Tuesday, June 22, 2010

In Preparation for Writing "Dig"

I was suppose to write last night but notes on a Dare to Pass project and a half bottle of Casillero del Diablo Carmenere 2008 got in the way. I'm not one of those guys who can write for an hour, nor when drunk from a very good red wine. When I finished the notes at 10:00 PM but couldn't stand up without...enjoying the up and down sensation too much I knew I was screwed. At this point, I've sobered up enough to decide and execute a long-time coming blog. The decision part came easy, we'll see about the execution.

It won't be long and while there is a lot to update you on, that may have to wait until the next post. It's 11:30 PM and I have an early morning as I continue work editing Anthony Zuiker's Dark Prophecy. Tonight's post came to me, in my less-than-full-on-drunk state, while taking my dog, Hadley, out for his nighttime bathroom break. Now, he's empty and laying at my feet chewing on a paw.

As that happens, I'm writing this. So! Based on the arbitrarily chosen title, I thought I throw at you some things I've learned while beginning my latest project, a short film titled Dig. While the title is, in many ways, revealing of its subject matter, I am not yet at a point of telling you what Dig is. Rather, I'll be going over what it's taking to get it there.

Dig is a project that has lived in my project file since, well...(checking my file folder) since at least 2005. At that time, while living in New York, I threw out an ad on Craigslist looking for short film ideas. Now...when you do that, the VAST majority of the ideas/scripts/plays/synopsis' you receive will not be very good. A ad on Craigslist does not typically invite the A-listers out. However, very often, you can find a diamond in the rough. And for me, in 2005, that diamond was a writer named John D. Smith and a short play he wrote called Dig.

In the spring of 2006, Travis and I were making an attempt to turn it into a short. I was eager to shoot something of some maturity, perhaps on 35mm, and thought this to be the perfect setup for it. Then, I won the MTV Movie Award and we both thought it might be better for us to concentrate on features. So we did.

Then, in 2008 Travis and I both began talking about producing a short ourselves. We just needed a script that could be shot on a low-budget. We came back to Dig. We optioned the short play from John, developed and wrote three or four drafts of the script, before another project came up and we had to put Dig in the drawer. In January 2009, Travis took his own stab at the script, delivering a draft to me just before Guy Walks Into A Bar attached themselves to Glory Days. We did three months of rewrites on that and then began working on other mainstream comedy screenplays. (Our manager didn't think it best to go from writing a big, mainstream comedy to working on a very niche, indie drama about two hitmen.)

Now, in 2010, I've returned to Dig. I've wrestled with it over the years, going back and forth on whether it was a short or a feature, on the storyline, on whether there was enough there to put it on film. On a trip back to New York to see family this past winter, in a burst of inspiration, I stumbled on a different way to approach the story. In a call to Travis, he built off of that and responded with an even BETTER way to approach the story. Very, very different from the short play I received from John five years ago. But for some reason, Travis and I weren't connecting to that version. Which is why, I think, we kept stalling on the project, despite having numerous drafts. It worked as a play but wasn't working for us as a film, be it short of feature length.

It wasn't until recently, within the last month or two, that I decided to commit myself to writing and directing Dig. Travis and I had come to the conclusion that in its best form, Dig was a short. And for a long time I was against shooting another short. But technology has changed so much in the last four years, since I shot my last one, and very, very professional looking projects could be carried off for the same money I had spent previously. I am also, now, in a greater position to benefit, potentially, from a very well done short. I have a feature I want to direct, I work for very respected, well connected people who would be willing to watch something I directed and I'm ready to get back into narrative filmmaking.

That said, I've begun the process of writing Dig. I didn't really intend to go this in depth into where the project came from but...whatever. It is what it is. Point is, Dig in its latest conception, is a historical piece, taking place AND referencing a different time period in the past. And this requires a lot of research.

When I began to re approach this project, Travis suggested, since we were essentially starting over and it had been so long since I really spent time with the idea, that I sit down and write, free associating, on why I want to do this project. What is it that attracts me to it? What do I have to say, as a filmmaker, about this subject?

With the free association done (all 11 pages worth) and some minor character history work, I thought that I could dive right into the script. I was both anxious and (even to this day) naive. I was immediately stuck. I emailed Travis, sent him my free association, and solicited his opinion. We got together and our conversation triggered the need for research. Now, I had thought that I did enough of it, but I was wrong. I wasn't looking in the write place. A few keywords from Travis and I was off and running and now I have well over 50 pages of research material and notes on what may be a 10-20 page script.

The point of all this is that, even for a short, my world has become all the more richer and complex and in depth than ever before. My characters are developing before my eyes. I'm building their histories, their stories, something that is so central to this piece.

For many writers, this, perhaps, seems like a no brainer. "Of course you need to research!" Well...1) I thought I had and 2) I thought that I could at least get a first draft done before I really went into the details. Honestly, I was anxious to get into the action of writing the script and even more action to start shooting (even though I know it won't happen until the fall). But, by going to my collaborating, telling him I was stuck, he pointed in the right (and the best) direction and soon, thanks to his thoughts and advice, I was on my way to creating an even better script than I had before, with new surprises, ideas and more.

The actual writing of a script is an incredibly small part of the process. I know sometimes you're anxious to have a script and just write. Believe me, I know. I did it in college all the times (and, honestly, my films suffered for it). Immerse yourself in your world. In school, doing research for your papers was the worst part, I know. But, honestly, with screenwriting (or directing) I've found that doing research is the BEST part. You get to learn and discover new worlds. I think it's really fascinating to dive into these different areas of study as a way of making your project better. More real. More legitimate. You discover things you never knew existed (is that a line from something?), you find little tid bits of info that make your characters richer and more complex.

It seems like a long road to get to get to a lesson you might already know. But I knew it as well. I just didn't put it into practice.

So, that's where I am. Doing research, developing my characters, jotting down notes and gathering material. This serves me two-fold: 1) as a writer, I've stated the reasons for this above, but 2) as a director, eventually, in sitting down with my actors, we will talk about this world, these characters, develop character histories that may be different than the ones I developed as a writer. As a director, the more research I can do, the more I can know about everything from the world to the tiniest detail will only help me create a better film, a richer film, a more complex film. That's all I can hope for but it's a hope based on research. That doesn't happen if I'm trying to guess or make it up as I go along.

It applies to shorts as well. Short doesn't mean one-dimensional.

And speaking of short, I thought I said this blog post wouldn't be long...

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the research...now you know why we encouraged you to go to a liberal arts school and travel abroad! Looks like it's paying off. Nice blog. We'll have to try the wine!