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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California Bound

What an undertaking it once was to migrate in America. A trip out west used to be a major ordeal fraught with danger, death, disease, robbery, and even barring any of those difficulties, it certainly involved sacrifice of life-changing proportions.

Nowadays I can buy a plane ticket Wednesday, pack a bag Thursday, and five hours later I’m in Los Angeles. And the worst thing that happened was the airport food.

courtesy of noirbabes.com

But I think the experience of venturing from home and familiarity to parts unknown is still similar. Granted, the pioneers made a choice for life, no turning back. But the decision to swap coasts has certainly become a defining one in my life. You see, I’m going to live here. Soon.

Today I’m flying. The countdown to my cross-country move is at four weeks, two days and ticking down each moment.  So I go briefly to scout the territory. To seek friendly waters, a safe haven, and opportunities to make my living as a screenwriter in the great Wood known as Holly.

Tomorrow I’ll be volunteering all day at the Biola Media Conference, which will be a fun opportunity to rub shoulders with other entertainers and make some friends in my new neighborhood. I’m really excited because I get to work the registration desk, which I’ve always wanted to do.

Then Sunday to Wednesday is all about finding a church, apartment-hunting, meeting friends and making industry connections. All in four days. Overbook much?

Meanwhile I write! I write in the airport and on the plane. I run into the airport convenience mart to buy markers because I somehow failed to pack a pen in my carry-on bag. Notebook, yes. Anything to write with, no.

I write on the metro. I write in the hotel. I write on the back of a receipt while I wait to pick up my dinner order. I write every spare moment, because that is what I do. That’s why I’m leaving a comfy life in Virginia to pioneer my own little corner of California. Writing is what I want to do in this new stake I’m claiming on the other side of normal.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

1. Kristen & The Wolf meets Writer’s Block

To write when one wishes to do anything but.

It happens. We love to write, we want to write, we dream of writing, and then it’s time to write and we run away. I’ve been running all day: cleaning my oven (my OVEN, for goodness’ sake), baking, checking my email, and staring at the ceiling.

So how do we settle down to write when everything in us cries out for oven cleaning?

I’m sorry, that sentence is just so strange. Who wants to clean the oven? No one. Not even professional oven cleaners who started their business with just a cleaning kit and a dream, now with dozens of franchise cleaning services the world over. It’s a really unpleasant job. I would rather clean a 90-year-old toilet than an oven.

But today, this is what I’m doing rather than writing. No more. It’s time to grab my writer’s block with both hands and show it who’s boss.

Some helpful tools in that task:

1. A hot drink

Coffee, tea or hot chocolate, something warm and soothing does something to my nerves and helps me focus. Tonight it was tea (herbal, of course).

2. A candle

Nothing smelly, just a warm light on a dreary howly night.

3. Comfy pants

Self-explanatory.

4. Music

I love music, as many people do. I find it immensely conducive to focus and relaxation – both of which are important parts of writing. You have to be in the zone, and once I get there, I may not even notice the music anymore. But some well-matched tunes definitely help to usher me through the gate.

You can even take it a step further and follow Ryan Koo’s advice to create a playlist for whatever you’re working on, That way when it’s time to get back to your screenplay (or book, or poetry anthology), you can instantly replicate the vibe you had going last time. For the record, I took this advice, and it’s pretty good.

5. Just start

What’s the worst that can happen? You write something horrible and have to go back and change it all. That’s the best part! Editing something you’ve already said in order to make it better is WAY easier than generating something in the first place! So relax. Write badly!

With that in mind, I now bring you the official first part in our Kristen & The Wolf saga (the other part was really more of a prologue). If you’d care to suggest any additions to my list of writing helps, go for it.

Kristen 2

1. Part One: Kristen and the Monster

Kristen started at the new school three weeks after her 11th birthday. She had never been to a proper school before – she and Grandmom had lived far enough into the country that it was impractical for a bus to pick her up. Officially, she was homeschooled, but in reality Grandmom just brought her along to monthly errands in town.

Kristen learned to count by watching the bank teller deal out Grandmom’s money. Kristen learned to read by staring at the letters on each item in the grocery basket as Grandmom put it into the cart. “Toothpicks,” Grandmom would say, and Kristen would nod solemnly, like she got it. Eventually, she did get it.

Sometimes you gotta fake it til you make it.

So the new school was a real experience, with lots to get used to, and the culture shock on top of losing Grandmom was a big deal for Kristen. She knew it was a big deal, and Mrs. Bibbs, her foster mother, talked like she knew it was a big deal although in practice she seemed surprised Kristen didn’t just line up and work it out.

The Midcounty Elementary fifth grade class wasn’t the worst place to be new to absolutely everything. It wasn’t the worst at all, but it was uncomfortable for Kristen, who had to adjust to sitting indoors all day and nary a critter in sight. So when Miss Dinsmore announced they were having a field trip, it was like a ray of honey dripped into Kristen’s soul. It tasted like hope.

The cherry on top was when a freckly boy to her left whispered across the aisle the location of this trip – not a field, as one might expect, but the mother of all outings. The only place Kristen had ever wanted to go apart from Mount Rushmore, or the moon.

They were going to the zoo.

That night Kristen stared at the white prickly ceiling of her bare bedroom and smiled from the bottom of her heart. She was going on a trip. And there would be animals.

It was a perfect day. The sun was shining, the breeze blowing, and a little girl had offered to let Kristen sit next to her on the bus. As they each hopped off the bus and followed Miss Dinsmore through an enormous gate and to the promised land beyond, Kristen could barely breathe.

She felt as if she were coming home. The sheer variety of animals all around her was breath-taking. Kristen didn’t even know what to call most of them, and none of them had ever crossed her path in real life. The Discovery Channel can only do so much to prepare you for such a sight.

Kristen got lost.

It was almost immediate, and completely unintentional, but when Miss Dinsmore did a head count at lunchtime, it made no difference to her agony of mind.

Kristen, however, didn’t know she was lost and wandered quite cheerfully from the gorillas to the porcupines to the giraffes. She was disappointed that they were kept so far away. She wanted to go up to each one and get to know them. Standing at the gate between her and the lion, she felt frustrated.

It was such a beautiful creature, majestic, lying in the sun flipping flies away with its tail. Kristen longed to go to it and rest its head on her lap. If only she could get through these bars.

She stretched an arm through, up to her shoulder, but could budge no further. The cavern of space between them was only about a foot shorter than it had been a moment ago. And yet – was the lion coming toward her?

It had nonchalantly – almost carelessly – risen to its feet. It shook its mane now and took a few steps forward. Now the distance between them was shortened by two feet. Feeling a spark of hope, Kristen stretched her arm out again, flexing her hand to beckon the beast to her.

The beast obeyed. Step by step, almost cautiously, the lion came nearer. Kristen smiled as her hand finally met the lion’s nose. It nuzzled there for a split moment when a gasp behind her made Kristen turn and look.

“Get that child away from the fence!” It was a woman with a stroller, going ballistic from ten feet away. “She’s touching it! She’s touching the lion!”

Someone wrenched Kristen away, and next the lion let out a bloodcurdling roar. Everyone was screaming. A zoo staff member was assuring them that everything would be fine. The lion caretaker was inside the habitat, trying to lead the lion away with a long pole.

Kristen observed all of this with confusion. She had just enjoyed a beautiful moment with a ferocious animal. What was the big deal?

Thankfully, her meandering next brought Kristen to the sea lions. There Miss Dinsmore finally located her disappearing student when Kristen appeared on stage next to the man flipping fish into the sea lions’ mouths and asked if she could try it.

And she did it.

A perfect day.


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Day 6: Mingle

In case you’re just joining us, I’m a few days into Robert Brewer’s writing challenge, encouraging us to take steps every day for 30 days toward building a platform and developing your following.

It’s been a smashing experience so far, and I’m pretty excited to carry on.

Day 6: Read a Blog and Comment on it

A reasonable suggestion. Where to begin?

Since I blog primarily about stories, fiction, travel, and my personal experience with all those things, it seemed smart to look for other blogs with a similar focus. When I laid eyes on MORFIS, I knew my search was over.

MORFIS is a collection of art, illustrations, photography and design that takes you to another place. Browsing around the virtual gallery, I found myself smiling involuntarily. The imagination spread across the digital pages is really something. I was drawn in.

But it isn’t enough to visit a blog and merely appreciate it. We are to leave evidence of our appreciation.

I was hard pressed to choose, but I settled on a post depicting illustrations by Dan May, a highly detailed fine artist in Chicago. Take a peek at the blog and see what you think – I was quite inspired, and may even come up with some new stories based on what I saw. You can see Dan’s photos (and my comment) here.