Five Ways to Navigate the Shoulds & Supposed-Tos of Moviemaking. – OR – Better to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission.

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, April 19, 2013

Introduction.

Have you read Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART? If you have, spread the word. If you haven’t yet, here’s the gist of it: The world will be saved when we ALL MAKE WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE MAKING. There is an idea in your head that fills you with joy. This idea is tapping on your shoulder daily, telling you to open that restaurant, sing that aria, build that sculpture, write that screenplay-novel-play-poem, shoot that film, dance that tango. This joy inside you is what will save the world. And don’t you want to save the world? I know I do. If you do, the sure-fire way is to follow your bliss and make what The Muse is telling you to make. Go. GOOOOOOO MMAKKKKEEE YYYOOUUURRRTTHHHIINNNGGGG.

Begin.

Ahhh, but the rules.
Rules, regulations & guidelines are keeping you from making your thing. Am I right?
– Or – is it that YOU who are allowing rules, regulations & guidelines to keep you from making your thing.
Stop.
Today we’ll discuss ways for you to stop.
And we’ll use the example of  – say – the making of a movie.

Somebody somewhere once said “If you’re gonna make a movie, you’d better have permits for your locations, or else.” Someone somewhere said that “if you’re gonna make a real movie and if you want to to be taken seriously, you’d better hire union actors. Or else.”  And yet another so-called sooth-sayer announced: “If you are going to use union actors, you’d better declare your shoot a UNION SHOOT. OR ELSE!!!”  …Renting equipment? You’d better buy insurance or YOU’RE GOING TO DIE. Filming in the City of Such-and-such? You’d better notify the COMMISSION OF THE THING, or YOUR WHOLE FAMILY WILL EXPLODE.

There are a lot of very serious people in the world who are enforcing some extremely serious rules. Got it. If we want to work with them, we will absolutely adhere to their uncompromisable regulations. Clear.

However……if we choose to make our art our OWN WAY, within our own delightful system that we ourselves have invented that is ITSELF part of our art, then, dear OFFICIAL RULE MAKER, we just may not get around to meeting you. But, all the best!

For those of us who are making movies our own unique and innovative way, here are five useful approaches to five certain requests that are sometimes made of us in this well-meaning, law-revering moviemaking culture of ours:

1. Location Permits

Let’s say you need a hotel room for your movie. But you don’t necessarily have briefcases full of greenbacks designated for a hotel manager or owner. Couple creative alternatives for you come to mind here. 1) Depending on your shot list, you may not ever need to show the exterior of your hotel. Empty your own bedroom of its personal touches and BAM: mysterious motel room. No permit needed!  2) Cruise remote suburban areas where films are not often shot and genially approach 20 – 30 hotel proprietors until you find the one who loves movies and can’t wait to host you for some ridiculously low fee.  No permit needed. This was the case for us. We are forever in love with Saeed Farzam at Pavillions Motel, Santa Monica.

When you’re not so keen to go the route of location permits, be open-minded, tenacious, persistent, and filled with faith. Seriously. Believe that you will find or invent the location that you need, and you will.

2. Burning Fires Openly

To some, this is a questionable act. For others, this is necessary preparation for a scene about a house that just burned down. How can you film charred remains with no charred remains, I ask you?  Still, let it be said, dear filmmaker of good intentions: In this scenario, you have to have permission from somebody. You may not have a permit from the city; you may not have consulted with ALL interested legal parties; you MUST however, be sure the ground you are about to singe is on property that is legally your own – or on that of a friend or family member who has given you the thumbs up. – This, and you want to be sure to have on hand every manner of garden hose, fire extinguisher – and buckets of water aplenty. Kind of essential, really. Peace of mind that comes with these measures taken is an added plus. We toasted a mattress, some old 2 x 4s and a broken screen door among other things, in the field behind a generous & thoughtful friend’s home. A cozy campfire among neighbors!

Long story short: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3. Auditions in a public park

During pre-production of our first feature film, our pockets were not necessarily lined with dosh for the rental of an audition space. And anyway, the little kid we wanted to see for the role agreed to meet us after his drama class, which was right around the corner from a park. What could be more convenient. The gods of moviemaking were clearly handing us a free space to hold auditions. We met him & his parents near the jungle gym. Lovely family. Turned on our video camera; asked Mom & Dad if they minded; went ahead with our small leading man’s on-camera interview. When the City Parks representative kindly asked us to cease and desist, we did. Said thank you to our family, and left the premises. But we had our winning audition on tape.

Better to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission!

4. Gun Permits

This one’s a bit of a dice roll. But why not roll ’em. Life is short. Make hay while the sun shines. We filmed our gang-member-shoots-pistol-in-air scene – complete with 12 volunteer ex-gang-members – with a completely rubber, bullet-free, total prop gun….in….an outdoor city scene at night with no permit.  I was having a bit of a heart attack I must admit. What if someone mis-interpreted what was going on. What if someone dangerous strolled past our little staged scene, and decided to get involved. What if the cops showed up and fined us $10,000.

My advice for you: Pray.

Totally serious. Naive? Perhaps stupid is more apt? Some might say so. Still, in the absence of any other measures taken, I prayed all week leading up to our scheduled ‘gun fight day’. I decided hundreds of times in advance that everyone was safe and protected. That we were all going to be completely okay. We also cut all yelling, swearing, and, well, talking  – from the scene. The whole thing was shot in silence.

But yes: Pray. To whatever god, or non-god – to whatever person, saint, animal, mineral, other being or universe you love that gives you hope and comfort while you film your brave and excellent independent film.  PRAY.  Close your eyes and Pray.

And on the day… night fell…. the ex gang members we cast acted out their thing….and the cops showed up. Our director jogged over to their car.

And now, I know our director’s good with people – charming and all that – but this went beyond. As unexplainable as a UFO-sighting: our uniformed friends chatted with him for about 5 minutes….and then quietly drove away.  “Just finish up quickly” I think is what they instructed. Some police people out there are pretty cool, dear fellow filmmakers.

(Thank you moviemaking angels.)

5. Family Home Videos

The police also found us on a different day: a charming sunny afternoon where we were filming in the quaint hills of Highland Park, L.A., and calmly asked us what we were doing. It’s these kinds of days when are rewarded for the clever and trusted producer-extraordinaire you invited on board. Our producer Andrew Ahn warmly greeted our friendly neighborhood patrolmen, then happily told them about our family video. We were proudly documenting our Korean, Mexican, Irish-Welsh roots. Our next addition to our collective family home video library.

When you have no permits, you are always making a family home video.

Conclusion

It’s not so much that rules are made to be broken. It’s more that rules crave to be creatively circumvented. The entire history of human beings is teeming with examples of rules that have been innovatively re-envisioned. Rules must never be allowed to stop you & your art, dear talented friend. Rules are simply another way that life prompts you to be more creative than ever before. Never allow rules to slow you down to inaction! Allow rules to fuel you into inspired action! You MUST MAKE what you are called to make. Heed your heart! Do it’s bidding! Make your thing! Save the world!

T.S.

Tara Samuel is an award-winning producer-actor from Toronto. Also proud Co-Founder of notorious film collective WeMakeMovies. Recent Winner Best Actress, RUBY BOOBY. Producer-Lead Actress of WILD PRAIRIE ROSE, shooting on location in Beresford, S.D. June, 2013. Samuel’s writing and directing has been celebrated on the festival circuit; articles on filmmaking published widely, most recently in MovieMaker Magazine. Samuel teaches a 6-wk screenwriting course in Los Angles with co-instructor John Sandel, The Script Kitchen. For more information or to join our class, please email scriptkitchen@gmail.com

Tara Samuel is a script consultant and editor on fire about sharpening your screenplay. She is your ScriptKicker. In close collaboration with you the client, Samuel zeroes in on the specificity of your characters, hones your story rhythm and maximizes your audience engagement helping you to create a perfect story-ride. Samuel kicks your script into ship-shape; kicks it through the goal posts, kicks it out of the park. www.scriptkicker.com

Tara Samuel is story editor for screenwriters Jon Rannells, Ruby Booby, Mexico-Machismo, Mr.Happy-Joy; Paula Tiberius, Male Order, Bitch Magnet, Kathryn Winslow, Downtown Mrs.Brown, Sam Zvibleman, The Rwanda Blend, Justin Miller, The Sound & The Shadow, Andrew Ahn, The Good Life, SummerVacay, Biggz, Gareth Bennett, Bang Baby Bang, Deborah LaVine, Aunt Janny’sMoney, Darrow Carson, Absolving Grace, Whit Spurgeon, The Interview – among many others.

And the Lord declared: Let There Be Really High Stakes

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, March 22, 2013

Attention all Screenwriters, Graphic Novelists, Novelists-Afraid-Of-Screenwriting, and Waiters, Bankers, Accountants, Teachers, Custodians, Firefighters, Cashiers and Parking Lot Attendants who Dream of Being Screenwriters:

You already know how to tell a great story. Quit worrying. Worrying is not your job. Writing is your job. Start writing. Start right now. Don’t even read this article. Begin writing your story right now.

For anyone still finishing their coffee & toast and in need of some entertainment before they get back to writing:

The reason you already know how to write a great story is this: You already know what the other guy would be thinking. And when I say ‘the other guy’, I am referring to your attentive friend, your fellow story lover: Your Reader.

How do you know what your reader would be thinking? The Voice in your head tells you. Aka: your Gut Translator. Some people call this voice their Lord in Heaven, some people call it the God of Creativity speaking through them. I call it your friendly Gut-Translator: Your Inner Voice. This voice is your inner writer-coach. Great gal to have around. Gal or guy, animal or mineral, listen to this sage advisor in your head. You were born with her and she is totally rooting for you. She is on the ball – and she is bang-on. As you write your universal tale of love or revenge, dear screenwriter, as you weave your adventure of loss, grief, murder or hope, this voice speaks to you the whole way along. You all have it. You just have to listen.

Ah, the listening part. The task is upon us, we humble servants of our imaginations, to listen as well as we can to this voice while we write. And darn it if distractions don’t sometimes get in the way. “This idea’s really gonna sell” gets in our way. “This character will really impress that producer” gets in our way. “NOW they’ll finally see I can write” and “No one’s ever seen THIS idea before” …get in our way. Sometimes our listening needs a polish. A dusting. Sometimes a murky curtain of second-guessing separates us from our sure-fire Voice Of Excellence. All I can tell you, dear valiant writer-at-whatever-stage-of-your-career: Keep listing to that Voice in your Head that is telling you what you Already Know.

As a story consultant and screenplay editor, all I do, every time, is guide you back to your gut. Your Voice. Your Gut-Translator.

Today’s Inner Writing Coach reminder of the day:  REALLY HIGH STAKES 

You gotta have high stakes in your screenplay. Really high stakes.That’s how you’re gonna make your audience care. Your inner voice knows this. She chimes in with things like:  “Come on, would Cinderella really put up with that? Make sure she’s trapped – socially, economically – something – otherwise she’d high tail it outta there for sure.”  …Or she pipes up: “Okay come on, she can’t SEE that that her grandmother is now a WOLF? I gotta see that she is REALLY looking forward to seeing her grandma. ‘Cause those are some serious blinders.” Show your audience that Cinderella has spent her last penny. Show us that Little Red has no other friend in the world.

When you have high stakes, your audience will be on the edge of their seats, viscerally and bodily CARING about your story. Really and truly caring. The whole point of storytelling. Keep your stakes Really High. Where there are high stakes, there is tension. You gotta have great story-tension from beginning to end: The exhilarating/promising ups and devastating/terrifying downs of a roller coaster ride. Then back up again. I don’t care if you’re writing the next James Bond adventure, or Driving Miss Daisy Part Two: More Driving. When you think your characters’ stakes are already high, make them higher.

How do you create high stakes? You SHOW me what is RIDING on the outcome of your character’s goals.  Seems obvious? I know that you fine writers know this instinctively, and yet, still, it is our daily duty to mine our characters’ hearts fully, and SHOW our audience the many WAYS our lead character is COUNTING on a certain positive / successful outcome.

Don’t only show me the planning of the heist. Show me the ways that the poverty is affecting the impressing of the girl. Don’t just show me the training and the glorious boxing match. Show me the the brother who no longer speaks to our boxer. Don’t only show me an election campaign, show me the birthday party no one comes to. Show me the frayed suits. Show me the whispering colleagues. Give me Henry’s nervous pick-up lines, yes, but also show me his agonizing dates-gone-wrong. Let’s see Henry get fired from his job.

All kinds of ways to create extremely high stakes. Your Inner Writer-Gut will always ask you questions, then provide endless ideas. Your Inner Voice wants to see what your characters are emotionally attached to. What addictions they are desperately trying to shake as they pursue their new plan.  Don’t only show me her fight to survive illness – also show me all she has to lose: her particular joys, inside jokes and successes before the illness crept in. Seen the opening of Pixar’s “UP” anyone?

Show me what is RIDING on the various outcomes of your characters’ actions. This is the way to make your audience feel great pain and profound love. Listen to the questions & suggestions of your Inner Writing Coach. You are about to complete a great screenplay.

T.S.

Tara Samuel is a script consultant and editor on fire about sharpening your screenplay. She is your script kicker. In close collaboration with you the client, Samuel zeroes in on the specificity of your characters, hones your story rhythm and maximizes your audience engagement helping you to create a perfect story-ride. Samuel kicks your script into ship-shape; kicks it through the goal posts, kicks it out of the park. This is her passion. www.scriptkicker.com

Tara Samuel is an award-winning producer-actor from Toronto. Recent Winner Best Actress, RUYB BOOBY. Her writing and directing has been celebrated on the festival circuit; articles on filmmaking published widely, most recently in MovieMaker Magazine. Samuel teaches a 6-wk screenwriting course in Los Angles with co-instructor John Sandel, The Script Kitchen. More information: scriptkitchen@gmail.com

Tara Samuel is story editor for screenwriters Jon Rannells, Ruby Booby, Mexico-Machismo, Mr.Happy-Joy; Paula Tiberius, Male Order, Bitch Magnet, Kathryn Winslow, Downtown Mrs.Brown, Sam Zvibleman, The Rwanda Blend, Justin Miller, The Sound & The Shadow, Andrew Ahn, The Good Life, Summer Vacay, Biggz, Gareth Bennett, Bang Baby Bang, Deborah LaVine, Aunt Janny’s Money, Darrow Carson, Absolving Grace, Whit Spurgeon, The Interview – among many others.