Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Space Between

My IMDb Listings
If you look at the screenshot above, from my IMDb page, you'll see big gaps in between some of my films. Between Emily's Song and Bill, For Short there's a 2 year gap. Between Slán agus Beannacht and Raise My Hands there's a 3 year gap. My last film was 2 years ago, and if I'm lucky I might get to shoot a film this year, maybe, and by the time it's finished it might be out in 2016, so there's another 3 year gap. So what am I doing in between those films. Especially if a lot of them are only 15 minute shorts?! Surely I could be shooting a 15 minute short every year, twice a year... you'd think! But here's a bit about what happens in the in between.

If you've been following this blog, or following my twitter or facebook, you'll know about the last two years. I immigrated from Ireland to the US, ended up in a job I didn't much like in Indianapolis for a year, got out, moved across the country and landed a job at Apple, where I've been working since. That's a very brief description of the craziest, busiest, two years of my life, that didn't leave a lot of time to make films. I tried, but never found the time. Working nights is not conducive to creative thought or excursion. But, I will say this, I thought a lot. And much of the gap time is thinking. In there, seeds are planted and stories are formed. I gathered a great many stories and characters from my time in that dank warehouse on the east side of Indy. And although I'm busy at work right now, I'm on a better schedule, in a much better situation and starting to feel creative again, and looking at finding the time to do something again.

Before my first film there was an even bigger gap. I graduated college in 2000, Emily's Song came out in 2006. The thing is, I did make films before Emily's Song, but none the public should see! Practice films. Test films. Bad films! The first film I considered putting into the world was a ghost story called Girl In The Window, but my vision didn't quite appear on screen. I was ill prepared and inexperienced. But it was fun to make and good practice, and I'd still love to make a decent ghost story. They're bloody hard to get right though. We did screened it publicly once, it was an excruciating experience. Very quickly everything that was wrong with it jumped off the 50 foot screen at me. I was determined that the next film would be better, planned, well executed.

So a lot of the in between time comes down to simply that, writing, planning and preparing. It takes me a long time to find an idea I want to commit to, then write it, get the script right, find money, cast, crew, gear, location, coordinate all that so it arrives in the same room on the same day! That can take a year in itself! Unfortunately a lot of the time the idea I want to commit to can't be done, usually because of budget. So I've spent a long time working on scripts that I love, but were just too big to make. 

Filling notebooks in the space between
Two such scripts were co-written with Thomas A. Kennedy, who I made Emily's Song with and they were The Race and Iscariot. The Race is about cycling and a family, it's a drama, comedy, sports movie. It's one of the best things I've written, and anyone who's read it has reacted really well to it. 

Unfortunately it would be a big budget film, I think we estimated it at €11 Million. At the time no one was willing to get behind a couple of amateurs like me and Thomas on something that big, and we looked. We spent about two years on that project, writing it, getting it right, chasing it, talking to people, having meeting. Meetings at the film board, talking to the likes of Channel 4 and the agents of big name actors. In the end it all came to naught and the script went into a drawer.

Iscariot is an action movie, in the same vain as Taken and John Wick, in fact, the story line is very similar to both. And we wrote it well before Taken came out. Actually we were about 6 months into it with Taken came out, I remember seeing the review for Taken and reading the storyline, I thought "Crap, that's out story!" But after seeing the movie we realised it was different enough to keep going. So we did. Along the way a renowned Irish producer read the script, really liked it and got involved. His involvement started with a re-write, then another re-write, then another re-write, then about 6 months of writing beat sheets and synopses and treatments... and on and on and after a year of this we realised it wasn't going to work. He wanted to make a different film than we did. We looked at what the script had become and we realised we didn't like it, but we still loved the first version, and the first version was what we wanted to make. But by now we were burnt out on the project and so stepped away from it, and unfortunately from each other. 

Thomas and I stopped writing together after that experience.  We'd been writing together for 12 years and I think that experience killed it for us. And perhaps all the similar experiences that went before. Which is sad, because we wrote really well together. And I would still love to make all the scripts we wrote together, because I know they would be great films. We wrote several shorts, about three feature film, a couple of TV shows and much more, we had ideas for comics and novels, we'd get together and talk and the ideas would come out. A lot of actually came close to going into production, but fell at one hurdle or another. It mainly came down to money, and people not getting behind us. I remember after Emily's Song we wrote a script called Puca, a fantasy drama about a young boy with an imaginary friend, a big furry monster (who would be a giant puppet in the film). That was a weird experience, because everyone liked it. Even with the film board the readers reports came back with a recommended stamped on it, but someone somewhere said "It's too much like a kids movie..." Um, too much?! It is a kids movie! And what the hell is wrong with that?! We asked, but no answer came and no backing either, so it went away.

So much of the in between is frustration. People standing in your way. Taking your work, picking it apart, and saying no to it. But their no's are dragged out over 6 months, after they make you jump through 50 hoops. I don't know if a power trip they're on, I imagine it is for some, but not all, I think for the rest it just comes down to taste. Unfortunately I haven't come across many money people with the same taste as me over the years... I'm sure they're out there! I'll keep looking anyway. I'll keep trying to make me own films, small films, that I can afford, that maybe I can kickstart. Then if they do well, maybe the money people will start to take notice and I'll pull out those old scripts, give Thomas a call and say "Hey, guess what, we're on!". You never know.

There were also the projects I worked on on my own. My own scripts. Opportunities that came along to direct other people's work, bigger work, higher profile stuff that would have changed things for me, but didn't happen for one reason or another. Sometimes it feels like I'm running forward attached to a bungie rope, and just as I reach my goal,  arms outstretch, stupid smile on my face, I'm snapped back and slammed against the wall. But although those experiences are frustrating, they keep me moving forward. I feel like there's a reason I got that far, there's a reason I got into that room, and even if they decided not to go with me that time, maybe, with a little more experience and perseverance, the next time I get into that room they may take me a little more seriously.

And so much of the in between time is hoping, wishing and dreaming. Because that's the business we're in as storytellers and filmmakers. We dream, and then turning those dreams into something people can watch, and be entertained by. It's hard to hold onto that in the face of the business side of things. Business is all commerce, numbers, cold hard graphs that show what the audience is watching and what they should be investing in. Which never really means anything, or is in anyway related to the fact that people just like good story, no matter what the budget. Which is usually why you have to shout from a $200,000,000 loud speaker to get people to watch your $400,000,000 movie, and they do, because yore shouting louder than any one else (kinda why the asshole gets the promotion ahead of the more deserving quiet person!) So your film grosses $800,000,000, which is awesome, but that's only a $200,000,000 profit, so after spending that's a 0.25 return on you investment? Not a lot really.

But then you get the sleepers, the little films that were made for $3,000,000 and make a $150,000,000! And it's usually because it's a great story. And that's what people want - a good story. Every time. But when you come up against the numbers it's a hard battle to wage. Especially when you're new, unproven, when you've made films that have done well at festivals, sure, but haven't done any box office. And so much of the in between is worry, and doubt. Worrying about how you're going to get the next film made, if you can, if anyone will be interested enough in it to want to make it with and then, if you're lucky enough to get it made, if people will be interested enough to watch it and after all that if it's worth even trying! 

But it is, of course it is. And to hell with all the number people, the money people. Sometimes I think they're in the business of stopping films from being made then actually making films. And that's good for them. But they're not going to stop me from making films. I'll find my own way, and I'll find my own money, and if I can't make the $11mil movies yet, then that's fine, there's plenty of other stories to be told. So right now, the in between time will about finding those stories, writing them down and building a production around them. In between working a full time job and paying the bills of course, because that's a lot of what goes on in the in between time too... life!