Season 2 is going to be entirely different than Season 1. Season 1 was all about analyzing screenplays. In Season 2, we’re going to take all that we learned and use it to make an independent feature.
So come along for the ride! See the ups and downs of a first-time film producer. See if I can pull it off!
It should be fun.
But first, a couple links:
- One of my 48 Hour Film Project short films: https://crimesoftheart.com/flowers-for-daniel/. And if you like that one, wander around that website and you’ll find more of my work.
You can listen to the episode right here!
And here as always is the script of this episode.
Hi, I’m Joe Dzikiewicz, and welcome to the Storylanes Podcast, the podcast where… well, today’s episode is all about what this podcast is about.
You see, a funny thing happened on the way to season two.
Season one, in case you were a listener, was all about analyzing great screenplays, the better to gain an understanding of how to write a great script. Now, you have to figure I had a reason for doing that. I mean, we’re screenwriters. There’s always subtext, right? So this season, we’re going into that subtext. And the subtext was, I’m going to take all that knowledge I gained from studying great screenplays and use it to produce a feature film.
Yes, you heard that right. I am now in the early stages of producing a feature film. And it’s my intention to make this season of the podcast all about making that film. I’m going to share what it’s like to make an independent film over the course of these episodes. I intend to be as honest as I can, though clearly there are some things I won’t be able to share in a podcast. But I will share what I am doing, how things are going, even some of the materials I produce to try to pitch this film to investors, and, hopefully, you’ll be along for the ride as I produce a feature.
Occasionally I’ll also be doing interviews with some of the people who get involved in this project. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of people to make a film. I plan to introduce some of them to you.
Wow, you might say. Making a feature. That’s kind of a big reach. What’s inspired you to do this?
And that’s the subject of this episode. Because after all, one of the first things any movie has to do is introduce the protagonist and his want. We will keep to that tradition here and use this first episode to introduce you to the protagonist and his motivations. And since I am the protagonist, that means this episode is going to be all about me and how, somewhere in my mid-fifties, I’ve come to a place where I intend to produce an independent film.
Now, I’ve always had an interest in the narrative arts. I wrote stories as a kid, was one of the theater kids in high school, acted in a lot of plays in college. But unlike a lot of directors that you’ll hear of, I never made fictional movies with the family movie camera. Oh, we had a movie camera when I was growing up, but somehow I was never all that interested in using it for narrative purposes.
But I did love theater, and spent a significant amount of my spare time at it. So I might have stumbled into film, if life hadn’t come along and handed me another path.
And that path. Well, I fell in love in high school and we married right out of college. And started a family pretty much right away.
So there I was, in my twenties, with a wife and new family, and there really wasn’t all that much time for narratives. Especially when I started going to grad school at night. So my time was spent enjoying my family and starting a career as a software engineer. And that didn’t leave any time for theater or film or anything like that. At best I could work out some of my storytelling needs through role-playing games and bedtime stories.
Flash forward about 20 years. My nest was emptying, my career sufficiently established that it didn’t take up all the hours in my day, and now I had time to get reacquainted with some of those activities that used to give me joy. And once again I got involved in theater. Community theater, where I started doing some acting. I was back in the narrative arts.
And then came a weekend that changed my life. Some friends in a play I was in said, “We’re doing this thing this weekend called the 48 Hour Film Project. That means we make a movie in a weekend. Want to come help?”
Now I knew nothing about making movies. But I could act, and it sounded like fun, and I didn’t have anything else to do that weekend. I even had a camera that could do video, though I didn’t know how to turn on video mode. But I could read the manual. So I said sure, I’d love to come play.
Let me introduce the 48 Hour Film Project, since it’s played such a pivotal role for me. It’s a competition where teams make a short film in the weekend. Every aspect of it: write, film, edit. All in 48 hours.
On Friday evening, teams gather somewhere local. Each team is assigned a genre. Then all teams are given the elements: a character name and job, a prop, and a line of dialogue. For example, you might get Film Noir, an Architect named Pete or Penny Wiltz, a flower, and the line “You don’t have a clue, do you?” And now you have the weekend to make a movie containing those elements that’s 4 to 7 minutes long. (And if you want to see what I did with those elements, there’s a link at Storylanes.com.)
So, that’s what I found myself doing. And we made a movie in a weekend.
The movie was okay, not terrific. But that weekend changed my life. Because until then, it never occurred to me that it was possible to make a movie with a camera that I already owned and with people I already knew. Somehow, making a movie was something that was done far off in Hollywood by people with multi-million dollar budgets. But it was something within my grasp.
And I became obsessed. That was eight years ago. Since then, I’ve spent a significant chunk of my free time learning the skills of movie-making. I learned how to write scripts. I learned how to edit. I learned cinematography and sound recording and a whole host of other skills that are required to make a movie.
I took classes and read books and listened to podcasts. I even made a podcast – and you’re listening to season two of it. I went to filmmaker networking events and met other filmmakers. I went to conventions.
And I worked on movies, doing any job on offer. I was a production assistant, running errands. I was director of photography, running the camera. I was assistant director, keeping the trains running on time. I edited an hour-long documentary. I was sound recordist. I was a drone pilot on a short film. I did little video jobs for friends and even did a couple of paid gigs. I got as much experience doing as much movie-making stuff as I could.
And I directed many shorts. Over 20, at this point. And from each one, I learned.
Many of those films were for the 48 Hour Film Project. I became director of my 48 team, and we’ve gotten damned good at making 48s. Even won some awards, some big ones. One of our films played in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, right before the world shut down. That was cool.
Taken all in all, I’m now a fairly competent filmmaker. And I’m ready to take the next step, to make something long form.
But I’ve also learned exactly what I want to do on film. Maybe that’s the most important thing I’ve learned, that some jobs are fun, but some, well, some are special.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’ll happily work at any job on a film set. I love filmmaking – it’s a true calling for me. Ask me to point a camera or hold a boom and I’m there.
But the parts that I like most are the ones that are most closely connected to the story. And that primarily means three things.
Screenwriting, where you create the first version of what the film will be.
Directing, where your primary task is to make sure that everything that goes on the screen or soundtrack is about the story.
And editing, where you put it all together to make the film.
I love filmmaking, but I want to spend my life writing and directing and editing – forming a vision of a story in my head and working like a dog to bring it to life.
But there’s a problem. And hey, of course there is, right? Because what kind of a story would this be if there weren’t any obstacles?
Remember that first 48 Hour Film Project, the one that changed my life? I was 48 when that happened. Discovering the 48 Hour Film Project at the age of 48. There’s a certain poetry to it, no? It works well in this little movie we’re constructing.
But that means that now I’m in my mid-fifties wanting desperately to break into a business that favors the young, where it can be hard for an older person to get work even if they’ve got years of professional experience in the biz.
Now I’ve tried. I’ve spoken to managers, spoken to producers. Taken classes on getting into the business, schmoozed with the pros. I’ve written several screenplays, entered them in several competitions, even gotten some pretty high placements. And I’ve come awfully close sometimes. But close, well, it’s nice. But…
But after beating my head against the wall for the last year, I’ve finally concluded that this business isn’t just going to throw open their arms and say, “Joe, we love you! Come on in! Here, have a million dollars for your screenplay!”
So at some point I decided it’s time for a Plan B.
And Plan B, in this case, means writing and directing and editing my own independent feature. Just make the damned thing.
I mean, it makes sense. Ultimately, that’s what I want to do: become a writer-director of features. I’ve thought of many routes to take to get to that level. But why not skip all the intermediate steps and just write and direct a feature? That’s what I want to do, after all.
Of course, there’s a price. And that price is that I’ll also have to produce the feature. Because persuading someone else to produce it, well, that’s giving the power of deciding whether my dream will come true to someone else. And I really don’t want to do that.
But most important, in doing this I’ll be following one of my top pieces of advice for people who want to make films. Do not give power to the gatekeepers. Just make what you want to make.
Oh, you may have to make something that scales to your resources. I’m not going to be making a hundred million dollar super-hero extravaganza as an independent film. I’ll have to plan this carefully to fit what I can do.
But I’ll be doing what I want to do. I’ll be making a film. And no gatekeeper can stop me.
So here we are. It’s the end of Act One. We have a protagonist. He has a want. And now he has a plan.
I’m going to produce an independent feature.
And you can be along for the ride. Because I’m going to tell the story of how I produce that film in this podcast. And I’m going to tell it in real time. You can be along for all the triumphs and losses. Maybe it will all end with awards and by earning enough money that I can make the next film, and the next, and the next. Maybe it will all collapse in anger and despair, with nothing valuable ever being produced. I certainly hope the first will come true. But I can’t rule out the second. If this past weird year has proven anything, it’s that predicting the future is a fool’s game.
So, want to join me on this adventure? Shall we see if I make a movie? Want to see what works for me, and where I fall short?
If nothing else, it’s going to be an adventure.
Now, I’m going to keep up my practice of including three lessons learned with each episode. Only now, the lessons won’t just be about writing screenplays, they’ll be about making a film. Or maybe about living a life.
Because here’s the first lesson of this week’s episode. Try as many things as you can, because you never know what’s going to strike a spark. That weekend I helped make a 48 hour film, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had no idea how that one weekend would shape and enhance my life. Who knows what will happen with the next thing I try? Or the next new thing you try.
And the second lesson: it’s never too late to find a calling. I always felt the lack of a calling in my life. Oh, I enjoyed building software, but I never felt it as a true calling. Making movies is my calling. I know it now, even if it took me almost 50 years to find it. A pleasant surprise.
And finally, one that is more directly applicable to filmmaking: take the power from the gatekeepers. Don’t waste all your time trying to persuade other people to let you do what you want. Just do it. You may not be able to do it at the same level you want to do it, and you may have to do a lot of other things you don’t want to do. But that doesn’t matter, because you’ll be doing the thing you most want to do. Do not beg the gatekeepers to let you in. Just make your own gate.
So, a quick note: I’m going to try to do an episode a week. But some of those might be just quick touching bases, some might go into more depth on something I’m doing right now. And some may include interviews with the people I meet along the way. It’s likely to be all over the place.
Which, come to think of it, is probably what producing a feature is going to be like.
Next week we look at the script. I’ve got a script that I like, but getting there took a lot of effort. I’ll tell you what I went through to get there.
So, check us out at Storylanes.com, where you can find the script of this episode and anything else I think may be of interest.
Until then, this is Joe Dzikiewicz of the Storylanes podcast. Talk at you later!