Making a movie, imagining it on the big screen, the fame the accolades, those gargantuan gates of the industry finally opening for you; promising a long and prosperous career. These were the thoughts that fuelled my energy to create when I first started. Although naïve and arrogant, this ambition when focused can make you accomplish incredible goals. Below is the story of my movie making experiences, along with the lessons I learnt on the way.
The Birth of the Idea
Inspiration for an idea can and will come from anywhere. Be ready for it. The idea must get you genuinely excited.
After successfully filming two short films (see my Guerilla Filmmaking post) I was eager to work on something bigger. I kept up my writing although I wasn’t working on any specific script. I tend to write small-unconnected scenes, my stories develop from there. I’d written one scene in particular between a then unnamed man and woman that I really liked. It was conversational, witty, and concise however I really had no idea where I would take the story or what it was about.
A Play that Coulda’ Been
Lacking in inspiration I turned back to the refuge of acting. I was working with a good friend of mine on a Tennessee Williams play. We had been working together for weeks on this and both really hoped to put it on, at least at a fringe theatre for two weeks or so. We had timed it badly; a West End theatre had bought the rights for the play with the intention to put it on within the next 4 weeks. I called up the literary agents and attempted to convince them to let us put the play on at a fringe theatre. My argument being that we would in no way be competing with the West End version in terms of ticket sales since we don’t have any marketing budget. I told them about our love of the play and the playwright and how much it would help develop us as actors performing one of his plays. I even asked if we could put it on if we didn’t sell any tickets, therefore making a loss. The agents politely explained this would not be possible, and we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the literary rights to a play from such a world-renowned playwright. This infuriated me, it seemed like I was being deliberately held back by the industry from performing plays that I loved, yet another dead end on the tumultuous road of my career. Angry and defeated I turned back to writing.
Script Writing with Rage and Purpose
Your own personal experiences + a little imagination = Your Story
Once again I looked at the scene I’d written between the unnamed man and woman but now I knew what it was about. I knew just what I wanted to say. It was a story about dreams and what you should do to get them. It was about taking action, taking a risk on what you believe in. The story was also comical; I was lampooning myself. Working in a monotonous full-time job, trying to get acting auditions, spending hours writing in the evenings. The story put the characters in a heightened reality and let them rage it out with each other. It was difficult for me to stop writing once these ideas had formed in my mind. My intention was making a short film so I knew I had to keep it brief, but at the same time these characters were telling me where they had to go and I really wanted to keep up with them.
Ledbetter Blue tells the story of a petty hired henchman Eddie Ledbetter who has lost interest in his criminal career. What he really wants to do, the dream he’s scared to tell anyone for fear of ridicule is that he wants to sing and play the blues! I’m a huge blues fan and have been for many years now. I wanted this to be my own little tribute to blues music.
The Not So Short Film
Write within your limits but remember creative thinking can overcome them. Leverage every resource available to you (friends, family, business contacts). Use what you have to make the best film you can.
The finished draft ran at just over 20 pages. Not much but a hell of a lot for a short film. Also it was heavy on dialogue. I was reading a lot of stage plays at the time and in the theatre dialogue is all you have. The other potential problem was the number of different locations. For a short film you usually try to limit your locations to reduce cost and or the overall chaos involved in hauling cast, crew and equipment there. I was stubborn in my writing because I wanted the characters to do everything I was told not to do. This was my rebellion against the industry; make a 20-minute short film, filmed all over London. With a large cast, limited equipment and do it all in 4 days. Take that world.