Serendipity and Synchronicity at FiLMLaB 2014

Jon Dragt, author of Unwelcome Guests

Jon Dragt, 2014 FiLMLaB Winner

How has the FiLMLaB 2014 experience been so far? The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of serendipity and synchronicity.

One of the first things I was told at the first production meeting was that now that I’d won the contest, we can pretty much do whatever we want to make as good a film as possible. For example, we no longer had to be limited to seven pages.

As Ruth Witteried related in a previous post, we lost our production company just after working out everything needed to do the shoot, including which rooms we’d use, décor, shot angles, etc. It was a shame because I’m sure they would’ve made a terrific film, but life sometimes gets in the way.

What amazing synchronicity that Ruth and another highly qualified and talented production team was available to step in to make this film.

Some might view switching production companies as a negative, but I feel fortunate in that now I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with two different filmmakers and see how they would take the same screenplay and arrive at two very valid but different visions.

Though the screenplay was written specifically to be shot at the Cynthia Whitcomb House for Writers, the house was not built specifically to act as a film location. The house is a great place to write, but poses considerable challenges for filmmakers on very limited budgets.

The rooms are cramped and a challenge to shoehorn in the lighting and camera equipment while leaving room for the action. The upstairs has low, angled ceilings and a skylight that lets in light from the ever moving sun. The furniture and décor is, well, mostly donated. (The story calls for a house that would have valuable art.)

Our most recent meeting saw the team gathering at the house to nail down how to overcome these challenges. The story primarily takes place in two rooms, the living room and the library. We could use the house’s living room, but the walls and ceiling are pure white, which does not provide a good background for the actors. The other room we’d settled on has the same color as the inside of a womb—again, nice to write in, but not so much for filming. We can fix that with paint, but what colors?

And what are we going to do with that huge couch? We can’t hide it, it’s too big. Can we even get it out the door?

That’s when, as if by magic, somebody tangentially associated with the project, who wishes to remain anonymous, showed up for other reasons and asked why we’d go to all that trouble of painting when we could just use her house.

Can we? Yeah, we can pretty much do whatever we want to make as good a film as possible.

We piled into our cars and before you know it we were drinking wine our hostess generously offered while standing in a huge, beautifully remodeled home with larger rooms and open areas for equipment. Way better for this film and no painting needed.

photo by Alyssa Roehrenbeck

photo by Alyssa Roehrenbeck

That’s some serious serendipity.

One of the great values in this project for me is the willingness of everybody who has been involved in allowing and encouraging me to participate. It’s a huge growth opportunity for me to see these film professionals operate and be an active part of the creative process. It is helping me to better understand what they need from me, and as important, what they don’t need from me as a screenwriter.

It’s also fun to get out and be part of a team and a project that dynamically evolves with everybody’s input rather than being a solitary writer working at my desk.

I’m grateful for the efforts of everybody who has been involved in and supported FiLMLaB 2014 so far. If it ended today I’d be way ahead of the game, and yet we’re only part way into the process. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Jon Dragt has a software development business where he writes hundreds of lines of code when he’s not writing hundreds of lines of dialog. He recently retired as a hot air balloon pilot and gave up his weekly movie review column for the Canby Herald to spend more time pursuing other writing projects. He lives, works and writes at his small farm near Canby, Oregon, accompanied by his wife, Brenda, and his cat, Claire.

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