From Script to Screen

I'm deep in casting, locations scouting and figuring out the shot selections for Raspberry Magic. It's all very exciting! I've learned so much about writing from actually making the film, here are a few things:

1. Don't waste too much time with pointless details of the setting. By "pointless", I mean, there is no need to give tons of ambiance and details, unless it very directly motivates the story or there is action around something. I spent too much time in my script describing the exteriors of the school, and it proved to be silly. I mean, middle school is middle school, right? The main thing is that it looks like that, a middle school.

2. Define spatial relationships, but keep them as simple as possible. Again, once you start scouting, you'll have to deal with how locations relate from one to another. In other words, how do we move from the house to the forest? It's good to set up the sense of place as clearly as possible in the script, so that when you start thinking about locations, it makes sense. On the other hand, it's good to be a bit flexible, too, because you never know how you'll have to cheat the locations.

3. Every, single role in the screenplay matters, because if you make the film, you'll have to cast someone for every role. To that effect, you want to think through each part--do you truly need it? What does it add to the story? In RM, we recently read for parts like the judges, cops, etc and though the parts seem small, they really do matter.

4. Every, single line of dialogue in the screenplay matters. This is the beauty of being a screenwriter vs. being a novelist. Someone is going to bring your character to life, and that someone will want to how, what's my motivation? How am I feeling? What am I thinking? Sometimes, when you create someone on the page, you don't think about these things. But then, you are asked these questions and you suddenly have to. It's a good thing, but unexpected as a writer!

5. I know writers shouldn't really worry about budgets when they create their work, but if you want to write a story that's meant to be shot as a low budget project, then keep things simple and low budget. I have a few tricky effects in my story that have been causing me a lot of stress. I can't take them out because they are central to the story, but geez, it's certainly a bit tricky!


Storyboarding and Directing

I'm pretty deeply involved with making the film now, and the pressure is certainly on. We've been having some really great casting sessions with both child and adult actors, and it's been quite promising. I'm excited and anxious at the same time about the prospects! In terms of the directing, for some time, I 've been a bit nervous about preparing for directing the film. For me, this movie is all about emotion and subtext, so the performances really do have to pop. I've always been unsure of how much storyboards help with directing, but my husband has been storyboarding the key scenes out for me, and I have to say, it's been so, so helpful in terms of seeing the movie. Not only that, but it also forces me to think about actors' actions, motivation and overall story flow. The thing with storyboarding is that it would be immensely difficult to draw out all of the coverage for each scene, but what we're doing is laying out a general look/feel of the scene, then from THAT, I'll actually figure out the coverage. My method is to use storyboards and photos of the locations to then come up with a floor plan and a coverage list. I used to feel a bit ambiguous about this process before, but now I get it. Basically, the boards and locations photos help me think about defining space, defining space then helps me think about motivation and action, which then in turn creates story flow. This process helps me basically conceptualize the general ideas, then I can get more specific from there. A lot of the specifics will change as we get to the set, at least I have some rough idea of what I want. The boards are also super helpful in terms of communicating with the DP, Production Designer, gaffer and other key crew folks.



I've been pretty deep in casting sessions for a number of different roles. This is the fun stuff, especially after you've spent so many years writing something. I love how actors come to the table with their own, fresh perspective on the material. It's so great when they come in and read the character in a way you never imagined. Reading kids has also been very interesting, there are so many talented kids out there, and I'm amazed by how so many have agents and have been working at it for so long. What's made this process pleasurable is working with a casting director. Basically, she filters through all of the noise, and brings us the best folks. Our casting director is really great, and I believe she really gets the overall vision of the film. On another note, I spent the weekend in SF scouting several locations. Things are really coming together, I can't believe we're shooting so soon!


Just Because We're not Big Budget

I firmly believe that just because we're small and "low budget," it doesn't mean we have to appear that way. I mean this in every sense of the word, too, because there are so many ways to do a lot with a little, especially these days. For example, you can start with a business card. It goes without saying that if you work in visual media, you better have a good looking card. It's sort of the first "impression" of what your work looks like. You can do a fairly good looking card with services like vistaprint.com and others out there. The trick is getting some help from a designer or someone with a keen eye for design and layout. Then, getting some help from someone who knows Photoshop well and can show you how to properly upload the artwork so it looks great. We're lucky because I was a web designer before I got into film, and my husband is a wonderful illustrator, so that helped. But paying attention to all of the details, even the presentation layout is a good idea, as well. Megha and I spent a lot of time putting together the look/feel of our presentation, using images we went out and took, then spending quite a bit of time to pick out a color scheme, the proper folders and other materials. As we're moving ahead, we're using this same strategy for the movie. I am working on thinking through all of the details, like the specific shot compositions, and using small, inexpensive ways to make them visually innovative. For me, this goes back to the basic framing and how I can add depth of field and texture to each shot. We can't afford fancy cranes and tons of movement, but that's okay with me, it's much more about emotion and context for me in this film...


Ebb and Flow

With the economy falling apart and times just being incredibly unstable, it feels a bit strange to carry on with something as seemingly trite as making an indie film. There have been a few moments over the past few weeks when I've really felt a little lost with the economy going to shit, people losing their jobs left and right and things just being generally weird. But last week, when I felt a particular moment of anxiety, my husband and I took a walk on the beach. We were walking close to the waves, watching the water wash upon the shore. Watching wave after wave roll through and gently break into the sad, it made me realize, that no matter what is happening in the world of human beings, life carries on, nature continues its course and things simply move ahead whether we like it or not. Watching television or the news, we are constantly inundated with images of turmoil, craziness and fright. The images and the headlines really, really get to me, and I feel this dull ache in the pit of my stomach as I see it all happening. Then I take a step outside and I remember the waves. Not that any of this makes things easier, but I try to constantly remind myself that there is an ebb and flow to life, that what comes up must come down and vice versa. So yes, making an indie film probably is trite in this moment of strife when people are losing their homes and jobs, but I believe that if we all shut down and stop doing what we're supposed to be doing, then we are somehow giving in to this natural movement and flow. As I've mentioned before, maybe it really is in times like these that we need art, beauty and hope. I know I could use all of those things.


Production Design

Production Design and "the creation of the world" in RM is fairly straight forward in that it is def. middle America, with a small hint of Indian flavor. I like quirky elements like weird mismatched glasses, table settings and home layouts that aren't perfect and things as such. I do have a production designer in mind and am super excited to work with her. The tricky part of this movie are two elements in terms of the production design: the first is the science fair. This is challenging first of all because we have to create posters, artwork and other elements that make the fair feel like a real fair. The other tricky part is, of course, getting extras, never an easy task, especially on a low budget. Filmmaking may seem glamorous to those who sign on as extras, but doing the same thing over and over again for 8 to 10 hours gets old real quick. So yes, finding the extras, especially the kids will be a challenge. The other tricky as aspect of making this movie is the opening scene, which involved a kitchen pipe bursting. The production designer I've been talking to is fairly confident about this opening, but I'm still slightly nervous about it. I mean, we'll have to do it in a place where we can, of course, have a pipe blowing up, then fuse it together with other scenes of the kitchen, not exactly the easiest task. Other than those two scenes, I believe the PD will be fairly straight forward. It's exciting, moving ahead with the vision.


Preparing for the Shoot

Now that I'm about seven weeks out from directing this movie, there is so much that has to happen. But the nice part at this stage is that we have other people helping us out. Until now, it's mostly been Megha and I doing everything. Now, we have a casting director and a line producer on which is super exciting, and we are moving ahead with a production designer and AD very soon. All of these things help. Now, I can focus on the job of directing, which is exciting. For me, the performances are crucial to this movie, because it's such a small and personal film. So, once we have everyone cast, it'll really be about working with the actors to get the performances I want. I know how I'm going to approach this, in the sense that I want to rehearse the actors for blocking and some movement, but I don't want to over rehearse them in terms of the performances, especially the kids. I am also starting to work on some shot lists and story boards. Story boards are helpful, but I also don't want to get too bogged down in them because I want the freedom to move in the moment. I want to create a look that has a bit of a surreal/dreaminess to the forest, and generally use some interesting movements to visually explore Monica's relationship to the plants. I have a lot of ideas visually in terms of how Monica's relationship to her plants will be shown/externalized, but of course, you'll have to see the movie to check those out! For me, this script is much more about the visuals and the way that the characters' relationships change to them than anything else...


Are you doing it, or not?

There is a really great interview with Peter Sollet, the director of "Raising Victor Vargas" that really summed up where I'm at and what I've been going through, so I thought I would post it. For the whole interview, here's the link to Filmmaker Magazine, but here's the part I liked:

Filmmaker: If you could do it all over again, what would you change?

Sollett: I would say yes more often. I think that it would widen me. I have a tendency to not try new things when I should, but if you don't go, you'll never know. I'm trying to say yes as often as I can now and I think that is ultimately the key to continuing to make films. It's just never the perfect time – it's like having a kid, you know what I mean? [laughs] It's never the right time, the script's never just right, the edit is never just right, so it's always a leap of faith. For me, it's a question of training myself to take bigger leaps of faith. Dave Eggers wrote this essay, maybe in McSweeney's, and one of the sentences was “No is for pussies.” Now, Dave is not afraid to say no [laughs] – I've gotten to know him a little bit – and he may have been talking to himself a little bit in that piece, but I kind of agree.

Filmmaker: Which phrase best describes your philosophy on life?

Sollett: I don't have a [phrase that describes my] life philosophy, but I can start off with a movie philosophy. My favorite Cassavetes quote – here it is, very simple. He said, “You're either going to make the movie, or not make the movie.” What he meant by that was we're never going to have the money we need or the time we need or the help we need, but in spite of that we need to make a choice. Are we going to or are we not going to do this? I definitely apply that to my life too. It's always going to be kind of a mess, but either we're going to trudge forward and do this, or we're not. And to choose not to do it is no way to live. That's been a helpful quote from John for me. [laughs]



I am super stoked as the various pieces of the movie come together. I'm working with my long time friend and collaborator, Jeffrey Chu, a brilliant cinematographer. I first met him many years ago when I was working as a production coordinator on a feature called, Happily Even After. Working on that film was a life changing experience, and it made me realize I wanted to be in narrative film. Anyway, Jeffrey shot This Moment, as well, and we had a good time doing it, so now he's back. We've been going back and forth on the look for RM, and I put together a "look book" so we could have a point of reference. I'm prob also working with the same gaffer as a did with This Moment. It's nice to work with some familiar folks, and very exciting to move ahead on everything!