It’s a fairly common occurrence for me that a young talent will come to me and ask me how to break into the biz. Since I’ve made several movies, make my living as a full-time writer and still don’t know “how to break into the biz,” I’m never sure what to say.
I do know this: it’s hard to get a movie made. The maze an idea has to go through from idea to multiplex is so long, so convoluted and so fraught with peril, that almost no ideas whatsoever make it all the way. The multiplex hit is a property designed from the top down, the corporation that owns the studio says “We need to see X amount of profit, or you’re out of business.” The studio then says “We need to take zero risks in our release schedule, we can only make huge movies that will play well internationally and will bring in lots of money through ancillaries for a long long time.”
So, if you’re a young talent and you’re expecting to “break into the biz,” the odds are stacked hugely against you. The studio is giving the jobs that matter to people who have already proven themselves to be talented filmmakers.
And so, the thing I say to the young talent who wants to break into the biz is: “Make your own work.” No one is going to give you a job writing or directing a movie; write and direct the movie yourself.
It’s never been easier. Cameras are dirt cheap, computer memory even cheaper, and your phone probably has an editing program more sophisticated than AVID. And the internet is right there, demanding to be fed content every day, 24 hours a day.
If you’d like an example of the perfect movie to make, go see The One I Love. It has one location, two actors, and a lovely corkscrew of an idea that means that the one-location, two-actor movie doesn’t feel like a play. It’s a movie, and it could only be a movie.
I’m glad that The One I Love has the production values it does, but whatever its budget was, it could have been lower. It could have been nothing. The script could have been shot with a consumer-level camera in a single apartment. The movie is in the idea. Because the idea is so strong, the script could have withstood almost any production values at all and would still have worked narratively and dramatically.
Point is, production values are nice and all, but the first thing you need is a great idea that gives rise to a great script. Stick to those things and you don’t need car chases, alien invasions, “great cinematography” or anything else, you’ll be on your way. And you don’t have to shoot it in a house, just about everyone has a unique location available to them. If you have a boat, write a movie that takes place on a boat. If you have an RV, make a movie that takes place in an RV. If you have an abandoned castle nearby, use that. The movie Killing Zoe got made because the producer had access to an abandoned bank that was about to be demolished, so he asked Roger Avery to write a movie that takes place in a bank.
Use what ever is around you, and use your lack of funds to your advantage. Start with an idea, write a movie that’s simple to shoot, and shoot it. Then you’ll have a movie people can see, and if you’ve done your job you won’t need to break into the biz, the biz will come looking for you.
When the previews for Guardians of the Galaxy started showing up in theaters, I was struck by the ways they used Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling.” That song was a nutty novelty hit when I was a wee lad in 1974, and I wondered if anyone else in the theater even remembered the recording, much less felt the sense of nostalgia I did when I heard it. Would people think that “Hooked on a Feeling” was some kind of message from another planet? What could its inclusion in the trailers for a Marvel movie possibly mean, except that, obviously, Guardians of the Galaxy was not a movie to be taken entirely seriously? And yet, that song, and the aesthetic choice that led to its inclusion in the movie, is a key part of understanding the appeal of not just Guardians but of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe project.
Like a lot of things with me these days, the first thing you have to understand about my reaction to Lucy is that I’m old. I’m old enough to have worked at a movie theater in New York when Subway was released, and watched its delirious blend of kinetic cinema, outlandish violence and heartsick romance repeatedly. I’m old enough to have gone to see La Femme Nikita in a movie theater, many times, thrilling to the many ways it was a vast improvement over Subway. I’m old enough to have felt frustrated over the past two decades as director Luc Besson built his gigantic company in France, became a big-budget producer, made computer-animated movies for children and only occasionally made what I’ll call “Luc Besson movies,” that unique blend of kinetic cinema, outlandish violence and heartsick romance that I fell in love with so many years ago. If nothing else, Lucy is a stunning return to form for Besson, at once a thrilling summation and a brilliant leap forward.
Many years ago, I was up for the gig writing the movie adaptation of Scott Westerfeld’s wonderful sci-fi (then) trilogy Uglies, Pretties and Specials. I liked the books a lot and the idea, I thought, was a real fire-cracker: a dystopian future, a sci-fi trilogy, with a female protagonist, where each movie in the trilogy would examine the same society from a different point of view. It had never been done before and it was a huge opportunity. The producer who brought me the books was a respected big-budget sci-fi producer, and the project was set up at a genuine big-deal studio. All I needed to do was get a firm handle on how to tell the story and there was no way the project could not move forward.
Big news in Todd Land, I and my writing partner Holly Golden have sold Medusa, an original pitch to the nice people at Sony Animation. That’s partly why things have been quiet here at What Does the Protagonist Want? We’ll be writing the screenplay, and the movie is going to be directed by Lauren Faust, who created My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. So we’ll be appealing to both Greek Mythology fans and Bronies. You can read all about it here!
Faithful readers will recall that, a couple of years ago, I co-wrote and directed a movie, Blood Relative, was bought by some folks and re-titled The Occupants. Oddly enough, I’m okay with that title, it suits the movie well.
The movie is now available through iTunes, my favorite music platform, and through Google Play, which is my favorite place to buy Rolling Stones live albums. Watch it today! And, feel free to comment here on whether or not you liked it!
Novelist, performance artist and Friend of Alcott Lisa Lerner has started making short films about the ways that a little girl experiences the adult world. The first, “Underwear,” is now up at the Youtube website, and you should watch it.
Homeless and jobless, Llewyn goes once again to Jean, not to stay or even to crash, but just to rid himself of his belongings. Jean, surprisingly, shows a little concern for where Llewyn might stay. Until he forgets when he scheduled her abortion for, that is.
Llewyn, newly discarded from the world of show business, trudges back to New York in this cold, cold American winter.He hitches a ride with a guy going east, driving so the guy can sleep. The guy, who seems to be a regular working-class guy, one of the millions who, in Llewyn’s mind, merely “exist,” trusts Llewyn to handle the situation. Which, in its way, is the saddest joke of the movie.
Llewyn’s album, and Dave Van Ronk’s. Complete with cat.
In the middle of the night, outside of Chicago, Llewyn falls asleep in the passenger seat. When he wakes up, the car has stopped and the police are in the middle of arresting Johnny Five. Spoiler alert!