Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Two Steps Back... But In A Good Way

It’s David, late to the party one more time.

I read all kinds of posts and articles and books and such about the almighty Index Card. I suppose it’s always made sense to me, something that obviously would be helpful in revision. I mean, no duh.

But I’d never really done it before.

Well, I popped my cherry.

Last week, I asked my dear Movie Magic Screenwriter to please print out my latest draft of D Line as index cards. And my dear faithful Movie Magic Screenwriter complied, snappily. How nice.

Friday night I cut out the cards, laid them out on my dining room table, poured a neat glass of Bushmills Black Bush, slipped the iPod earbuds into my ears and took two steps back.

And POW –- perspective.

No wonder all these people were recommending it. It really helps.


No kidding. It’s not just an OCD, Type-A, control freak thing.

So much easier to isolate the story arcs of individual characters, one at a time, to really trace where they’re going, at what pace, why. So much better to see the overall structure and to spot the holes in logic and plot. So much easier to see how reorganizing scenes would work or not work.

I worked for two nights like this, making notes on the cards of revisions that needed to be made. Then we had a dinner party on Sunday.

So now the cards are back in a pile, secured by a couple of rubber bands, snugly tucked away in my bag.

And now I know why all those people recommend attaching the almighty Index Cards to the inimitable Cork Board.

Dining room table: bad idea.

Yet again, David’s late to the party…

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hey, Is That Where Google Got Its Name?

Been working on developing a pilot for a new history/anthropology show for a few days straight now and my brain’s starting to get googly.

As I’ve posted about before, this is where the creation of a TV show gets difficult: when you need to create a verbal pitch and written documents that quickly and clearly illustrate that it’s not just a cool idea, but a compelling, fresh television show that’s easy to visualize from start to finish -– and will last multiple seasons, constantly building ratings and staying relevant and on-brand, in an increasingly fickle world. Oh, and be producible for essentially no money. And we can start yesterday, if you just sign here.

Which is very wiggly work. It, like any good storytelling, is taking something as ephemeral and formless as an idea and turning it into something that exists without you. And I mean without you. Tricky. Lots of mind-wrangling and idea-surfing. Grinding your skateboard of creativity on the handrail of the staircase connecting thought to reality. (As if that staircase exists, says Buddha, chuckling…)

I don’t know what any of that means. But you can see, after you work on it for a while, your brain gets googly.

Great googly moogly even.

So I’m taking a break. Focus on something else for a moment. Allow a fresh perspective to creep in. Free your mind and all that.

So I’ll spend a couple minutes telling you about a little forum we had last night.

In conjunction with the ONFilm festival sponsored by Old Dominion University, the Hampton Roads Film Office set up a panel of independent filmmakers in the area to talk after a showing of Oscar-nominated shorts at the coolest arthouse theater in the area, the Naro (www.narocinema.com).

There were five of us who spoke and took questions about all aspects of making indy movies. It was great to get together with like-minded folks who are navigating some of the same waters, share ideas, horror stories, failures and successes.

In fact, afterwards I proposed doing so on a regular basis. My wife is in a book club and a women investors club. I have friends who are in writer’s groups. AA seems to help an awful lot of people.

There’s no doubting the importance of community, and this is true in the independent film world, too. While reading the blogs of writers and producers is helpful, think how much better it would be if everyone were in the same room.

Which would be easy to do in LA or New York.

But I think we can pull it off in VA, too.

I’ll let you know if it happens, and if it works.

Back to work, googly or no…

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Len and I finished spotting Dismal last night, and he’s plugging away at the rest of the score. Thankfully, he had done a lot of great work on the rough cut (most of which we were able to keep or just tweak a little) so it’s not a total do-over.

Also plugging away are our fine sound editors, Larry and Cret. We’re planning to do a review of the mix (with music) on April 1st (and that’s no joke). Then little fixes and problem-solving as needed, and we’re off by the second week of April.

And the update on D Line: tonight I start a (restructure) rewrite. It’s a complex story, with multiple characters, and it jumps around a lot. Which was intentional, because I wanted it to have a jazzy feel, as it’s a piece in which jazz plays a central role… but I have to take into account that jazz structures (musically or story-wise) are hard to swallow by non-jazz fans, so I think I need to take it (a tad) more toward the traditional.

Not entirely so, but making it a little cleaner, in a classic story sense. It still has to maintain some of its jazzy qualities, though, or it just won’t (work).

So here I go.

(Which means, Greg, if you haven’t started reading that draft I sent you –- and with your wife in town and your remarkably busy work schedule I imagine you haven’t –- then don’t. Wait for the new one.)

(Oh, and also, Ryan, I got your script and promise to get back to you soon…)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Spot On

Spent three hours on the phone last night with Len, the composer of Dismal, spotting the movie.

This is some of the producing work that I absolutely love. The creative interaction with the creative people who make the movie really shine.

For those of you who don't know what spotting is, it's not when you get a little, um, flow unexpectedly. I mean it is that, but in the film world, it's when you go through the movie scene-by-scene, talking about tone, intention, feeling, etc., deciding where music begins, where it ends, what it sounds like -- and probably most importantly, where there should be no music at all.

(A little advice for the beginner: if your composer creates a wall-to-wall score, find a new composer.)

Ideally, of course, this spotting session should happen with you and the composer in the same room. If possible, every creative decision should be made with people looking at each other. Communication’s always best that way -– as is bitch-slapping. But with Dismal, we have no real money to fly around meeting people all the time, I have a full-time job (hence starting at 8pm) and the composer's in Pennsylvania while I'm in Virginia. So we did it over the phone, each with timecoded DVDs running.

Making it all the more interesting is that Len’s a great composer, very creative but also practical, and we really understand each other. I can’t say enough about the value of hiring the right team.

Anyway, this, as I said, is one of the fun parts of producing. And it's one of the parts that most people don't know about. Which is maybe why I like it so much. Do it right, and it enhances the film dramatically but the viewer doesn’t really notice it. It’s stealth creativity. Ninja style.

Same thing with sound design and editing -- I love sitting with the sound guys and working through all the ways to amplify the quality of the film -- little sounds here or there, silence when it should be silence, snapping twigs, sound effects, foley, ADR, all that great background stuff that can really make or break a film.

In fact, if I had to change positions in the film and TV world, I think I’d switch to sound design. Love that shit.

By the way, in the three hours spent last night, we got through roughly half of the movie, so we finish tonight. Looking forward to it. Because over the phone, Len can’t bitch-slap me.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Uncle Walt Says Lay Off

I’m quoting from memory here, so don’t hold me to it, but in one of his many fantastic poems Walt Whitman wrote something like, “Better than to tell the best is to leave the best untold.”

This is kinda what’s occupying my writing thoughts lately.

I tried, as I was writing D Line (formerly known as “the Harlem rewrite”), to keep a strong filter up to snag any dialogue or action lines that were too heavy-handed. You don’t want to hand the reader everything -– and by reader, I really mean the director or actors who might ultimately get behind the script and want to work on it. But in day-to-day America, it seems people want everything handed to them, so you end up being inadvertently trained to give them everything.

I know the first couple scripts I wrote were way too heavy-handed –- telling everything.

But the moves I like best are the ones during which I have to do a little work. No easy answers. Lots of unsolved problems. Not too much unchecked, uninspired, way-too-easy redemption. I like the ones where you have questions running through your mind during the credits, and not just about why they needed that many stuntmen.

I was thinking about this last night, while watching The Illusionist –- which was okay, but it handed me everything. I like to do a little concluding of my own, a little critical thinking. And so naturally, I’m trying to write such a script.

But where to draw the line can be tricky. To be sure, subtlety and careful open-endedness can be easily misconstrued as idiocy and lack of clarity.

As I go back and reread D Line, making notes for the next draft, I wonder if I hit the balance. This is not just an artistic question –- though I hope for my soul's sake it's mainly so -– but a practical one, too.

If I’m going to use this script to try to break into Hollywood, get an agent, maybe a manger, try to sell it and work my ass off to help shepherd it into theaters, do I have to dumb things down a little? Spell things out? Hit a more conservative structure? Do people who have to read hundreds of scripts want to do a little work for a story?

I suppose the answer’s obvious, if I’m just trying to get into theaters. Then, the answer would be, yes, dumb it down, write the Robert McKee tripe in which the cookie cutter is clearly visible and the marketability shines through like a great glowing Golden Arches, and hope you hit the blockbuster fever-of-the-day at the right time.

But I also want to write movies that I’m proud of. Oh, I know. I’m na├»ve. Okay, in some ways, yes I am. But it’s true: I want to at least start by trying to write honest scripts about honest people with honestly messy lives.

If, after multiple failures, I end up jaded and writing thin plastic schlock to get a paycheck, okay. Fine. Ain’t too proud to beg.

But first I want to try not to tell the best, but to leave the best untold -– so that someone sitting in the theater will be able to find it on their own terms.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Dismal Trailer

Official DiSmAl trailer 1

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It loses a lot of quality being compressed to fit on MySpace, and then transferred here, so it doesn't look as beautiful as the full HD version does... but you get the idea anyway.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Dismal Poster

Here's our poster. Whatcha think?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Pants On Fire

'Member when I said we had picture lock on Dismal? 'Member that?


I lied.

When our DP reviewed the whole thing this week he found a bunch of stuff that our second camera shot that isn't going to work once we up-res to HD and project on the large screen.

So we have to cut the shots.

All of them.

Which means finding time with the editor to recut.

And having the sound editors skip those parts.

And telling the composer his pacing's all off now.

Ah, but it's not really lying to you. We did have picture lock. Honest. This is just the way things go. No matter how finished you think you are, no matter how well you think you've planned, something's going to screw up. And all you can do is try to fix it.

Which we will. We'll still have our final-final by the first week in April. It'll just be a little hairier go now. But dammit we're all dedicated to making this the best thing it can be. And it will be.

Just a week later than we thought.