Understanding the Work: Collaborative filmmaking as the future.

28 Jan

If we reduce social life to the smallest possible unit we will find that there is no social life in the company of one. 

– Jerzy Kosinski

‘Purple,’ my short created in collaboration with the cast.

Hey all,

I hope you all survived the blizzard intact.

2015 is here, and I have big filmmaking goals. One is to shoot my feature, The Cape House, but another is to adopt a new way of working.

Almost 3 years ago, I made a short film called ‘Purple.’ ‘Purple’ was unique in how I made it. There’s a longer post about this specific subject on A-Bittersweet-Life today, but, briefly, I didn’t write a script before casting. I instead came up with a basic idea, cast the film, then, through rehearsal and conversations, wrote the movie in collaboration with my cast.

This is not a new approach. Many great directors, like Mike Leigh and John Cassavetes, have already done it or something similar. But it was a revelation for me.

I come from theatre (Yea, I’m the one rocking out). The best part of theatre, to me, was always rehearsal. Seeing the finished show open was always a rush, but there was never anything more exciting than a group of people in a room trying to solve dramatic, comedic and experimental problems.

This is the approach that I took with Purple. Four people in a room solving problems, writing the story on our feet. It was the most fun I’ve had making a film. Ever.

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The actors warming up before rehearsing for ‘Purple.’

However, traditional screenwriting dominated my short ‘Future Perfect‘ and has been the main approach for ‘The Cape House.’

But a few things have happened in the past few months, which have led me back to collaborative movie writing.

I am currently writing a film with writer/director/actress Victoria Negri, who has a feature called ‘Gold Star‘ in post-production. Victoria and I connected through twitter, and had a few long conversations over coffee. We talked movies and running. Eventually, I showed her a script I had written about the weird connections people make (and don’t make) while running in New York City.

Victoria was interested, but we decided to throw out the script as it was and start fresh. But we weren’t sitting in a room with pens and paper. We’d meet and talk. We tell each other stories about our running experiences. A huge part of this script is based on things people have said to us and thoughts and feelings we’ve both had.  It was informal, but focused. Every so often, I’d write down some notes.

As a result, what we’ve written feels true. Plus, it’s proven remarkably easy to get words on paper, something I’m terribly slow about. We already have a first draft after only 3 meetings, and I feel more confident about it than any script I’ve written this far.

This is a beta test of how I want to proceed going forward. Get a group of people together, ideally an already-decided-upon cast, several other writers, and experts/advisors on the topic, and have long sessions where we work together through conversation and improvisation. I believe the alchemy of people could get something really interesting going.

Most of all, I think it will get out of my own way, which has always been my goal. No idea of mine has been made worse by collaborating with others. It reminds me of why we tell stories, and why I wandered into a theatre when I was kid anyways: to meet and be close to others who understood me. The energy of collaboration always brings out my best.

I am also in the early stages of putting together a collective of filmmakers to make features. We are ironing out the details, but I am excited about its potential. More to come.

As it gets cheaper and cheaper to make films, more films are being made and less are getting equal levels of attention. Great films receive little-to-no traction. A good way, I believe, to counteract this trend is to give your team ownership on the film, thus getting them excited about the film. How to do that? Involve your team in the creation. Make them part of the conversation. Filmmaking is a social art.

So make it social.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the post on ‘A Bittersweet Life.

Best,

Liam

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