Drafting (Part 3) – Out Of Darkness Arises a Hero and a Really Awesome Draft.

In Drafting Part 2, out heroes were in a state of turmoil and the entire project in jeopardy. Tyler and I were finding ourselves unable to find common ground on the script for the film we had not only committed to doing and financing, but which we were actively in pre-production on.

At this point, things were dire. Tyler hated the 2nd draft that I had let him preview, and I hated some of the approaches he wanted to take with the script. No matter how much we talked, we could not come to agreement on what to do, and part of the problem was that neither of us (even me, the writer) felt connected to our protagonists.

Me defending draft 2 to Tyler.

Me defending draft 2 to Tyler.

To top things off, we had worries about our lead actor, our younger brother Stephan, on a number of fronts. First of all, he did not appear to be following the order by Tyler to all of us to get into better shape for this effort (see Director’s Journal #5). This was an action/horror film which many of us would be acting in, not to mention all of the walking and equipment lugging through actual woods that we would do a crew members. And as our lead, he would most likely be bear the brunt of that physicality. Days and hours of running in the woods would be no easy task, and was the kind of thing that can’t be added in Post. Secondly, he was tasked with working on one of our many horrory props, involving a coyote, and had not made the progress we had been expecting with it (see Director’s Journal #4). Needless to say, we were both understandably frustrated and concerned with the level of motivation that was being presented, and we weren’t certain how to deal with it. Hints and suggestions didn’t seem to be sticking.

At some point, Tyler made a suggestion that changed everything: what if we changed one of leads, made him a kid? That sounded nuts for a non-comedic horror film, but I was intrigued. We began to toss that idea back and forth, each of us adding to it, expanding it and what it could mean. The more we talked, the more this idea made sense. It eliminated the TV show crew angle and took the steam out of the documentary, script-less style idea. It also grounded the story in this sympathetic kid, who became the emotional core of the all the protagonist, a different, new, and familiar voice in this “special world” of Bigfoot hunting. Entire character’s stories and motivations changed, and had more clarity.

We gots feelings now, bitches!

We gots feelings now, bitches! Damion Meyer as Danny, with some jackass.

It was the strangest thing, but this single idea completely changed and saved the entire film.

I mentioned in Drafting Part 1 that we “fired” our lead actor. That’s not entirely accurate. More specifically, we demoted Stephan from lead to supporting character, as his character changed to accommodate the new, angsty teen character of Danny. His character became a merging of two characters, which some background changes, the dropping of some of the dumber elements (like to TV show angle). Admittedly, the initial rewrite of his character had it chopped down quite a bit, after some discussion with Tyler and particularly after our initial read-through with the cast, his character became our director’s favorite and soon found me expanding it a much more robust, second lead. Stephan’s renewed dedication and focus on the acting was a big help, as he was willing to do whatever it took to play this new version of his character and make it his.

11 Star Trek 2009

11 Star Trek 2009 (Photo credit: dkalo)

The other thing that I have to mention that I feel had a significant impact on the third and fourth drafts of the film, specifically with the tone: I saw JJ AbramsStar Trek. I won’t go into my love of Star Trek as a whole, but I will say that this film reminded me of what drew me to making films to begin with. It was everything I want in a summer movie blockbuster: action, humor, drama, excitement, and over-the-top spectacle, reminiscent of the days of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films I looked forward to seeing dozens of times each over my summer vacations as a kid. I saw Star Trek about 8 times, and wrote the 3rd draft to the Michael Giacchino score. This was the type of Bigfoot movie we were making: an exciting, suspenseful, scary, and fun journey into the unknown with characters that we care about. This is what the Tyler’s grim, Bigfoot-less script, and my first and second drafts were missing.

When gave the third draft over to Tyler, I was no longer worried about anything. This draft was IT, the film we wanted to make. Tyler loved it. I loved it. It was everything we wanted in a Bigfoot movie. And everyone else agreed. The read-through with the entire cast was magical. Everything began to move full-speed ahead, and would not be stopped. Slowed at times, perhaps, but not stopped.

The most awesome film set two indie filmmakers could dream of.

The most awesome film set two indie filmmakers could dream of. Now, imagine there is a rope bridge in this picture…

The fourth draft consisted mostly of re-writes to gear things more specifically towards the actors we had cast and to add in some new, exciting set pieces we had encountered on our primary shooting location in Lebanon, OH that were too good to pass up on. After all, how often does one find themselves with access to an actual rope bridge?

So, that is the exciting tale of how we started on a Bigfoot movie, only to almost be uninspired and stopped in our tracks by that very same idea. The importance of getting to the right place with story and character can’t be overlooked. Well, it can, but the resulting film will be less than.

In my next post, I will talk about the other character that I, as the writer, needed to get into the head of and connect with: our antagonist, Grassman (aka, the Ohio Bigfoot).

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4 responses to “Drafting (Part 3) – Out Of Darkness Arises a Hero and a Really Awesome Draft.

  1. I was wondering how that whole Stephan deal went down. Tyler told me that he couldn’t have finished The Projection Booth without him and thought Stephan’s participation was critical towards finishing any larger project. So when the lead changed, I was all WTF.

    • It was rough. On one hand, I couldn’t see Dennis and Stephan carrying the film as a camera crew, the way the tv stuff was depicted in the film felt fake to me, and we were both really worried about Stephan’s ability to physically make it. Besides that, Dennis and I had no emotional attachment to the story or the characters. Dennis and I were so far apart on opposite pages in different books on our vision for this film, that I didn’t think we could ever see eye to eye on this. We hadn’t had such difficulty working together since we were kids and he wanted to play “adventurers” and I wanted to play “space stuff” so then he copped a ‘tude and I punched him in his stupid face. (He tells the story differently (and wrong)) I saw a huge disaster looming and considered jumping ship and finding something more productive to spend my (next 5) year(s) on. When I had the idea of this new kid character as the lead, suddenly I felt good about it. I remember running it by Dennis over text or Facebook while I was hanging out in the cafe at Barnes and Noble. He liked it right away. And all was good. Except we had to fire Stephan.

      • This was the first test of whether or not we were prepared to do what was best for the film. We had an awkward 3-way call with Stephan. Dennis left the talking to me, and that was fine because I’m the one who put this into motion to address a major concern of mine. We merge Stephan’s character into another, scheming character who causes all the awful things in the movie to happen, but kept his original character name so it wouldn’t seem like he was being fired. I explained the situation like a stuttering, stumbling bitch and when the call was over, I was sure Stephan knew what was up and that we didn’t have enough balls to say it outright. (He didn’t until he read this post! WIN!!!)

        It should me mentioned that Stephan’s perceived “lack of motivation” is a common Meyer attribute. Dennis and I had taken steps to overcome ours and finally make our first feature in our late 30’s/early 40’s – I had even been to a psychiatrist for the first time and realized a lot of my issues were related to my inherited anxiety and depression. Stephan wasn’t there yet.

        And then the ironic thing was that the first day, I fell in love with Stephan’s character and kept putting him in more scenes until eventually he became a co-lead. Stephan IS invaluable in this film, moreso than ever before. We have a very similar sensibility when it comes to comedy. He’s not afraid to show weakness or come off as unlikable on screen – which is crucial to creating an interesting character instead of a white-washed turd. And we’ve been doing this since he was probably 3 yrs. old (filmmaking not Grassman) so there’s a level of being in-sync with him that you wouldn’t normally have with people. Some of the most fun I had on this film was working with Stephan and the two of us coming up with awful and ridiculous things for his character to do. A lot of that stuff we did gets toned down in the editing, but there’s plenty of little nuggets of awesome that he brought to the film. And this character who he was able to have so much fun with wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for this little (nearly disastrous) stumble in pre-production. -Tyler

  2. Pingback: Writing Character: Getting into the mind of Bigfoot | The Grassman - Movie Production Blog

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