If you would indulge a brief background, so the question has context. I grew up in and around the film business in Culver City. My godfather, whose name I carry around, was a Property Master for many years with Paramount. All that said, I wanted nothing to do with the film business — and stayed clear until my early 40’s. I have been a self employed business consultant for about eleven years now.
When I turned 43, three years ago, I took a crash course (three months) on film production. I think my motivation was really to explore my heritage some. Well, I got the bug then. I wrote, produced and directed my first short. It cost me like $2500. The story sucked like a hover, but the production value and the casting got good reviews. So I started going to lots of workshops on all aspects of the film business. I really would like to evolve to a producer/director type.
Recently I finished my second short film. My first short had eight cast and crew, this last project had over forty with some people from the industry helping out. I spent ten grand, and the short came out a ton better and I learned a ton more. I handled lots of set ups, producing, casting, and other things just fine. But AGAIN, the story was weak and thus although the film is a huge step forward –I’m not getting the story locked down. Doing films means more to me that anything I have ever done. I do ok as a business consultant, I make a decent living. But my little films, with all their flaws, mean so much more to me then anything I have ever done. I want to get good at the story part of this.
I will never be a great screenwriter, I suspect. I got some really good feedback from the industry people that felt very strongly I should stick with the directing and producing, though. I considered just optioning, and even started reading scripts. But that will not work for me. My brain needs to understand at an intimate level, the driving forces of cinematic storytelling — for me to establish my POV more solidly as a director, to be there for my talent as a fully prepared professional, and to know how to collaborate on scripts in development.
What would you recommend for a director/producer type that eventually, just wants to make really good films from really good scripts someone else writes. How do I learn to really master the driving forces of cinematic storytelling? I would GREATLY appreciate your counsel. I don’t want to give this up, as it means so much to me. But I have to get the story part to this equation on much more solid ground.
Film is a hundred different skills and disciplines, and no one person is going to be great at all of them. 1
Fortunately, film is also a collaborative medium, which means you get to bring in people who are excellent at the things you don’t do as well. You have cinematographers, production designers, costumers and gaffers who make your vision possible in ways you simply couldn’t.
You’re not good at story. And while you may be able to get a little better with experience, the truth is you will probably never be great at it. So you need to find a collaborator who is. You need a writer.
I’d like to convince you to get over your reluctance to simply option someone else’s material. The vast majority of scripts written are never shot, and some not-insignificant percentage of those are pretty damn good. Find a script that won an award at a festival and convince the writer to let you shoot it.
If I can’t get you to simply sign on to someone else’s project, then let me encourage you to find a writer with whom you can collaborate. Many producers and directors have writers they go back to again and again. Most of the Merchant/Ivory films were written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. I’m working on my fifth Tim Burton movie. That’s all good.
The best filmmakers recognize their strengths and weaknesses. But rather than flailing themselves over their deficiencies, they enlist talented people to help. You’re a business consultant, so on some level you must understand that putting together a strong team doesn’t make the boss any less central to the success.
- Well, sure: James Cameron. But I’ve heard he can’t cut hair for shit. ↩