Thursday, December 31, 2009

Writing With an Empty Wallet

In either in a behind-the-scenes featurette or in the director's commentary for El Mariachi, Robert Rodriguez talks about how he was able to cobble together his first film. There was a time when he didn't have a special effects studio in his garage. There was a time when all he had was the dream of being a filmmaker. And so, to make his dream a reality, he wrote a list of everything he had access to, whether it be film equipment, props, locations, or costumes. He made a list of everything he had free access to. Then he wrote a script that incorporated those things.

The idea being, of course, that if he could save money by using the things he already had, he could spend what little money he had on the things he didn't have but absolutely needed. If memory serves correctly, he spent what little money he had on film stock. It is, in my opinion, a stroke of genius.

So, two years ago, I made my own list. What unique locations do I have access to? What actors do I know? What corners can I cut, making what little money I have go all the further? One blessing of being a filmmaker in the early 21st century is that it costs a little less money to make a movie than it did in the late 20th century. While Rodriguez had to spend money on film stock, we have digital cameras. We don't have to spend money there. We just need a computer we can edit on and thankfully my list includes one Loren Small, and his very nearly complete post production suite he has set up in his apartment. And we're making a web series, so we don't have to worry about incurring any film festival costs.

There's never been a better time to be a filmmaker. Even for the casual filmmaker, cameras are cheap, Internet access is free, and editing software is cheap to buy and easy to use. Anyone can do it. It's just going to be execution that is going to set you apart.

With my list in hand, I wrote my first of Remnants. I found a compelling story rattling around in my brain that focused on normal people facing extraordinary events. I sculpted it to include the interesting locations I had access to. What I made sure I had was a small film but a big idea. I wanted an idea so big that it would distract people from how small our film was. An idea that would pervade every digital frame of our film. It wasn't hard to find my big idea. For my entire life, I've had a reoccurring nightmare. Details within the nightmare will change, but it largely remains the same. And it's a nightmare that I believe every American has, even if it's not one they've ever actually sat down and thought about.

What would happen if America was attacked again? What if the next attack was bigger and deadlier than September 11th? How would America respond? How would Americans respond? What happens to a people steeped in that much fear and tragedy?

It's a big story, but we're starting small. We're starting with suburban America. And each season, we'll zoom out a little bit more. Season 1's scripts are in the can and I've begun outlining Season 2. I think the ideal time frame for our story would be four or five seasons. And with season, we'd see a little bit more of the picture -- start personally and end globally. It's an ambitious plan, that's to be sure. And a plan that demands we make a little bit more with each season. If we don't make any money -- at all -- then the absolute furthest we could take our story is the end of Season 2.

And if Remnats doesn't work, I still have my list and I'm still full of story ideas.