Saturday, April 01, 2006

Chronicles 1 - The Idea

Adventures in the (indie) screen trade

It's not about the destination, it's about the journey...yeah, right.

Okay, as promised some real-world tales from the trenches. This series of chronicles focuses on the the creation, development, production and distribution of one of my projects - a feature length romantic comedy. However, I do mention other animation and live action projects along the way.

Alright, that was the first lie. This sounds like I'm chronicling a project that has already been screened in your local multi-plex and is available at your local Blockbusters. It's not. Although, strangely enough I have been involved, even if only on a theoretical discussion basis, in all these areas over the years. If you decide to produce or co-produce an independent film you still need to talk to distributors and sales agents at an early stage even if the only tangible thing you have in your hand is 120 pages of white paper covered in 12pt Courier.

The moment of conception - Summer 2000

So how did this long, hard, humbling, ego-thrashing, learning-curve-inducing, sojourn into the independent film making world begin? The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills? The Majestic Hotel, Cannes, The Ivy? Starbucks? The garret? Getting warmer...well, it was umm...on my, uhh...couch actually.

On one lazy Saturday afternoon in England I was lying on said couch discussing my exploits and first time experiences at the Cannes film festival with my wife. I had related these experiences to friends and family and the feedback I'd got back was, "Those are really funny stories, you should write a film about that".

We've all heard this before, right?

That's a great idea for a movie! You should write a script about that! The Americans love all that stuff! They'll lap it up! It's a Hollywood slam dunk! Just write the damned script!

In those long, after-dinner conversations a towering castle-made-of-sand is built up. A world of possibilities that seems so real, so immediate, so 'do-able'. In fact by the time the evening's over with the film is in the can and the deafening roar of applause from the World Premiere audience is already ringing in your ears. Forget about writing that 'dammned sript', I have more pressing matters like lunching with my agent and preparing my Golden Globe speech....and I would like to thank all my friends and family who supported me...SMASH CUT TO:


What lies beneath that tip-of-the-iceberg, off-the-cuff remark, "You should make a film about that", is a Titanic-wrecking, gargantuan chunk of ice that represents the climbing-Everest-like series of obstacles and challenges that must be overcome to get to the point where you get even a sniff of a possibility, a slight inkling that yes, maybe, maybe my film will one day be made after all.

After all. That's the loaded bit in that last sentence. After all. After all the researching, outlining, idea-generating, plotting, thinking, writing, re-writing, emailing, phoning, mailing, spending, selling, follow-up-ing, pitching, calling, rejection-taking, flying, meeting, discussing, reading, notes-taking, walking-up-and-down-the-Croisette-ing, driving-around-LA-ing, waiting (!), and waiting, and-more-waiting, did-I-forget-to-mention-waiting?...phew...and so-on-and-so-on-ing. When all that has been done, then, yes, maybe those immortal words, "You should make a film about that", will finally manifest into 35mm celluloid.

Until then...

It's back to the couch...

So, my wife suggested the same thing. That I should write a film based on my Cannes experiences. Now I had read that one of the most common ideas in scripts that Hollywood readers received were films about 'making films'. I wanted to avoid this but still wanted to mine that same territory i.e. my early and very brief experiences in the film industry. So, laying on that couch I thought of how I could build a hook around this idea. A so-called high-concept i.e.:

A unique premise easily understood in one sentence e.g. "Jaws in space" (Alien).

I sat there for a while thinking and eventually, BHAM!, it came to me. I had a hook and a pretty good idea of the target audience for the movie and how it would be produced i.e. as a UK rom-com with international appeal. Great! Pick up Final Draft and start writing, right? Whoa, cowboy. Wrong.

I had my basic concept. Now I had to look at the world of my script. Would I be able to just outline it, plot it out and then write it? In a word, no. The script partly involved a world that I knew very little about, namely the British upper class. I didn't know how these people spoke, apart from the prevaling, "I say, what-O!", stereotypes which I wanted to avoid. I needed to dive into their world, research their attitudes, their speech patterns, their 'language', their world-view, their customs, their eating habits, dressing habits, social behaviour etc. I wasn't likely to get that by watching the odd re-run of, "To The Manor Born" or sneaking a peek at the menu in the BA first class cabin. No, I had to get to the point where these characters would be able to talk freely in my head, in an authentic voice without any prompting from me - the interfering, manipulative writer. The characters should do the talking. Not me. Anyway, I have enough work to do, plotting the damned thing. David Mamet once said, "Dialogue is easy, plot is difficult". That's true, at least for me, (and my close friend, David).

Another lie. I've never met David Mamet in my life but the name dropping has to start somwhere. This is the film biz right? Back to - If It Ain't On The Page - Home Page