Generally speaking, when we want to learn about a film, we talk to the director. But those that make films, know how much they are really collaborations. What makes a fruitful collaboration? What do you do to enhance the collaborative process?
Respect. It is hard to collaborate with someone you don’t respect. I’m not going to lie and tell you I respect everyone – I don’t. I think there are a lot of morons out 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’t respect you, how on earth can I take insight from you? I can’t. There are things that can elevate you if you are not necessarily the top at your field – hard work. I can respect that.
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 it fresh? Is there anything that you can do to subvert the process to keep it original?
That may be true, but there are many ways to tell the same story. I think the most drastic is where you choose to set your story. Look at two movies about human organ trafficking – Turistas and Dirty Pretty Things. The former is based on a bad script, with a mediocre director and crew set in South American jungles. The latter is an amazing script, with a top notch director and crew set in London.
To keep it original I try to write about locations I know. That way my characters 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 feel real, the movie crumbles for me.
We get noticed because of our successes – but we create them on the back of our failures. We learn best from the experiences where it doesn’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 they change you and your process?
This is a hard one to answer without throwing certain people under the bus. I will try. My first feature is at the same time my biggest success and biggest failure. We were able to build an animation studio from scratch, get an animated film made from start to finish, put together a really solid A-level cast, and get serious theatrical distribution (and be on the first wave of 3D). It was also short listed for a Best Animated Feature Academy Award. At the same time, it’s not a movie I can even sit through. It’s boring and tedious – and I hated the script. I also think the directing is somewhat flat, with fairly weak production design.
I learned to not get into business with people I wasn’t on the same page with creatively – always talk about the end goal. Don’t get caught up in the process – always keep your eye on the final film. If you do, you’ll be able to vet 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 time on 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 do you think there is anything that you can do to bring more of it into your creative process? Why or why not, and if so, what is it that you and your team can do?
Research. I find serendipity – or happy coincidences – in my writing almost every script lately. That is because I do a tremendous amount of research. And I find that the more I dig into a topic, the more things start tying together. Do your homework. Become as well versed in the subject you’re writing as you can. From the big things to the small.
If each member of the production keys does their homework and research – then you can engineer serendipity at a higher rate and with more ease.
Films evolve through the creative process – sometimes most dramatically in the editing process. It’s often really hard to reconcile the difference between what we desired and what we achieved. How have you encountered this and how do you move through it?
When I sat through the last short I directed. The first assembly was brutal. It was cringe worthy and had me thinking – ‘man, I suck. I can’t write and I can’t direct.’ In the post process it was cultivated into something I am proud of. Even the final product isn’t exactly what I envisioned – limitations with lighting, set, camera equipment (which all boil down to money). Part of it is discovering that what reads well on the page doesn’t always translate well to the screen. I’ve learned this a lot when translating my scripts to graphic novel/comic form. That process has actually helped me tremendously.
You move through it by accepting that 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 accept it and as Brock Lesnar says, ‘turn chicken shit into chicken salad.’
“It all starts with the script.” Maybe not, but when do you know 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 I wasn’t that confident in. Battle for Terra especially. I hated that script. But sometimes you just want to make a movie so badly, you put that aside. And the most important thing I’ve learned is – that is a huge mistake. You should always be able to fall back on the script. And if you are working with a director who tells you – the script is a blue print – unless he’s seriously proven himself – walk away.
As a writer/director, I have one or two people I completely trust in terms of their opinion. If they tell me it needs work or something doesn’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 how good. You have to have confidence in what you’re doing and again, be confident that if anything happens, you can fall back on that script. Poke as many holes in it as possible. Dissect it.
Most of my scripts are becoming graphic novels, so I have these visual guides to help me – and there will inevitably be sections that are boring or lame and I can see that pretty readily. 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 edit them into a movie on your computer (getting anyone you can to provide the voices). You will definitely find the rough patches and holes – at least the glaring ones you may miss in the read. Just don’t fall in love with your own writing. I make this mistake all the time. Then a few months pass, I reread it 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 is actually casting. Regardless of whether that is true, some actors have “it” and sometimes they need something to make “it” pop. You’ve spotted that “it” and captured “it”. What is “it” and how do you find “it”?
For me, realism. Do I believe the words coming out of this person’s mouth? Some actors just say their lines – and they can be said well. Other actors actually understand what they are saying and get you to believe them.
I often wonder why anyone would want to direct. Why would you want to always have 100 decisions in front of you and have over 100 people waiting on your answer?
If you’re a storyteller – it is the ultimate medium. Plays are in the moment. With films you can create this everlasting story that has more dimensions than a book – and you can use so many more techniques to tell your story. You have the color palette, the actors you choose, the performances you pull from them, the production design itself, the camera you choose, the stock of 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 kind of storytelling ability?
Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce. How has your art been shaped by both the money 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 with a budget in mind. The fact is, you can’t get your projects made over a certain threshold as a young producer/director.
That said, two of my scripts – Chasing Rabbits and Bulderlyns – are big, but are being produced as graphic novels. So, I have that going for me. Which is nice.