31 Questions for New Filmmakers – Part III

Here is the third set of questions from Ted Hope’s 31 Questions for Filmmakers, which deal with The Process of Creating.


Generally speaking, when we want to learn about a film, wetalk to the director.  But those that make films, know how much they arereally collaborations. What makes a fruitful collaboration? What do you do toenhance the collaborative process?

Respect.  It is hard to collaborate with someone youdon’t respect. I’m not going to lie and tell you I respect everyone – Idon’t.  I think there are a lot of moronsout there, and I tend to wear my feelings on my sleeve.  I’m condescending and somewhat sharp-tongued,so if I don’t respect you – there’s a chance you know it. And if I don’trespect you, how on earth can I take insight from you?  I can’t. There are things that can elevateyou if you are not necessarily the top at your field – hard work. I can respectthat.
It is said that there are only six stories. Maybe twelve.It’s all been done before. And we have seen it all. What do you do to keep itfresh? Is there anything that you can do to subvert the process to keep itoriginal?
That may be true, but there are manyways to tell the same story.  I think themost drastic is where you choose to set your story.  Look at two movies about human organtrafficking – Turistas and Dirty Pretty Things.  The former is based on a bad script, with amediocre director and crew set in South American jungles.  The latter is an amazing script, with a topnotch director and crew set in London.  
To keep it original I try to writeabout locations I know.  That way mycharacters feel more real and authentic. I like to think that when I watch a movie, no matter how fantastical,that I’m being shown a glimpse of that world – almost like a documentary.  And if those characters and places don’t feelreal, the movie crumbles for me.
We get noticed because of our successes – but we create themon the back of our failures.  We learn best from the experiences where itdoesn’t work.  And yet we still only discuss the success, not the failure.What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from? How did theychange you and your process?
This is a hard one to answer withoutthrowing certain people under the bus. I will try. My first feature is at thesame time my biggest success and biggest failure. We were able to build ananimation studio from scratch, get an animated film made from start to finish,put together a really solid A-level cast, and get serious theatricaldistribution (and be on the first wave of 3D). It was also short listed for aBest Animated Feature Academy Award. At the same time, it’s not a movie I caneven sit through. It’s boring and tedious – and I hated the script. I alsothink the directing is somewhat flat, with fairly weak production design.
I learned to not get into businesswith people I wasn’t on the same page with creatively – always talk about theend goal.  Don’t get caught up in theprocess – always keep your eye on the final film. If you do, you’ll be able tovet all decisions made. And if you’re not seeing eye to eye at the beginning,it will only get worse. More than anything, it taught me to spend as much timeon the script as you can (same goes for my recent film White Space – which was being pushed forward by two (or three)differing ideas on what the script should be).
I often say one of the best methods of producing is“engineering serendipity.” Have you encountered serendipity in your work and doyou think there is anything that you can do to bring more of it into yourcreative process? Why or why not, and if so, what is it that you and your teamcan do?
Research. I find serendipity – orhappy coincidences – in my writing almost every script lately.  That is because I do a tremendous amount ofresearch.  And I find that the more I diginto a topic, the more things start tying together.  Do your homework. Become as well versed inthe subject you’re writing as you can.  From the big things to the small. 
If each member of the productionkeys does their homework and research – then you can engineer serendipity at ahigher rate and with more ease.
Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes mostdramatically in the  editingprocess.  It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between whatwe desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do youmove through it?
When I sat through the last short Idirected. The first assembly was brutal. It was cringe worthy and had methinking – ‘man, I suck. I can’t write and I can’t direct.’ In the post processit was cultivated into something I am proud of. Even the final product isn’t exactly what I envisioned – limitationswith lighting, set, camera equipment (which all boil down to money). Part of itis discovering that what reads well on the page doesn’t always translate wellto the screen. I’ve learned this a lot when translating my scripts to graphicnovel/comic form. That process has actually helped me tremendously.
You move through it by acceptingthat it will never be what is in your head from the start. That is perfection,and nothing is perfect. It may even be better than what you had in your head,but since it is different it won’t matter to you – however, you need to acceptit and as Brock Lesnar says, ‘turn chicken shit into chicken salad.’
“It all starts with the script.” Maybe not, but when do youknow a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process of getting it there?
Hard question – because for me,personally, I’ve went into both my features as a producer with a script Iwasn’t that confident in. Battle forTerra especially.  I hated thatscript. But sometimes you just want to make a movie so badly, you put thataside.  And the most important thing I’velearned is – that is a huge mistake.  Youshould always be able to fall back on the script.  And if you are working with a director whotells you – the script is a blue print – unless he’s seriously proven himself –walk away. 
As a writer/director, I have one ortwo people I completely trust in terms of their opinion.  If they tell me it needs work or somethingdoesn’t make sense, I address it. Usually they are calling bullshit on things I took a shortcut around,and deep down I know it needs to be fixed – I just need to be called out.
Everyone will have an opinion about every script out there – no matter howgood.  You have to have confidence inwhat you’re doing and again, be confident that if anything happens, you canfall back on that script.  Poke as manyholes in it as possible.  Dissectit. 
Most of my scripts are becominggraphic novels, so I have these visual guides to help me – and there willinevitably be sections that are boring or lame and I can see that prettyreadily.  It’s a luxury to have that –but if you can find someone to storyboard your script for you – do it.  You can cut those storyboards up and editthem into a movie on your computer (getting anyone you can to provide thevoices).  You will definitely find therough patches and holes – at least the glaring ones you may miss in theread.  Just don’t fall in love with yourown writing.  I make this mistake all thetime.  Then a few months pass, I rereadit and ask myself, ‘What the hell was I thinking?  Why do I think I’m so sweet?’
Several directors have told me that most of directing isactually casting.  Regardless of whether that is true, some actors have“it” and sometimes they need something to make “it” pop.  You’ve spottedthat “it” and captured “it”. What is “it” and how do you find “it”?
For me, realism.  Do I believe the words coming out of thisperson’s mouth? Some actors just say their lines – and they can be saidwell.  Other actors actually understandwhat they are saying and get you to believe them.
I often wonder why anyone would want to direct. Why would youwant to always have 100 decisions in front of you and have over 100 peoplewaiting on your answer?
If you’re a storyteller – it is theultimate medium. Plays are in the moment. With films you can create thiseverlasting story that has more dimensions than a book – and you can use somany more techniques to tell your story. You have the color palette, the actors you choose, the performances youpull from them, the production design itself, the camera you choose, the stockof that camera, etc… they all play a part in how the story is perceived.  They all matter.  Who wouldn’t want to have access to that kindof storytelling ability?
 
Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is thecompromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both themoney you have had or not had? Do you create with budget limitations in mind?
I used to never write to a budget –but over the last three years or so, all of my projects have been written witha budget in mind. The fact is, you can’t get your projects made over a certainthreshold as a young producer/director. 
That said, two of my scripts – Chasing Rabbits and Bulderlyns – are big, but are being produced as graphicnovels.  So, I have that going for me.Which is nice.
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