Friday, March 23, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

There's a great term we use, often among actors.  It's always, "hurry up and wait!"  Actors tend to be the ones who rush to set, do a thing or two, then have to leave... or wait... then suddenly we're rolling, then they have to wait for more adjustments, then make-up, etc.  Guess what, filmmakers, we have to do a lot of that hurry up and wait stuff too.  Maybe on set it's just "hurry up" without the waiting part, but for development, waiting is a huge part of the process.  "Hurry up and wait."  It drives me nuts!
I find during development, when it rains it pours.  When it doesn't rain... there's desert-like droughts.  I'm not really sure why it has to work this way, but it just does.  I'll explain.  Before we had a casting director, we had to submit the script to anyone who'd read it: money people, casting directors, actors we were connected to, producers, production companies... whoever we could get to take a look.  That was a slow, slow process, because contacts back then were pretty limited..  Nothing was doing most of the time, and it gets frustrating.  Then our casting director got back to us and suddenly I had meetings about meetings, phone conferences, contract discussions, actual meetings... all crammed into a matter of two weeks, maybe less!   Then after that, there's so much more to be done.  I had to come up with lists, character descriptions, constant contact back and forth... then the script goes out... and I wait... and wait... and wait... hear something maybe... then wait some more.  Three weeks could go by before there's any response or feedback, or even news.  After three weeks of absolutely craziness to no news at all, it makes it feel like nothing's happening.  It took me a while to realize that things were happening, just not on my end or at the pace I'd like.  Just because I'm not involved, doesn't mean nothing's moving forward.  For all of us dreamers, it's tough to be patient, but we must chill.  I understand plenty of people are more, and sometimes less, laid back than me.  But anyone who just wants to get going, especially during the uncertain time of development, it's understandable if you can't bring yourself to wait... at all.  Trust me, in my experience, most people can't.  We want to make our movie more than anyone.  That's what all this work here is for in the first place!

And then you find yourself doing things twice, three times, sometimes more.  It took me a year to get even one letter of intent from my cast.  Some say that's fast considering we aren't fully funded; others say it isn't.  But make no mistake, the casting process can be very long.  Lists, auditions, meetings, more lists, decisions, agents, managers, lawyers, talking to the talent yourself... it all seems never ending!  And of course, if something breaks down anywhere in the process, you have to start all over again!  Sounds frustrating?  It really can be!  Believe it or not, though, it's all necessary.  Then, after a whole year of this, two letters of intent pop up.  We worked so hard to just get one LOI for multiple roles, and we end up with two literally a few days apart?!  It also seems to work that way for the agencies and potential investors too.  When you're making noise, people are more aware of you, and when people notice, they respond.  When it dies down, it does on their end too.  Development is streaky... something happens and it picks up again, but then it could be followed by a lot of waiting.

So my advice is ride the high waves and enjoy the restful days at shore.  Most of all, hang in there, be patient, and understand that not all movement has to be intense action.  If any of this rings true and you're having this problem, that's probably a good thing.  Movement in the right direction, even with some setbacks, is all a first time filmmaker can ask for, right?  I mean, we want these problems, don't we?  If you do, you're way ahead of the game, and you'll probably stress less over it.  For me it took some time to get used to, but I find myself more patient than I've ever been on the road to wrap.  We've already established we aren't quitters.  We're terrible at it!  Now can we start shooting already?  Can we?  Can we?

Okay, so maybe I can't listen to my own advice.  I'm trying, okay?!  If you feel restless, then you should try it too!  Until next time... do us all a favor: hurry up and wait!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Be A Lawyer

I believe directing a film is the greatest job in the world.   I know that when I direct, I'm home.  It sounds strange or maybe even corny, but it's true.  It all feels right, and I believe it's the best job in the world.  It's all about telling stories through a vision, one that is the director's but also shaped by so many other people you collaborate with on the way.  It's quite the experience, and I'm so excited to make Trust Us!

Okay, enthusiasm is great, but being the go-to guy about everything creative is just a surreal task.  I'm pretty decisive in general, especially with stuff I write and direct.  But there are some surprises that come with directing and I'm only scratching the surface.  People don't want to only always know what you think about everything, but they expect you to defend it too, until your tongue bleeds!  Why?  Because everyone involved wants to know why.  And you better be ready to tell them.  Everyone will agree with you only if you can defend your major (and sometimes minor) choices.  What I'm saying is honest.  I had no idea during the development of my first feature that I'd not just be asked to be the director, but I'd also be asked to be a lawyer and defend the crap out of it too!

Now that makes me laugh because my parents always thought I'd be a lawyer when I was growing up.  They thought I could argue my way through anything.  I've changed a bit since then, but this skill proves to be more important now than ever.  To be a director, don't call your lawyer, be a lawyer.  Well actually, you know, with anything other than the actual law of course.

Was so-and-so an only child?  Where does your time traveler keep his stuff in the time machine?  What color do you think your main character's shirt is for his first day of class?  What's his class schedule besides the one we're following?  What kind of posters would his roommate have up?  What kind of music does he like?  The questions just get more and more detailed, and even though I can answer all of these questions right now, there are just as many I haven't thought about yet.  And they'll come up.  The key to finding the answer?  Know your material!  If you wrote it, it's seriously not enough.  You have to think about everything.  If you didn't write it, you still have to come up with answers to all of  these questions.  What's funny about it all is that no one should know the script better than the director, or writer/director especially.  I wrote my script, and you'd be surprised of the things I get asked that I don't have an answer for.  And I really thought I had an answer for everything.  I do my research too... I come up with backstories for characters, I can picture production design in my head... but believe it or not, I can't think of everything beforehand.  I don't know about others, but you just can't cover everything when writing.  You know what's fun, though?  Coming up with stuff on the fly.  It's like improv for writers.  If you don't have the answer, make it up, and make sure it makes sense within the context.  Then defend the sh*t out of it!  Fight, fight, fight for the mohawk that just belongs on your character!  Hey, maybe his father hates mohawks and it's his way to get under his skin.  Think of something good, then defend it.  The better you do that, the less people will question your vision, and for good reason.

And that's the key to it all: know your material well enough to give these questions proper answers, and more importantly, a good reason of why it's the case.  I was recently asked if my time machine needs wheels.  I quickly answered yes, because in the world of my script, it's made clear that no one wants to time travel into themselves.  It has to move at least a few feet first.  Good question, good answer, moving on.  Casting questions are the craziest because everyone has an opinion.  Some people don't like certain actors because they rub them the wrong way.  Don't say that as a director unless you know why it's wrong for your character.  Why does any actor work or not work for this character?  You'll find yourself revealing everything there is to this role, and connecting it with the actor's looks, personality, and past work.  Sometimes it may be opposite of what they usually do, but that's exactly why you want them!  In Trust Us, Dr. Hughes is the professor everyone wants.  The kids love him: he's charming, fun, and intelligent.  But, you learn very early on that he steals Guy's invention.  That's why a cool choice could be to find someone the audience has trouble hating.  We all know likable actors... why not confuse the audience and make it hard for them to do so based on that actor's persona and past performances?  That's something you need to explain to others, and you'll find you'll be challenged constantly by those who matter and often.  It's exhausting!  These debates can span for hours!  Why won't they just take my word for it?!  They won't, so defend your client.  But don't take it personally, this is how you learn more about your own work, while convincing producers, actors, financiers, and crew that you know what the heck you're doing.  The better you explain, the more they'll like it if they know the material.  Then the best part happens... they build on your answer and come up with something even better.  That's a how a good movie becomes great anyway.

So, put together your opening statement, drill the prosecutor's witnesses, bring some of your own, and defend your choices with logic, reason, and passion.  That's how you'll get your point across.  Fight for your choices.  Stand by them.  Don't get tired.  Don't get frustrated.  State your case and the jury will listen.  Don't just be a director, be a lawyer too.  Court adjourned.

One last thing: Nicky Arezu Akmal and I were interviewed by "Royal Pulp Reviews " about Trust Us recently.  Follow the link and you can see it under "recent posts" on the right or just scroll down to Feb. 27th on the homepage.  It's right here at: