Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Bet (or The Fall of Love) - Part 6 - Love The One You're With

Well, there's a rose in the fisted glove
And eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love honey
Love the one you're with
-Steven Stills

Goodbye to our Idyllic Fall of Love

In light of the previous posts on the carnal adventures on The Bet, the title and lyrics I chose to start this post might seem redundant, yet another indulgence of amorous excesses of a crew on location in a picturesque location.

Actually, it's not that at all, but rather an ironic confluence of past and present.  Last night was the festival premiere of a film I adapted from a stage play for a former student of mine, who directed it.

The circumstances of the film were less than ideal.  The director had decided to shoot it pretty much like a play, without considering the consequences of trying to do all those set changes and making it look real.  Representational sets work in theater, but the camera creates a situation too real to make this work.  Additionally, stage plays are, by nature, dialogue-driven, and the long stretches of dialogue that may have been hilarious in the play drag in a film.

To say he was working with a micro-budget would be kind; his plan was to shoot the film for less than I make most shorts.  Additionally, he was close to shooting when he contacted me about it.

All of this led to me rewriting the script on the fly, sometimes the night before scenes were shot, sometimes the morning of.   Less than ideal.  We should have done a page-one rewrite, and maybe even thought of a way to make it surreal ("Tell them it's a dream sequence").  Maybe we should have picked original material altogether.

The fact is, we did none of those things, and the movie we made is the movie - that's it.  We tinkered in post as much as possible with the material we had, adding some fun found footage.

In the end, we would up with a zany comedy that is still funny, though the director and I find it hard to see the humor, having poured over the footage endless times since it was first shot.  Also, too much dialogue remained even after my cutting and the volume of new lines I gave the cast at the last minute led to us having days where it took forever for the actors to get the lines right as we shot on a schedule that required us to knock of chunks of pages per day because of the budget.

Not a good combination.

As the producing team, we remember those long days, the endless takes, the botched lines, hour eleven on set where it seemed that nothing funny had happened all day.

For a long time, I had a hard time just saying "I wrote the screenplay."  It wasn't, in a perfect world, a "JB" screenplay, not the script I would have written if I were to chose to write a script.  Last night, as we were discussing the screening coming up, the director said, "Don't worry, we'll be at another screening  for another movie we do that's good."

Right then, what we both had known all along crystallized.  This was not the perfect movie, our ideal movie, that movie that is in our mind at one point that we are sure we can make.

Well, kids, grow up, and I direct this as much at myself as the director or anyone out there.  That movie you had in your head rarely gets made, at least frame-by-frame the way you saw it.  You have let others in on that dream - actors, crew, etc, and they have added their dream, and circumstances, especially on a low-budget indie of any level, mean you couldn't just keep shooting until you got it exactly the way you saw it.

The one thing, you can do, though, is stick to your vision, keep fighting for your vision, even if in the end, it doesn't come out exactly they way you imagined.

"Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse?"  Bruce Springsteen's line from The River may be true for a life unfulfilled, but how many of us really live the dream?  We start out with a dream, and we make it the best we can.

The same is true for our movies.  The irony is that you need to fight hard every day for your vision of the film as a director, or it won't even come close, grab and claw and fight to put that vision out there, and in the end, you have to love what you make, even if it isn't quite that.

I started the saga of The Bet with JR and I joking at the screening, commenting on how melodramatic the movie seemed, and to this day, I still think it is.*  We stifled laughs for all the wrong reason.  We had drinks and joked about it afterwards, dismissing Adam's vision, but, you know what?  There was Adam, sitting at that screening, and I'm sure many screenings afterward, enjoying the hell out of it.

JR , Christine and I, as well as the entire crew, had done good.  We helped Adam make the movie he wanted to make, melodrama and all.  As I think back, the same could be said of Lucky Stiffs, a movie I'm sure Matt still holds dearly, and Uzo before him on Walls and Bridges, who made a movie that seemed too real and too tough.  They all made the movie they wanted to make.

A director needs to surround himself with people he can trust, and needs to listen to them when they offer good advice, and take that advice in, and consider it carefully.  That's his responsibility to the project.  Those who advise him or her have a responsibility as well, to keep the director's vision in mind when offering advice; you're making their film, not yours.  Sometimes it can be a fine line between overstepping your bounds on the advice side, and stubbornness on the director's side when they wont listen to those with good advice.  It's a balance you probably never get exactly right, but you need to try.

The movie is your child.  You brought it into the world, now it's your responsibility to see it grow up right, even if it's not as pretty or as smart as you hoped it would be.  You have a responsibility to see it through and give it a good life.

Adam, I know, did that with The Bet.  He got small distribution, enough to make it worth it for him, set up sales for it online before many others were doing that, and came out with something to add to his other accomplishments in life, his jackal of an assistant director or DP be damned.

So, this is a little reminder  to all of you as are in the middle of what seems like it can't be the film you set out to make, on the worst day on set, when you are sure that this is never going to be what you thought it would be - slog on.

Oh, and that screening last night?  To quote my director, "They laughed.   There were genuine laughs." Sure they did.  They didn't know the road it took to get there, they didn't slave over the footage.  They just came to enjoy a movie, to maybe laugh a little.   Isn't that what a comedy is about?  Gotta love that kid!

*While the nature of the film was melodramatic, none of that falls on the actors.  The dialogue tended to lead in that direction, and they were quite talented and grounded the movie as best they could.  The result is miles ahead of what it would have been with a less talented cast.

And now, a little treat from the 70s for those of you who only know them as old men, when their voices and their chops really were that good.

1 comment:

Kangas said...

No truer words regarding you never get exactly what you envisioned...especially if you wrote and directed it. But there are some (rare) times when you get BETTER than what you envisioned, and sometimes you take comfort in that...