Entertaining the Possibility of an Actual Film, Composing, 12/01/2017

It actually will just be a short one tonight. Most of my creative activity today was revisiting the treatment pitch I wrote for a You Were My Friend film. I’m pursuing some leads right now that I hope will lead to some help with the production, so that I can raise enough money in the next year to get it produced.

I mean, I’ll probably end up being a producer myself. I’m already the writer. And I’ll probably be the director. I at first didn’t feel totally comfortable with that, but a talk with my friend Aisha – a professional documentary filmmaker – convinced me that it’s probably for the best.

I know the story best. I know the characters best behind it. I know what I want to say to the actors to make this my way.

And I learned a lot from working so closely with Mel, my director on the theatrical version, about how to guide actors.

One of my favourite stories about cameras comes from Werner Herzog,
telling the story of how he got his first camera. He was working in a
storage warehouse that included a lot of filmmaking equipment. He
saw a perfectly good camera that no one ever rented out, so he stole
it himself. He used that camera on just about every film he made for
nearly 20 years. Including some of his masterpieces.
I figure now that I’ll probably need only a crew of eight people. Myself, a co-producer with more experience in filmmaking logistics, a cinematographer, an editor, a sound recorder, a lighting and grip person, a set designer, and a production assistant to do continuity and take care of all the little crap.

18 actors. Eight bit parts of one or two scenes and a few lines, eight supporting roles who appear in three or four scenes, and the two leads Vicki and Madison. And I want to cast actresses who are actually the same ages as the characters – 19-20 and mid-20s. A few extras for restaurant scenes, and an indoor club scene.

The story has changed quite a lot, of course. Even just from the first draft of this script to the current one. In the original draft of the film, the sequences were very episodic. The episodes weren’t just about different phases in their relationship – in the film’s narrative, they also revolved around flashbacks.

Each sequence was its own story where we saw a part of the story unfold, intercut with scenes depicting the conditions bringing it about. For example, a comic conversation over Madison having bought an expensive coffee maker is interrupted by the full story of how and why she bought it in the first place. It reveals that she knows more than she says.

As I think about it, I realize that I was actually writing that part of the script more like it was a novel. There, you meditate with the amusement, can easily slip in a detail from the past, then let the rest of the scene play out with its more dramatic implications over the funny content.

But that only works because you take more time to read a sequence in a novel than you do to watch events unfold on a screen. In cinema, the tonal shift moves too quickly – it’s too abrupt.

So I made the sequence a straight chronological line. Madison discovers an event that makes her depressed,* and in an act of indifferent whimsy buys this machine. Now the whole conversation between she and Vicki about it is coloured with tragic implications. But you still laugh at the funny dialogue. It’s a twisty tension.

* I don’t spoil my own work. At least not that much.

I’m grateful to my former collaborator on this project Samantha for recommending this change. Going back to the scene as I update my treatment pitch, I better understand the structural reason why, how it’s rooted in the experience of watching cinema itself.

Every experience of writing, every thoughtful criticism from a friend, makes you a better artist. Now all I need is a budget commitment and a crew.

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