I read an interview some years ago in which James Cameron advised creatives to do this: “Make stuff.” Per Cameron, actually making movies is the single best way to learn, really learn the entire process of cinematic storytelling.
Screenwriter Ian Fowler did just that and wrote a reflection on his experiences making his movie Crazy Right. Here is Part 3 in a three-part series:
Learning How to Make a Movie: Part 3
By Ian Fowler
Everything cut together effortlessly. All of my ideas were working. But it still didn’t have any glue. It was just another well-constructed scene that sat on my time line and laughed at me. I had the idea that every piece of music in the movie would be based on one song. “After You’ve Gone.” I had my composer Alejandro do up a 1920’s version for the opening of the film. It didn’t have vocals yet and it was just sitting there completely obscured from my withering brain. I smoked a cigarette lamenting my complete lack of ability, foresight, knowledge and skill. I said “Oh, I have no clue what I’m doing.” I finished the smoke and headed back to stare at the screen some more.
I said “It needs music.” Why or how, I didn’t know. What kind of music? I only had one piece. So I started scouring the internet for something good. Patrick and Ian’s scene was quirky and dark so I wanted something serious. Obviously. I was a serious filmmaker now. My depressing film needed serious music. Everything I downloaded failed miserably. It just didn’t fit in any way shape or form.
Every time I pulled in another piece of music, there was Alejandro’s version calling to my deaf ears. Finally I thought “Oh, what the heck.” I pulled in the file, set it in place, and hit play.
Crazy Right had an identity. It was alive. Finally. Everything now made perfect sense. Patrick sitting in the closet, bottle of booze between his legs, on the phone with a “help line councilor” and Ian banging away at the door trying to make his delivery. It was magic. Now, every single cut of the scene had a complete purpose. Everything came into focus.
A scene that had started out as the beginning of Patrick’s decent into madness became the pivot point for how and why Crazy Right looks and feels. Editing became simple. I communicated to Alejandro what I wanted and he supplied effortless pieces of music that literally “fit into place.” Scenes blended together as if they were editing themselves.
This is the point where I said to myself “Oh, you know what you’re doing! Finally!” Nate and every single actor was phenomenal and the scenes were structurally sound but I had gotten to this point on “idiot’s wet dream” and as a director a huge amount of luck. All those “hacks” I mentioned earlier, well, I’m not that much different.
And then Lindsae texted me to to say that her girlfriend was in the hospital and she had to back out of the film. Um…..what? Really? 8 days into shooting and I had to recast a lead? The exact right actor to play opposite Patrick for the remainder of the film and I had to find her replacement.
Lindsae Klein and Patrick Green in Crazy Right
I stomached it. I texted Colleen. I talked to Patrick. I looked over local agency websites. I watched the test footage we shot and made the decision to put off the shoot until she was ready. I knew in my heart that she was the only actor that would pull off what I wanted. I knew it. She was right. I had to wait.
Patrick, Nate and I set about figuring out how to keep shooting without her, then when Lindsae was available I would rewrite her entry scene so that it fit with the rest of the film and then move back into the original script.
We shot, and shot some more, I rewrote scenes, Nate and I came up with unique shots to create beauty where there was none before. Patrick really stepped up his game. He was acting opposite a walkman! I was feeding him lines that we would add later with Lindsae in post-production. Hell, during lunch one day Patrick was eating out of a to-go container and I said “Nate, roll on that.” We made up a scene right on the spot. It was perfect and actually plays an important role in the film.
I have to stop here to mention that this was an amazing opportunity. We were shooting around Nate’s schedule which was a day here and a day there. It gave me the chance to start looking deeply at the film. How and why it went together. I moved this piece here, moved that piece there. Studied this, studied that. Moved pieces from 30 minutes in the film to 12 minutes in the film. Changed things that happened early to late in the first act. All my “structure” went out the window. In a good way. I knew how movies went together. I had memorized it. I had criticized others for their lack of it. I was the king of structure. I knew exactly how a movie went together.
But I didn’t. Because what we see on the screen, as closely transcribed from the script by the director looks absolutely nothing like it does on the page. I mean that. It became clear that I had not told the audience what the movie was about in the beginning. I thought I had. Everyone seemed to understand. But actuality I had done something that I think I try too hard to do all the time. Be clever.
I just didn’t bother to tell the audience exactly what movie they were about to watch was.
With Lindsae’s girlfriend still in the hospital, a total of 5 weeks before she set foot on set, we re-shot the opening of the film. We spelled it out. Patrick’s an alcoholic. He doesn’t go outside. He’s having an estate sale after the death of his wife. Besides the emotional nature of the character, we said those things out loud to the audience. We decided on three main shots, brought everyone back and re-shot. And it works. My original clever opening attempted to say all those things, but failed miserably in hindsight.
Yes, I was spending a little more money, but honestly, not to have that opening scene, people would just turn away. They might still, but at least they’ll know what they’re turning away from.
Lindsae stepped foot on set and it was magic. It was effortless. The wait was 1000 percent worth it. She and Patrick have amazing chemistry. They went to emotional places that absoluely make the film. They put themselves out there. They both nailed it.
We wrapped principle photography on Easter Sunday. I received a text from Ben on Tuesday to inform me that our Art Teacher Mr. Griffin has passed away Easter morning. As much time as I had wasted being an alcoholic in my life, and as little as I normally read into things, Mr. Griffin’s words jumped to the forefront of my skull “Anything, use anything, do it, re-do it, do over again, throw it way, dig it out of the trash, re-mold it, twist it, turn it, until you have said what you needed to say.” He was a snarky, quick witted man that made fun of me for being a smart ass douche bag in high school. A know-it-all who knew nothing.
Colleen had insisted I become a filmmaker. She knew better than I that I was meant to make at least one movie. She gave me the opportunity and I feel like I didn’t let her down. We made a good film.
While shooting Crazy Right I wrote a script for a local producer which Jon will be directing. It’s sorta a full circle thing. I’m not sure how the universe works but it sure seems to fold in on itself over and over. So making the decision to bolt off on my own ended up working for both of us in different ways.
I learned what kind of filmmaker I really am. I know my style and what I’m trying to say. Why and how. From writing a script to editing a movie. I put my own finger print on it. Whether people love it or hate it Crazy Right is the film I wanted to make. It’s quirky and weird, dark and funny, serious and laughable, structured and free flowing, architectural and beautiful, light and tragic. I set out to “make my film” and learned how to make one in the process.
For Part 1, go here.
Part 2, here.
Ian Fowler has been writing scripts professionally for 8 years and began making short films 6 years ago. He’s written everything from science fiction to comedy for producers from LA to Toronto, original works based on producer’s ideas to books and even a life story. The best thing about writing so far has been getting paid even though none of the films have been made to date (especially the 100 million dollar sci fi script – hehe) In 2016 he set off to make his first feature film Crazy Right.
The movie’s Facebook page here.
If you have a story about making a movie which you feel Go Into The Story readers would enjoy and benefit from, email me.