How to Make a Movie and Don’t Die Trying It

 

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Prolog

This text is a resume of the long paining road which it supposes to make a movie. Of course, this text does not only includes films because to try to release something in television or in theater, it has almost the same road to travel. Music industry it is quite different because it includes less actors in the developing process BUT, it is a pain in the ass too. So for all the ones who want to know more about how to make movies: “Here I come”; but I warn you… As everybody in the industry seems to be a master in the art of filthy words. I am not going to be less, and maybe you can find in this text some Tarantino inspired dialogs.

First Act: The Story
Some people thinks that movies born from dreams. Which means that they basically think that movies grow up like the tomatoes that you have sowed in your orchard: you can think about them all the time but you cannot pick them until they are reddish and juicy enough to make a good soup. However, films are not tomatoes, neither potatoes or peas.

It is truth that some writers develop stories because they have dreamed about them but they do not become so easy to make. One thing, it is to dream about it and other, completely different, it is to know how to tell a story, which it is really an art that a lot of people try to master.

Not everybody working in the filming industry it is a good storyteller, neither are all the people working in Hollywood. Some of this people are simply there because they were family of a good storyteller, for a chance of luck or because their managers and agents are very good in their job. That is the sad reality.

Despite this shocking reality, some people insist in tell: “for to work in Hollywood, or in the filmmaking industry, you must be terrific”. Let me remember you the strange case of a British overweight storyteller who was acclaimed as the Master of Suspense. Alfred Hitchcock directed tons of films and it is almost impossible to meet a human being who have not seen or heard about one of his films. However, he never won an Academy Award in his life. Why? Because one thing it is what audience says and other, very different, what Hollywood says.

Other example of a good storyteller whom have never seemed attracted for Hollywood it is Woody Allen. Not sure how many of you know the story but when he started with his films nobody in the USA wanted to watch them. The critic reviews were awful, depressing… it seemed that everybody wanted to kill him. Wait, maybe this is the reason why he goes to the psychoanalyst in almost all his movies… Hmm, I will think about it later… Well, the case is that if it was not for the troop of crazy Frenchs who invented the Nouvelle Vague probably today we will not know the old Woody. Can you imagine a world without Annie Hall? Jesus, it must be depressing…

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Anyway, do not be surprised by this affirmation but all the ones who work in the film industry are a bit nuts. No, nuts in the aspect that they need to be in an asylum but all of us are nutty as a fruitcake: sweet and delicious. Think in the Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland and all that stuff. We have so much pressure at our backs that our nuts get a bit loose but it is necessary to create good stuff. So, do not worry kids, if you see the world in different colors than others and everybody points a finger at you. You are not a cuckoo, you can officially come to the club of storytellers and make others enjoy with your vision of the world. NOTE: Not LSD users approved. This is a request and yes, they make you drugs tests. Impossible to cheat or you have been born with the GIFT or you can dedicate to other stuff.

The problem with stories it is that everybody thinks that they have something to tell, when in fact they do not. Today, we are living a crazy multimedia times in which everybody with the access to a phone with camera thinks that they can do it better than Tarantino. I really want to see Tarantino shouting at them to see how they are going to shoot the iconic trunk scene making that it will have sense with the rest of their story.

A lot of people in filmmaking thinks that a story it is very easy to tell. You simply take a camera (when better image, better it is going to be your film. Fact which it is wrong) and you start to copy your favorite scenes from acclaimed movies. Most of them simply think in zombies…, Tarantino…, blood, fuck you, you motherfucker asshole… etc, etc… This folks tend to be what we use to call “perfectionist”. I mean, they are like Kubrick: making 127 shoots of the same scene because Tom Cruise has not opened the door as Kubrick visualized it; and, in the meantime, they are annoying and making upset the whole crew. I am not sure about Kubrick because I did not meet him but this folks does not have a story prepared at all. They are improvising and making jumps from one side to other and that is not storytelling.

Later, there is the other bunch of folks (whom seriously, they have me quite tired) that they come to you asking for “the screenplay that will make them win an award”, in special Sundance. I do not know why the festival that Robert Redford created long ago has this kind of myth surrounding it in which, if you win, everything it is going to be fabulous for your career. I do not know, really.

I had a teacher who won Sundance, who was an Academy Nominee an who has released a major film with really great actors and who is not having easy at all to develop his new project. In fact, I met him before he released his major film but he already had that awards and I am sure he was teaching us because he needed the cash. Sometimes, between one project and other your life can be a mess. So do not think that to win an award it is going to save your ass because it WILL NOT.

Going back to the folks who think in to make stories to win awards… If you go for that path you are thinking wrong. Just think about what I have wrote before about Hitchcock and Allen.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Later, there are this other kind of folks who send you their screenplay asking you to fix them. Folks, I made this once, for free. Now I understand why some credited screenwriters have that abusive fares to do this kind of jobs. Oh my goodness… I do not understand how all this people can even walk around the Earth proclaiming that they are storytellers. ( Insert a huge Macauley Culkin scream here)

One of the basics of any story is: “What is it about?”. If I ask that question to the one who has written it and he does not know how to answer me, this means that it is not a story, it is just a relate of events. If even that, I suggest the things he can do to improve it (Never say a person what he must do. He has his own will to do what he wants) and he is not open to change nothing… Why do you come to me? To tell me that you made an amazing job and to feed your ego? or to waste my time? See, this people cannot go far in this industry and I am going to explain you why.

Part 2: Ok. I have my story. Now what?
Well, darlings, welcome to the show because now it really starts your own via crucis.

Let’s say that you really know about what your story is about and you have finished your amazing screenplay. Then, you have two options: A. The Indi Way ; B. The Long Path Towards Infinity

A. The Indi Way
Think about this like you are going to be the main actor of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. You are going in a dangerous quest to recover the Cross of Colorado and when you have already recovered it you discover that your father has been kidnaped so you must save him meanwhile you are researching for the Chalice of Christ. When you finally save your father you are not going to get the Chalice, you are going to lose the “hot girl” and before that a bunch of folks will try to kill you. Yes, this really are the Indi ways. Why?

Because you go with your screenplay in a quest where nobody will give you a coin, so you must get the treasure to shoot your film by yourself. You are not going to have money to even pay for a newspaper or a coffee so you are going to look for your disappeared father to see if he gives you some cash. He is almost going to die of the budget fright that you are going to put on him. Your girlfriend/ boyfriend it is going to fly away because you are weird and “obsessed” with a thing which “never is going to have success”. Your crew are going to be colleagues which they are going to “try to help you” but in most of the cases they are going to mess up more than really “help”. You know that scene:

After your bestie has stumbled with one of 5K Kelvin lights:

Bestie
“Dude! Why this shit must to have three legs it is always one the middle of the door and everything”

The light has crashed, maybe it is not broken but your heart it is already telling you that probably you are going to have a serious heart attack if you continue in this profession.

The rooms where are you going to shoot are basically not bigger than the coffin where Indiana and the lady protect of the fire in the Tomb of the Chevalier. Which it is the reason everybody is hitting others… getting upset and it is impossible to record good sound because it always pass around a motorcycle or a plane when you are filming the scene. ALWAYS.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Everybody it is going to start to hate you and “try to kill you” because “who do you think you are, Kubrick?” Then, you will finish shooting, everybody will curse you even if you have payed to them all the eating and traveling expenses… and you will be in a “solo” in the edition room. Which it will be like the three quests before to get the Holy Chalice: “Pray, Spell, Believe” Even if you are not Han Solo style in the edition room you are going to have to overcome these quests. Because when you see all the raw material you get depress, really depress. Then you start to pray and make some magic and when it is done you finally must believe in yourself and in your baby if not you are really screw.

Continuing with the Indi ways. I must tell you that if you release your movie and nobody notice it. You probably will be stuck in the Chamber of the Knight forever and you will not go out of there. In other hand, if somebody notice you, they are going to get your Chalice and make of them a Magic Goblet. Which it is great because somebody it is going to tell you that you are good but your baby it is not going to be yours anymore and when you will want to go in a quest for another relic… You are going to be solo again because you are playing out of the system.

This method it is ONLY for the real adventurers.

B. The Long Path Towards Infinity
Here, you have your story. Of course, you have it copyrighted. If you are lucky and you have an agent you make him start to work. If not, you need to find one because, if not, you cannot advance in this path.

Let’s compare this path with the Snakes and Ladders game. You need an agent to have the opportunity to fall in the ladder square, time to time, to can advance a bunch of squares. If not, you are always going to fall in the snakes ones, which will bite you a lot and are not nice at all.

However, you cannot get an agent so easy as knocking them at their door. Trust me, I have tried it and it does not work. They are like a sybarite club where they decide who has potential and who do not. After all, darlings, everything it can be resume in: “who will give me the more benefits and who do not”. People who works in Hollywood are like the Wall Street stocks. The difference is that in California the brokers are called agents but it is almost the same game.

Well, you have your manager who helps you to find an agent and you have the story that you want that it will become a movie. Can you go to a huge studio telling them “here I am”? NO. Because there are something in between called syndicates. Which are good for somethings… but for others are just a big pain. This unions have some rules about who can and who can’t play in Hollywood and if you have not all the requirements that they specify you cannot play in Hollywood.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Unfortunately, I do not know all the norms from all the unions. For that God invented agents isn’t it? They learn that things for the creative people and they fight to try to get the best deal for their clients. Why? Because if they do not do that dirty job the creative people waste their time do not doing creative things and that, in long term, it is not productive for any part.

Agents not only fight with the syndicate rules they also fight with producers, which it is the filmmaking title more abused in our profession. Not all the people who is credited in a film is a “producer”, some of them are simply credited as a way of “thank you” because they have helped to resolve certain deals. Others, are on credits because they have put the money or they have found somebody who has invested in the film. However, others are credited in the film because their name is a “celebrity” (I like to call them brands) and simply for to be that name on credits there is more probability that people will go to watch the film. As example of this, you can take JJ Abrams. Not all the television series in which he is credited he is working 100% time on them. His name is used more like a brand than like the real producing job that he could be doing.

Once the producers, syndicates and agents have fought enough between them. The blood has arrived to several rivers and they have said to themselves all kind of compliments like: “Motherfucker”, “Bastard”, “I’m going to fuck you until dead if you don’t get that fucking deal now”… And they get the money, the movie starts a long process, which it will depend in longevity according to the type of the story.

This people are going to find a crew, actors… everything that your story will need to become true but all of them have the right to think about your story. So, almost all of them, it is going to change a bit of that story. The producer, will change this, the director will change that, the actor will change that other part… Your story will become a living thing where everything will be constantly in the flow. So, if you are not the kind of person who accepts changes forget about this system of work because you are going to get upset but you are not going to get anything.

Furthermore, when it arrives the filming days there are always changes. Probably you have thought that the story will happen in a sunny day. That day it rains cat and dogs. Maybe this will bring you more drama to the scene but, maybe it will screw it. Nobody knows.

A giant bird can show up in the middle of the production and make your movie better... in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

A giant bird can show up in the middle of the production and make your movie better… in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The production designer has thought that it was better a green wall than a one red as it was in your story… A bunch of etc. This is one of the main reasons why screenplays are very short on description because it is useless to explain something which it is going to change thousands of times. This is, of course, the main reason, why some books are much better than the movie adaptation. Everything can be measured in the quantity of the changes. It is a proportional mathematic equation.

Although, if you are waiting to know where your story it is going to really change it is when it arrives to the edition room. Honestly, I love this process. I think it gives magic to any story. Honestly, once upon a time I wanted to be like Alma Reville: a great editor; but, right now, I prefer to write. Maybe because I do not have the option to edit and the new technologies advance extremely fast.

The edition room is where you give sense to all that changes that people has done in the story. So, basically, it is like rewrite it again. Some people hates this process. That is completely subjective but I firmly believe without a good edition and sound editing most of the films out there are pure crap.

However, do not be naive thinking that after all the edition process you can release that story and that is it. No, this is not how it works. When you are editing them, suddenly, one of your producers is overwhelmed by an insecurity attack. Which means, he will convoke screening tests with segmented audience. After that private passes. People it is going to fill a test and depending of the results the movie it is going back to the edition room, even it can go back to the filming set. Are you still thinking it is easy to make a film? We have not finished yet.

Part 3: The Release, or the Anguished Path Towards the Ignorance
“Finally! It arrived the moment! The Big Event! The Premiere! We are here waiting in the red carpet in front of the _____ Theater to offer you in exclusive the event of the history. What will wear our most beloved stars? Will surprise us this time the claimed director and producer with this new intriguing film? We will tell you everything in a few minutes but, meanwhile, enjoy this exclusive sneak peak from the most waited movie of the decade.”

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

And meanwhile, the anchor is saying all this extreme exaggerated words, thousands of people are watching this from their homes. Some of them thinking how disgraceful they are because they cannot assist to the event of the year, or because they are not going to see the movie first than others. Very, very, very sad. (last phrase was full of sarcasm)

Seriously, do you want to know what is a red carpet? It is a pain in the feet, in special, if you are a woman. If you are a man you can say it is a pain in the neck, in special, if you tend to be taller than all the ones who interview you. Have you noticed how all of them curve a bit their back to listen well the question in the middle of all that noise? Just saying where it hurts…

And the dresses and outfits… Brrr… Gorgeous, spectacular but most of them are harsh and not very practical for natural human routines, like pee. Furthermore, there is a mysterious curse which implies that it does not matter where or when it is the red carpet: it is always going to chill. So, after the event, ladies, you finish frozen, trembling as a tinker bell, deaf for all you fans support or share of love, with pain in your neck, back, feet, if you wore a girdle in that parts too.. your throat will be sore and probably you will be hungry because on red carpet events the catering is gorgeous but it comes in chocolate sizes. Just a bite and take care with your fingers!

Let’s going to recognize it. Not everybody is made with Lady Gaga paste. Seriously, this woman has the ability to wear the most uncomfortable looks and make the scene like if nothing happens… this is completely normal… Sure! Ask Christian Bale about how embarrassing was to ask help for pee wearing the Batman suit. Yes, to be a superhero is not easy neither… Can you think in a Stormtrooper…? Ok, I think you have got it.

What I am trying to explain is: “Do not let the shiny lights let you blind.” Not everything it is so wonderful like in a music video of Katy Perry.

It does not matter if this kind of red carpet events are because it is going to be released a new film or somebody it is going to win an award. Basically, they are all the same, with more cheerfulness or less depending of the moment and situation but nothing else. After all of them, you will come back hungry to your house or your hotel and everything will be closed. It is the golden rule.

However, here it is the paradox. When you will go, with your finished story, to any of this events you will not be thinking in the event, if not in all that depressed people in their homes who are not there with you. What they are going to think of your story it is what matters. Well, maybe you will have in mind why this people will think of your outfit too… Why? Because of that depends to have more opportunities to get better job offers or not. If not, ask Michael Keaton or Kevin Costner. Both have interesting stories to tell about how it does not matter how good you are in your career if people it is not constantly talking about you, you do not have the opportunity to access to the best roles, e.g. like they do with Jennifer Lawrence.

Andrea Riseborough Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Andrea Riseborough Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

It works exactly the same for directors, screenwriters… Do not think this stupid rules only affect to the ones who show their faces on camera.

After all that circus mediaticus events you go back home and you and your story, are both at the mercy of the critics and this new era of youtubbers, bloggers… Were everybody believes he/she has the right to criticize and destroy your product without know nothing at all about all the things that happened before they can see it on the screen.

Each day, I firmly believe the pray that the father of an old friend of mine made constantly to God: “Thanks Lord for did not make ignorance can fly, if not, we could not see the sky.”

And here it is. Sometimes, between when the idea is conceived and the film is released it can pass more than 50 years, e.g. Unbroken. Other times, it follows the routine of one or two years. In any case, it is not easy at all. There are tons of ups and downs who audience it is not allowed to see. Even if you are watching a film which it is extremely bad… You know… that ones in which you decide to protest and reclaim your money back.

Why we do what we do? Because we are survivors, gladiators who can resist things that others cannot. For that and because, after all, we still being kids whom do not have grow up. When we are in a cinema looking the movie we are not looking at it, we are looking at you. If you enjoy it, you fill a missing piece which it is gone in our hearts: delight. Then, our toy heart will be fixed again and we will feel happy enough to become a kid again and to start to play. Creating dreams: our most beloved travail.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Michael Keaton in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Picture courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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