Every successful filmmaker will tell you that ‘You can make a bad film from a good script, but you can’t make a good film from a bad script’. Well, what if you don’t have a script at all? The inside of my brain decided that perhaps I could be the anomaly in the matrix – breaking all of the rules to become GOD. Ray-bans, ankle-length leather coat and all.
Before we get into it, let me start making excuses.
I am impatient – not sure if that’s an excuse or a damnation? But it is the truth. I had watched so many directors fritter away years on the merry-go-round of government funding and I couldn’t see the point. That’s not filmmaking. That’s just talking about it. Maybe I could have developed a screenplay over a couple of years and then waded into the 5 year quagmire of funding applications with everyone else… Hell no! I wanted to prove to the world that I can do this, and I wanted to prove it now.
With one hasty decision I walked into my first wall. I suck at screenwriting. I think that I get story structure, but character development and dialogue? Not even vaguely. So I needed a writer. Well the writers I know want to be directors as well, so there was no point asking them. Finding a new writer would take time. And then I needed to get them writing to see if they actually could. Days, months, ticking by.
So I came up with the ‘perfect’ solution: who needs a script? I had heard of Mike Leigh’s approach of using improvised performances to create a script from. Pshaw!… what does he know? I’d use improvised performances INSTEAD of a script. What with all of my extensive experience directing actors…
But the actors still needed some sort of guide, otherwise they’d just stand around quoting Shakespeare. My solution? Scene breakdowns; one paragraph descriptions of the major actions in each scene. Who, where, when, what. Look at me reworking the century-old filmmaking process in sheer minutes!
And that became my approach for Bound By Blue. Just the beginning of oh-so-many mistakes.
I had an idea for a story that had popped into my head one drunken night many years before, which seemed viable for a no-budget movie; guy meets girl of his dreams/ guy wakes to discover girl is gone/ guy backtracks through the night before to find her.
Dude, Where’s My Car meets Alice In Wonderland (sorry Lewis Carroll!). Every scene would be a new location, a new support character and a brief quirky encounter. I took this idea and accosted my amazing friend and thespian Richard Davies. I had recently shot his writer/ producer debut short film ‘When The Wind Changes’.
David – “So… I was thinking. Maybe we could grab a burger for lunch, swing by the pub for a beer and writeanobudgetfeaturefilmthatwillstartfilmingintwomonths” (That’s how it sounds when I talk too quickly).
Richard – “What was that?
David – “All we need to do is not-write a script and then you can act in it.”
Richard – “I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
David – “Thanks man, you won’t regret this! We’ll have you wrapped in under two months.”
Lady luck was on my side that day. Richard was either drunk, terminally ill or both. But he agreed to throw common-sense to the wind and hop on my crazy-train to film-ville. We spent the following week fleshing out the idea, turning it from drama into sci-fi (niche marketing!).
I had just finished a first complete draft of the breakdowns when Richard called. He had been worrying that we may not find a volunteer female actor with sufficient talent. But came bearing a solution! His co-star Frank Magree was excited by the idea and wanted to get involved.
“Why don’t we make it a buddy-movie instead?” Well, Kate and I had agreed that we would work with anything that was offered and what could be better than an enthusiastic actor? And so I got to rewriting.
How do you turn a sci-fi romance into a buddy picture with two male leads? There were many variations: two guys in love with the same alien, two guys after the same alien but one wants to kill it, two guys after the same alien but one turns out to want the other guy…. You can see that I was veering dangerously into ‘Days Of Our Lives’ territory!
Yet we will never know if that film would have worked. Richard has impeccable timing. I had literally, once again, just finished the scene breakdown for the new story when he called. And he was flustered. His growing success in the acting world was filling up his schedule, and he had only just realised that he could no longer commit to starring in our film. With a heavy heart he had to resign.
I may have panicked. And thrown out a solution without thinking it through properly.
David – “How long can you give us?”
Richard – “A week. Maybe two.”
David – “Okay. Okay. What if… we make it a four-hander? Four characters. Four stories. Under 20 minutes of screen-time each.”
Richard – “Will we be able to film it in under two weeks?”
David – “I’m going to say yes.”
And suddenly we needed to find more key cast. And create new characters and new stories. And somehow tie them together so that it all made sense. It’s lucky that I’m not a writer or I would have run away crying.
Instead I sat down and began typing again. By the end we had twenty-two pages of scene breakdowns; paragraphs that described the lives of three lost people forever changed by the actions of a strange stranger. This became Bound By Blue.
I have a feeling that, perhaps, this may not be the standard journey for most feature film scripts (or ‘un-script’ as I prefer to call it). But it should have given me an insight into the ‘independent’ process that we were jumping into – it didn’t. I had my positive hat on and kept assuring anyone and everyone (particularly my Producer, Kate Talbot) that the last of our hiccups was behind us.
I’ll let Kate tell you her side of things in the soon-to-follow third episode of The Un-Movie Experience (also known as – How to leap into a bottomless hole and not spill your tea).
You can read Part 1 of “How To Make A Feature Film With No Money” HERE.