by Ruth Witteried
Last week, Conference Chair and executive producer Stefan Feuerherdt and I “took a meeting” with director Chris Alley and his assistant director, Anthony Forsyth. We met at Palio’s over coffee and pie to discuss pre-production and story elements. Our winning writer, Barbara Thomas, many states away, was unable to join us as we hammered out the details of producing her short script, INSPIRATION.
Every film needs a budget. The executive producer(s) is key in this process. Along with the director and other principals, they deconstruct the script page by page, scene by scene, to identify essential story elements, including any additions or subtractions the director makes as their vision for the film takes shape. Weak story elements are strengthened, nonessential characters are cut, dialogue tightened, action is made more action-y, and the whole shebang made more cinematic in an attempt to deliver the best film possible. The script is then broken down line by line to determine what it will cost to actually film it. If the director’s vision is too costly, the executive producer works with them to get it in line.
Of primary concern in a small budgeted script is location: where can you shoot the story? How long can you borrow or rent a space and what kind of improvements need to be made to provide the backdrop the story requires? If a friend, for example, allows you to film in their cabin at Mt. Hood, uninterrupted for a week, is it good as is? Does the moose head contribute to the story or does it need to be removed and stored? If the location has a fixed motif built into it—hunting lodge—you either find another location, if possible, or you edit the script to accommodate it.
Production designer, Emily Wahl is charged with the line by line physical creation of the writers words. Things seemingly innocuous in the mind of the writer are big deals in the physical world.
INT. COFFEE SHOP – DAY
The Waitress trips, spilling coffee onto Writers laptop. The screen glitches and dies.
Whose laptop are we going to ruin? Can Emily find two identical laptops, one that works and one that doesn’t (maybe from the Goodwill) and pour the coffee on the broken one? Can we manufacture a screen glitch? Is the effort/cost within our budget and time constraints or is there another way to present the same message?
If there are recognizable products in the film, they require special permission (filming their image is considered reproduction). That can take weeks and be costly. Are we better off building our own, crafting or re-crafting something as simple as a wall clock to avoid infringement?
This film needs a musical score. Will we rely on an existing composition and secure the rights to use it, or hire a musician/composer to write and record a custom piece of music? Who among us is available to audition multiple musician/composers?
Who is available to assist with a casting call? Do we need actors who can deliver a great line of dialogue or ones who excel at physical comedy? Are they available during the days set aside to shoot?
Even a short film requires a thousand decisions and competent people to make them. We at FiLMLaB are very fortunate to have knowledgeable, talented, professionals shepherding our writers through the (sometimes painful) production process. We are very grateful for the work they have done and even more grateful for the work they will do in the weeks ahead.
Everybody take a deep breath with me . . . . . and release.
Shooting on INSPIRATION begins late June!
(I need more pie!)
Ruth Witteried is Film Coordinator for the Willamette Writers Conference and Executive Producer of last year’s winning short, “Alis Volat Propriis”. She teaches screenwriting at Clark College and can be followed on Facebook at SitYourAssDown, or on Twitter @sityourassdown1. She also writes YA under the pen name RH Cohen at the website zombienoel.com.