Author Archives: Dennis

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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Drafting (Part 2): The 2nd, Where Everything Almost Falls Apart

In my last post, I discussed how, although we had a feature length script for our then untitled Bigfoot film, we were only in the beginning of what would be a long, stressful journey to actually filming something we’d both be happy with. The first draft was enough to get everyone psyched to work on the project, but for Tyler and I it was incomplete. Now, we began the hard work of rewriting the draft in a way that blended our creative differences and not destroy our working relationship at the same time…

I briefly touched on all the drafts, but after talking to Tyler, I feel that Draft 2 and Drafts 3 & 4 deserve more detailed accounts. This process was more involved and more difficult than anything we’d ever done before. Part of the reason, I think was the way it evolved. In the past, particularly with our work on the script for Consumed, Tyler and I tended to do a lot of talking and fleshing out of ideas before pen was put to paper, or rather finger to keyboard. We took a lot of time and effort to ensure that we were both in sync on the themes and tone of the story. That was a particularly complex and odd story to work through, and it took a lot more effort on my part to get into Tyler’s head and figure out what he was looking for.

English: This image outlines the basic path of...

The basic path of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the first draft, having already worked through and abandoned Tyler’s darker, Bigfootless version, I was left to my own devices to write what I felt a Bigfoot movie should be, while making assumptions about what Tyler would like. I used the Hero’s Journey as a guide and took many of the horrory elements of the Tyler outline and meshed them in. The result was a script that read and felt like movie, which got us both excited, but which also lacked any dimension and felt… set up. I blame that on my first time, generic use of Campbell’s paradigm.

So, Tyler and I got hard at work on discussing what needed to be changed. Tyler had a list of items that he hit me with.

  1. Tone down the Campbellian aspects. One of the dangers of any story structure, particularly the Hero’s Journey, is that it can be easily recognizable and, therefore, predictable.
  2. Make more of a documentary feel, not a found footage thing, but a more handheld camera, natural acting thing.
  3. Make the TV thing more realistic. There was much picking of nits over my complete bullshit portrayal of a television crew on a reality TV program.
  4. Along the lines of the documentary feel, give some thought to the idea of no written dialog. Just a detailed outline. Let the actors improvise.
English: An improvisational comedy troupe in A...

What unscripted dialog looks like.(Photo credit: Wikipedia) 

The first and third ideas I felt made sense, and I got to work on tweaking and rewriting with those in mind. The second and third points, however, didn’t gel with me at all. It was the first of a series of arguments we would have. I could not see writing this script with no dialog. There was nothing inherently wrong with the dialog it had, really. It was more a problem with the characters, but I don’t think that had fully clicked in our heads yet.

The documentary thing I thought I could write, trying to create a more rapidly paced script; quicker scenes, more visual breaks in the action text, more rapid-fire realistic dialog, tinged with humor and sarcasm. Sounds just like a documentary, right?

Not really. I got to rewriting, adding a new opening which I hoped would satisfy Tyler’s desire for a documentary style, as well as a “ghost story” telling of actual Bigfoot encounters. I added more characters, almost doubling the cast, as both a means of adding body count (since this is a horror film) and fleshing out the television program aspect of the story. And, I put dialog in because, damn it, that what writers do with scripts.

At first, I thought Tyler was going to dig it, but I was not willing to show any pages until the whole draft was complete. I normally only do that with first drafts, because I have a tendency to loose steam if I start getting too much critiquing too soon. Tyler knows this all too well, and was less insistent on seeing the pages. This draft was a big overhaul, bigger than I’d ever done before, and felt like a complete rewrite. It was admittedly slightly intimidating, even though it was my script.

Screenplay of Good Omens-Outside Package

A Screenplay from a Great Writer (Good Omens-Outside Package) (Photo credit: Jinx!)

At some point, about 30 pages into the new draft, I think I started to have doubts. Not about the film, but about whether I as capturing what Tyler and I had been discussing. I decided to go against my normal ways, and allow Tyler to read the new pages.

Although, he didn’t exactly come out and say it (sometimes we writers can be just as touchy as actors), he hated it. Honestly, I think he hated every aspect of the new pages, that there was nothing that he found redeeming about it. And, looking back on those pages recently, I must agree. I think subconsciously I may have know that it wasn’t working, that what I was writing was becoming a movie of the week clone, versus something that represented what we both wanted in a Bigfoot movie.

Being the touchy type, however, and not being used to this level of criticism from my creative other half, I went on the defensive, arguing for nearly every choice I had made, and against nearly every aspect of what Tyler wanted me to include and to remove.

Two hawks are arguing over a kill

What Tyler and I look like arguing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He hated the bitch producer character that I had added, the interactions between all of the members of this so-called TV crew, even the ghost story opening. In fact, Tyler disliked everyone of the characters, none of whom had any likability, nor were relate-able at all. It was not pretty, and we at what seemed to be an impasse.

This was actually a first, and a very concerning moment for us both. I was beyond frustrated with trying to make sense where Tyler thought this should go, and he was finding it difficult to convince me that my mainstream approach was making the script flat and without an emotional backbone. In fact, little did I realize at the time (I only found out recently) that Tyler was actually on the verge of ending the project entirely. He was practically convinced that we would never see eye to eye, and would rather not make this film at all than force something that neither of us would be happy with.

Things were pretty bleak. But, an even would occur that would cause us to rethink everything and potentially salvage the project.

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Drafting (Part 1): Writing is writing again, and again, and again…

Quentin Tarantino at the 82nd Academy Awards, ...

Quentin Tarantino at the 82nd Academy Awards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s right! It’s time for another exciting look into the thrill ride that is writing! The never ending pursuit of enough words on paper. I know, I know. Boooring… As much as I enjoy writing, I’m under no delusions regarding level of interest into the inner workings of what I do. If you aren’t Quentin Tarantino getting praise and flack for Django Unchained, or Damon Lindelof getting flack and more flack for Lost and Prometheus, then no one cares much. But, I gotta write about something. And the script is kind of important, regardless of what Tyler may tell you.  So, this is Drafts part 1 of 4.

In my last post, I talked how we had a script for a Bigfoot movie and that we were actually going to film it. However, you may recall that my exact phrase was “Although, it was the first of four drafts, it was enough…” I did that on purpose. That right. It’s one of those classic writer’s tricks. We call it “foreshadowing.” It’s technical, but basically it means I threw a word shadow which when read indicated the real words to follow. What you’re reading now are the real words.

There is an old saying: writing is rewriting. I prefer to say writing is writing again. What the hell does that mean? you ask. Well, I don’t think rewriting accurately captures the actual amount of writing that goes into rewriting. But you had a perfectly good, complete script, a Bigfoot script, a movie that people were excited about. What’s to rewrite? Oh, if you only knew…

Oh, wait. That’s what I’m writing this for. So you can know. Okay. Fine.

English: Roller coaster in Xetululu, Guatemala

Film/Roller coaster in Xetululu, Guatemala (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always been fond of saying* that a film is a lot like a roller coaster. The cars are the film, the riders are the cast and crew. The story (narrative, theme, idea) is the support structure and foundation. The money is the chain that lifts the cars up the first hill. The excitement of the cast and crew is the momentum that gets the film to completion. The script is the steel rail that keeps everything on track. There are twists and twirls, loops and rolls… a lot of crazy, exciting, and potentially scary shit going on, often unexpectedly. Without good script based on a solid story, the cars come of the rails and you’ve just killed all of your cast and crew.

*NOTE: I’ve never actually said this. I just made it up now. But, it sounds good… almost works. See? Writing!

In the case of our film, each of the four drafts was caused by its own the twist and other wikipediaed roller coaster words. Although I can’t go into too much detail without giving away super-secret secrets of the mysteries of The Legend of Grassman, I can talk about them at a high level and try to paint a picture of the why. I’ll go draft by draft to keep it fun.

  • DRAFT 1 – This was the first draft based on the outline I had created and Tyler had his interest sparked from. I followed the outline pretty closely, although there was room from some embellishment since it was only a twenty point outline.This is where the story becomes real. The plot and the themes started to really flesh out, the key events and action/horror elements were then, but the characters at first were all just fitting into their respective archetypes. The result was that neither of us felt quite right about it.  We had a script that we certainly felt we could do, but neither of us really connected with it at that point, there was not emotional connection with the characters or their story.  This was a problem.
  • DRAFT 2 – This draft was a result of the first discussion Tyler and I had regarding the script. Although pre-production had actively begun, Tyler and I had several long discussion much of which focused on the believability of the core characters, who were a TV crew for a TLC/Discovery/Animal Planet style show. Having not done any research into that business, I kept things fairly generic assuming that Tyler would fill in the blanks.
    Writing

    Random Writing Picture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    But, instead, the result was that things felt artificial and forced with regards to their actions.So, this draft attempted to flesh the whole TV crew thing out more. We also discussed whether the horror aspect of the story had enough… well, kills. I didn’t think so, and we added a couple more characters who fit both elements. They added more TVness and provide more bodycount. But they were event less dimensional than the core characters.

    This draft was abandoned about halfway through, partly because it sucked, but also because another twist/loop/drop would force us to rethink everything.

  • DRAFT 3 – This is the most drastic of all the drafts, and for two good reasons: 1) we had begun casting people, non-actors most, and began reworking the script to cater to them. Makes sense. And 2) we fired our star. Oh, okay.Wait… what?Yeah. It’s a long involved story for a post all of its own, but suffice it to say that it was a combination of Tyler not seeing myself and our brother, Stephan, as giant, bouncer-looking camera men in a TV show environment, and Stephan not as focused as we needed him to be at that time. There is a lot more to it and will be detailed in a future post, since it was a major event and the first time Tyler and I had to have some awkward and managerial discussions instead of just enjoying happy fun movie pretend time.The events of the script essentially remained intact, but the real result was a complete shift in the characters. Our lead was a 15 year old boy, the TV show angle was dropped, and our characters, even the shallow, kill count padding, suddenly became more focused and more dimensional. It was actually weird, even as the writer, to see the way the addition of the Danny character (played by Damion Meyer) completely changed the focus and tone of everything. And Stephan wound up with Tyler’s favorite character in the film, Kyle who lit up more with Stephan’s renewed energy and focus onset than it ever did on paper. I almost can’t take credit for any of it. Almost.
  • DRAFT 4 – This was the easiest of the drafts for me. Its basic purpose was to make corrections and adjustments based on our read-through with our entire cast and some additions over the course of exploring the primary location in Lebanon, OH where we did most of our principal photography. That location was a godsend and full of set pieces and production value that I hadn’t imagined when writing the other drafts, but were too hard to pass up once we saw them. And, again, these serendipitous additions fit as if they were meant to be, and that I, as the writer, didn’t even know it until I was hit in the face with them.

And that forth draft, while marked “FINAL” in August of 2009 or so, continued to be an ever-changing work in progress, with small additions and rewrites as shooting progressed.

So, as you can see, my roller coaster analogy was right on the money. And the lesson from all this, if you are going to make a movie coaster, don’t do it without the supports, foundation, rails, or those guys that hang from that shit and make sure it’s not rusted through. Otherwise, everybody dies and your movie falls apart, too.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where I talk more about the short-lived second draft and the resulting turmoil of Tyler and I not seeing eye-to-eye.  Could we get through our differences and come together in a common vision that would result in the greatest Bigfoot movie ever? 

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