Let’s do this.
I wrote a fair few words in Part 1 of The YogaFly Experience, but if you haven’t read it and don’t wanna (tsk) here’s the necessary info: three high-school buddies were about to leave college and enter the real world and they wanted to make a movie together; around March or April of ’08 they settled on a roughly treated, underdeveloped, unwritten story called The Yin of Gary Fisher’s Life; they would shoot it in July; come mid-May the script was still unwritten and all subsequent details were undetermined; and it didn’t matter because they had one mindset.
“Let’s do this.”
There are often many different things that need to be hashed out, talked over, discussed, rehashed, fought over, declared as vital!, dismissed as trival, and almost nearly overlooked about a movie long before the movie moves into the realm of production. These include such things as casting, location scouting, art direction, story-boarding, scheduling, and (sometimes) having the script written.
Okay. Maybe a little more than ‘sometimes’ for the script.
Our pre-production was a bit different. Admittedly, it was amateurish, but I think that’s alright because we were amateurs. We were three guys who wanted to make our grad school film without having to pay to go to grad school. This was our hard-knock, learn-by-doing education.
…You get what you pay for I guess. Anyways.
I am a writer in so much as many hobbiest filmmakers claim to be writers. So to say, I’m not really a writer. I kinda, sorta took a narrative writing class during my time at the university, but I certainly was not practiced in the art of crafting a well-structured story arc with insightful, emotionally compelling dialogue. Also, as may be obvious at this point, back then I wasn’t great at holding myself to self-imposed deadlines. And so Matt, Paul, and I arrived at May 10th, 2008 without a script as I was flying off out of country for five weeks. This caused numerous problems which I will write on shortly, but the main point to note for this section is that I don’t really know how I was able to get past security and onto the plane because there wasn’t just a fire under my ass, there was a billowing inferno of fiery doom beneath the spot my butt cheeks had formerly resided.
But I did do one thing right. I had treated the story and developed the characters before I tried to write the script.
I really can’t begin to imagine how much time would-be writers have wasted in libraries, book shops, and coffee stores while sitting in front of their word-processing programs with the cursor flashing in and out and in and out and in and out and in while sitting in rapt, frozen concentration as they try to come up with some insightfully-funny-yet-dramatic dialogue that will simultaneously resonate deeply with the reader’s own experiences and give them a completely new view of the world! and yet the writers don’t even know the name of the character whose mouth they’re attempting to put words into. It just does not work.
A construction crew doesn’t just show up and start building a house. They don’t start nailing framing together with the mindset, “Let’s see where this goes.” Surgeons don’t walk into the operating room, make a random incision, and say, “Let’s see where this goes.” And that’s because those people take their profession seriously. But perhaps that’s too non-liberal-artsy for you. How about…authors. Do you know what they do? They outline their stories and develop their characters before sitting down to write. And most screenwriters do as well. So if you are a filmmakewriter who has clocked hours and hours and has three paragraphs to show for it, stop it. If you claim this as what you do, stop it. Either start taking your craft more seriously or stop claiming it as your craft. Mozart and Leonardo could create master pieces without planning, BUT THEY WERE MOZART AND LEONARDO! And on the reverse, Sure!, Tolkien and Patrick Rothfuss didn’t outline their very good books, but they also spent their entire lives writing them. For everyone in between the instant genius and the single, life-long masterpiece, we must outline, develop, treat, draft, get feedback, revise, and finally realize that we’re gonna have to make a lot of questionably decent stuff before we will know how to create really good stuff. – [end rant]
So, yes, I had the story treated. I knew who each of the five characters were, I knew where the movie was going, and I knew what scenes I needed and what needed to happen within each to get from one to the next. It was the dialogue that remained, and that’s still a big hurdle by itself.
I was in Poland through my university’s study abroad program to take two courses – one a study of the Holocaust with visits to half a dozen concentration camp sites, the other a study of the historical rise and modern impact of nationalism – each of which lasted a little over two weeks with a five day do-whatever-ya-want break in between. But heavy subject matter and expedited course schedule aside, having nothing but one class to worry about was moist lemon cake compared to, in polite terms, a ‘rather unenjoyable’ academic (mostly extra-curricular) year. It. Was. Great.
Didn’t have a computer. Great. Beautiful surroundings. Great. Beer. Great.
Even if you’re going about it in a proper way with a treated story and knowledge of your characters, writing ‘on the side’ is just incredibly difficult. If all you can sneak is a distracted 30 to 60 minutes it’s really hard to get mentally into it and get anything worthwhile down in that short amount of time. While over in Poland we regularly had 4-hour blocks of time, sometimes the entire afternoon and evening, to ourselves. It really was quite wonderful. Pictured above is the Rynek, a 10-acre square in the heart of Krakow, Poland. I would make the 20-minute walk, find an establishment, order a 0.5L, light a pipe, and set to writing in my notebook. As I said, I didn’t have a computer over there with me, but computer or no, I would have been writing in my notebook. I write in longhand. I always have since I was whittling out terrible stories in 3rd grade (I still have a lot of those notebooks). I’m actually quite bad about typing cold at a computer. These blog posts (length aside) take me FOR-EV-ER. Plus there’s something irresistibly romantic about flowing words forth from your mind through a good pen onto paper and into the physical world. Doubly so with a beer at hand. Triply so with a pipe in your mouth. I don’t know if that’s hipster or cliche or just plain self-absorbed, but it puts me in a good place mentally. And above all else, you need to be in a good mental state to have any hopes of writing.
And I wrote.
Line after line I scribbled down, scratched out, re-wrote, modified with even smaller scribbled inserts, and scratched out again. The pages of my notebook were slowly filling up as it was taking two or three drafts of a scene to come to something moderately passable. The previously mentioned beneath-butt inferno kept me from using my rapid progress as an excuse to take a break. I was even feeling like I might drain the pen! (It’s always a back-of-my-mind goal to drain a Pilot V5 Precise pen before I loose it…hasn’t happened yet (anyone else? or am I just extra odd?))
I left the notebook in the overhead storage space of one of the many tour buses we rode.
Yes, gut-wrenching. But all was not lost. While I didn’t have a computer, I did have access to the interweb thanks to the fine institution of Internet Cafes where you pay per fifteen minute slot. As I finished a scene I would type it up and email it in notepad and upload it to our production blog so that Matt and Paul could read it and give some feedback. So luckily while I did loose a solid bit of work, it was far from loosing everything. The scenes that had been written but not typed and sent were scenes that I had been working on in those last two days so they were in my mind and I was able to buy a new notebook (this is the only reason I have a notebook with a soccer player on the cover), scribble the scenes back out, and keep going.
That’s how it was written.
Allow me, please, to introduce to you Matt Clark, Producer for The Yin of Gary Fischer’s Life.
Like me, Matt graduated from Pocahontas Area Community High School in May of 2004. Unlike me, Matt actually spent some time considering where he as going to go to college and thereby enrolled at Buena Vista University and was able to become very involved in a media production program. From sophomore to senior year he produced the campus talk show and during his senior year he was the general manager of the campus cable channel. Now what this means is that Matt had three years of experience running productions by way of:
- outlining what needed to get done,
- tasking fellow students to get various parts of the project done,
- checking up on the students to make sure they were getting it done, and
- ultimately doing much of the work himself when the work didn’t get done (because it was all extracurricular and many students just don’t care about the field they’re going into).
In brief, Matt knew how to get shtuff done.
One of the stuffs Matt was working on getting done was setting up the auditions. In order to get the casting done Matt knew we would need to be listed on the Iowa Motion Picture Association’s (IMPA…Yes, Iowa has a motion picture association.) -the IMPA’s website so that we could then get on the IMPA’s casting-call mailing list. Trouble was, the IMPA required a copy of the script before they would allow production groups access to their actors-mailing-list. Now if your initial reaction is one of unjust censorship, don’t worry. The IMPA doesn’t discriminate except in perhaps the most culturally/legally unacceptable situations. The reason for the prerequisite was that they want to make sure you have a script done, because without a script, it’s pretty easy for a project to not happen, and they don’t want to waste the time of the actors who have signed up for their mailing list.
It’s fair. It was just very inconvenient because we were not at all properly prepared.
Even if I was spitting the scenes out fast, it didn’t make a lick of difference since the whole script wasn’t done. Terrific. We’ve got a movie we’re planning on shooting and no way to get a proper cast assembled. And I’m just gonna post this because I’m out of time and it’s already overly-long. I’ll hit the second half of Pre-Production in another post shortly. Thanks for readin’.