Posts Tagged ‘Barry Jenkins’

Writing and Directing Your First Feature: From Your Story to “Epic Fail”

October 19, 2011

Last fall, when the initial burst of energy to write the script for this movie came about (and I still had a job), I subscribed to both Script and Creative Screenwriting. The March/April 2011 issue came along in the mail. This particular issue had some articles that offered advice for new writer/directors, and I was interested in seeing how their advice lined up with the stuff that I’ve learned the past few years.

One article that really caught my eye was “Writing and Directing Your First Feature: From Your Story to ‘Film By'”, penned by USC Grad Student Robert Piluso. The article is focused on the hardware and software associated with filmmaking and its uses. Of course, there’s a discussion of Final Draft (Script is owned by Final Draft), Gorilla, Movie Magic Scheduling, and Final Cut Pro. I don’t think I would’ve had as much of a problem, had Piluso kept to his main focus–software and hardware–rather than veering off into festival submission and exhibition, which is article unto itself. Piluso could’ve heeded his own advice and used his two interviewees as a jumping off point for his own research rather than designating them as authorities.

That’s not to say that Piluso doesn’t get a few things right. He manages to avoid making his article into a collection of press releases and soundbites, as Script‘s articles tend to be. He does recognize that with a smaller budget, your film will need to be more personal in nature in order to work. Having a tight script doesn’t hurt. Finally, he stays away from making hackneyed references to El Mariachi and Clerks, two broadly known microbudget classics that have no bearing on today’s indie film landscape.

As someone with a few bad specs in my past, I know that spec writers are used to taking dogmatic advice from people who have worked mainly on the periphery of screenwriting (The late Blake Snyder and J. Michael Straczynski are exceptions to this rule), and are used to tailoring scripts for a market that’s becoming increasingly narrower in taste. In turn, these gurus have very rigid ideas as to what makes a good story. The festival circuit, with its more diverse aesthetic, is more interested in personal vision than a product aimed at a demographic. As I recall overhearing filmmaker Benny Safdie saying outside of a screening at this year’s BAM Cinemafest, “These films aren’t for everybody, but they’re for anybody.”

I’ve uploaded a PDF of Piluso’s original article for you to read and judge for yourself. The article is copyright its respective owners.




June 25, 2011

NY was a blast.

I went down on the 17th for BAMCinemafest. The Catechism Cataclysm was just as fun the second time around (I saw it first at SXSW). This was my first time attending a Rooftop Films event, although it was held in a parking lot across the street from BAM Rose Cinemas, so maybe it should have been called “Parking Lot Films”? Anyway, I got to see a lot of people, like the film’s director, Todd Rohal, its stars, Steve Little and Robert Longstreet, as well as Michael Tully, Sophia Takal, and Lawrence Levine.

Sunday Night, I saw The Color Wheel with my friend Brian, who runs The Film Panel Notetaker. The Color Wheel is a very offbeat road movie about two siblings who set out on a road trip after JR (Carlen Altman) is dumped by her professor (Bob Byington). Michael Tully called the film a sitcom version of Frownland. The Color Wheel has similar themes that more mainstream independent films have, but with the “developed” aspect removed, The Color Wheel‘s characters are more absurd (in the existentialist sense of the term) rather than cartoonish. At the Q&A following the screening, Carlen Altman, the co-star and co-writer of the film, was genuinely grateful to be there:

“This is the first time I’ve finished a creative endeavor,” she said. (Okay, these weren’t her exact words, but she said something very similar.)


Book Review: Bankroll

December 21, 2009

As I get into making my movie, I hope to provide some reviews of how-to books I’ve read and will be reading. -ES

Having seen this book at a bookstore in Chicago (where I traveled to this past August), I had high hopes for this book. I flipped through the pages and thought it might be a worthwhile read. I figured that even if it wouldn’t helpful to me now, that it may be useful to me down the line.

Author Tom Malloy is clearly passionate about what he does and the movies he makes. I also realize that there are readers that are genuinely interested in making the type of movie Malloy makes. If you want to make a straightforward genre film without the bureaucracy of studio system, this book may be for you. But I’m interested in making specialty films, which have similar size budgets to Malloy’s, but are riskier ventures. At face value, this book is Film Producing 201 to Dov Simens’ From Reel to Deal 101. I have my problems with that book as well (I don’t think it lines up with the current realities of independent filmmaking). The subtitle of this book is “A new approach to financing feature films”, but using private equity to raise money for movies has been around for awhile now. That said, Malloy does a fairly good job of demystifying private equity, and I even picked up a few ideas on places where I could find money that I hadn’t considered previously. At the end of the book, Malloy makes recommendations for further reading. I appreciated that as well, even if I had already read a few of them. As I got further into the book, I began to run into parts where I seriously disagreed with him. Clearly, Malloy doesn’t have experience in making specialty films, and if you read his book, you’ll realize he really doesn’t have much interest in making them, either.

To show you what kind of producer Malloy is, read this passage:

I had an actress friend who was a TV comedy star. When I told her I was looking for attachments for an indie drama, she asked me to consider her. I think she got insulted when I told her it would be a tough sell. She said to a mutual friend, ‘What? He doesn’t think I’m famous enough?’ The fact is, any fame she had from the comedy world would actually hinder my little indie drama.

When I read this, I thought of Wyatt Cenac in Medicine For Melancholy. Cenac is a comedian by trade—director Barry Jenkins knew that when he cast him—and Medicine is a straightforward drama. Between the time the film made its debut at South By Southwest in 2008, and its release at the end of January this year, Cenac got hired by The Daily Show. My point is, some of us don’t mind taking chances. “Medicine for Melancholy” director Barry Jenkins took a chance, and it may have paid off. Opening weekend, Medicine For Melancholy made $12,625—on one screen. While I’m really speculating here, his casting probably attracted people who otherwise would never have heard of the movie. Medicine may have had a smaller budget than Malloy’s features, but the point is, nobody knows anything. At another point, Malloy dismisses VOD, saying there’s no money in it, which I found irritating. (I couldn’t relocate the passage; this is where an index—nonexistent in this book—might have been helpful.) VOD has provided many young, up-and-coming filmmakers, VOD can be an opportunity to reach out to an audience who otherwise might not have heard of it.

When I was first seriously entertaining the idea of stepping into the production end of filmmaking six years ago (I had previously aspired to be a screenwriter), I read Christine Vachon’s Shooting to Kill. In that book, Vachon and film critic David Edelstein discussed a variety of approaches when it came to financing her films. Unfortunately, it’s been several years since that I read that book, so my memory is fuzzy, but I would still recommend it as a starting point for those interested in making larger budget specialty films. My problem with Malloy is that he provides a very narrow point of view of mid-level budget films, and my professional goals as a filmmaker don’t dovetail with his.

Neophytes who want to make a genre movie might find Malloy’s advice genuinely useful. Those whose goals are a little more specialty minded, however, might find themselves seriously questioning or disagreeing with Malloy’s book.

Take it with a grain of salt.