14-08-22 Pre-Production

    “I’d like to tell you about this dream I had… which usually means you’re in for a long and boring story, and you might be.” That’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, WAKING LIFE. The quote isn’t correct, but it gets the point across.

    I had a dream last night that I was asleep, still in bed, in fact. The 1st Assistant Director (I’ve never actually had one on my sets) woke me up to tell me that the crew was there and were awaiting my specific instructions. 

    I rushed out of bed and wound up on this empty dirt lot, devoid of cover. Now, the cover part becomes important because… wait for it… I was naked. And, not in a good way. 

    People were driving by, in their cars. I knew I had to find some place to hide. No cover. I called to my wife (she also is not usually on my sets) and told her I needed the car before I got arrested for indecent exposure (which is technically a sex crime which means Megan’s Law). 

    Just as I approached the car it started moving. I managed to open the door and start to hop inside as the police showed up. My wife ran around the back and was about to get in the driver’s seat when the police pulled their guns. I was afraid they were going to shoot her so I woke up.

    If it’s not clear, this is my… whatever… trying to tell me that I don’t feel like I’m actually ready, that I’m not prepared to make TRK, that there are too many moving pieces and they are not all doing what they should be for me to be moving ahead with the project. 

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    The funny thing is, during the day, when I’m writing, I have a vague sense that there’s a ton of stuff to do. I mean, making a feature-length movie is an enormous task. But, I learned a trick while writing novels: I take something huge and break it down into manageable components. In the case of a novel, it’s chapters. Or, if those are too big, it’s a specific scene in a chapter. With movies, it’s the various stages of production: pre, production, post, and distribution. Naturally, each of those is then further broken down.

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    In pre-production everything starts with the script, which breaks down very much like I described the novel. The only thing limiting the scope of a novel is the writer’s imagination. That’s not the case in writing a script. Everything written in a script has to be shown, and everything shown costs money (or sometimes barter). Each actor and crew member must be paid, locations need to be paid for, insurance, equipment, food, FX, props, etc. You get the ideal. So, it’s a bit more complex.

    After that, and hopefully during the writing process, locations are scouted out. When I write, I do it with a specific location in mind, that way my stage direction is more visceral. A lot of times the specific locations aren’t available. So, when I do go into securing locations, I think of the script more as a guideline for how the scene should feel. But, for actors, crew, producers, the more specific a script is, the easier (read: pleasurable) it is to read.

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    I guess I should mention research. It’s easy to get bogged down in this. There has to come a point in the research when I know enough to write the script. In the case of TRK, I’m never going to be a computer professional anywhere near the level I’m describing. The cool thing is, I don’t have to be. I just need to know enough to have an idea of what I’m talking about. Then, I send the script off to someone who is technically proficient to make sure I got it right. That’s how I solve the research hurdle.

    As of today, I’ve done the research, I’ve ran it through some early readers and have fixed many of the issues and all of the technical flaws. 

    I’ve begun casting.

    Since my experience with Xander is what brought about the whole project in the first place, he’s got the lead role.

    I heard somewhere that an easy way to solve the actors having bad chemistry is by asking the actors who they want to work with. This solves a few problems at once: 1) There are 120,000 actors trying to break in. Searching for the right one is both time-consuming and exhausting. 2) Xander has a vested interest in TRK being awesome because it’s his dream career as well. That means he’s only going to suggest actors who are good enough. 3) I know they’re going to get along because they already do. 4) I really hate the audition process as it in no way represents the actual process of filming. Everyone’s either tired or nervous, which is the opposite of the energy on set when everyone’s confident and excited to make great art. This pre-vetting process eliminates that.

    The fact that there are 40+ roles in TRK makes the process that much scarier. Xander can’t possibly solve it all with his suggestions, but he’s certainly made it easier, especially in finding the lead roles. THANK YOU, XANDER!

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    Locations. The problem with modern movie making is that everyone thinks movies have a ton of money and they want the money truck to unload at their doorstep. Well, independent movies are exactly the opposite. I’m not getting paid anything to do this. In fact, it’s going to cost me about $9k, which I’ve earned by doing contract work (commercials, industrial videos, various consulting gigs). But, locations don’t want to hear that. I prefer practical locations (a bar scene is actually shot in a bar instead of on a set) because it’s already there. I don’t need to build or buy anything to make it look real. There’s the small problem of sound, but that’s not as big as you might think.

    I’ve got the idea to try and barter with locations, tell them I’ll make them a 30 second commercial if they let me film there for free. If it’s a place that serves food, I’ll buy the cast and crew food from that location. That’s a plus in two ways: 1) The location actually makes money; 2) I don’t have to buy food and store it until meal time. At least, that’s the theory. I’ll let you know how it works out later in this journal.

    But, worse than the locations themselves are the cities in which they do business. Cities generally want permits and those cost money and come with all kinds of nasty rules. I talked about what Costa Mesa wanted. Fortunately, I met a guy trying to break in as a props guy who would easily be able to build me a Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) box. I don’t know how much it’s going to cost, but it beats having to work it out with Ma Bell, who won’t look kindly on my showing people how to break into her stuff.

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    Then, there are the props. The big thing for me is that I’m going to be showing a lot of computer screens. It’s better if I have the screens displaying what we’re talking about live on set, rather than having them be a solid colored screen and filling it in in post. Hear this now: doing it during production is almost always better than trying to do it in post. Any skilled editor can spot a TV or computer screen that’s been put in after the fact.

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    Movies cost money. Knowing how much each thing costs before trying to raise it is important. I’m making TRK under the SAG Ultra-low Budget agreement, which means the budget maxes out at $200k. Under that agreement, every actor, regardless of how famous, makes $100 a day. And, since the actors are making that, I think it would be unfair to pay anyone else anything more or less. 

    And, don’t think it’s greed on my part. I’m not going to get paid anything.

    On top of that, I’m going to keep track of everyone’s days and if they’re still on the project when it’s done (meaning, they haven’t quit or been fired) then they will all share in the profits, proportional to the amount of time they’ve invested.

    I’m taking a flat 50% because if I took the days/worked math, I would end up with closer to 90% and that’s not how I want to do business. The reason I’m even taking that much is that I want to keep making movies. I love having total control over the creative process, not because I’m a control freak, but because I think someone needs to have a specific vision that isn’t subject to any kind of bureaucracy. The only way to do that for certain is to bring my own money. 

    In the case of TRK, I’ll be doing a Kickstarter campaign. If I’m any good at making movies, this one will make enough to fund the next one. The Kickstarter campaign isn’t just about raising money, though. It’s also a form of advertising, of getting people interested in the project, eager to see what happens, maybe even involved in some way. 

    I’ve got an idea for a $10k perk that makes someone a producer in a very real sense. For a $10k donation, I’ll rent out a theater at a location they specify (assuming it’s financially viable) and have a showing of the movie, with a Q&A with me and maybe one of the stars. The Producer is in charge of selling the tickets, and keeps ALL the money, after the theater’s been paid for. Anyway, today’s entry has gone on long enough.

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    Tonight I’ll be meeting with Michele Morrow to talk about the role of Sudonym. After that, I’ll me meeting with Miles Maker, one of the people I’m hoping to get on board the project. I’ll be coming home way to late to do a proper summary. So, the rest of the day’s entries will be added to tomorrows.