Tuesday, January 6, 2009

WRITING STEP OUTLINE and Talking to Actors

I've started getting more inquiries about film collaboration in Hong Kong. Most are from actors/artists/performers. Some with experience. Others with just enthusiasm, which can make up for so much. But many who are contacting me are doing so from far away. It's difficult to collaborate w/ actors who don't share proximity. Exchanging e-mails is okay for a short while, but making films requires face-to-face interaction.

I've also gotten some inquiries from people telling me they are IT specialists, computer effects guys, or management consultants asking me if they can be of some help toward my "project."

I am grateful for this interest and support, but their particular skill set doesn't really fit my needs right now, so I tell them I'm looking for actors, people who want to act on camera, or people who can show up and hold the camera or microphone, so if they're willing to do something physical and concrete, then they're welcome.

I think this is a good way to separate people who are focused and really interested in making a film from those who just have a general vague interest and like the idea of being affiliated with something creative and would like to just be there to watch. That's fine and dandy, but a bare bones production like mine really can't afford to have the extra weight.

I remember back when I was shooting my first film, I always had 10-12 people just hanging around the set doing nothing. Thinking back, I think I invited and welcomed that as a kind of security blanket and chorus just so I'd feel more secure about making a movie.

Now, I know better. I'm looking for people who can get behind the camera and/or in front of the camera and so something real and physical. The truth is that most filmmakers can also act. Once you do a couple of these things, the whole process becomes demystified. Shooting, lighting, recording audio, acting, writing... all these things become activities that one can do, and not some complex thing that only experts can do.

A major lesson that I learned back in film school was from Lorenzo Semple Jr., who taught a screenwriting class. I'm not sure if he's still alive. He was quite old even back when I was taking his class. He wrote the screenplay for various classic movies from the 60s and 70s, including one of my all-time favorites, PAPILLON. He also wrote the scripts for the campy TV show BATMAN, for which he told us he got death threats from hardcore purist fans who didn't like how he'd camped up the superhero and sidekick.

One of the coolest things he did for us students besides being completely blunt about whether what we'd written was good or not was to let us vote on his behalf for the Academy Awards. He was an Academy member of long standing, but no longer thought much of the direction movies had gone with their increasing emphasis on special effects and decreasing emphasis on story. Whatever the reason, he let the class (there were about a half dozen of us) pick the selections on his ballot for that year and had us mail it in. It demystified the whole film industry machine for us. It also taught us that a certain amount of irreverence was healthy.

Back to my present struggle. So far, I've exchanged e-mails w/ a couple of interested actors and have run into the same familiar difficulties of scheduling meetings w/ interested people. In comparison to the response I would have gotten back in New York, the HK response is a mere trickle. The same amount of postings about an indie feature production in NYC would have gotten me 30-50 headshots easy.

Here, I've gotten only about a half dozen. Again, this is simply an observation and a factual accounting, not a gripe that HK is not NY. I'm so over that. I don't even get worked up now about crowds and people encroaching on my personal space. In fact, all the usual trivial gripes that nearly all foreigners have about HK no longer faze me at all. This is HK, and it needn't be a carbon copy of NY or London or what have you.

In the meantime, I've got an original story for the film and am writing a step outline, with specific situations and parameters from which actors can come up with their own dialog. Improvisation is difficult without goals and guidelines. It's like when people do "brainstorming" sessions without specific parameters and end up with nothing. Ditto for actors and improvisation. You have to have a start and a finish to a scene.

I'm now focused mainly on polishing the story and looking for actors that can fit the pieces of the puzzle together. I'm very excited that this is starting to come along.

More imporantly, I've had a breakthrough in the way I look at my situation. I guess it's somewhat perverse, but I'm actually very pleased that so few film productions (be they industry or independent) are going on in Hong Kong and so very few good films came out of Hong Kong in 2008.


Because all this will make our film stand out even more and provide even greater sense of accomplishment once it's all done. I'm feeling great about this film. I can't wait to start shooting.

I've also been getting renewed inspiration from Melvin Van Peebles, a Chicagoan whose first feature film LA PERMISSION (1968) was made in France, after years of not being able to make a film in the U.S.

The road I face is much less arduous than his. He had to write and make films in French. HK is much more English-friendly, though I definitely plan to work some Cantonese into the film. Thank you, Mr. Van Peebles!!! You are a true independent!


gweipo said...

Well done on your cantonese - that's superb!

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice write-up!

excalipoor said...

I stumbled upon to your blog while looking for blogs on HK restaurants. It is nice to learn about how easy it is to make a film, especially in the age of Youtube and other ways to distribute the content. If making a film and learn the craft is that easy, I would have try out already. Wish I can help you out, but I'll be in HK for 2 weeks in February. While you are probably here in the East Coast. May be because I live in NYC for too long, so I always describe HK is like NYC, crowded, fast paced and easy public transportation.