Tuesday, July 14, 2009
TFS-Story Development Process, Part 4
(Click the pic for a nice big image.)
So here's the story I went with. This is essentially how I "pitched" the project to Sheridan when I was applying for funding (more on that process later).
"The project I am proposing is a short (approximately 4 minute) animated film. More specifically, the animation will be in the form of puppet animation.
In terms of content, the film concerns itself with a real family event, that provides insight into how we help loved ones deal with pain.
In the summer of 1965, my oldest brother was bit by what my parents feared was a rabid squirrel. What followed were several weeks of painful curative needles for my brother, and painful worrying for my parents. The ending to this true family tale is a happy one, but the journey to that ending was difficult, to say the least.
How does a family come together during moments of sudden crisis? What lengths will parents go to in order to help their children through such times? What lessons can we learn from the inevitable pain that life brings our way?
In bigger terms, the story is about how we deal with loved ones as they suffer through physical pain.
The tone of the film will be lighthearted, but never frivolous. It will employ humourous visual storytelling (through puppet animation), and a narration that is written in a personal, heartfelt style."
So- why did I give this story the ultimate green light, when other story concepts didn't make the grade? For a whole number of reasons, and that is how I seem to proceed when developing projects. I have to weight a whole lot of factors. It's not just the story itself, it's finding a story that fits the process of production I envision following.
By that I mean, if I had a powerful Executive Producer who was officially standing by to handle getting funds together, I could start my job as writer by whipping up quite an epic tale. I could let my imagination run completely wild (and wouldn't that be fun). But the reality of my production process is that currently, I either fund these things myself, OR pull together a modest budget from external sources, somehow.
And so as I imagine a story, I have to also imagine HOW that story will get made. And keeping production schedules, sizes and budgets realistic is essential to me achieving my ultimate goal which is: see a short animated film on the big screen (or small screen, as the case may be). And it's not just imagining a story that can get made, in terms of production costs. It's a much bigger chain, that involves the use of facilities, equipment, TIME, assistants (if I can get any), other crew...
Maybe I shouldn't work this way, wearing all these different production hats at once. Maybe I should just be the writer when it's at the writing stage... then the producer when it's time to get money... then the director, animator...
But I personally can't work that way. Since I am doing so much if it myself, I see a project from all angles, at every stage of the project. And so it goes...
Experience thus far has proven that when you depend too much on outsiders (especially when money is involved), things get way too delicate, and can fall apart so easily. I just want to get a film on the screen, with my name on it (and that I controlled, creatively). And from that film on screen, I will become a better artist, who has a real VOICE. And then I can continue on, accordingly.
Anyway, back to why this story won the race to the finish line and went into production. Here's a short list of the "whys":
1. IT WOULD "WORK" IN THE EYES OF MY PRODUCER (IE, MY EMPLOYER!)
There is money available to profs to develop themselves professionally. You can use it for taking a course, to buy textbooks, materials that help you create art... The idea behind it is that through self-development, a teacher becomes a better teacher, and can pass that along to the students. I applied to this fund proposing to make a short film. I felt the content, tone, and overall message of this particular story would be well received by my "producers" (as opposed to a hardcore gore film with bloody entrails and naked girls on motorcycles. Although that would also be an exciting concept. Maybe my next film). And if Sheridan is playing a Producer role (although a very hands-off one, since profs have a lot of freedom in how they spend they development money), it's just common sense- KEEP YOUR PRODUCER HAPPY. If Sheridan's name is going to be on this (in some capacity), make it something that Sheridan will be happy to have its name on. A happy producer means an easier next project for ME.
2. STRONG POTENTIAL FOR INTENSIFICATION AND CLARIFCATION
I'm always on my students about "intensifying and clarifying"- that's the process of seizing a concept/story/situation and amping it up and making it VERY clear. Motion picture story telling is not "real life" (even when it's a documentary, docs are still framed and edited and staged to some extent). I knew immediately that this family story seemed ripe for this process. It was a basic story that was already pretty intense, that could be cranked up, made "cartoony," through the storytelling techniques at my disposal.
3 A STRONG BASIC STORY THAT COULD BE DELIVERED CONFIDENTLY
I realized that this story was always a hit when my family all got together- it had intense drama, action, suspense... and a certain amount of cruel (but ultimately well intentioned) humour. Also, since the story was personal (and true), it would naturally be delivered first person, which always makes writing easier for me. When I move into 3rd person storytelling, I have a tendency to lose my connection to the situation and characters. But 1st person keeps me rooted, emotionally. Maybe it's all the personal comic books I gravitate to, artists like Julie Doucet, Seth, Chester Brown...
4. IT HIT CLOSER TO HOME THAN EVER.
As a new parent, I now saw other facets to the story. I could image what it must have been like for my parents to struggle through the event, how scary it must have been. I knew these fresh insights would give me an angle into the story, as I crafted it.
5. ON THE TIP OF MY EYEBALLS
The story was visually "there" right away. Even as I began to imagine how I would convey the story, the shots were tumbling out of my head. The scenes presented themselves, and how they would cut together, what I would reveal and NOT reveal, and when I would do it... the whole story was right there. I had to work through a few scenes in terms of how to show the story, but a vast majority of the visual work was in my head. A very good sign.
6. REALISTIC IN TERMS OF PRODUCTION CONSTRAINTS
Based on how it was visually conveying itself right out of the gate, I knew it was "doable" in terms of production costs and ambitions. With the limited time I would have to build and shoot (basically 6 weeks), it could happen. (Time Machine ahead in production and: In the end I got 80% shot, and 100% of the sets/puppets built, and will finish shooting in the Fall, but that's fine by me, MOST of it got shot, without too much to finish). It also was "doable" in terms of production costs. I would be alloted $800 in development money, and I can do a LOT with $800.
There's other reasons why this one "worked" but those are the main ones...
So to sum up, it wasn't simply the story itself that had to "fit". The story had to "fit" with the larger production process I had in mind. It's a very delicate path through the process, to see something finished on the screen. A misstep can cause ruin. That's part of what it means to make indie films- there's no simple and clear way through- you have to find the right path for each project.
I always use the term "get your ducks lined up." I use that term because it conveys how if you take care with your production issues up front, they can be knocked down with one "shot" (ie, a production can FLOW effectively).
Also, I hate ducks, and love the thought of shooting them dead.
FURTHER NOTE ON PRODUCTION SCHEDULE: I would have 6 weeks to build the sets and props and puppets, and shoot the animation. But the story was already completely done by then, as was an animatic, and the puppet heads were all sculpted (I love sculpting, but I'm SLOW). So these crucial 6 weeks were started with quite a bit of key work done already (I had been working away over the winter).