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Category Archives: Pre-Production

Writing for Production

Everybody loves writing, right? Right?! Photo Source: http://uniquedaily.com/

With the Toronto Screenwriting Conference this weekend, which I’ll be attending this year (Steph here!), it seemed only appropriate to talk about writing for production.  And since the script for “Little Miss Jihad” came out of a class named exactly that back at York University, an even more fitting reason!

The script.  Without it, there is no film.  There is no TV show.  No web series.  It’s been described as a blueprint, but that’s a rather overly-practical and incomplete definition.  A script embodies more than just directions and dialogue.  It seeks to do justice to that initial spark of imagination.

Inspiration, if you will.

Not everybody can write.  This is more a statement, than a judgement.  Writing is like any other craft.  You have to work at it.  And you have to have taste if you want to succeed commerically.  Sure, everybody thinks they have taste… but how do you know?  You don’t.  All you have is general consensus.

THE FIRST STEP to writing for production is making sure all your collaborators are seeing the same film.  If things are confusing, or the logic doesn’t track, these are usually the first things to pay attention to.  Everything else… is personal taste.  But if more than two or three people point out the same thing, there is usually something behind that note.

Having said that, the feedback process is an incredibly difficult one.  There have been many times throughout the past few months were I couldn’t see the forest from the trees.  Is this working?  Or isn’t it?  How do I know that’s not your personal opinion?  But a legitimate story or structural concern?

The truth is… you don’t really know.  All you can do… is do your best.  Stay true to the heart of your story.  Take what you need.  Toss the rest.  I’ve followed this mantra for a long time now.  Knowing which notes to take… depends on experience, and a lot of gut instinct.  And of course, if you’re fortunate to be working with a story editor who you respect and trust, their guidance can often steer you away from hitting those trees.

But there is no science to writing.  As much as you can bottle structure, story, theme, dialogue, and character, everybody has their own voice– their own poetry of imagination.  Seek out like-minded individuals.  Seek out individuals who are polar opposites of you.  Only then, can you get a diverse and happy range of opinions and tastes.  Personally, this is the only way that I like to operate.  Collaboration.  Listening.

Listening to others doesn’t make you weak.  It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer.  It doesn’t mean you don’t know what you want.  It means that you’re wise enough to consider the other possibilities.  And only then, can your work have a chance to reach its greatest audience.

THE SECOND STEP to writing for production is considering… well, production!  How many locations and sets appear in the script?  Number of characters?  Are your scenes set at night, or during the day?  What about special effects and stunts?

When you’re producing a film, you quickly realize that every choice you made in your script?  It has a dollar amount.  That prop?  Is going to cost you $100/day.  Child actors?  Immediately, you can’t have long shoot days– for the kids– but that doesn’t necessarily apply to the crew. 😉

Once you’ve culled down your script as much as you can, while still preserving the essence and intention of your scenes, you’re left with your production draft.  This is what your Production Manager and Assistant Director takes away to figure out your set days, schedule, call times, etc…

As you can see, it all builds outward from the script.  If the foundation isn’t solid, the building will fall.

We hope it doesn’t fall!

THE THIRD THING about writing for production… is letting go.  After you’ve spent months or years working on an idea, you now have to realize that you’ve done your best, and what happens on set is within, and without, your control.  Filmmaking is a series of compromises, but the best thing you can do, is arm yourself with the best possible script, cast, and crew.

In little over a week, “Little Miss Jihad” goes into production. Soon… all those words?  Those images?  Flickers of emotion and intention?  They will be reality.

And there is nothing more exciting than that.

~ Stephanie

Mega Summary (Or Ride that Rollercoaster!)

Filmmaking is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. Except for emotional vomit. Yay!

It’s been almost a month since our last post, and that’s not because of a lack of progress.  Quite the contrary, lots has happened!  Co-director, Jessica, and I (Steph here!) have met up more than a few times for production meetings.  We got our general production insurance.  We conducted our first callback session at the end of January, as well as new auditions.  And we’re currently searching for actors for the last of our principal roles, as well as a few minor speaking ones.  While we have not yet offered parts to actors, that’s on our agenda in the coming weeks.

We’re also starting to do preliminary research into crew and indie shoot rates.  We’re gathering recommendations, as well as suggestions from friends and peers.  One big thing that we’ll have to do soon… is lock our dates.  Without locked dates, it’s virtually impossible for crew up, because so much depends on availability.  In terms of budget, we also need to factor in what we need versus what we can afford.

Looking ahead, other things that we need to get started on is our belated location scout.  From that, we can then work on storyboards, and see what we need in terms of set decoration/props, art direction, wardrobe, and to a lesser extent, make-up.

In March, we need to be working towards booking our equipment, seeing if anyone will help us out with a deal, and seeing again what we need versus what we can afford.  Suffice to say, we only dream of dollies… hahaha… sigh.  Yes, the joys of low-budget filmmaking!

In the meantime, we’re still running our crowdfunding campaign, so that we’ll be able to pay our hardworking actors and crew members.  Because we believe that people should be paid for the value of their work– just like a doctor or lawyer would.  Artists deserve no less; but it is harder to achieve.

If you can, help us spread the word!  Whether its moral or monetary support, we appreciate your help.

~ Team LMJ

Production Meeting Jan. 10 – Epic the Sequel

When we say epic. We mean EPIC. ("Mount Everest" by Steffen Perneborg. CC license.)

This past Monday, we held our second epic production meeting.  We sat there for six hours.  Thank you again to the staff of Second Cup for  putting up with our animated story and character ramblings!

First thing on the agenda was: audition videos.

Co-director/Associate Producer, Jessica Wu, and I (Steph here!) had the difficult task of deciding which actors to callback.  So far, we’ve only auditioned actors for the Principal roles of 10-year-old Sally Khan and her Aunt Farah.  But we’re intending to roll out the rest of our casting calls as we get closer to production.  Having said that, we haven’t yet contacted actors/agents for our first callback, but we will be doing so shortly.

Second thing on the agenda: breaking down the script!

Because the script isn’t locked yet (when is it ever?), I’ve only guessed at how many days our shoot would be.  But with Jessica’s help, and production savy, we realized that, yes, I suck at guess-timating!  So, we’re now looking at a six day shoot instead of the five day one.  Considering we’re working with child actors, this is much more realistic.  Thanks, Jess!

The other good thing about breaking down a script is that you can then start to figure out shoot logistics.  You also have the chance to flag issues before they become major problems.  You’re also forced to clarify what’s on the page, and then make sure that it will translate onscreen.

Most importantly, for Jess and I, because we are co-directing, it was the first time that we really got a chance to make sure that we’re interpreting and seeing the story in the same light.  And calling out logic flaws in the script.  Which is awesome, because we all need a checks-and-balances system.  This how you get to your best work.

So, this  took the majority of the meeting, combined with a healthy dose of tangents… hehehe.  But as we walked to the subway, we tackled the last point on our agenda:

Workflow

In particular, how are we handling post-production.  Because our prize package with Charles Street Video and Reel Asian does not cover enough edit suite time, there are several options that we’re considering.  We’re talking to people to see which one is the best for us.

Why are we discussing editing when we haven’t even tackled production?  Well, you need to know how you’re going to finish, where you want your film to go, before you even start.  You take the end result, work backwards, and figure out how you’re going to get there.  But it takes a lot of back and forth, because it’s never just one answer that you need to make an informed choice.

Which leads up to:

Next steps!

Jess and I will be discussing the visual style of the film, and working together with our brilliant cinematographer, Joyce Wong, to come up with a plan.  From there, we will figure out what we’re shooting on.  And the rest in regards to workflow will follow.

Our mega meeting with Charles Street Video and Reel Asian will be happening soon!  Once we do, we’ll have a better snap shot of what resources are at our disposal, what limitations we’ll be coming up against, and then I can better figure out how to adjust the budget accordingly.

In the meantime, we’ll be figuring all things production insurance.  Location scouting.  And auditioning new roles this month, as well as conducting our callbacks.

So yeah, just another January!

Thanks everyone for your support!  We love ya!

~ Team LMJ