Tuesday, 15 January 2013

What Math Homework??

Hopefully we'll be able to post exciting updates on the progress of the film very soon. Mike Whissell (sound designer) and I are still hard at work fine-tuning some of the more intricate details of the film. Mike and I are itching to get a foley session going which will happen soon -- and we'll post an update once it does.

Paul Barton is progressing with the score and doing a fantastic job. I had the opportunity to meet with him in Kingston, ON over the holidays and heard a good chunk of what he had been working on. I am incredibly excited to share it with all of you. Those who have spoken to me in the past know how much music in film is important to me. And this film is no exception. It is called William's Lullaby, after-all.

This week, I wanted to take a moment and talk about how this all started in the first place. I will start off by saying that I think every artist has "their way." I don't believe there is a right or wrong way of going about creating art. I guess I'm saying that because I don't want to make it seem like I am putting myself on a pedestal as an 'expert.' In these blogs, I can only say what has worked for me as an artist.

Took a few days off this past week to work on an small outside project. While I did, I learnt a lot about the importance of prep and planning and it got me thinking about the beginning months of Lullaby.

Naivety was my best friend as a young filmmaker. Truly. Having that childlike naivety as a teenager is what allowed me to tackle some of the daunting projects I did back then. When I was fourteen-years-old I had the audacity to think I could make a feature length film with a cast and crew of over 100 people by the time I graduated school. Any film instructor would tell me today that in order to do so I would need a budget in the hundreds of thousands, a professional crew, gear, training etc... in other words, they would give me limitations. And on some level, they are right. Those are some of the things you need to produce a professional piece of work. But where there is a will, there is most definitely a way. And when you find you are restricted with your resources, planning becomes your best friend.

See, I was stubborn. Back in 2004, I hadn't made a dramatic film before, let alone a feature. A few docs here and there and a multitude of backyard films starring my siblings, sure. But nothing of this magnitude. Yet, I refused to take no for an answer and despite people telling me to start small, I committed to creating The Vicious Circle -- a feature length film on bullying and hatred.

I may have been naive, but I wasn't stupid. I had an inkling of how daunting this project was and knowing this, I gave myself the time to pull it off right. Four years really. When a merry band of high-school go-getters and I finally brought the project to life in our tenth grade year, we cast the film over a period of two months... 6 whole months prior to shooting it in the summer of 2006. During those 6 months we rehearsed heavily with our cast and planned every detail of the shoot, so that when July 1st, 2006 rolled along we were ready. 

Waylon Baur and Anthony Kinsella in a 2006 rehearsal for "The Vicious Circle."

Of course, we were still kids. Things still fell apart, we made tons of mistakes, but we managed to pull through and premiered the film on September 28th, 2007 to a sold out room in Duncan McArthur Auditorium in Kingston, ON.

Actor and Musician, Jim Patterson, speaks at the 2007 premiere of "The Vicious Circle"

Had we not planned -- truly done our homework -- over the course of our making of the film, I think The Vicious Circle would have fallen apart for good and never seen the flicker of the silver screen.

A film about kids, made by kids -- that was always the goal, and that's how the film will forever remain. Of course now that I have gone through school, learnt about filmmaking and begun to hone my craft through other projects, there are times when I look at The Vicious Circle and re-cut it in my head, even re-shoot it with more purposeful cinematography. I re-write the script in my mind. But I'll never touch it. Though it may not be a great showcase of my skills today, it is a wonderful time capsule of where I was creatively at age 15, as well as what being a teenager is like through the eyes of teenagers -- quite literally (only fifteen/sixteen-year-olds peered through that lens.) And I like to think that there's something quite powerful in that.

Of course, pictures are always better than words. Here's a fun video that showcases the achievement of a group of teenagers, who did their "homework," and pulled off something memorable.

In the years since, I have directed more, worked on numerous projects and learnt more about my craft. Part of the reason I am so excited about Lullaby is that it truly showcases where I am at today with my filmmaking and storytelling. It is beyond what I have done before, professionally and creatively, and this again goes back to strategic homework and planning.

Between 2010 and 2011, it had been about a year and I hadn't directed anything. I did one quick short to keep my brain working, but other than that -- nothing. There came a point where I had to ask myself what I was doing -- what was I waiting for? I had a script. One that I had written while still in High school. Surprisingly, when I asked myself if I felt I could direct that script tomorrow, the answer was 'yes.' 

So what was I doing??

I was allowing $$$, $$$ to get in the way! Looking at the script again, I realized that, although being a complex story, it didn't require much to bring to life -- small cast, minimal locations. I looked back over an email Mike had sent me in 2008 when I wrote the first draft of the script. His email read:

"Nick, I just read the screenplay, I think it's great. I would love to work on it -- I don't know how we're going to do it. We'll need to do a lot of planning, but someway we'll make it work." 

That's the spirit!

Ensuring that, years later, Mike was still on-board, I took the plunge and in January 2011 committed to shooting William's Lullaby in late August. In the meantime I would plan and do homework like I never had before. Although William's Lullaby was already raking up dollars double that of The Vicious Circle, we still had to think creatively and economically with our pre-production.

One thing I did for the first time on this project, and will now continue to do for the rest of my directing career, is storyboard. I have storyboarded scenes/sequences in the past before, but never the entire film. Because I knew we would be shooting the film with little resources, a small crew, and a jam-packed schedule, storyboarding every shot of the film was, for me, an exercise in patience and truly helped me study every word of the script I had written. I was thinking about every shot of the film months prior to being on set. When the time came for me to stand and direct, I would know my script like the back of my hand. I would reach this level of understanding through hours and hours of storyboarding as I prepared for shooting.

The result was an enormous binder filled with over 400 frames. It became my bible on set. I would walk around with it and use it as a constant resource for myself and my actors. If ever there was a question as to why we were doing a certain shot, what it meant in the grand scheme of things, or what was ahead visually -- it was answered in the storyboards. Having done this much homework also allowed me to improvise on the day, if ideas came up from cast or crew or we wanted to try new things. I was comfortable enough in my planning to know when to be adventurous and try something risky.

This experience was invaluable and the result, I feel, is a meticulously-put-together film that is purposeful and well thought-out. I will storyboard again and again, on every project I direct, no matter how big or small. Perhaps I'm just a visual guy -- but this way of planning really works for me.

Of course, I could go on and on, talking about planning and homework. I could talk about re-writes, for which there were many. Rehearsals. Wardrobe/camera tests. Set sketches. Camera schematics etc... and perhaps I will down the road. 

Bottom line is, when you are against the odds with a project that seems larger than life or perhaps unattainable and beyond your means, giving yourself the time to strategize and make it happen is the key to success -- for me anyway.

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Bye for now.


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