(As promised, I’m reprinting The Indestructibles’ film journal here at my blog. I’m going to republish about two a week, until we catch up. This was originally published at the Apex Blog.)
A couple of months ago I decided enough’s enough. It’s time to embark on a new adventure.
It’s time to create a science fiction epic film.
I just needed to find a way to do it with no budget. Why? Well, allow me to show you my reasoning through a series of flashbacks.
Flashback: It’s seven years ago. I’m sitting in a café in front one of the country’s most influential producers, trying to convince him to produce a horror mini-series for TV I wrote and wanted to direct. At the same time, he’s spending more than an hour trying to convince me to change aspects of the script to something he can produce. Why couldn’t he produce it? His bottom line was (I’m paraphrasing): “I can’t put your show on TV because the audience doesn’t like horror. How do I know that the audience doesn’t like horror? Because there are no horror shows on TV.”
This was said by a serious and powerful producer, who failed to see that by his logic, nothing new would ever get done.
Problem: Producers find it hard to do something new. Producers really like projects that are the long the line of things that are already popular. What I write, however, is almost always experimental or new in some way.
Conclusion: I should stay away from producers and their logic. I should just produce things on my own.
Flashback: It’s six years ago. I’ve found a backer to back the horror series, I’ve held auditions, found actors and a crew, started rehearsals, and a production company has even started filming a documentary about the production’s unique journey. We were going to do the entire mini-series on spec (making the entire thing as a pilot), working under the assumption we’ll find one TV channel willing to take a high-quality finished product. Then the phone rings. It’s my backer. He’s transferred the first part of the money a couple of months ago. Today was the day he was supposed to transfer the rest of the money. But he’s decided to back out of the deal. A month before we start shooting, the production falls apart. I spend a few more months trying to find more backers before giving up.
It took more than a year to work on a project that never came to be.
Problem: My state of mind is a writer’s, not a director’s. This means that spending seven years chasing one project that may never be doesn’t sit well with me. I like to sit at home and spend that time on seven new books, plays, or scripts that will be %100 finished, because I’ll finish writing them, whether they get produced or not. I can try and get them published or produced while I’m working on writing the next project.
Conclusion: I should stay away from projects that cost a hefty sum of money. How about projects that cost a paltry sum of money? Is that possible?
Flashback: It’s four years ago. I walk into a children’s toy shop and buy a toy slate for $3. (A slate is the thing that snaps shut in front of the camera when the direction says ‘action’. It’s used to mark scenes easily. Its lack of use makes the editor’s job almost impossible.) I was about to direct an experimental feature-length SF film I had written. I’d found a way to avoid almost everything that costs money in film. The film had a budget of $25,000, and stuck to it. Low-budget means low-budget: I got our slate from a toy shop, and it worked just like a real one, except that it was more colorful.
Conclusion: The film was made and premiered in Israel’s SF film festival, ICon 2008, which was great. Sure, having funds for your feature is great, but chasing backers does a body bad. Was there a way to make things for absolutely no money?
The Low-Budget Solution
There actually is a way to make a film with no money. Today, you’ve got cameras at home, so you can use those. If you use one-shots to shoot your film (meaning that you don’t ‘cut’ and shoot in one continuous shot), you can forego the editor and edit the film on your computers. If you happen to be able to shoot the film, you can cut out your DOP (‘director of photography’). Use actors that want to do something artistic just as much as you do. Write a story that uses the world itself, as it is, as the background, sets, and perhaps even lighting.
So far, so good. My aim is to write something (hopefully amazing) and just shoot it, edit it, and release I to the world without any hassle in the middle. It looks achievable! The problem is that this time I wanted to tell the story of a massive science fiction epic: with superheroes, super villains, a showdown, a fantastic history spanning hundreds of years, and a story that spans many exotic locations.
So: Can I do that for no money, please?
The Ancients Who Solved the Problem
The Greeks did it before, you see. It was around 2,600 years ago, when they created the theater. They told massive tales of fantasy, borrowed from their mythology (or, as they called it, ‘history’). These were tales of epic wars, gods’ wraths, journeys into mystical places, battles with monsters, and more. These tales were done without a Hollywood special effects team, and were still told in such a powerful way that the same tales are retold again and again through the generations, to this very day.
Here’s the gist of it: If you put a few people in one location and tell the tale through their eyes, then there are writing techniques that will cause the story to be just as powerful and just as evocative as the best special effects you can muster.
If. You do it. Well.
So I wrote the script.
It’s a 45-minute film for three actors. One character appears almost all the time and she is the character that talks. A second character also appears in all the scenes, but she does no talking whatsoever. A third character (a man, for a change,) appears only in the last two minutes. Through this structure I tell an epic tale about superheroes. The story spans hundreds of years and even has a superhero showdown towards the end, just like any other superhero script. The film is called The Indestructibles.
When we’re done filming, editing, and scoring, we’ll be spreading it in the most immediate and democratic way we have at our disposal. We’ll set up a website and put the film on that website as YouTube clips. The film will be constructed out of seven YouTube clips (shot in eight one-shots (see one-shot explanation above)). Since a forty-five minute YouTube clip is way too much for a YouTube format, The Indestructibles is written in a way that breaks it down into seven separate segments that follow each other consecutively.
This is a personal project and this film journal is about a personal journey. I hope to share the journey and the adventure of creating something amazing (hopefully) with nothing more than a metaphorical gum wrapper and rubber band.
Join me next time, as we cover the auditions.