You want to know the big secret about movie making? Heck, the secret behind any creative endeavor?
Nothing. Ever. Goes. According. To. Plan.
As I mentioned here, amidst all the Mixtape stuff it’s easy to forget I have a day job, which is being a highly paid and prolific screenwriter. Just subtract the “highly paid” part — I do okay but I’m not earning A-list money, yet — and “prolific” as referring to work I’ve done, not work “produced”. I’ve worked steadily since January 1999, though due to the ways of the movie biz, “work done” doesn’t always translate into “work produced”. As an example, a screenplay I wrote in 1996 and was optioned in 2003 went to camera in 2011, with its release coming sometime this year. In human terms it would be a 15 year old, smoking cigarettes and calling me an asshole. Someone once described movie-making as a marathon you run like a sprint, and that’s as apt a description as any I’ve heard.
Part of the sporadic nature of my work and my credits are self-inflicted. From 2003 through 2006 I focused on “breaking into” Hollywood – using my then six years of low-budget indie Canadian experience to open doors. What that got me was a lot of meetings, a lot of pitching, and that was about it. It felt like was spending more time on pitching concepts or “takes” on properties the producers or studios were developing, that I wasn’t spending enough time writing.
Amidst all this I did land work. One was writing a remake of a 70s horror film, and my writing partner and I delivered what ended up being unproduced. The other “hire” was Stonehenge Apocalypse. I worked on Stonehenge from 2007-2008, before my duties were no longer required. It went to camera in summer of 2009, and aired in summer of 2010. Three years from pen hitting paper to airing. Some may say that’s a really long period of time. Compared to a lot of projects that’s fast. It would have gone to camera sooner had the economy not cratered in fall of 2008.
Point being, movies are never easy to make. I’ve had so many near misses with work, where had the wind shifted direction just a touch I’d be living in a sprawling home in the Hollywood hills, or in an alley in Saskatoon. Things happen. Money falls through, a producer dies, a butterfly beats its wings in China — any of those will determine whether your movie is made or not.
But what I decided shortly after Stonehenge was that I was done with spending years in development, and years of working on projects. Life is too short, and careers are even shorter. One of the joys of Mixtape has been how streamlined the process is. There’s me, the publisher, and the artist. I write the script, the editor gives it a once-over, the artist thumbnails the book, then pencils and inks, my graphics guy letters it, and we’re done. Contrast that with film, where even a low-budget project requires a good few dozen people just to cover the basics on set.
The other thing about Mixtape; had I not decided to plow ahead with it as a creator-owned book, if I’d sat and waited for “ideal conditions” to present themselves (hello, DC, pleased to meet you Marvel), the project wouldn’t exist in any form outside the idea of it.
So when Little Engine Moving Pictures approached me late last year about joining their in-development Sci-Fi thriller THE PICCO INCIDENT as co-writer, I jumped at the chance. Partially because I’d worked with them before (they’re good people), largely because of the concept and challenges of delivering Sci-Fi on a shoestring. But a large part of my agreement was based on their approach. They had a start date. They were going to camera. They had the money. They weren’t waiting for funding to come in, or “permission” to make their movie — they were going to make the movie. Period. As of this writing they’ve already started casting, have begun creating the “things” that terrorize the Picco family, have already begun filming test reels for FX. They’re going through the usual channels to raise additional funding, but they’re shooting come hell or high water.
A filmmaker films. A writer writes. An artist draws, or paints, or sculpts. What they don’t (or shouldn’t) do is talk about all the great work they’re going to do, if only someone would give them the money and freedom to do it their way. Calling one’s self an artist lies in how willing you are do nut up and create when conditions aren’t ideal. When you’re coming home after a punishing day of work, but still finding time to work on your art when they aren’t paying you.