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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

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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

Inside the Audition Process

Thanks Nathalie for taking this picture! Looks like we're having way too much fun! It's really quite unnatural.

 Audition: “A trial performance to appraise an entertainer’s merits.” ~ Merriam-Webster Dictionary

In short, it’s the scariest job interview you’ve ever been on!  Fortunately, I (Steph here!) have never been on the other side of the audition table, but then again, I’m not an actor!  But I have many friends who are actors, and I have no idea how they do it.  If you can imagine, completely immersing yourself into character, a role, another person if you will.  Then having to channel that at will, and perform for a bunch of strangers.  And take direction.  Kudos, actors.  Kudos.

I certainly couldn’t do it.

If anything our audition process has taught me up to this point, is that acting is one hell of a hard job.  It’s a craft like anything else.  I don’t see it as any different than writing or painting.  You need to practice your craft to get better.  But unlike being a writer or painter, an actor can’t always choose their palette or what story they want to tell.  Many times, they’re subject to the whims of casting.  Which, to me, seems really unfair.

See, there may be merit to an actor’s talent, but how to determine whether they’re right for this role.  And just this one role.  It’s… difficult.  It’s a process.  One that we’re currently undergoing, and so there’s a need for confidentiality here.  This is why I’ll keep this post as general as possible.

What I can tell you is that we’ve held our preliminary, or first phase, of auditions in Toronto.  At the moment, we only managed to audition actors for the principal roles of Sally Khan and her aunt, Farah.  We’re taking a break for the holidays, but rest assured that we will continue the process in the New Year.

And in January and February, we will also be casting for the rest of our roles, such as for the enigmatic Agent Finch.  As you can see, this is very much a multi-step process.  If we cast too early, many things can happen between now and April, which is when we intend to shoot our film.  If we wait too late, we may not find the talent we need in time.

It’s a tricky balancing act, but with the help of my trusty Co-Director/Associate Producer, Jessica Wu, we’ll figure it out!  In the meantime, big thanks to our Casting Angels, Jennifer Liao and Sandy Kellerman, for helping us out.  And to our Casting Crew:  Nathalie Younglai, Consuelo Solar, Rain Chan, Samantha Shute, and Andrew Liao.  We love you!

In the meantime, stay tuned for more Casting and Audition updates!

 

Happy Holidays!

Team LMJ

How Do You Fund a Short Film? (Taking a Risk)

Photo: Gabriel Hummel

There’s is nothing more risky than making a film.  If you’re doing it for the money, ha!  Film is probably one of the worst investments you can make… from a financial point of view.  But if you’re investing in talent, a dream, then we find ourselves on the same page.

Today, we’re reflecting on what we’ve learned so far– thrown into the deep end– picking things up as quickly as we can.

We try to answer the question:  How do you fund a short film?

From the Canadian perspective anyway.

Having interned and worked way too much for feature production companies in Toronto, I have a pretty good idea how feature film financing works in this country, but short film funding… is something new to me.  At least, funding a short film outside of film school.

If you’re familiar with the film or television funding system in Canada, you know that we depend completely on government funds to make up the majority of financing for our projects.  Producers apply– also known as application hell– and a few select projects are chosen every term to receive Development, Production, Marketing, or Completion funding– depending on what you’ve applied for.  It’s very much a “wait-and-let’s-see” system.  And how these government funders decided on which projects to back… probably could be its own thread.  But let’s not get into that.

Short films aren’t really any different.  Depending on what province or region you are in Canada, there are different initiatives, funds, and grants offered by arts councils and organizations.  You apply for them in the way you would for feature film or television funding– though, on a much smaller scale and budget.

But like these larger productions, if you’re lucky enough to get even a small grant, you’re usually still stuck with a hole in your budget.  In features, you’d have to find “gap financing.”  Maybe a bank loan.  Other investors.  This is why co-productions are so popular, but bring with them their own issues of creative control, depending if you’re a majority or minority stakeholder, for lack of a better term.

For a short film, chances are… your “gap financing” is exactly what you can pull out of your own pocket.  Your savings.  Or from the new-ish way of funding… CROWDFUNDING.  Which is when a group (crowd) of people, or unique investors, come together to offer a little bit of funding each, so that in the end, the whole is enough to accomplish your fundraising goal.  Some filmmakers have had great success with it.  But you work hard for every penny, and you need to have a tough skin.

So, where does our film, LITTLE MISS JIHAD, stand in all of this?

We were lucky enough to win the pitch competition in the Emerging Category of the 2011 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival.  What comes with it… is fantastic support.  A little bit financial.  A little bit services-in-kind.  But it’s not as much as people think.  If you look closely at what’s being offered, you can come up with a real number value to the prize.  Now compare that to the fact that this will be a 12 minute film.

What do you think the budget is per minute of screen time?

Let me tell you, it ain’t cheap.

But I knew that, going into this process.  I knew that I would likely be sinking my savings into this project.  And because this is a short film, I am never going to see a dime of it back again.

So why am I doing this?

Why does any filmmaker make a film?  We’re frakkin’ nuts.

But no, the truth is… it’s an investment in emerging talent.  Not even for myself, because I’m pretty sure making a short film, means shit for my writing career.  But that’s okay.  If this is all that I walk away with, at the end of it all, a produced piece of work… then I’d consider that a pretty damn fine swan song out of this industry.

For a short film, you really don’t make anything from distribution– we’re talking dimes here.  You certainly won’t make money on the festival circuit.  Sure, if it’s any good, and we hope it will be, you might qualify for a prize or two, but anything monetary, goes back to recouping your debt.  I have no illusions.  A film like this will never break even.  EVER.  Its 12 minutes long.  Do the math.  I certainly have!

So we’ve applied to grants, but we have no idea if we’ll get anything– see, the “wait-and-let’s-see” system that we adore here– and if we do, we wouldn’t likely get the maximum we’ve asked for.  I can hope.  But we don’t know.  And we won’t know until right before we shoot.  So we’re going forward anyway.  We’re taking a shot in the dark.

The only other option is “soft money” or private investors.  But that will always come with strings attached.

Thankfully, we have our lovely supporters who have helped us raised an amazing 35% of our $6000 goal towards paying our Crew & Cast.   You’ll notice that for our Crowdfunding Campaign, not a dime is going towards our Production or Post-Production costs.  It’s not even going to the casting/audition costs.  These funds are going directly to our people.

Why?  Why do something like that?!

Sure, it’s a lot more work for me.  It’s a lot– to ask your friends, family, and strangers for money.  But for those who know me personally, know that I spent the better part of almost two years working and interning for free.  If I could write a book, I would so name it, “How to Lose Your Soul in 9 Internships.”  Hey, never say never.

It’s because I believe wholeheartedly that by not paying people, you undermine the whole system.  The next generation of talent.  And I’m probably pissing off everybody I’ve ever interned with by saying that.  But it’s the truth.  If you don’t pay people, even a small something, we will all bugger off and leave this Godforsaken industry.

Hell, I still might.

So yeah, I want to pay people.  Sue me.

But I asked for help, because I, personally, am on the hook for the Production and Post-Production costs of my film.  Especially if the grants don’t come through.  These are my savings.  Gone.  And why should my Cast & Crew go down with the ship?  If I do leave this industry, I want to go out knowing that I helped people.  Not hurt them.

I want to help people fulfill their potential and dreams.  Even it’s only for 12 minutes.

Complete arrogance and hubris.  I know.  How dare I.

In short, how do you fund a short film?

You beg, borrow, and steal.  And then beg some more.

Hey, it’s film.  It’s risky.

And maybe that’s why it’s exciting.

Thanks for taking the risk with us!

Crew Fun Facts – Our Resident Story Editor, Consuelo Solar (Recap)

Awwww... this is how we feel about Consuelo.

If you missed it last week, we recap our public flogging of our beloved Story Editor, Consuelo Solar.  This is what you get for being so kind & generous, Consuelo!!!  Muhahahaha!

So we have 4 fun facts about Consuelo “Story” Solar, who we met many moons ago, on a dark… and calm night, at one of WIFT’s many networking panels.   Little did we know then, but she would rise to greatness.  She would for on to work with WIFT as the Research Coordinator for their recent iWDMS Conference in Stratford, Ontario (yes, home of Bieber).  She’s also part of the team putting together a research study on employment trends for women in the film, television, and new media industries.  In short, Consuelo is awesome.

And so, without further adieu, we give you… humiliation!

“Our lunch hour public shaming of our wonderful Story Editor, Consuelo Solar, has come to an end. In case you missed it, we had 4 fun facts that will both tickle you… and wish you had the foresight to get more dirt on your peers. Yay! A small pre-amble, and a case of… did you know? Consuelo hails from Chile. She’s a journalist & was a field producer for CNN. She came to Canada to study Screenwriting & Story Editing at York University in Toronto– where she completed her M.F.A. She often does fun things like interview actors at TIFF… and work for WIFT. Hey, that rhymes! She is brilliant. She knows story. She is generous beyond measure. Without further adieu, fun facts!!! Fun facts!!!”

1.  When Consuelo was in preschool, and didn’t know how to read yet, she would make up stories and pretend to read them just to impress her classmates.  (Editor’s Note: Always lie to children. It’s the writers’ way.)

2.  She wrote letters to Santa even after I found out he wasn’t real… just so she could change my mind at the last minute, and “Santa” would have to do some extra shopping to get her what she “really” wanted.  (See, brilliant, right?)

3.  Her first encounter with the North American culture was in Millington, Michigan, where she lived for year.  (Don’t bother looking it up on a map, but it’s just a half an hour drive from the excitement of Flint!) – We did look it up & we cry for you, Consuelo.

4.  The only way she can fully wake up in the morning is to watch funny kitty videos on YouTube.  Yes, she’s one of those ladies.

This is for you, Consuelo!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M-jsjLB20Y

The Case for Diverse Casting (Oooh, the “D” Word!)

Hey Tina from GLEE! You may only get one line per episode... and that new exchange student from Ireland totally says more in one monologue than you have all season... but we still love you!!!

Okay, I’m pretty sure I blogged about this last year, but I’ll do it again for the sake of our shiny new Production Blog here.  Yay!  First off, I think the definition of “diverse” is pretty broad.  Like, who isn’t diverse & unique?  As we were fond of saying at my old workplace, every film is a snowflake.

And yes, you are all snowflakes.

Having said that, I do believe that innovation comes out of rebelling against the status quo.  Whatever that status quo happens to be.  Change is good.  Change means growth.

I grew up, and still live in Scarborough, Ontario– which is one of the most diverse and multicultural communities in Toronto– and I dare say, Canada.  This is my reality.  This is my “normal.”

I also went to York University in Toronto, which is one of the most diverse campuses you’ll come across in this country.

So, you can forgive me for believing this to be the status quo.

In fact, it wasn’t until I got out into the “real” world… did I ever feel like I had gotten it wrong.  If you look around at the majority, the status quo of folks who work in the film and television industry, there is a disconnect, at least, between my reality… and the “real” reality.  Through no fault of the majority– mind you.

To be clear, I have never felt folks going out of their way to defend the current status quo, or to keep things the same.  For the most part, I do get the sense that there’s encouragement there.

But that’s not to say that I haven’t encountered sexism and racism in subtle or not so subtle ways.  But you move on, feeling sorry for those people.

No, what I’m saying is that the status quo is comfortable.  It’s easier.

Why fix what ain’t broke?

This is where we differ.

Because things are broken… when I turn on the TV… and I don’t see my my reality.  And I’m not talking about token characters.  Background characters.  I’m talking leads.  Real bonafide leads.  The starring role.

Because things are broken… when I have to resign myself to the fact that I will never be the hero of my story.  My own story.

What do you say to that?

What do you tell your family members in other countries?  This is Canada.  We are all background players in the story of Canada.

That’s where I call bullshit.

Like I said, it’s not personal, right?  It’s business.  And saying the “majority” won’t watch… the so-called “minority”… quite frankly is doing a disservice to the majority.

We watch the stories of the majority.  Why wouldn’t the majority watch our stories?

There are some universal truths– love, life, and loss.

But it’s the nuances and the small differences… that are just as beautiful.  And often overlooked.

I’m casting diverse– meaning… rebelling from the status quo– because first off,  it’s right for the story that we want to tell.  And anything else would be false.

I don’t like saying it, but casting any other way… would be easier.  But I feel that only gives credence to those who would defend the status quo.

But no, I say with pride that I’m putting my money where my principles are.  And man, do I know that principles are overrated in this industry.

And it’s going to cost me.  A lot more.  Out of my own pocket more.  But I’m saying… it’s worth it.  Because if we don’t do it, who’s going to do it?

Who?

Because it’s just easier not to do it.

Which is wrong.  So totally wrong.

So one week from now, we’ll be auditioning young emerging & diverse actresses for our child lead of Afghani-American, Sally Khan.  We’re hoping we’ll find her.  But we’ll keep looking if we don’t, because I’m committed to this.

Like I said, principles don’t last long in this industry.  I guess I’m glad, for once, that I’m not really in it.

But a huge thank you to those who have come forward to support what we’re doing.  We are trying to encourage change.  Even if it is one young actress at a time.

Like I said, it could be easier.

But since when is the right path… the easiest?