We’re making a movie.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment the reality dawned on me, but it's something that's been stewing in my brain for the past year. We’re making a damn movie.
Acceptance is the first step, I guess. You’ve got to admit to yourself that you’re making a movie.
Shooting a feature was always a goal, from my first home movies shot with my schoolyard friends in the back yard to more comple flicks shot and edited on DV with friends from high school. Somewhere around the age of 16, my best friend Bob and I made plans to shoot a feature together one day. We shook on it, then I headed off to screenwriting school and he started on a college path that led to a Master’s Degree in cinematography.
My screenplays, for the most part, have a tendency to be tiny. Not in the sense of page count, and especially not in the sense of concept – but in scope. I like to concentrate on a handful of characters and tighten the focus on the small world they inhabit day to day. In short, I like to write low-budget scripts based around two or three actors.
I applied to NYU’s screenwriting program because I wanted to make movies, but was more interested in creating stories than working a camera. Sometime between starting NYU and the two years post-graduation I spent trying to “break in” to the industry, the filmmaking bug died out in me. I had tunnel-vision on the “typical” (I use quotes because there is no such thing as typical in this industry, it seems) path to becoming a Hollywood screenwriter, where you write spec scripts, score an agent, move to LA, sell your first feature and then wait for the lucrative rewrite assignments to roll in. This is how half the books say it’s done, and by golly, that’s how I was gonna do it.
Plans to make my own movie? Say hello to the backburner.
Once I had a few specs under my belt, I tested the query waters. Nothing wide – just dipping my toes. I liked my scripts (or else I wouldn’t have sent them) but I wasn’t in love with them – at least not as much as much as I was with a script I’d been messing with for over a year. This was the one – this was the script that was truly representative of my potential; an idea that had been brewing in my head and in my heart for several years. This one’s my baby. I’ll wait til I finish that one and hit the ground running with it.
And query I did. The logline generated interest – I received quite a few requests for the script, which led to more than a handful of rejection letters. The notes were all very positive: they liked the story, they really liked the characters, they’d love to see what other scripts I have, but they’re sorry, it’s not the type of script that they’re looking to represent. I even received *two* notes from separate agents saying more or less the same thing: they loved the script, but it was too small for them.
Too small? Bah. You could shoot this script for a few thousand dollars. Isn’t that a good thing? I appreciated the kind words when I received them, but the rejections still felt like defeat after soul-crushing defeat.
After many, many frustrating rounds of querying, I got desperate. I received an E-mail from one of NYC’s wonderful indie theaters regarding a screening followed by a Q&A from one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. This particular director is known for her small character pieces, centered around one or two characters and spanning only a minimal number of locations. She’s able to make these wonderfully deep films out of so little material, which is what I really love about her work. There are few writers/filmmakers I feel I identify with, but she’s certainly one of them.
This was my chance. Face-time with a director who I thought might share my ideas of what storytelling should be. Yes, it’s probably rude to approach her with a script right after a screening. Yes, it’s probably extremely off-putting. But, how many chances would I get? So off I trekked, 108 neatly-clasped pages of script in my bag.
(The movie was wonderful. Watching it, I grew even more enamored with my fantasy of her working on one of my ideas.)
I waited until the screening let out and she was hanging around in the lobby before I pounced. After the initial flurry of fan-gushing (“I love you.” “Your movie brought me to tears.” “Did I mention I love you?” etc.) I took a deep breath and came clean with my pitch.
She was extremely sweet through the whole spiel, despite how uncomfortable I regret probably having made her. She asked questions and nodded while I breathlessly ran through the story, the characters, the high concept. When I was finished, she remained silent for a moment before hitting me with a suckerpunch of a question:
“If you love the idea so much, why are you trying to give it away?”
I had to pause – the question knocked me backwards. Not what I was expecting at all. Give it away? I just wanted to see it get made. I told her that.
“If you want to make sure this story is actually made, you should shoot it yourself. No one is going to get it right but you.”
I… I’d never thought of it that way. I told her I’d give that some thought and she told me she’d keep an eye out for it at the festivals. I thanked her and let her get on with living the free-wheeling life an indie auteur while I pondered over the implications of her words.
Shoot it myself? A feature? Me? Don’t I remember setting that life goal back when I was a wee lad? I’d better make a phone call to check with someone who might remember. Remember Bob, the DP from the beginning of this post?
“Hey, Bob. It’s Austin. Listen, I had this funny idea that we should shoot one of my scripts…”
This instantly launched Bob into a long rant which more or less boiled down to “I’ve been telling you that for years!”
Okay, Bob. You were right. It’s time for us to make our own damn movie already.