Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Likes of Us - July '07

I wrote a serious of blog entries for Manhattan Movie Magazine last year documenting the making of our first feature film. I'll reprint them here, hoping that it helps someone who might be embarking on the same journey.

“Let’s make a movie”, and with those seemingly innocent words from my friend and now business partner, I was propelled down the path to the constant state of anxiety I now find myself in. As I type this blog we are sitting about a month out from our first day of shooting and with every day the pressure grows. A year and half ago when we hatched this hair-brained scheme, shooting a movie seemed like it would be a piece of cake. All we had to do was come up with a script, get a couple of actors together, point a camera in their general direction and voila! --instant movie. Of course as with most things in life, it just hasn’t been that easy. First of all it took me the better part of a year to write the script. Well, that’s not exactly true. I wrote the script in about two months, but then spent the next ten or so revising it. I think at least my partners are finally happy with the seventh draft. One of the major issues that you have to deal with if you’re going to tackle writing a script is that as a writer you never think it’s done; that’s where having someone to bounce ideas off of comes in handy. I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have a couple of partners, I would be working on endless revisions. Just as an aside, the best thing that you can do when taking on a project like this is to have other people to work with. Your partners (who may be annoying at times) will help to keep you sane and centered. While everyone has their bad moments, hopefully you won’t all be having them at the same time. So, we have a script (fantastic!). As a writer, my job is pretty much done, but when you’re making your own movie, you have to wear a lot of hats. Next up and definitely my least favorite part (so far, anyway) is trying to get funding. Here I would suggest a couple of things; First, be independently wealthy (we are not, so that’s strike one); Two, have rich parents (again no luck, strike two); Three, have a trust fund or win the lottery (Strike three and four although I’m still working on the lottery). Lacking all of those, I did the only thing I could. I went to my most successful friend and asked him to be the Executive Producer. He agreed to give us half of our planned budget. While that’s good news, the rest of the budget is going to have go come out of our collective very shallow pockets. Asking people for money, especially friends, is one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. But in order to get an independent movie made, you’ll have to do a few things that are at best embarrassing and at worst downright humiliating. Pride, unfortunately, has no place in the movie business. Our next challenge was to put together a crew. Fortunately my partners have some contacts in that area. One of them is in the production end of the advertising business (he’s also responsible for sound on the film) and the other has been in and around film making for many years (he’s also the Director). We were able to secure a DP (that’s a Director of Photography, for those not in the know) fairly easily and we are planning to fill out the rest of the crew with interns and friends. The good thing about making a movie in New York is that there is no shortage of talented people who haven’t been able to find paying jobs in the film making business. If you ask around, you’ll probably be able to find people who have fairly impressive resumes and are willing to be a part of a project if they think that it’s worthwhile. Finding actors has been more of a challenge. I, for some reason decided to write a movie with over 20 speaking parts. I swear that when I started writing I was trying to keep it small, and I never realized how out of hand things had gotten until we sat down to look at the number of actors we would need. We had a reading of the script a few weeks ago and even though we had eight people, everyone had to double up on parts. By the way, I would recommend that you have a reading of your script at some point. It’ll really help you see where the dialogue needs to be tweaked or which scenes don’t work. New York is filled with actors, but for the most part they make their money doing something besides acting. They act whenever they can, but they also want to be paid for their efforts. We are simply not in the position to do that. The actors from our reading have agreed to take part in the film because they like the material, but we can’t exactly get a copy of the script to every out of work actor in New York in the hopes that they’ll like the script enough to work for no money. There are simply too many parts to pay the actors and our hard costs (equipment, transportation, food, locations, etc.) will quickly eat up our tiny budget. This is where flexibility comes into play. Scenes may have to be cut or rewritten in order to make sure that we don’t get into serious deficit spending. We’ve also spent some time securing locations. Thankfully the film mostly takes place indoors. Our apartments and our friends’ houses will get lots of exposure. We also have a bar to shoot at on Sundays. Getting the bar was key because about 1/3 of the movie takes place at that one location. I happen to have a pretty good relationship with the owner (my liver is definitely the worse for wear) and thankfully they are closed on Sundays. We do have some exterior shots, but we’ll try and get them done before the police show up and ask for filming permits. At this point, we are still taking a lot of things on faith. I’m sure as we get closer to the start date we’ll have more unexpected issues to deal with. With some luck, we’ll be able to overcome any major obstacles that pop up. Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m hoping that in my next entry I’ll be able to tell you about our successful first week of filming. We are planning on a 16 day shoot over eight weekends, so the goal is to give you updates on this blog as the process goes forward. Wish us luck. May the force be with you, live long and prosper and na-nu, na-nu to you all.