January 29, 2013

The Magic of Editing

Sorry for taking so long since my last update. Despite the holidays, I can assure you we have been hard at work during post-production. The film is coming along quite well, and we look forward to having a finished product available for viewing sometime in the next couple months. I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of what we’ve found during post-production, and in particular, point out something that most people don’t realize: films are both saved and destroyed in the editing room.

It doesn’t take more than a Google search to find some of cinema’s most famous directors essentially saying variations of the above statement, and there’s a reason why. In the editing room, you have the power to fix errors, enhance a scene, cover a gaffe, remove something unnecessary, change dialogue, etc. etc. etc. And the amount of wiggle room there is during the editing process essentially correlates to the amount of footage you were able to obtain during production. Do the entire film in one consecutive take on one camera? Well, then you’re stuck with what you have. Take multiple takes, multiple angles, multiple cameras on any given scene? You give your editor the ability to delve through footage to find the best material.

But what amazes me most about the editing process is how entirely different a finished product can look depending on the route that the editor takes. I’ve seen a handful of David Lynch and Terrence Mallick movies, and I can’t help but observe that I could have spent the last two-three hours engrossed in a different plotline, a different mood, a different style, had the editor(s) chosen different footage, rearranged it a certain way, altered the flow of the story, removed certain shots, etc. The best films owe much to their editor; it’s no wonder why for the past 30 years, every film that has won Best Picture at the Academy Awards has also been nominated for Best Editing.

So, apart from the wonderful trailer that you can see below, what else have we been focusing on in post-production? 

  1. Footage – I don’t think I’m giving anything away that hasn’t been shown to you in the trailer, but there is obviously a ‘supernatural’ vibe to The Gate Agent. It’s not a traditional Aaron Sorkin-type drama locked in an office or a courtroom. That makes it interesting for an editor (in our case, our director Damiano Fusca also wears the editing hat); there are certain ‘rules’ that we’re forced to abide by and some we’re not. It allows us to play with the audience by playing with our limitations. We hope it works in the end.
  2. Music – You can read an earlier post on my admiration of musical scores in films. One of my favorite – if not the favorite – parts of working on The Gate Agent has been watching the film further come to life with its music and instrumentals. Alexa has not disappointed; I knew that we’ve shared similar visions and I’m excited for her finished work to come on screen. That said, putting the music together is certainly a multi-level process. Scores were entirely new to me; you hear music in films, but most don’t realize that what ends up on screen and what you can listen to on Itunes/youtube can be entirely different. It’s been a collaborative process so far taking certain pieces of Alexa’s music and strategically placing it in the appropriate parts of the story. It evolves too; you create a certain theme and let your story carry it through to the finish line.

Finally, unlike Lemon Drops, there have definitely been some differences of opinion in terms of certain aspects for the film. And why shouldn’t there be? Making a film means making a million decisions and aggregating those choices into one final product. Given how passionate we all feel toward the project, I would be worried if we weren’t of opposite opinions in certain instances. But that’s what makes making a movie different from writing a book. You’re taking the combined talents of multiple individuals; you have to trust people’s expertise and focus and allow room for compromise and change. Rarely does a film suffer if everyone is on board with its attributes, even if people don’t agree on 100% on every one of them.

Next steps – finish post-production and start optimizing film festival submissions. In the meantime, should we decide to have a public debut of The Gate Agent for our most-treasured viewers, you’ll be the first to know.



December 4, 2012

Production Wrapped, Folks

Well, we officially wrapped production on Sunday afternoon on The Gate Agent. To avoid any type of suspense, I will just say right off the bat that it was a wonderful experience in every sense of the word. The performances were phenomenal, the crew (led by Damiano) were efficient and creative. The set was a perfect find (thank you Tracey and Caitlin – without you, the film would have not worked). Ask anyone on set with me that weekend though, and they will probably tell you that I was at best agitated, and at worst miserable. In a way, they were right and – like Lemon Drops­ – I do a poor job of hiding my frustrations. But after seeing some of the raw footage of what we captured, any reservations I was having immediately were discounted, and I look back on production as being worried about nothing.

For those that want to learn more about the movie itself, you can stop reading. I may offer bits and pieces, but this is a movie that will have to speak for itself when it’s complete. No one – not even the writer himself – can accurately describe the details about the story without either prematurely giving something away or risk ruining the experience. Don’t worry, those who want to see the movie will, and those who don’t probably haven’t spent much time reading this blog anyways. Instead, I’m going to use the rest of this post to discuss some specifics of the weekend from the producer’s perspective and reflect honestly on my experience. Why? Well for me, the most interesting thing about producing The Gate Agent was the fact that the person in charge of making sure everything went smoothly and without a hitch was the person with the least experience in film. I reiterated a similar point to Sarah (our lead actress) Sunday night – I really don’t add much value once we’re on set. But I did learn quite a bit, and have some general observations that I thought were worth sharing:

  1. Always anticipate the worst. With Lemon Drops, it was an uncontrollable air conditioner that wreaked havoc on our set. This time, it was a busted light bulb, a crack in a mirror, a recurring train, a crying cat, and an awkwardly-folded photo that gave us headaches. There’s always something. And the expression “It’ll just take (insert time period here) to shoot this scene“ is simply false. There will be delays. There will be unexpected problems. We were better about anticipating them than we were with the first film, but we still were too optimistic when it came to shooting certain parts.
  2. Get your props early. Nothing gave me more frustration than finding the movie’s key prop. I won’t go into many details, but my life would have been ten times better during the month of November if I would have just bit the bullet and spent more money on something new rather than hunting around the world trying to find it used. We almost missed getting what we needed – and it would have ruined the film. Future producers: be frugal, but don’t be stupid.
  3. Be Humble. On Lemon Drops, as the producer I had the authority of being the final decision maker on everything. I had veto power. It was a bit of an ego boost at times, but really, I didn’t really want that responsibility this time around. I tried my best to delegate and accept the fact that people had certain skills, and I was best to remain silent even if my first instinct was to disagree with something being done. I’m sure my reluctance to intrude will pay its dividends when I see the final film.
  4. Appreciate those not directly involved. The end credits will reflect this, but it’s amazing how many people helped out with this film who weren’t actually part of the crew. From lending a hand with moving items on set, to allowing us personal use to their business for shooting, to picking up costume items on the weekend, etc. This was the epitome of an independent film, with friends and family contributing their time and effort to help us get to just the starting line, let alone the finish. You aren’t forgotten.
  5. Don’t have a giant bag of Lays Potato Chips on set if you’re trying to eat healthy. Self explanatory.
  6. Expect the best in people. When you do, you’re still likely to get more than you asked for. Most of our key players were back this time around, but there were three new people in the cast/crew who I now have the privilege to call colleagues and friends. They took a chance on working with a group of complete strangers – in one case, flying hundreds of miles –  based primarily on a love for their craft. Everyone got along on set and everyone delivered.

Do I think I’m going to produce any other short films after this one? Most likely not. The fact of the matter is, I’m a writer. I’m arguably a good one or a bad one, but that’s what I do. Luckily I’m in a position where I can do some type of writing as a professional career and still be able to do the creative stuff at home. But that’s what I bring to the table. I don’t excel at making phone calls confirming deliveries, filling out paperwork for the Screen Actors Guild, booking travel info or reading resumes. Of course I don’t regret anything that I did – without it, The Gate Agent would not have been made. But the fact of the matter is, once we got on  set, I realized that my role in the film was already complete. It was up to the Damiano and Mike to capture good visuals, Amadeo and Sarah to bring life to the characters in the script, and Chris to make sure it sounded clear. The writer’s role is over. But that’s fine – I’m more than happy to make my contribution to the film behind my computer chair.

For now, I’ll keep you posted on post-production details and will be adding some photos from the set in the next few days. We still have editing, audio engineering and music to deal with. I am excited about that. And I’m confident that the final product will reflect the hard work of everyone involved. They deserve that much.



November 4, 2012

Just Close Your Eyes and Listen

Full Confession: I probably have more instrumentals on my Ipod than I do traditional music. Why? Well, aside from the fact that the most relaxing music to me is the kind that isn’t distracted by vocals, I happen to be a big fan of musical scores. I have a great admiration for so many of the most talented and well-known names in movies who have elevated their production by adding powerful music in the background, whether you’re supposed to notice it or not. There are a few of the more famous scores and how they changed a genre, a style, or the entire industry (think Jaws, Psycho, etc.), but there are countless others that most haven’t thought about or realized how a great part of the films’ value was in its music.

For The Gate Agent, I knew that the movie’s eerie and somewhat supernatural atmosphere would need a memorable score, and unlike Lemon Drops, it needed to be scored by a professional this time. In other words, not me. I was introduced to Alexa Casciato (aka ‘Little Warrior’), as a person to potentially help us clean up some sound issues on Lemon Drops. Though nothing came to fruition with that, she did let me know that – in addition to her background in audio engineering – she did film composition, and specifically had done a couple scores for some well-received Pittsburgh short films. When The Gate Agent was greenlighted, I decided to check out some of her work. It didn’t take me long to realize that she was the perfect person to score our movie. And I was pleased that she accepted. It’s one of the things I’m most excited about for this film.

So what makes for a good score – and what, specifically, gave me the confidence that Alexa is going to make a great composition for our film? Well – speaking solely as a moviewatcher and not as a composer – I would say that first off, a great score isn’t necessarily great music. It can be, sure, and the best scores usually are, but I think the one and only requirement for a good film score is that it captures the mood and tone of the movie. That’s it. Listen to any film score from John Williams, or Hans Zimmer, James Horner, etc. and you’ll probably realize that it goes hand and hand with that particular film.  Could you imagine any other music playing in the Indiana Jones theme? Or when E.T. phones home? And with respect to Alexa, I listened to her scores (one in particular), but also the film itself. And she captured the movie. As a writer of words, it sort of baffles me how a person can write music, especially one that is geared toward another medium of art. My mind couldn’t even remotely attempt to write an actual score. But I love listening/watching the final product. Please check out her website for a sample of her work – film scores and other music –  you won’t be disappointed.

I thought long and hard about examples to showcase for some great movie music moments. Below are just a handful that jump out:

Action: One of the most common ingredients in an action movie is a pulse-pounding, in-your-face score. Nothing has done a better job in recent years than Hans Zimmer’s work in Inception. The scene above includes cross-cutting between two different stories in two different worlds, special effects, etc. Watch this scene on mute – could you imagine this scene working without music?

Drama: Some people weren’t a huge fan of Crash. I’ll admit – a couple repeat viewings have lessened my overall opinion of the film. But nothing’s changed my thoughts on the above scene. Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton’s powerful acting aside, I remember being so moved by Mark Isham’s score (this scene in particular), and the music helps accentuate both the histories of these two characters as well as the impending danger of a car explosion. Eight years later, this is still my favorite scene of this movie.

Fun: Yes, I realize this isn’t a genre of film, but it’s a certain component to many great movies and scenes. For me, Wall-E stands as Pixar’s greatest achievement, even if it didn’t reach the popularity of the Toy Story franchise, Finding Nemo, or others. And this scene in particular – the fun of exploring a new universe, meeting new people, culminating in Wall-E and Eva’s ‘first kiss’ stands as one of the most sentimental moments in all of film animation. But Pixar always has a great score, so it’s tough to just pick one moment.

Romance: I’m sure later on I’ll think of something else that stands out as my favorite ‘romantic’ movie music moment, but this one jumps out. Never has “You’re the Love of my Life” had such an impact (to me) as with this movie, and in terms of cliche lovey-dovey endings, this one takes the cake, but it earned it. So much of why it earned it goes to the credit of the music, and it’s almost  a ‘third character’ of the scene.

I can think of so many more – but what are yours???



October 22, 2012

Casting Woes

Between Lemon Drops and pre-production of The Gate Agent, as a producer I’ve spent plenty of time completing various tasks, filling out project lists, editing, reading, reviewing, emailing, organizing, etc. In other words, short of heavy manual labor, I’ve probably done every administrative function that you would do in a normal 9-5 type job in preparation for these films. Speaking solely as myself (Damiano and Amadeo may have different opinions), I can say with full certainty that nothing has been more eye-opening (nor stressful) as the casting process. Really, you might ask? Well, for your standard casting agent, one who is a true professional in New York City or Los Angeles, who has plenty of experience with this process on a daily basis, this is nothing. But for an independent film producer – not to mention the writer of the characters you’re casting – making the ultimate decision about who is going to bring your words to life on screen is tough.

First, let me give you a little background with how we casted Lemon Drops compared to what we’ve done for this project. Lemon Drops had four actors – two of them I was fully aware who we were casting before the final script was even finished. For the other two, we created an acting post on Craigslist (yes, Craigslist), one for the remaining male role and one for the female role. We received a good number of responses, but I’d say only about 10 on each side were potential candidates; the rest were either outside of the age range we were looking for or didn’t have a ‘corporate’ presence to them (since ultimately, Lemon Drops is a movie about Corporate fraud). For the female role (‘Sandra’), we were lucky to find our actress Kati Lightholder fairly quickly. She came to audition and she captured everything we were hoping our actress would capture. The others we reached out to all lacked something, so Kati was an easy choice. Same for our male actor – Damiano had suggested having one of the actors from his feature film Deference come in to read. He did, and what Tony Prosdocimo brought to the role was an environment of maturity that the film needed. But this was easy street compared to The Gate Agent.

For this film, we wanted to broaden our scope, especially considering the fact that there was an outside chance we’d be shooting in New York City. There are only two roles in The Gate Agent, and like the last film, one of them was written fully with Amadeo in mind. But keep in mind that these roles were both years in the making – we’ve been talking for years about how I would write him a series of roles that (jokingly) would be the roles that would propel him into international stardom. No…the role of Matthew needs someone like Amadeo at the helm. So what about the female role? Well, Amadeo pointed me to Actors Access, a site that connects filmmakers to actors through postings/audition lists, etc.  So I posted some info about the film. He warned me though: “Dude…when you post here, be prepared to get a couple hundred responses.” Well, he was close. We received a total of 1,189 posts.  To put that number in some context, reviewing each actress’s credentials, pictures, resume, etc. (even briefly), takes about a minute per person. To just evaluate each of these actresses that quickly would take about 20 hours non-stop.

Of course, not everyone receives that amount of attention, and this is one of the things that bothered me so much about the process. The majority of these actresses are evaluated simply by their headshot, and only if they pass our ‘internal screen’ do we proceed to read their resume, look at more photos, watch their clips, etc. It’s something that’s unsettling to a person who only works on short films in his spare time. It makes me truly appreciate the art of acting, not to mention acknowledging the harsh realities of it, that even if you are the most talented individual, it’s hard to even get your foot in the door sometimes simply because of a facial expression, your hair color, the way you smile.  It wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed, judging people (initially, at least) on such superficial features. But to be honest with you (and myself), I knew there was a certain ‘look’ we had in mind, so narrow down the list we must.

Within a week or so after our initial posting, we emailed about 15-20 women to see if they were able to come in to audition in New York City (in addition to a Pittsburgh audition that took place). I quickly booked my trip to my beloved NYC, and we coordinated some space at a studio in midtown Manhattan. Our setup was very much like the first round of American Idol auditions, as shown by my serious expression below:

We then spent about 10-15 minutes with each actress, having them read, listening to their interpretations of the character, taking our direction, discussing the project in further detail. It was wonderful. Each of the people that came in that day had something different they brought to the table. The majority of them were very well prepared, had insight into what we were looking for, and gave us the impression that they’d be great to work with. And from our end, what we were observing: their overall delivery of the lines, their voice (which is important for this role), their appearance, their ability to take direction, and their schedules.  When the day was over, the three of us went to Madison Restaurant to discuss what we thought (since we didn’t get much time to do so during the day, as people were coming in and out). The discussions were provocative, and at times very intense. The three of us all had different reactions to each of the actresses there (not to mention the ones we watched earlier on videos sent in to us), and we all defended our choices against counterarguments. But we still were only in stage 2 of the casting process.

A few more auditions spilled in over the next morning (and later into the week), and we were finally at the point where it was almost time to decide our actress. It wasn’t easy though. We went back and forth on every discussion – each one of us had our own pick(s) and were not willing to waver. And our goal was unanimous agreement; the production of this movie would not be as strong if we didn’t all back the same person. So we decided to add another round to the process and have some callbacks for the small group that we all agreed were ‘First Tier’. I actually wasn’t a fan of this at first; I felt like we weren’t going to gain anything by having people read a second time. If anything, I thought it would just make the process more difficult: what if someone I wasn’t crazy about had a better read, what if someone Amadeo loved just didn’t take direction well this time around? I didn’t want to convolute the process but it ended up providing the clarity we needed. Everyone came with their A-game, and though I wasn’t able to physically be there this time around, I was able to watch everyone on video. We were then left to the final conference call: Damiano, Amadeo and myself having a conversation where we would have to make our choice. It was challenging for all of us. We knew that whatever decision we’d make would ultimately be taking the film in a completely different direction than if we decided on another actress. We talked over each actress, what their uniqueness was, what they did the best, and after discussing for awhile, we came to our conclusion.

We’re pleased to announce that the lead actress of The Gate Agent will be Sarah e Jacobs. She has an extensive New York Theatre career, and you may have seen her on television (“I Married A Mobster” on ID Discovery, a show which you may recall me mocking Amadeo’s recent appearance). She has the type of on-camera personality that I envisioned when I wrote The Gate Agent and I’m confident that she’ll elevate this movie in creating a memorable and haunting lead character.  Definitely check out her other work on her website or her blog.

Overall, what’s the craziest thing I realized about casting? Well, I discovered what I would consider the two polar opposites in the process depending on who you were talking to. For me, once we moved past the initial list of people who didn’t meet the basic description of the part, I really studied each person, read their resumes, looked at their personal websites, watched their videos, taking notes of whether or not I thought they were right for the part the entire time. In the rare event that one of the actresses who we did not choose is reading this, I can assure you with 100% certainty that your potential involvement in the project was heavily discussed, debated, considered. As I stated earlier, each one of these actresses brought something different to the role, introduced another angle to the character.  A part of me wishes we could make the movie multiple times, just to see how it turns out with different actresses playing the part. Ultimately though, Sarah embodied what we wanted the most.

And on the other end of that spectrum are the actresses themselves. To them (by their own admission), our audition was just one of a few that day, and tomorrow they’d have more, and the next day, and the next day. They certainly were prepared for the audition, there’s no doubt about that, but The Gate Agent isn’t likely to consume their time for the next six months like it is ours. What we debated for a full week was for some nothing more than an afternoon stop among a full day of readings, auditions, practices, and shoots. But that’s the life of a full-time actress.

I think that should about do it for now. I’ll save my next blog post for my personal favorite part of watching a movie.

Take care,



October 7, 2012

The Art of Art Direction

I received some good feedback on my last post about what really goes into scriptwriting, so I thought it’d be a good time to discuss one of the most underrated aspects of filmmaking: art direction. Otherwise known as production designing, art direction is most commonly defined as the creation of a movie set. It’s the nuts and bolts of what you’re actually seeing when you watch a movie. I say that it’s underrated because your average film-goer – when watching a film – typically doesn’t comment on the art direction of the film. It’s almost universally understood that some of the best art direction is that which goes unnoticed, and I’d argue that it’s the case for nearly every genre of film.  Think of everything from historical dramas (Saving Private Ryan ) to the fantastical (Alice in Wonderland) to pure sci-fi action (Inception);  the Art Director is responsible for essentially locking you in the world of the film, so you can focus on what the Director wants your attention to be focused on. In some cases, it’s the sets themselves that warrant the attention; in others the production designing is intended to be simplistic so that you remain on the actors and not distracted by the visuals. Either way, the Art Director (in conjunction with the Director and Cinematographer) must establish a three-dimensional world so that the story can progress naturally without any hint of inauthenticity.

This morning, Damiano (our director) and I met with our Production Designer Nick DePasquale for the first time since The Gate Agent was greenlighted. Nick was our Production Designer on Lemon Drops as well, and for anyone who has already seen that short film, every item, prop, picture, etc. that ended up on camera could be directly attributed to what Nick (and others) established as the world of Stanwix Communications. I’m happy that Nick is able to come aboard again – I imagine his work on this film will be much different and more challenging. So what are some of the things that are typically discussed in a Production Design meeting? Here are some of the items that were discussed this morning:

  • Colors – Though this is ultimately a collaboration between Nick and our Cinematographer, establishing a color palette is an important item for a short film like this. What our actors are wearing, what color a wall may be, the symmetry between colors on different sides of the room, this was something discussed in great detail today. Think of a film like Traffic, in which every story was told in different lighting; it enhanced the mood and helped give each story a personal look, entirely separate from its storyline.
  • Props – Each item on a film set must have a distinct purpose, or else it frankly doesn’t need to be there. Nothing in The Gate Agent is intended to be an accident, but Nick’s job is to have you think it is. What are we going to place in the center of the room? On the walls? On the floor?
  • Costume – Usually there’s someone else in this role, but for our film, what our actors wear will be guided by Nick’s design. We also consider the color palette when deciding this, as well as what will work best through the lens, what won’t call attention to itself (if that’s what we intend), etc.

What are some of your favorite examples of great Art Direction?

The visuals above in Alice in Wonderland establish the importance of the color palette, as demonstrated by the Queen of Hearts’ palace.

Period pieces usually contain some of the most under-appreciated set designs, as productions like Saving Private Ryan demonstrates. It takes not only an intense knowledge of history, but also usually requires sets of the grandest scale.

Films like Inception are grounded in visuals, and the sets were one of the largest examples of this. Though it helped that this room was rotated on set, this hotel hallway – if not done perfectly – would have taken away from the action of the scene.


September 24, 2012

Anatomy of a script

As we’re still in the very early stages of pre-production for The Gate Agent, much of the focus at this point in time is on the script. As I stated in the last post, the script – important as it is – only serves as the springboard to the rest of the film. But as a person who has written a handful, I can say that there are so many misperceptions about what a screenplay actually is. Let me run through a few:

  • The screenplay is all dialogue. Nothing could be further from the truth. A screenplay has to have a proper balance between dialogue, scene establishment and action. All three (in my opinion) are equally important. Dialogue is only a part of it.  Without some sense of movement and setting behind the words, you might as well write a stage play.
  • The screenplay matches what’s on screen. Maybe if you’re Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet, but that’s about it. Read a script of your favorite movie – you’d be surprised at how much content is on those pages that you’ve never seen before. A good chunk may be ignored by the director, changed by the actors, cut by the editor, etc.  And for good reason. Sitting on the couch in my den, I may know that a certain line is paramount to the story. But if the director or actors, once on set and filming, feel differently based on what they’re observing around them, I tend to trust their expertise.
  • I can write a screenplay, it’s easy! Well yeah, I guess you could. Anyone can. What’s difficult is writing it again…and again…and again until it’s in a position to be judged and truly reviewed. Nobody gets it right the first time, that’s just how it is. And if your plan is to write for someone other than yourself, writing a good screenplay will involved making changes to your work you would have never dreamed of, or even worse, having someone tell you that your vision is all wrong. But that’s the way it is – writing is very subjective, so are opinions.

The Gate Agent has already been written three times, and will probably go through another rewrite (or two?) before filming. And it’s only a 15-minute movie. But it’s the nature of the business. And what will end up on the final film will be different than the last copy of the script that I’ll save to my computer. That’s the evolution of filmmaking. And we all believe in evolution…right?

A few additional observations about screenplays that I’ve read or noticed over time:

Good Will Hunting. Last year, I took the liberty of reading a few award-winning or popular screenplays, and this one was at the top of my list. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who were younger than me when they wrote their Oscar-winning drama, were so compelling on screen that I imagined the source of the story was just as good. I was surprised to find how…not so great it was. It wasn’t the screenplay itself – the story was unique, the dialogue was sharp (and it came off that way in the film) – it was just that the structure of the script was very plain. High on dialogue, low on scene establishment. And yet, why was the movie so good, and the screenplay so well received? I’d guess it’s because there was a good director on the other end of it, who had the same vision as Affleck and Damon did, who was able to take their words and build a world from it. And also, because in the end, Affleck and Damon knew they had a goldmine of a story, so the screenplay was essentially only a map to help the audience find it. I encourage anyone interested in screenplays to read this one.

Long before making The Avengers, writer/director Joss Whedon wrote the screenplay for Alien Resurrection, which I doubt anyone has in their top 10 of all time lists. The movie was poorly received, and I imagine Ridley Scott and James Cameron probably shook their heads, refusing to acknowledge its existence in the Alien franchise. But Whedon had something very unique to say about the script:

  •  “..it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines…mostly…but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script…but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”

It’s an interesting take on screenwriting. Whedon’s point is basically that the final product gets too intertwined with the script, when in reality, the two can be drastically different. In the case of Good Will Hunting¸ I’d argue that the film improved upon the script, taking great dialogue but widening its range. With Alien Resurrection, his argument is the reverse, basically saying that the execution destroyed the original idea and could have been better received if in better hands. Bret Easton Ellis has made similar arguments about films based on his novels (even if he himself was the screenwriter). Of the four films that were based on his work, he’s only said that one – Rules of Attraction – ‘got it right’.  It’s an interesting take, and as a writer, I can sympathize with.

I’m fortunate to say that so far, my writing has fallen more into the Good Will Hunting camp.



September 18, 2012

The Gate Agent moves forward

We’re happy to report that Churchill Pictures has officially announced production of its newest short film, The Gate Agent. And we’re also happy that we’re going to proceed with things a little bit differently this time, and provide some “Production Notes” to those who actually care to read about how the film is churning along. We’re hoping that this film may serve as a nice compliment to our previous short film, Lemon Drops¸ as well as the (now award-winning) feature film Deference. So where do we stand?

As the eight individuals on the set of Lemon Drops over Memorial Day Weekend can attest to, I was very outspoken about the fact that I was calling it quits on the producing side – that the headache of putting together all of the pieces to make a motion picture (even a 20-minute one) was not worth the trouble. I meant it too. In fact, I would have bet a ton of money at the time that it would be years, if ever, before I was involved in another short. So what changed?

Well, besides the constant determination of Damiano and Amadeo, who together have a better insight into filmmaking than anyone I know, I just started getting the itch to tell another story. Lemon Drops was a morality tale of sorts, something to show that everyone – when backed against the wall – was likely to betray their principles. It’s not the first time this has been done, but hopefully the film’s structure entertains audiences. That’s all we can really hope for, right? To be entertained. But this one is much different.

So what is The Gate Agent? Well, we don’t really know yet, other than what’s in the script. There’s so much work in between writing it and actually interpreting what’s on paper to the screen that the written words become only a small part of the overall film. And I would be the first to admit that the majority (if not all) of Lemon Drops’ flaws came from the original screenplay. Thankfully, the four actors on set were able to correct the awkwardness, our Director of Photography was able to shoot from angles that added tension to an otherwise-boring line of dialogue, and Damiano’s editing was able to truly connect the pieces. I imagine The Gate Agent will be no exception – people taking what I wrote, and making it better. Damiano, Amadeo and I have a lot of work ahead of us.

So for those interested in the project – whether you regularly follow the activity of Churchill Pictures, or you’re just curious about what goes into making a movie, we invite you all to come along. I’ll try to post as many updates as I can – from all of the pre-production planning, to shooting on set, to all the post-production clean up. Maybe you’ll get a kick out of my stressful rants, or you might learn something that will help you in your own career in filmmaking (if you should be so lucky), or maybe you might just want another blog to read during your lunch hour at work. Either way, I’ll try to keep you entertained, and who knows, maybe I might even entertain myself along the way.


Mike Smith
The Gate Agent