Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself. – Doris Lessing

Go forth into the unknown, explore the caves of your unconscious, fear not your “dark side,” find the gold.

— Robin Hoffman (@AuthorAlchemy)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Young Filmmakers Waltz to Success on Kickstarter

KICKSTARTER.COM, billing itself as the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world, says “Every week, tens of thousands of amazing people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, food, publishing and other creative fields.”

I am one such donor, and now I've had the thrill of seeing the first creative results. For a short film project entitled A Waltz, I made a donation online—along with 85 other backers—to help fund its production costs.

There were various rewards for being a backer on this project, depending on the amount. My donation will reward me with “warm fuzzies, special thanks in the credits and a copy of the DVD.”

On Kickstarter, your project does not get funded until you reach your funding goal. For production company Pickled Amygdala this meant raising $3,500 in 45 days. Backers pledged a total of $4,010 and the project was funded on April 3, 2011.

The next challenge was for director Dillon Wall to orchestrate a shooting schedule during a timeframe when all crew members and the two actors would be available. This took until October to be realized, but the planning and the waiting was worth it. Dillon and his team had a phenomenal experience shooting the film, which you can read about at the link provided at the end of this post.

Meanwhile, Dillon has kindly agreed to answer some questions for Boonies about his experience.

Welcome, Dillon. Thanks for speaking with us. First, what did you learn from the Kickstarter process?

One thing I learned from the Kickstarter process is that budgeting and fundraising are absolutely essential to making a good film. They aren't necessarily what you think of when you first jump into the industry, but the business side of art (especially in a medium as commercial and expensive as film) is crucial to the success of the artistic process.

It also affects the project in ways I didn't expect. We have way more people genuinely invested in the film's progress, which keeps us motivated and keeps the production moving. It starts to feel like you have a huge support group behind you, and everyone wants the movie to succeed. That's a really important thing to remember during the hectic hustle and bustle on set. Keeps everything in perspective.

What did you learn from your three days of shooting the film?

I've been on sets before, but never as a producer/director combo. From that vantage point, this set actually taught me a lot. First of all, everyone looks to you to maintain a positive atmosphere on set. If the director/producer is happy, then everyone else can feel happy. If the director/producer is throwing a fit, the set can go to a very dark place very quickly.

So I found it important to remember to keep my cool, even when we lose twenty minutes as a really long freight train passes by, or when we have five minutes of sunlight left and some teenagers decide to get into a honking battle in the parking lot next door. These things are out of our control, and the only thing we can do is shoot the best film possible, and have fun doing it. When we have fun, it shows up in the footage.

Cinematographer Brandon Fraley

What was your favorite moment of the entire process up till now?

My favorite moment in the entire process. . . . Well, when Mom (writer Judy Clement Wall, see below) first finished the script and I read through it, I got this crystal clear image of one of the shots I wanted towards the end. When they are dancing on the train station, I wanted a (time for some technical jargon) counter dolly shot to track with them from left to right and wind up looking at the sunset with our main actors in the foreground.

My cinematographer told me he was skeptical at best that we would be able to get the shot with our budget and time constraints. I told him we were going to try it anyway. Sure enough, the final shot of the final day of shooting, with about thirty minutes of sunlight left, our crew set up the dolly and we got three takes of my dream shot. And they looked absolutely amazing.

My hat goes off to the cast and crew and especially my cinematographer Brandon Fraley for pulling off a shot that none of us have ever seen in a movie before. Very cool to see. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the day.

What is your best advice to other young filmmakers who are trying to find their groove?

My advice to young filmmakers is to make friends. You can't do this alone. When I was starting out I was often writer, director, producer, cinematographer, and editor; I know a lot of young filmmakers start out that way.

It's tough to get to the point where you are confident enough in your vision to articulate it to another artist but, believe me, when you surround yourself with other creative and professional people (and trust me, they are out there), the job is already half-done for you. It's easy to get down on yourself when you try to carry all the responsibility on your own shoulders. But if you get a couple people together, and everyone takes the piece that they love to do, that's when magic happens.

The waltz moment. Actors Edward Hightower and Emily Cary.

Next, I interviewed Judy Clement Wall (known to her friends as j) about her role as screenwriter.

Welcome, j. What was your process for developing the story idea?

Dillon told me about an image that flashed through his mind of a man and a woman in a train station. The man was giving the woman a scarf. He said he just had that image, but no story. I said, "Let me write a story for you," and he said okay. (He's great like that.) I guess I wrote the script answering three questions that immediately came to mind. Who is the man? Who is the woman? Why would he give her a scarf? From that the rest was born - and it helps that the movie is very short. A snapshot in time, two people at a crossroads.

How do you feel about screenwriting now that you've stumbled into trying it?

It was really fun . . . and challenging. A whole different kind of writing. In my fiction, I spend a great deal of time in my character's heads - stuff you can't translate easily to film. I want to write some flash fiction pieces for Pickled Amygdala, in part so I can challenge myself to communicate a story in visuals and dialog. It requires a writer to be very clear, very precise. I like that.

Thanks to Dillon and j for their awesome responses to my questions.

Dillon and team: Best of luck during post-production and all the steps after that. Can't wait to watch my own DVD of A Waltz. :~)

Photos used with permission from Dillon Wall and Pickled Amygdala


Read Dillon's exciting post about their final day on set:

Update #13: Finished Shooting!

Watch the video that helped raise funds for the production costs:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Movies Under the Bridge

IF YOU ARE a fan of classic movies—or any kind of outdoor movie event—then you'll enjoy the story I did over on my travel blog (Milliver's Travels) about Yellow Creek Theater in Poland, Ohio.

Check it out here: Movies Under the Bridge

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where Exactly Is the Boonies?

THE PICTURE OF the chile wagon (an old beater pick-up truck hung with strings of red chile, aka chile ristras) posted in the header of my blog was taken by Brian back when we lived in Taos, New Mexico.

A symbolic image of New Mexico is intrinsic to this blog because I took up screenwriting while living in Taos. And my first screenplay is set in NM.

We've moved several times since then and I'm still in the boonies. Currently, I live in Youngstown, Ohio, part of the Rust Belt. Yo'town's big claim to movie fame is Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, a retired Italian-American boxer who was born here and whose boxing career was portrayed in a 1980s made-for-television movie. More recently, Mancini has been living the Hollywood dream, acting in a handful of films. He lives in L.A., where he operates two movie production companies.

Not sure any screenwriters from Yo have ever made the grade in Hollywood. I should research that.

I was born in Wallace, Idaho—population 784, according to the 2010 census—so if any future screenwriting success ever managed to generate my own Wikipedia page, my yokeldom would become official.

When I named my blog, I didn't consult with the Internet on the meaning of the term “the boonies.” I already had my reasons for choosing that name, and it didn't occur to me to look up the definition. Amazingly (or amusingly), this morning when I Googled “definition of boonies” just for kicks, I found out there's a Wiki page devoted to it.

Pretty much everybody knows that boonies is short for “the boondocks.” Here's the official definition from Wiki:
The term boondocks refers to a remote, usually brushy rural area; or to a remote city or town that is considered unsophisticated.
I had always assumed it must be a Southern term. I just found out it originated in the Philippines (spelled slightly different) and was introduced into the English language by American military personnel serving in the Philippines during the early years of the 20th century. Other languages have their own equivalent, including Spanish.

In 1965 (when I was five years old), Billy Joe Royal had a hit with “Down in the Boondocks.” The song is a lament from a young man who feels the pain of people putting him down because he was born in the boonies.

I didn't specifically think about that song when I named my blog, but those lyrics must have been simmering in my subconscious. Because that's my lament. Actually, lament is the wrong word for it—that's my challenge.

Like many aspiring screenwriters, I was not born in L.A. and I don't have a way (yet) to move there. But I've witnessed the rise of services that make the movie biz more accessible to writers from out of town. I wrote about one here (see my post about eMeetings, a start-up from the folks at PAGE Screenwriting Awards). I found another one last week that's still in the experimental stage but could be quite powerful—and lucrative—for writers who live in the boonies (more about that in an upcoming post).

The boonies are not dead yet! Let's wallow around in our proverbial swamps and keep writing.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Hazards of Studying a Good Script

THE TROUBLE WITH studying good scripts is that they're so good I forget to pay attention to the mechanics of the script.

I had that experience again last week while reading Chinatown by Robert Towne.I hadn't seen the movie for several years and had forgotten many of the details of the story. But as soon as I started reading Towne's script, the visuals began flooding in. Not only the visuals, but even the way Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway delivered their lines. And the tenser the story got, the faster I read.

I couldn't slow down for INT. or EXT. or whose POV it was. After a few pages I could guess the settings from my memories of the movie and just go for the meat instead.

I've been having the same experience this week with The King's Speech and Adaptation. I'm reading The King's Speech online in a pdf I found on and Adaptation.offline, in a book from The Shooting Script series (Newmarket Press). They're both so good I'm devouring them.

I suppose I take it all in on some level—plus the more scripts you read the more natural it all seems and the less you have to sweat the details. But, still. I'm here to learn as well as enjoy.

Now that I'm thinking it through in writing, I think the problem lies in semi-following the standard advice: study a script as you watch the movie. (I haven't watched those three again yet, but I chose the scripts because I'd already seen the movies.) I think the standard advice is extremely sensible. But when I already know and love the movie, I tend to get too lost in the story to study formatting or scene structure.

I think I'll mix it up more from now on. My new theory, as of this minute, is that reading scripts for which I have no prior exposure to the movie will force me to pay more attention in the schoolhouse.

I can start right away with the other half of the Robert Towne book: published by Grove Press, it also contains the script for The Last Detail. Another Nicholson role but one I've never seen.

Should be an interesting experiment. Will the screenwriter cause me to vividly visualize The Last Detail playing out on a movie screen? And will that distract me from the mechanics of the script?

Can't wait to find out.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hug a Treatment Today

I'VE TALKED BEFORE about how much I love creating a script from a treatment (see Treatment Blitz), even though for most of my other writing I'd rather fly by the seat of my pants. My most recent experience has reconfirmed this so deeply, I ended up wanting to hug my treatment for being so good to me.

Last week I finished the first draft of my second screenplay; a dramedy set on the Oregon coast. But first, using my treatment, I reconnected with it after a break of eight months.

So much had happened to me during those intervening months, I doubt my brain cells could have retained the story without a memory aid. Plus back then I had written four treatments in a very short time—that's too many stories for my 51-year-old brain to keep track of without cue cards.

So that was the first gift my treatment gave me: I was able to reconnect with my story after a long break, rediscovering my passion for my characters and their doings.

When I opened my dramedy in Movie Magic on September 26, I was starting on Page 36. As a self-imposed deadline, I gave myself a comfortable two weeks of writing approximately five pages per day. Instead, I finished in one week—a week that consisted of only three days where I actually worked on the script.

(I finished on Page 83, having purposely skipped over some places that I prefer to expand on later, such as parts that require research.)

Apart from the shortness of the first draft, the main reason I finished so soon was because my treatment served my well. I had done such a complete job of it, sections of the script were practically writing themselves as I transplanted, for example, fully-developed dialogue from the treatment to the script.

Perhaps every screenwriter who uses a treatment has this kind of experience. Or perhaps it's because I do so well writing the story out in regular prose first (albeit in the style of a treatment template vs. classic storytelling, as in a novel). I don't know which it is because I haven't talked to other screenwriters who rely on treatments to write from. All I know is the glorious feeling of finishing in half the time because I'd done the prep.

I'm hooked!

P.S. I use the treatment template in Writing Treatments That Sell by Kenneth Atchity and Chi-Li Wong. Theirs was the first book related to the craft of screenwriting that I ever read, and I'm glad that's how I got started: on what still feels like the right foot.

Milli Thornton (aka Milliver) is the author of Fear of Writing: for writers & closet writers. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli blogs at Milliver's Travels and the Fear of Writing Blog and coaches writers individually at Writer's Muse Coaching Service.