Tips for First-Time Producing Writers

It’s not about what you know, it’s what you are.

Screenwriter? Producer? Actor? Director? Film nerd? Movie addict? Wannabe? It’s a set of hats. We trade them back and forth depending on the situation.

For instance, my Screenwriting Hat is my first love. Such a comfy hat, with so many possibilities attached to it. But there’s always that Producing Hat hanging around for special occasions. And lately, it’s been coming out of mothballs more regularly.

You see, writers are not limited to merely writing. We can also help make the stuff we write. Authors do it all the time, with self-publishing and ebooks and marketing and blogs and all that stuff a writer does to get going in the literary world. WhoWantsToBeAMovieProducer

Admittedly, making a motion picture is much more of a collaborative effort than publishing a book – though one might argue to the contrary. I will assert that video production and filmmaking are crafts specifically designed to function as a collaboration. It’s a team effort to interpret written words for a screen, whether it’s big and silver or small and iPod.

So if this is your first foray into getting it made, where do you begin?

First, consider your resources. Going the traditional route (hiring a crew, locating a set, renting or buying equipment) can get pricey, but if you’ve inherited a small fortune, you should absolutely do it. And while you’re at it, drop me a line and we can talk sequels ;o)

If you’re working with more of the low- to no- budget scenario, this will require cake. As I expressed last week, a decent crew can often be induced to work for food. Because whether we are students, wannabes, or full-time professionals, we movie people are so fond of working. So if you are likeable and have an interesting story, you can accomplish a lot with good organization and decent snackage.

Similarly, you will want to make sure you have the equipment you need in order to do your story justice. No lights? Shoot outside, on a cloudy day preferably. No sound gear? Congratulations, you are making a silent film. Don’t knock it, some very delightful films have been crafted with no sound at all (take the recent Academy Award winner for example, or my friend Peter’s gorgeous short, The Camera).

Second, consider your strengths. Producers must be organized. Producers must persevere. Producers must be good communicators.

If you are lacking any or all of these skills, I suggest you recruit a best friend, spouse, or significant other to help you. Once you start accumulating cast and crew members, setting dates, and making plans, the details will add up quickly – and that’s a lot of cake to keep track of.

I also recommend sitting down with your director-slash-cameraman-slash-neighbor-with-an-iPhone to talk through your script. Estimate how much time it will take to shoot each scene. Generally, you will want to allow for a few run-throughs with your actors, as well as multiple angles.

Make sure and communicate a basic schedule to your entire team, and differentiate who needs to be where at what time. Camera and lights people will need to arrive earlier than cast, since they will need time to set up. Of course a shoot will never go according to schedule, but you should start with one just the same.

Third, stop considering and get to work! You will learn so much more by getting out there and making something than by reading and thinking and planning. Definitely read and think and plan, but don’t let that keep you from getting started.

Wheeeee, it’s fun!

My crew (mostly) at our first shoot - The New York Chocolate Show

My crew (mostly) at our first shoot – The New York Chocolate Show

When I first started shooting my web series, I had been working for a production company for nine years. So I had a lot of the skills to get the show made, but I had also learned from hard experience that it’s nearly impossible to direct and run camera at the same time. There’s just too much to think about, and you’re sure to do one or both jobs poorly.

I learned a lot that first shoot, but the stress of the weekend was made much more bearable with good planning, a cheery camera operator and on-camera talent, and this random guy on the right who wanted to take a picture with us.

What are you working on? Let it come to life.

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Writer’s Block

Whenever I talk to someone about writing, they inevitably ask me if I get writer’s block. I find that intriguing. Is this a common phenomenon, that would-be writers just can’t think of anything to say?

I confess, I’ve never really believed in writer’s block. Not that I always feel like writing, but when you work for a communications company and deadlines must be met, you just have to produce whether you feel it or not. So I don’t tend to encounter writer’s block in that way – staring at the blank page with dread in my heart and motionless fingers.

I do, however, frequently run into problems with plot. I think this is normal. Some of my favorite films have brilliant plot twists that I would never have seen coming and that I have to believe took months of fervent effort to imagine into being. I mean, surely Christopher Nolan didn’t just whip up a brilliant ending to a complex story in one sitting.

It’s like Emma Thompson’s character in one of my favorite movies, Stranger than Fiction. She’s working on a novel about death and taxes, and just can’t seem to find a fitting way to kill off her main character and tie up all the loose ends of her story.

Eventually she devises the perfect solution, of course, but it takes time. And effort.

It’s work.

In my quest to become a screenwriter, I haven’t wrestled with a block so much as I keep turning over the plot of my baby screenplay in my mind, trying out different solutions and gleaning some insights and tossing out other ideas that just don’t fit. It’s a lonely business, especially since what I end up with is often still full of holes and needing further effort.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day, and she asked what I was writing about. It’s never comfortable to answer that question, because honestly I am not altogether sure. But I gradually teased out the contents of the story I’m concocting in my screenwriting class.

She wore a look that clearly said, “I don’t get it.”

So I kept going, and sketched out some of the ideas I’d been toying with and the problems I still have and the solutions I’m looking for. And suddenly a light bulb fell out of my mouth. Inspiration struck as I was talking out my story. Not the full solution, maybe not even part of it, but a very intriguing aspect of my main character previously unnoticed by me.

It’s uncomfortable to share any creative work before it’s done. Especially with people you really want to impress, like your mom or your boss or your cute next door neighbor. But I guess the creative process is like that. Discomfort is a good sign – it shows you’re pushing beyond familiar territory and heading for fresh new horizons.

So here’s to being uncomfortable! And the potential light bulb moments that await. Cheers.

Day 2: Commit Yourself to the Impossible

Yesterday’s challenge went so well, I almost wanted to do Day 2 last night! This place has been neglected since January and with one post I suddenly have two new followers, Jill of all Trades and Kashfi Fahim, two fellow writers and bloggers on WordPress.

Now that I know who I am, Robert Brewer wants me to lay down some goals. I guess the plan is to confront all my phobias right at the beginning of this challenge, and then things get easier later. Part of the problem with setting goals is that I set unreasonable goals. I’m sure this is not uncommon, but still it bugs me to have items on my to-do list that are simply not going to get checked off.

Whoever said writing was therapy, I’m beginning to see the point. Well, here goes.

Day 2: Set Your Goals

Since it worked out so well yesterday, I’ll start with Robert’s goals as a template and swap out my own. I just noticed these lists both suspiciously end with ‘Etc.’ Hmmm…

Deep breath. I can do this.

Short-term goals:

  • Complete this writing challenge (2 days down, 28 to go!)
  • In June, finish editing my pilot TV episode for The Chocolate Tourist
  • Increase traffic and visibility for online episodes of The Chocolate Tourist
  • In June, get to page 60 on the rough draft for my screenplay
  • Finish tweaks to 48HFP film entry for wrap party on June 6
  • Get in the habit of blogging weekly at DCTravels
  • Create my first e-newsletter for Pink Papaya
  • Come up with a basic marketing plan for For The Glory by the time I leave for vacation
  • Work out every day and track calories
  • Play an open mic before the summer ends
  • Go back to Europe with my mom and visit castles
  • Figure out how to sync my domain with my WordPress or Tumblr feed
  • Beef up my social media… with Google+
  • Figure out Reddit and Digg

Again, I’m sure I forgot something… there’s always editing.

The trouble with these long-term goals is that when any one of these things happens, it will throw most of the others off course. I guess then I will just reassess and rewrite. I can do that.

Long-term goals:

  • Get The Chocolate Tourist on air with a network
  • Develop other show ideas for web and TV
  • Teach some other people about what I’ve learned and am learning
  • Sell my screenplay
  • Become financially solvent with writing and production work alone
  • Record a CD of all my songs
  • Attain and maintain a healthy weight
  • Find someone to marry and marry him
  • Enjoy each day with whatever it brings
  • Get closer to God
  • Learn French
  • Live in a treehouse

What about you? Are your goals in front of you somehow? Do they motivate you?

Courtesy of THE FLAMES THAT FUEL HER on Tumblr