When post-production never ends

Doug Karr’s new film Art Machine is available on demand and through iTunes. I asked him to write up a post about his experience finishing it.


first personNearly three years ago John watched my ambitious and rather complicated short film Ten for Grandpa and liked it enough to not only post it, but also ask me to write a first person for the blog.

doug karrThis was mid 2011 and I had just gone through the roller-coaster ride of having that film premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, go on to screen at 50+ international film festivals, win multiple awards, and ultimately give me the juice to finish an achievable feature screenplay and finally crowdfund and source private equity to get it made.

That film was Art Machine, which I co-wrote with my friend and collaborator Nuno Faustino.

With the script finished and our financing in place, our rollicking crew of filmmaking maniacs went into production at a lightning fast pace for what I can only describe as one of the best directing experiences of my life. Thanks to the encouragement of my then girlfriend (now wife) Aimee Karr, who is a producer on the film, and the trust of a handful of amazing investors and producers, we undertook 18 glorious days of production. I got to work with some of the most incredible actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a set with, including, but not limited to, Joseph Cross, Joey Lauren Adams, Jessica Szohr, Christopher Abbott, Lucas Papaelias, the list goes on and on.

I quite literally had the best crew money couldn’t buy, and, hell, we even got to blow shit up and light a stunt person’s hand on fire. Sure there were complications, splitting time between living in a closet and a woman’s empty house who had recently died during the production to save money, the five hit and runs that occurred during the shoot that impacted our crew. Our favorite was when one of our own interns hit one of our other production cars…and then ran. Gotta love shooting in New York City!

And of course I didn’t sleep for three weeks. But that was all part of the crazed rock-and-roll caravan that is film production.

This was late 2010.

How three years vanish.

Post-production was magnificent at first. After a quick holiday I jumped into the edit suite with unparalleled enthusiasm. Editing has always been my first love. I learned how to edit on a pair of three-quarter inch tape-to-tape decks when I was 13, a quick progression after falling in love with the whole idea of becoming a filmmaker after seeing a 65mm re-issue of Lawrence of Arabia on the Champs-Élysées as a nine year old growing up in Paris.

Here I was, cutting my first feature. The dailies were terrific. I couldn’t have asked for better performances, the cinematography looked amazing, even the physical effects were working exceptionally well (from the explosions and flame gags to the grand finale).

What I hadn’t accounted for is the grueling drudgery that a long editorial process can bring on.

I’d had a flavor of it when I returned from a year in Africa back in 2001 with nearly a hundred hours of documentary footage to cut together (a process which ended up keeping me in dark room for over a year), but that was a documentary. This was narrative — my dream job no less. This was different.

A year later we were still tweaking, shooting little pickups, endlessly pushing the boundaries of our tight post budget to craft visual effects we were dreaming up after every screening.

Somehow, as that first year of post wore into the next and then some, the air deflated out of my tires, and I started to wonder if there would be an endgame to this process at all. And once you start allowing yourself to go down that mindset, everything around you starts to justify it.

  • The film industry is overwrought.
  • There’s nothing left to say.
  • The rungs on the ladder just keep getting father apart.
  • How can movies make money anymore?
  • All anybody wants to watch is dirt-cheap serialized drivel.
  • Cinema is dead.

I even wrote multiple drafts amounting to a 70,000 word document that some might consider a novel, hoping to find a way clear of the dreaded film industry. That’s how bad it got: I nearly wrote a book.

Luckily somewhere in there, the latest cut of Art Machine (the 12th? 15th?) was accepted to premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival, and distributors immediately began taking notice. We had six offers, and by the time Art Machine was the Closing Night film of the GenArt Film Festival a year later, we had a deal in place with the wonderful FilmBuff.

So now I’ve finally fulfilled my childhood dream, I’ve completed my first feature and it’s launching out into the world. Today the film becomes available to the public at large on iTunes and ON DEMAND. If you like it, throw up a review on iTunes, it would be a huge help.

Perhaps the splashy blanket-theatrical prize was elusive, but screenings were set up in NY and LA. Most importantly, the film is finally out there in the world.


Doug Karr is a New York based writer director. His twitter handle is @doug_karr


Final Draft and WGA registration

Update: Final Draft has removed the “preferred file format” line from their site.

In prepping for our Final Draft episode, I came across this tidbit on their site:

The market leader and the preferred file format of the Writers Guild of America West Online Script Registration.

That surprised me. Here is the actual wording on the WGAw Registry website:

Preferred file formats are ASCII, XML, PDF (Adobe Acrobat), Word, Final Draft , and Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000; however, all file formats will be accepted.

In addition, other screenplay software and standard computer file formats are acceptable.

So according to the WGA Registry itself, Final Draft is a preferred file format, not the preferred file format. Which doesn’t seem to be a claim worth trumpeting that loudly, considering the other options include “all file formats.”

Final Draft does get a small logo on the WGAw Registry site, though. Final Draft put out a press release about that. So Final Draft has some special relationship with the WGA. Perhaps it’s the most preferred of all the preferred formats, which include basically anything capable of rendering text.

And speaking of text, ASCII! Younger readers might not even recognize this term. It’s the plainest of plain text, just 128 characters. Do you have a dot-matrix printer? Feed it some ASCII.

Since you can register basically any type of file, can you register scripts written in Fountain? Yes.

Fountain is just text. So if you’re writing a script in Highland or Slugline or Scrivener or Fade In or the growing number of apps that use Fountain, the WGA Registry is happy to take it. PDFs are also a good choice, because they look like a printed screenplay.

While we’re at it, should you register your script with the WGA?

I have no strong opinion. For legal purposes, it can be useful to show you wrote something before a certain date. It’s no substitute for copyright registration, but then again, in many cases the screenwriter and the studio will be engaging in the mutually-beneficial practice of claiming something was a work-for-hire. So I don’t have an all-purpose answer.

All I know is that if you choose to register your script with the WGA, it doesn’t have to be Final Draft.


The One with the Guys from Final Draft

Scriptnotes: Ep. 129
Play

The makers of Final Draft pay us a visit to clear up John and Craig’s misconceptions of, well, everything. It’s double the umbrage for your money.

Then we discuss Quentin Tarantino’s leaked script, the upcoming WGA negotiations, and how to make it clear you’re attached to direct your spec.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-6-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Fountain 1.1 — “Use The Force”

We’re about to put out the first revision to Fountain since we launched it two years ago, and are calling for comment from users and developers.

When we were developing the plain text screenwriting syntax, we tried to balance normal uses and edge cases. Overall, I think we think we got Fountain mostly right. But Stu Maschwitz and I always expected that we’d evolve the specification as we learned more about how people use it on a daily basis.

The theme of the Fountain 1.1 update is “Use The Force.” It’s all about better control over “forcing” elements.

Most times in Fountain, you don’t need to force anything. It just understands what you want. But when you need to, you can force a Scene Heading with a leading period. You can force a Transition using a leading greater-than symbol.

For Fountain 1.1, we’re discussing adding two new forceable elements, and making a change to how Action is forced.

LYRICS

Highland has been testing a Lyrics variation on Dialogue for a while now, and it works. We think it’s time to make it official.

You create a Lyric by starting with a tilde ~.

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! The amazing chocolatier!

~Willy Wonka! Willy Wonka! Everybody give a cheer!

The parser will remove the ~ and leave it up to the app to style the Lyric appropriately. For screenplays, lyrics are often handled like a dialogue element, but in italics.1 For stage musicals, it’s often uppercase and placed on the left margin.

Lyrics are always forced. There is no “automatic” way to get them.

CHARACTER

The ability to force a Character element will be helpful for names that require lower-case letters, and for non-Roman languages, where a character might be named something like 黒澤.

To force a Character element, precede a line with the “at” symbol: @

@McCLANE

Yippie ki-yay! I got my lower-case C back!

The parser will remove the @ and interpret McCLANE as Character, preserving its mixed case.

Speaking of lowercase, one other change is that Character Extensions, the parenthetical notations that are on the same line as a Character element, are no longer required to be uppercase:

HANS (on the radio)
What was it you said?

The parser interprets HANS (on the radio) as a Character element.

ACTION

Figuring out how to handle forced action required the most discussion.

Fountain interprets an uppercase line followed by a second line as a Character. Most of the time, that’s what you want:

MARY

Hi, Tom.

But sometimes you really want two lines of action, with no blank line between them. You’re going to for a style — but Fountain doesn’t know that. So instead you get:

BOOM

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

In Fountain 1.0, we allowed the user to force Action elements with two trailing spaces.

BOOM{two spaces}

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

This has turned out to be problematic in practice. The spaces are invisible, and can be introduced by accident as you write. Highland and Slugline users got confused. Hell, I got confused, and I co-created the syntax.

MARY{two spaces I didn’t realize were there}

Wait! Why isn’t my character name where it should be? Why isn’t my dialogue being handled like dialogue? Nima!

Furthermore, not all Fountain apps supported the spaces consistently.

In the end, we’d like more transparency and less invisibility. Using spaces to force Action should be deprecated.

In Fountain 1.1, we propose that users force Action by preceding a line with an exclamation point:

!BOOM
BOOM BOOM. Closer.

The parser removes the ! and interprets BOOM as Action.

BOOM  

BOOM BOOM. Closer.

Since forcing action is rare, and the other changes are purely additive (and evident to the naked eye), we don’t anticipate huge issues for most users.

Unless we hear a hue and cry about these changes, we anticipate making them official next week. Apps can start supporting this syntax shortly thereafter.

But we’re not stopping there. Upcoming goals for Fountain include:

  1. Better consistency among apps when parsing Fountain. We keep finding edge cases, and want to make sure they are handled the same way regardless of which app you’re using.
  2. New syntax for marking changes or highlighting elements in finished documents.
  3. Continued development of screenplay-like formats, including three-camera and stageplays.

If you have notes or suggestions, I’d invite you to join the discussion on the Take Fountain Glassboard. Registration is free and open to everyone.

  1. Courier Prime italics are especially nice for lyrics.

Frozen with Jennifer Lee

Scriptnotes: Ep. 128
Play

In the tradition of the Raiders and Little Mermaid episodes, John and guest host Aline Brosh McKenna discuss and dissect the award-winning, record-setting, paradigm-shifting Frozen. But this time, we have the writer on hand to answer our questions.

Jennifer Lee not only wrote Frozen, she co-directed it. She talks us through all the twists, turns, and happy surprises on the journey. We go scene-by-scene and song-by-song to look at how it works and how it changed during development.

It’s an episode full of spoilers. But it’s also totally PG, so if your kids want to listen, let ‘em.

Craig will be back next week with an all-new episode and no recollection of what happened.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-1-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


My First Mac

Mac SE The Mac turned 30 today, unleashing a wave of nostalgia for people’s first Macs.

Mine was the Mac SE with a 20MB hard drive.

I bought it in December 1987, when I was a high school student taking classes at CU Boulder, thus qualifying for the discount at the bookstore. My dad tried to talk me out of the hard drive — it added $500 to the price — but having worked on the high school paper with a dual-floppy Mac, I was convinced it was worth it. (I was right. It made working with the computer vastly better.)

I don’t have the receipts, but thanks to this handy price list, I can estimate how much I paid.

Mac SE w/20MB HD $1749
Keyboard $86
ImageWriter II Printer w/Mac Accessory Kit $455
Microsoft Word $85
HyperCard $36
TOTAL $2,411

In adjusted dollars, that $2,411 would be almost $5,000 today. I paid for it with a cashier’s check from the credit union.

It was a great computer that served me well. My second Mac was the IIci, which I kept through grad school.