Dispatch from the Front Line: Dan Benamor on making the movie “Initiation”

August 8th, 2016 by

Over the years, I’ve done what I can to support and promote independent filmmakers. In that vain, today another in an occasional series of guest posts called Dispatches from the Front Line: Dan Benamor shares his experiences in co-writing and making the movie Initiation which is being released tomorrow August 9 by Gravitas Ventures. In this Dispatch, Dan offers several key insights for anyone interested in making low-budget movies. It’s a really good read:

As writers, a piece of advice we often hear, sometimes thrown out as a sort of last resort, is, “just go make your movie”. This is advice that I would catch and release. It just always seemed like an impossibly huge challenge. The logistics of it alone, and the amount of people you’d have to marshal together, especially for a writer, felt overwhelming. I’d ignore it, block it out of my mind, and write my next big-budget action spec script.

But as digital cameras became cheaper and cheaper, this notion kept coming up. After I graduated from the Vancouver Film School in 2010, I had my first opportunity to “just go make your movie”.

My cousin (Oren Benamor), a filmmaker in Los Angeles, had called me about putting together a script with a story based around some locations he knew he could get in LA. We worked on it together, but ultimately the financing for the LA version didn’t look like it would come through.

I looked around and realized something. After film school, I knew makeup artists, actors, directors of photography, producers. I knew basically at least one person in every department I would need to make a film. So I asked my cousin if he’d be comfortable with me shooting it in Vancouver.

He said sure, and the result was my first feature, “Betrayed”, a movie I wrote, directed, edited, serving as casting director, location scouted, and with the help of an incredibly supportive cast and crew that worked for free, made for literally less than 5K. The film ultimately screened at a festival (Worldfest Houston) and won an award there (best Suspense/Thriller).

But (and if you take anything from this post, fellow micro-budget filmmaker, take this) we later learned there’s something you pretty much have to buy called “E&O insurance” (Errors & Omissions), and the cost would likely be close to the cost of the entire film. So “Betrayed” ultimately did not gain distribution.

What it did do though, I believe, is prove to myself and other filmmakers in my orbit (like my cousin, who I of course updated every step of the way) that this really was achievable with some elbow grease and a boatload of favors.

I moved to LA afterwards, and had a good run working as a development executive at a production company making independent films. While I was there, my cousin again approached me, with a similar notion of retrofitting a script around existing locations. That script was “Initiation”.

INITIATION poster_v2d_lightbkg

We ultimately wrote it together. And I had learned some things along the way. Instead of doing another suspense/thriller (as my first film was) this one was straight up action/horror (the two most marketable genres for low budget films both domestically and in foreign markets). Also, ironically, given the notion of doing a second micro-budget feature, my first big idea for the script was to add a second primary location.

This, at a surface level, doesn’t make any sense. A one-location script is much easier and cheaper to shoot. Adding a second location adds complexity and cost. Why do that? But I had learned the hard way this was important.

In both my own first feature and the various independent features I had developed, I realized something. When you only have one location, there’s a claustrophobia to the story that can be a little suffocating, narratively, and also make the “micro” part of micro-budget feel REALLY obvious.

So what we did was open the story up. “Initiation” takes place in two different locations, and during two different timelines. The second location? The woods. It’s about the cheapest location you can get.

This small change made the film “feel” bigger, both in physical scope and the ambition of the story. It also added depth to our hero, played by our friend, a great actor and also a producer on the film, Adam Rennie.

That’s another lesson I learned from working in development. There are hundreds of cynical, obviously written with no real emotional investment, lowbrow horror scripts and movies out there. I don’t think that can ever make for a great movie.

So we really strove to take this story – at face value a death match horror riff on “Bloodsport”, and give it real emotion. There’s a narrative to it about what true strength is that’s all psychological. And it’s that aspect that makes me (and hopefully audience members upon our release) passionate about the movie.

Initiation Adam

Adam Ryan Rennie in Initiation

We were ultimately able to raise the money and shoot the movie, largely through private equity and some fantastic producing from our excellent team of producers. This is a whole different skill set than writing, which I wasn’t really involved in but still marvel at, and huge kudos goes to all our producers, especially the extraordinary Mike Kopera.

One big note here on the production itself for writers is that if you aren’t particularly experienced in shooting films, and you want to do a micro-budget feature, you may be better off pairing with a more experienced filmmaker. The years I spent writing script after script, my cousin Oren spent shooting everything from weddings to music videos to reality TV to shorts to web series. He brought a level of filmmaking craft to this as a director and editor that I would never have been able to.

Once it was finished, as a result of spending years as a development executive, I knew who all the buyers were (something I had no knowledge of when I made my first film). We sent the movie out, were fortunate to get numerous offers, and ultimately Gravitas Ventures is releasing “Initiation” on most VOD platforms August 9th.

Initiation Mike Winner

A scene from the movie Initiation

The last takeaway I want to give there is that distributors WANT content. I had a leg up because I had contacts due to my job, but there were many other distributors who we reached out to cold and they agreed to screen the film, and in some cases made offers on it.

If you make your movie, and it’s good, people will want it. The barrier to entry with a completed film is extremely low. You’ve done the hard work for them. Whereas with a screenplay, what you’re really saying is, “Hey, want to give up years of your life and millions of dollars to produce this film?” with a completed film it’s a product ready to go, and distributors need to keep pushing new content through the pipeline.

After doing two of these films, I’m living proof that there’s really nothing stopping you from doing it. You, reading this blog post, can get up, write a script that expresses whatever themes are important to you in a contained (translation: cheap) way, find a director or appoint yourself director, then beg, borrow and steal some money, and make your script into a living, breathing, movie.

If you want to see an example of that type of process come to fruition, check out “Initiation” on any of the VOD platforms (ITunes, Amazon, etc.) August 9th. It could just as easily be your movie.

US: http://apple.co/28OFsFD
CA: http://apple.co/28QVYbg

Initiation released on 8/9 on iTunes, Amazon.com, Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Google Play, YouTube, VUDU, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Verizon, DISH.

Suddenlink Communications, Mediacom, Insight Media, WOW Wireless, Brighthouse Networks, Rogers Communications,Shaw Communications.

In the past, I’ve talked about how a writer ought to be able to wear several ‘hats’ – producer, executive, actor, director. Dan’s dispatch demonstrates how he wore all of those and more in crafting and making Initiation, then critically how he used his experience in development to help steer the movie to a distribution deal.

The last point Dan makes is a big one: Distributors want content. As writers and filmmakers, we need to be smart about our creative and production choices – genre, locations, budget, and craft a script which plays to a project’s strengths so a distributor will see a potential to generate revenue.

Thanks, Dan, for your insights and best of luck to you and your cousin with the movie Initiation.

Learning How to Make a Movie (Part 3)

April 29th, 2016 by

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.

Crazy Right Lindsae Patrick trimmed

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.

Learning How to Make a Movie (Part 2)

April 28th, 2016 by

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. I am sharing that story with you over the next several days.

Learning How to Make a Movie: Part 2

By Ian Fowler

Jon Meyer is a genius. I do not say that with any lightness or joking. He’s probably the only genius I know personally. He’s amazing. Deciding to make this film I thought long and hard about what I personally wanted to achieve. Yes I wrote it, Yes I produced it, yes I directed it. I weighed the options. If I hired Jon the film would be done in a matter of months. That’s how he worked. He’s insane that way. It would be good. Maybe even brilliant.

But if I hired Jon, in my soul, I knew that no matter whose name was under the “directed by” line, ultimately that it would be his film.

Even with all the risk I had to know that Crazy Right, success or failure, would be my film.

So I turned to another local DP Nathan Coltrane, who I had seen making some beautiful shots for other people’s short and feature films. Nate is also a photographer. A damn good one too. I even recommend my ex-wife hire him for her upcoming wedding.

Nate is a big guy, quiet, unassuming, who knows what he’s doing behind a camera. He’s also a filmmaker. He’s made short films and music videos. He’s damn good at what he does. I sent him a message, we met for coffee, and we decided to have a test shoot with Patrick and Lindsae Klein and Dennis Fitzpatrick, all stars of the film, to see if we could get along. We shot for a day. I basically said “Nate, you’re in charge, make pretty pictures.” He did just that. I loaded everything into my slow ass computer and edited all the footage in about a day. It was easy. Actually I couldn’t believe how easy it was. Everyone did my job for me. I just sat back and watched. Great direction on my part I would have to say kiddingly.

So, amped and pumped and other adjectives that tell you how excited I was to make my first feature film I left my day job after 18 years to pursue a “career” as a filmmaker. I was going to make “my” movies.

It quickly became apparent that I had no idea what “my” movie looked like. We shot for 5 days, everything was going great! The actors were great, Nate was great but as I settled in to edit during our first week long break from shooting (schedule conflicts) I started to feel problems. I started to think, how does this work? How does this go together? This scene is great and cuts together effortlessly, but how does it flow to the next one?

I realized this critical necessity making my first feature. It sucked and Saturday with two additional actors was coming up fast.

Crazy Right Patrick Green Lindsae Klein trimmed

Patrick Green and Lindsae Klein in Crazy Right

I put it behind me. I knew the shots we good, well-constructed, sort of happy accidents because I knew I wanted “cool” shots and Nate happily provided them as I said things like “oh, shoot through that” or “oh, look at that light” or “let’s get high or low or over there” or whatever. I have to say that it was that easy at first because I came from a writing background and nothing perturbed me more than poor structure in script writing. I had memorized it and wrote specifically to character and structure. Nothing else. The story would flow from those two elements. Scenes are just a microcosm of screenplay structure. They had to be well constructed or shooting them was pointless.

Actor Ian Stout showed up for his scene. It was a simple scene where he plays a delivery guy who drops off agoraphobic alcoholic Patrick’s booze and food for the week. But that’s when it happened.

Nate and I were setting up a shot and I said “Oh, it would be cool if we started on that light, in the closet, panned down as we dolly out, land on Patrick, push in on Patrick and then out again as Patrick hears Ian at the door knocking.” Patrick had actually been the one to suggest that the beginning of his character’s psychological break started in the closet and since we were filming the entire movie inside my house we had to use every element we could. So, the closet it was. And Nate and Patrick pulled it off perfectly.

I was excited. I said “Oh, Nate, set up here, shoot that way, get the reverse of that, Patrick, do this, and then that, and then do this and Nate, do that.” I was like a kid again. Truly. I don’t think I have ever been that excited on set. This is also the point where we started using the slider, the dolly and the sticks more. And it looked awesome!

Ian delivered his lines perfectly, I gave some directions to the actors and we even got a little magic from both Ian and Patrick and the screen door. I was on top of the world.

Until I started editing.

For Part 1, go here.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Ian does some filmmaking on the fly when he has to recast a major role 8 days into the shoot.

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.

Learning How to Make a Movie (Part 1)

April 27th, 2016 by

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. I am sharing that story with you over the next several days.

Learning How to Make a Movie: Part 1

By Ian Fowler

Colleen insisted I make movies. I had quit, given up, succumb to the overwhelming fact that I would never get financing for “my” movie(s). Three times I had tried and failed. One guy even had me picked up in a spotless Lexus and driven me to Seattle where he listened for three hours, shook my hand, said we had a deal, and two months later (with no money transferred at all) called me and said the deal was off with no explanation. I had been excited, had started putting everything together, hiring cast and crew and these were phone calls I didn’t want to make.

I had even tried to just sell my scripts. But was told repeatedly that despite how good people thought they were that no one would make quirky, dark, funny, dramatic movies. I heard repeatedly that “my style” didn’t sell.

So, I just wrote scripts for hire. A comedy over here, a drama over there, sci-fi, horror, you name it. Back in the day a producer hired me to write a sci-fi script based on a book he loved as a child. I wrote it for $3,000 dollars. He offered me points on the back end when the film was financed but I turned him down stating the glaring fact that the film would never get privately financed. It was rude, but true and has never been sniffed in anything other than script.

I had made some really good short films, too. I even won an award and a cash prize. Strangely enough, it had become apparent that I really didn’t know what I was doing. I mean, I knew what I wanted to see from actors. I knew how I wanted to frame shots. But if I’m being brutally honest with myself, Jon Meyer (a local writer, director, cinematographer, editor and musician) did most of the heavy lifting. I wrote and directed (sort of) and he did all the other work. “My” films were good.

I sorta in the back of my gut understood this and went off to make some films on my own. At that point I just knew that I wanted to make movies and I had friends wanting to work with
me. So I made a few short films. A futurist mocumentory about serial killers having a #1 show on TV, a silent film about depression and I shot and edited films for other directors and even learned a little about musical choice.

After yet another fake financing deal fell through I just couldn’t take it anymore and sent a note to all my friends that I was leaving the biz.

And I tried to paint. I started my artist “career” in comic book art with my childhood friend Ben in Gastonia, North Carolina. That transitioned to painting with the aid of my high school art teacher Mr. Griffin. Painting did not go so well. I managed only one piece I considered good in two months.

Out of the blue a friend in Toronto asked if I would write a script. She and her boyfriend had ideas, and she’s pretty damn well connected in Hollywood. Amazingly famous brothers. I knew this was something I could do, so I said yes. I finished the script in 2 months and a year later….nothing. No sale, no development, no money, no nothing.

I lost complete faith that I would ever do anything in movies other than hold a boom or move a C stand. It took Colleen months to convince me.

Enter Patrick Green. A Portland actor and friend who wanted to make a good movie. The problem with the low budget world is that there are “filmmakers” (I do use the term loosely) who think they know what they’re doing. They don’t know anything about how to make a movie other than their vibrato. It’s rampant. Actors get sucked into this crap all the time. Itsucks. Actors get used and thrown away for the express purpose of some idiot’s wet dream. Patrick was no exception. He and I had talked at length about it and how troubling it was/is and how there’s nothing actors trying to get any kind of exposure can do about it, especially if it pays a little, because then you’re a “real” actor, getting paid to do what you love…only, it rarely turn out well.

Crazy Right 1 Patrick Wakman One trimmed

Patrick Green in the movie Crazy Right

I sent him the original script for “Crazy Right” which was a fractured wet dream 120 pages in length. It was sorta an alcoholic pissing himself, having sex, drinking, arguing and ultimately finding no peace what so ever script. It was about me. I had written it erase demons of the nearly two decades I had spent at the bottom of a bottle. Patrick loved the script and as we started talking about how to make it a reality with no budget, we quickly realized we had to rewrite the script to actually make it work.

We got rid of any locations that weren’t really needed. We consolidated characters. We added agoraphobia so the character couldn’t leave the house. We needed a way to introduce his psychological break and enter his delusions so we came up with a Walkman. How else can you have a character recount the past when everything has already been done? I’m sure this has been done too, but it worked.

We had a 75 page script that we really liked.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Ian starts shooting his movie and learns some big lessons up front in the process.

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.

Dispatch From The Quest: Paul Wie

October 25th, 2013 by

Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.

Today: Paul reflects on where he is as he heads into his first draft:

This last week was a culmination of all our prep work — outlines. Writing mine took longer than I expected with numerous late-night sessions; but now that I’ve gotten some rest and feel good about what I’ve created, I’m excited to go into the page writing. Regardless of how difficult this past week has been, outlining has reaffirmed my passion for my story. It’s given me a sneak preview of my movie, and it’s a movie I’d love to watch. Outlining has also reaffirmed my love for preparation. As much fun as improvising can be, my best work comes from having a strong plan A I can riff off of. Being rigorously prepared gives me the confidence to take risks and seize inspired moments when I see it. Even when I’m directing, I love creating very detailed shot-lists and storyboards, because not only do they help sustain my vision and save time/money on set, they free me up to improve my vision when better ideas come along. And when filming or writing, beautiful accidents happen all the time. Actors will give you a great line or look you didn’t anticipate, the sun will shine a certain way inspiring you to film the scene in a whole new light, and characters will emerge on the page saying or doing things you could never have planned beforehand.

So as prepared as I can be, I dive into my scenes, excited to write what I’ve outlined and excited for the new and unforeseen to come. All in all, I look forward to these next ten weeks of creative storytelling. Best of luck and inspiration to my fellow Questers and every writer going on their own journeys. Let’s write great scripts!

Thanks, Paul, for your Dispatches!

About Paul: Director + Writer. Loves Spielberg, Truffaut, Abrams, Kurosawa, Attack the Block, cinematic stories beautifully told. @paulhwie.

Dispatch From The Quest: Troy Klith

October 24th, 2013 by

Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.

Today: Troy reflects on where he is as he heads into his first draft:

The first draft adventure is about to begin. Narrative Throughline is finished. Bags are packed. Supply lists checked.

For the most part, I think I’m ready for the journey. My biggest concern is character development. Fortunately, the Quest process is character-driven, which I’m thankful for, but I’ve learned this is my weakest area. I’m decent enough at putting my heroine in jeopardy and then throwing some obstacles her way, but I still worry if she’s likeable enough for a reader/audience to care. For some reason, I struggle to create a protagonist who opens in a state of disunity without also making her boring or bitchy or any other number of unappealing characteristics. But I’m working on it, and using the Quest process to get my protagonist where she needs to be. I’ll also lean on the other Questers to help me. For now, as Waka said, I’m taking the “I’ll fix it later” approach and moving forward.

Since this is our final dispatch, I’d like to send a huge, public “Thank you!” to all of the Questers and to Scott. Questers, thanks for your invaluable help over the last 14 weeks. And Scott, I can’t express how grateful I am to learn your process – it will not only serve as a guide for this current adventure, but will continue to chart the course for the many journeys to come. Onward.

Thanks, Troy, for your Dispatches!

Tomorrow: Another Dispatch From The Quest.

About Troy: Born Midwesterner with heart in San Francisco, but nothing beats NYC. Entrepreneur. Writer. Lover of the underdog. Grateful father of 3. @troyklith.

Dispatch From The Quest: Waka Brown

October 23rd, 2013 by

Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.

Today: Waka reflects on where she is as she heads into her first draft:

Can it be? Can we already be at the last week of Prep, our last week before FADE IN?

This week, we created our outlines for our screenplays. It was a rather daunting assignment but, having learned my lesson in Master Brainstorming List week, I plugged away early and came up with something I think I can work with. Miranda mentioned in her Dispatch that she found the subplots to be the hardest part. I agree, but I’m pretty sure in my situation, I have too many. That’s OK. Several years ago, a screenwriting instructor imparted me with this mantra to use when I’m not sure what to do:

“I’ll fix it later.”

Simple words, but I can’t tell you how many times these words have kept me going, powering me through a draft. So, my outline is imperfect, but you know what? I’ll fix it later.

In addition to this being our last week of Prep, can this really be our last week of required Dispatches? I must say, I had no idea what “weekly Dispatches” entailed at first but I’ve actually really enjoyed writing them. I don’t think I’ve ever reflected so much on my writing in my life! I’ve appreciated all of you who’ve reflected alongside me, tolerated my tangents, and offered words of encouragement. Many thanks also to Scott for letting us use his blog as our weekly soapbox. You may hear from me again at the very end of this Quest (I don’t even want to think about it, sniff, sniff), but goodbye for now – the next time you hear from me, I’ll have a first draft! Wish me luck and best of luck to all of you, too. Now…. pages!!!

Thanks, Waka, for your Dispatches!

Tomorrow: Another Dispatch From The Quest.

About Waka: Kansan turned Californian turned Oregonian. Fan of Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, Richard Curtis, Tina Fey (who isn’t?), & I still use a $30 Tracfone @wakatb.

Dispatch From The Quest: Miranda Sajdak

October 22nd, 2013 by

Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.

Today: Miranda reflects on where he is as he heads into his first draft:

Wow, outlines. So, this week was serious outline week. And, boy, did it prove how helpful the last few months have been in narrowing down our full story. When we sat down to do our outline, the biggest element of fear was subplots. We felt we had the overall skeleton there, but subplots were the hardest part – and we’re still not entirely sure we have them fully locked down.

Once again, our trusty Questers were exceptionally helpful in pointing out areas that needed to be fleshed out, places where we might need some set-up to assist in our ultimate pay-off, and other arenas that might be useful to our final story. All in all, we feel pretty good about getting down to pages – but, of course, there are always those last-minute doubts before the words actually begin (ok, to be honest, there are doubts even AFTER the words are on the page).

Fortunately, the outline should be helpful in guiding us on our journey, and I’m actually feeling more prepared than I anticipated, and, finally, ready for FADE IN.

Thanks, Miranda, for your Dispatches!

Tomorrow: Another Dispatch From The Quest.

About Miranda: New Englander turned Angeleno by way of New York. Enjoys: high-powered action films, dark dramas, and ’90s legal thrillers. Does not enjoy: the dentist. Mushrooms. @ScriptChix.

Dispatch From The Quest: Christian Fontenot

October 21st, 2013 by

For the last 14 weeks, the Questers have been sharing their experiences with us through weekly Dispatches. Now that they are typing FADE IN and plunging into the page-writing part of the process, I have absolved them of this responsibility in order to focus on the task at hand. If inspired, they may post an occasional Dispatch over the next 10 weeks… or not.

Today: Christian reflects on where he is as he heads into his first draft:

This week’s quest was discovering our Narrative Throughline / Outline.  As someone who gets paid for his project management skills, I see great value in planning.  In fact, spending more time in planning makes for the smoothest execution.  Through this process I have learned that the same is true for screenwriting. That being said, the final step in planning is the project plan or the outline.  Surprisingly, this has been the most difficult for me.  My left side brain feels like it takes some of the magic out of the process; but my right side brain loves having a road map.

My left side brain keeps trying to sabotage this process.  He really wanted to “zen” out; just “let it happen” and let the magic flow.  My right side brain isn’t any nicer to my outline.  He sits in his high pulpit judging everything I write down: “Is that a strong enough open?” “Does that capture the theme?” “Would my protagonist really do that?”  “Do you need that character?” “Is that funny enough?”

In the end, my arbitration skills failed miserable as I wasn’t able to get the brain halves to come to any agreements or compromises and so my outline is lacking.  SHIT!  New voices in my head, and now this; might be time to talk to my doc to up my meds.  So my only nugget of wisdom this week is to quote screenwriter Barbie, “Outlines are hard.”

All right, 14 weeks are in the books and “Fade In” starts this week.  This could be my last dispatch; unless of course there is some need to vent or share other random observations / pseudo-wisdom with you fine people of the internet.   Here are some quick hits for you before I disappear back into Shadowlands of the Ethernet:

+ Rereading my dispatches and according to my daughter, I sound like a drunk.  Truth is I haven’t had milk, caffeine, or alcohol in about 6 months, and honestly, milk has been the hardest.  Try drinking sparkling water with a brownie.

+ I got a lot of shit from my family about the “shanty” reference in my first dispatch.  So to clear that up, I was raised in a wooden townhouse about a mile away from a swamp, and actually, outside of the Audubon Zoo, I’ve probably seen maybe 4 alligators “in the wild” and maybe a couple were really a floating log or something.

+ I really do totally think that tubas rock!

+ And last, working with a group of writers and with Scott “work-shopping” my story has been an amazing process.  My story would not be a hundredth as good without these awesome people.  I’m looking forward to spending the next ten weeks writing with them.

Ready, set, “FADE IN.”

Thanks, Christian, for your Dispatches!

Tomorrow: Another Dispatch From The Quest.

About Christian: From Louisiana, now in Seattle. Turns off street lights with his mind. Regrets not learning the tuba – TUBAS ROCK! Storyteller. @cmfontenot.

Dispatch From The Quest: Christian Fontenot

October 19th, 2013 by

Over the course of the 24 weeks I am working with the writers in The Quest, each will write a weekly dispatch to share with the GITS community. There are several reasons for doing this, the main one educational: Hopefully you will learn something of value for your own understanding of the craft from the experiences of the Questers. I should also add they are a great group of people, so I expect you will enjoy getting to know them.

Today: Christian confronts a nebulous Act Two:

Trust the process.  Trust the process.  Trust the process?

On the eve of “Fade In”, I doubt my ability to pull this thing off.  Don’t get me wrong; trusting the Quest process, I probably know more about my main characters and theme at this stage of the game than I ever have before. I also have a pretty clear vision of my “tent pole” scenes.  I even may have even finally cracked a true unique, narrative tone.

However, connecting all these dots into a Narrative Themeline has been much harder than I ever expected.   I have a rock solid outline for Act 1 and Act 3, but Act 2 is still in it’s Jell-O phase and could go in so many different directions, and the unknown of all that is causing an anxiety fueled explosion of great feels.  But I can hear Scott’s voice in my head (not that I need another voice in my old coconut)– “let your characters guide the way”.

So come on characters, tell me your stories.  Let’s get this going!  Time for a walk.

Trust the process?  Trust the process.  Trust the process!

It’s always Act Two. That’s the bear.

Anyone can write a first act. That’s primarily setting up the story.

Almost anyone can write an ending. The drive to FADE OUT can compel us to pound out those final pages.

But the middle of the story? That’s a challenge. All those scenes. Subplots. How to build and sustain narrative drive? How to handle cross-cutting the action?

Sometimes the middle of the story feels much more like a muddle.

So yes… trust the process. Reach out to your characters. See where they take you. It helps if you have a clear sense of the Protagonist’s metamorphosis as that can help steer the psychological arc of the story.

At some point, give yourself over to page-writing. The first draft is a journey of discovery. Commit to finishing that draft no matter what. Eventually the story will become clear to you.

Good luck, Questers, and everyone else who will be typing FADE IN on Monday.

Go wrangle some magic!

Starting Monday, the last week of Dispatches From The Quest, this to allow the Questers a chance to focus on their writing.

About Christian: From Louisiana, now in Seattle. Turns off street lights with his mind. Regrets not learning the tuba – TUBAS ROCK! Storyteller. @cmfontenot.