Tag Archives: script

Getting Rich – Part 1: Listen to Rodriguez, damn it

There is a common maxim in the world of low-budget, independent film that says to write for locations that you have. In fact, Robert Rodriguez, one our idols and role models in the making of this movie, and wearer of superior head gear, perfected this method, which Stu Maschwitz called “The Rodriguez List.” You make a list of all the stuff you have at your disposal, and then you write your script around those items and locations.

Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez, whose hats are cooler than my entire wardrobe.

This makes sense on a number of levels. First of all, the financial benefit of this approach is obvious. Things that you have equal things that you don’t have to acquire or make yourself. In Grassman, all of our characters arrive at the forest in vehicles that the actors actually drove to set. No rentals, or special needs; just some consideration for who will be on set with what vehicles for an scenes shot around that location.

Second, it is a great way to figure out early on what you have that will make your film uniquely yours. Taking stock of your inventory of stuff and locals lends itself to a level of personalizing of your script in a way to can add to its authenticity. Writing a scene that takes place in a science lab that you don’t have access to, versus a gravel pit that you do because of your connected uncle “knows a guy” may not have the same feel or tone, but if you make it work, it will have production value like a mofo.

Cover of "Rebel without a Crew: How a 23 ...

Cover via Amazon

Of course, despite our following the Gospel of Rodriguez (Rebel Without a Crew), this was not something I did when writing the script for Grassman. Like the inexperienced, delusional dork that I am, I wrote a film that takes place 90% of the time in the woods. Woods are easy to find, I thought. Hell, if we have to we’ll just do this guerrilla-style, sneaking into local parks and making a Bigfoot movie when no one is looking. Yeah, I know. I was an idiot.

But, that’s what I did. And when I was finished, I had a forest, but also needed a gas station, a cave, a shed, a cliff and a gorge, a large creek. Somehow, this thing seemed a bit bigger than showing up at one of Hamilton County’s fine parks and hoping we weren’t going to get caught. It was a huge feature film, which a lot of action, blood, screaming, fighting, falling, and fire. These thing do not lend themselves to a stealthy guerrilla production.

Robert Rodriguez, Jaime King, & Nick Stahl at ...

Rodriguez with people who actually listen to him.

It became abundantly clear that 1) I had not followed Rodriguez’s sage advice, 2) we needed to run this gig like professionals, not idiots running through public parks until we were banned for life, and 3) we needed an alternative to that. Somewhere where we could be both professionals and idiots, which would lend itself to the film seamlessly and not cost us a thing.  Essentially, we were screwed.

Until, in one magical moment at my real job, when I had a thought that would change everything. A beautiful, serendipitous, life just falling into place moment that made the movie possible. I had my Rodriguez List after I wrote the script in the form of a gentleman that I had known for 5 years. All I had to do was ask and pray that he said yes.

Next week, I will conclude the tale of Rich, the man behind the non-acting character of The Legend of Grassman: the best location a growing filmmaker could hope for.

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Writing Character: Getting into the mind of Bigfoot

My last three posts (Drafting Pt 1, Drafting Pt 2, and Drafting Pt 3)  were about how, once we had a script, my brother and I had to come to agreement on a version of the story that we both agreed on and connected with. “Connected with…” a generic sounding phrase. What exactly does it mean to connect with the script?

Danny, three dimensions of character goodness

Danny, three dimensions of character goodness

In this case, that connection occurred when we completely changed our primary characters around and added a new protagonist, the character of Danny. Danny was not some stereotype or one-dimensional caricature made simply to fit the mold of a storytelling paradigm. He was kid with a history, a back story  and a personality that came out on the page, and lent itself to reacting to the events of the story. He was someone we could not only identify with as the filmmakers, but to whom the other re-evaluated characters could connect and interact with.

For me, connecting with the story usually begins with my understanding, or rather, my complete knowledge of the characters I am writing. Particularly my protagonist(s) and my antagonist(s). Looking back on it, I feel that the bulk of the difficulty that Tyler and I had with seeing eye-to-eye on the script was due to my blind adherence to using The Hero’s Journey as my starting point. I filled in the archetypes with bodies, but didn’t put my normal level of attention on the “people” who were to inhabit those archetypes. It was new to me, and I let it run the show instead of doing what I knew to be the correct thing to do: focus on character.

Fortunately, it was not a mistake that I made entirely throughout the script. I had given a lot of thought to one character from the beginning, because without him there would be no movie: Bigfoot (the titular Grassman of our film).

Book cover, Monster Manual (original version f...

Monster Manual (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took the job of writing a Bigfoot very seriously. As Tyler mentioned in his last post on the genre of Bigfoot movies, there are a lot of these types of films these days where the Bigfoot is simply a raging asshole, a generic monster in a part that could have been filled by any creature pulled from your 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. (You have that, right?)

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching many of those kind of monster flicks.  But early on, I decided that I didn’t simply want to write a mindless, generic monster. I may be a skeptic, but I’m the kind of skeptic that wants to believe. I want there to be a Bigfoot, I want to see a ghost, I want to be abducted by aliens (probing is negotiable). So, if I was going to write a Bigfoot story, I wanted to write about a real Bigfoot.

Bigfoot store

Bigfoot store (Photo credit: amitp)

My basic approach was to combine Bigfoot activity as reported in documented sightings, as well as legends, and combine that activity with known animal behavior. I wanted to ensure that I didn’t just throw things in the script because they were “bigfooty” but also because they were behaviors common in other animal species. And since we’re dealing with a cryptid, I could also make some assumptions based on others work on the subject about the intelligence of a Bigfoot.

These things combined to allow me to do the same thing I would do for a human antagonist: figure out what he wants, as an intelligent animal with needs, as a character. And, armed with that answer, I was able to step into the size 26 shoes of that character and provide a rational, reason for every move it takes. Everything it does has some thought behind it which is tied to that central question of “What do I (Bigfoot) want?”

Grassman... doing character stuff...

Grassman… doing character stuff…

So, when the time came to do rewrites, the character of Bigfoot remained the same throughout. When we stumbled across a groups of characters and a story that connected, it was in large part because those characters and story connected with the existing motivations of our antagonist. The pieces seemed to fall right into the place, as if they were always meant to be that way, providing a dimension and purpose to all of them that was missing before. A common thread, a theme, which wasn’t forced, wasn’t the result of using another film as the model to work from, appeared which gave the whole script a feeling of legitimacy.

I hadn’t just written another mindless monster movie, a man vs the supernatural story. It was about people encountering and animal on its own turf, reacting to that, and facing the consequences of those decisions, man vs nature and man vs himself. To me, that’s a much more interesting world to explore as a writer and filmmaker.

Before you think me too full of myself, don’t get me wrong. I know I didn’t write Citizen Kane, or Casablanca. I wrote a Bigfoot movie. I don’t even think I wrote the Casablanca of Bigfoot films.  But, if ever there was a Once Upon a Time in Mexico of Bigfoot movies, this is it. Just wait and see. You’re gonna have a blast.

Cover of "Once Upon a Time in Mexico (Sup...

Cover via Amazon

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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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