybody ever saw!  Oh, that’s too bad.  What a pity.  We really could have made a splash with that one.”

The End.

WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK? (Part 2 of 2)

Opinions of your film will run all over the place.  You’ll see.  It is important to remember that a person’s opinion isn’t actually communicating to you about your movie, but rather, that person is sharing something about their personal inner self.

If the acting in your film is fantastic, and someone tells you that the acting is horrible, what they’re really telling you is why they didn’t connect to it, or that there’s something about their lives which kept them from liking it.  Maybe it hit too close to home?  Maybe they have a similar history to those characters and those old emotions, buried so deep they can’t even see them anymore, are coming to the surface subconsciously and preventing them from letting those feelings escape.  So they hate the acting.

One person will say they hate the music while another will say they love it.  One person will say the flow of the movie is trance like, while another will say it’s jarring.  One person will say that the writing seems forced, while others will say it feels genuine.

There will be sales agents who say these things too.  It’s pretty common for Hollywood in general to always find something about your movie they hate.  You’ll see.  There will be distribution companies, reps, film festivals, anybody and everybody, who will insist their ideas and opinions are fact—and the funny thing is—they will all contradict each other.

That happens every time I get ready to sell a film or promote it at festivals.  Every time.  And it will likely happen every time for you, too.  So my advice is to somehow learn how to let it bounce off of you.  Keep going.  There will be someone, somewhere, who loves it.  Prepare yourself for an endless barrage of rejection one after the next.  Eventually it’ll all work out.  Keep going until the movie is shared publicly with as many people as possible.

You’ll learn that after gathering everyone’s opinions, you’ll be surprised to see that every element in the entire film will be loved at least once, and also, hated at least once.  For every person who likes this, there will be another who hates the same thing and loves something else, which was hated by the other guy.  This is just how life works.

Learning all that has helped me identify when a project becomes true to my vision and perfect for me.  And that is all I can do.  That’s all anyone can do.

When I share rough cuts of my films with professional editors in Los Angeles and NYC, and other filmmakers, and well-known actors who have worked with some of the greatest directors of our time, their opinions don’t change my own perspective.  I share it with them out of curiosity.  Some people need to hear other people’s points of views in order to help define their own.  I’m not like that.  It could be because I’m more visual, instead of verbal or auditory.  I’m pretty sure it’s all about how the brain works and how each person processes information.

The people who need to hear what other people think so they know what to think are usually the types who hear something negative and try to “fix” it.  But, if they did that every time a new opinion came in, there would be nothing left.  It would be a big black void with some credits playing.  Although, even that could end up gone if someone else didn’t like the font.

Of course, I’m always fascinated in hearing other people’s perspectives of any movie I make.  I’m so proud of a film when I complete it, of course it feels good to feel the pats on the back.  It’s exactly like being a parent.  When your kid makes a good grade or wins a contest, it feels good.  And, likewise, when that kid is bullied, it hurts.  But bullies are out there, and there’s nothing we can do about it as parents.

I’m also aware that, like food, some people may not like the way it tastes.  That’s okay.  Critiques don’t teach me how to be truer to my vision.  They only teach me how to better appeal to the critic.  If I’ve made a risotto with white truffles, and the person eating it doesn’t like Italian food, there’s no way I’ll win them over.  If my objective is to win that person over, I’ll have to make what they like.

If my objective is to have the best Italian restaurant on the block, I need to focus on making the best Italian I can and be true to my vision, instead of worrying about the people who don’t like Italian and would rather eat Chinese.  And, likewise, if my intention is to create a New Wave Italian, classic Italian purists might not like it.

Be true to your own perspective.  And, keep going.

SHUT UP & WRITE

The first draft of a screenplay isn’t the draft that gets filmed.  It also isn’t the version shown to the actors.  It’s the beginning of a long line of drafts and versions, so there’s no reason why it should take you very long to do it.

I commissioned a screenwriter once for a film I wanted to make.  She really struggled to complete the first draft.  Weeks went by and she still wasn’t finished.  She said she really wanted it to be PERFECT before showing me.  Yet, I knew the moment she turned it in, I would have a laundry list of notes and changes.  But she kept insisting “just another week.”

After I received the first draft, and started to work on my own version 2.0, she started to realize what I meant earlier.  No one (but us) sees the first draft.  And nobody needs to.  It won’t be published, lined with gold or shown in a museum.  It’s just Step One.  Think of it as an instruction manual.  When you’re assembling a desk from IKEA, do you usually fret about Step Four until you get there?  No, of course not.  So treat screenwriting the same way.  One step at a time.

If you’ve created a good solid floor plan, writing the first draft should be effortless.  When you reach a scene that doesn’t seem to be working, simply skip ahead to the next.  You can always go back to that tricky scene in future drafts.

Skipping ahead is the one trick to avoid writer’s block.  If you begin to feel stumped, move on to the next scene or sequence on your outline.  If you haven’t made a solid outline “floor plan” yet, you should stop everything you’re doing and do that first (read my earlier article on the subject).

When I’m writing a script, my mission for Step One is: just get it off the outline and into screenwriting format (I use Final Draft, which is industry standard).  For the first draft, nothing matters yet.  I sit down with my outline and just use that as my guide and “next to do” on the list.  Sometimes I start in the middle of the outline, or jump around from scene to scene.  Maybe there’s a scene in particular where the dialogue is crystal clear in my mind—I’ll start there.  And, sure, I’ve hit a wall and have had to jump past it, but I don’t let it get to me.  I just wait until I’ve expanded upon the outline.

Then, once I’ve taken all the information that’s on the outline and incorporated it into my screenwriting file, even if it’s patchy in places, I call that a complete first draft.  Then, I “save as” and create v2.0, where I go back into the screenplay and begin to flesh out each scene more and more.  When I’m confident with a nice v2.0, I’ll share it with another writer or some friends for feedback.  They’ll either re-write some things on their own, or send me notes.  Then I’ll “save as” and create v3.0 and repeat the process until I’m satisfied with a solid draft that will be shared with select cast, crew, another director, or producer.

And, naturally, each of them will want to chime in with their “two cents.”  Sometimes their notes are silly, but sometimes they could have a brilliant idea that can help you.  When that happens, swallow your pride and take it.  This isn’t about you; it’s about the greater good for the project.

Once you get to that point, and you find yourself working on version 12, you’ll kick yourself for wasting so much time on version 1.  Remember this lesson next time you complete your outline, and are ready to begin writing the scenes and dialogue.  If you can get into a rhythm where you don’t think too much about writing, and just write, you’ll find that it’s possible to complete the first draft of a screenplay in no time at all.

Remember: no one sees the first draft.  There is no reason to give yourself any kind of pressure when you’re conceiving it.  Give that formation time to grow and what might seem messy at the beginning will begin to make sense.  Each story takes on its own life force and if you’re open to the inspiration around you, and live with a “create now, edit later” mindset, your screenplay will be complete in no time.

EDITING IS FUN

Or, it can be.  You don’t have to make it miserable, or confusing, or tedious.

One of the tricks in editing your movie swiftly is similar to my trick on preventing writer’s block when you’re working on your screenplay:

Keep going.

If you hit a roadblock, or a scene that is troublesome, you’re thinking about it too much.  The first order of business should be assembling what you’ve shot.  So stop thinking, and just lay down the shots.  And if you refuse to not think, and the scene is troublesome, move on to the next scene.  You can always come back to that scene later.  The first assembly isn’t the final cut.  So there’s no reason to trick yourself into thinking it will be.  Trust me, you will make various tweaks multiple times until you’re satisfied.

The first thing I do is make sure all my clips are logged and tagged appropriately, with names that are easy to find and read.  One example: “Scene 27 – Dee MCU” or “Scene 27 – Dee Wide.”  I do that for the entire film, all the shots.  I’ll also make note if a shot is no good, so I don’t need to watch it again.

Then I pick a scene, any scene, to start.  Sometimes it’s at the beginning; sometimes it’s about 10 minutes into the film.  From there, I will simply assemble each scene as it plays out, in sequential order, until I reach the ending.  Then, I’ll go back and do the first part.

After the First Assembly is complete, I’ll go in and inspect each scene on a more detailed level.  This is the time to fiddle with cutting frames here and there, making each sequence seamless.  This is the time to think about the rhythm of the movie.  Don’t waste your time trying to do those things when you’re simply building the First Assembly.  Wait until after the assembly is complete, and then do it.

Once you do that for the whole film, you’ll have the Second Assembly.  When I have the Second Assembly complete, I will watch it start to finish, making notes as I do.  I don’t actually make any changes when watching the Second Assembly, I’ll just make notes.  Then, after a complete viewing, I’ll go back and implement those changes.  Sometimes I’ll watch it again at the editing system, and make additional changes.  But most often, that is the point at which it’s time to burn a DVD.  Now you’ll have your Rough Cut.

I think it’s important to watch the Rough Cut where you normally watch films.  Is this on your home laptop?  Your TV room?  On your iPad?  Wherever you normally watch movies is the place to view your Rough Cut.  It’ll take you out of editing, and into watching it as entertainment.  You’ll do yourself a great disservice if you only watch the movie in the editing room.

After watching the Rough Cut, make any additional changes, and keep repeating the cycle until you’re happy with it.  At some point you’ll have your Final Cut.

Just keep in mind when you start the editing process that there will be various versions.  Your First Assembly is NOT the final cut.  It isn’t even the Second Assembly.  By remembering that, and knowing it, you’ll be able to make the First and Second Assembly in no time flat.  Which will get you to the Rough Cut sooner than later, and on to the Final Cut enjoyably and efficiently.