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Posts Tagged ‘Independent Filmmaking’

“I’m often asked how much Pieces of April cost to make. A simple answer is difficult because it doesn’t fully represent the truth. In dollars, maybe not so much. But, you see, for every person who worked on Pieces of April, there’s a story of sacrifice. So I don’t know how to answer the question other than to say, ‘It cost a great deal.'”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
(Reported costs put the film between $150,000 and $300,000)

Before we get to the critical conflict oven scene in Pieces of April let’s step back a second and see the conflict before the film even got made. Writer/director Peter Hedges said the seed of the idea passed his mind in the late ’80s and then again around a decade later in the ’90s when he began writing the screenplay.

I’m not sure how long it took Hedges to write the screenplay, but I do know it was released in 2003. Here is some of the drama that took place behind the scenes to get the film made.

“Getting Pieces of April made was its own particular adventure…On three different occasions, we were about to start production with a budget anywhere from 4-7 million. Each time it fell apart. In our third incarnation, we were even setting up production offices in Toronto, hiring production designers and crew. I returned to Brooklyn for a few days to pack for the eight weeks of prep and the five week shoot. That’s when we got the call came. The number crunchers at the studio were shutting us down. We were back at the beginning, but for me felt like the end. Fortunately, John Lyons, my stellar producer, suggested we call Gary Winick and Alexis Alexanian at InDigEnt, a company that makes digital films on a shoestring budget. They spoke to their partners, Caroline Kaplan and Jonathan Sehring at IFC Productions, and the irrepressible John Sloss, and in less than twenty-four hours, we were, as the say ‘green lit.'”
Peter Hedges
Introduction in Pieces of April: The Shooting Script

Throughout the budget adjustments Hedges was able to retain top-notch actors (including Katie Holmes, Patricia Clarkson, and Oliver Platt) who committed to seeing the film finally get made. And here we are almost 15 years after the film was produced still talking about that little gem of a film that hopefully can provide some light along the way for other filmmakers today.

And as a nice bookend to Hedges experience having difficulties with fundraising (as well as a quality script ultimately attracting financial partners (and quality actors) here’s screenwriter Nick Hornby talking about his experience working on the Oscar-nominated Brooklyn (2015):

“[The budget] was ten million pounds and it took the producers four years [to raise the money]…The drama in making Brooklyn was in fundraising, and what my wife [producer Amanda Posey] does and what [producer Finola Dwyer] does is way more difficult than [screenwriting]. They have their hearts broken ever single day. Rejection after rejection after rejection. And a bad writing day is, ‘ah, I couldn’t work out where these characters go when they come out’—it’s not that problematic really.”
Nick Hornby
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

“The thing I’ve discovered the most about writing screenplays—it’s a wonderful dovetailing of art and commerce—is if you make your minor characters as interesting as you possibly can in the space that you’ve got, better actors will play them. And your film has more chance commercially…When you’re making an independent movie you need all the commercial help you can get, especially when you’re working with a young cast, because they’re not going to be the biggest stars in the world.”
Nick Hornby (An Education, Brooklyn)
The Q&A with Jeff Goldsmith

P.S. And that Brooklyn connection—happy accident. Didn’t realize it until after I wrote the post.

Scott W. Smith

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This April I’ve decided to sprinkle in some posts throughout the month of the indie movie Pieces of April (2003). Like Tender Mercies (1984) it’s a simple yet complex films that I revisit from time to time.

Pieces of April was written and directed by Peter Hedges who just happened to be born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. A fact I didn’t learn until years after falling in love with the movie.

Today we’ll look at the story origins of the movie which starred a young Katie Holmes.

“In December of 1998, I received a phone call from my mother in Iowa. She had bad news. She’d been diagnosed with cancer. I went to her as soon as I could. She underwent radiation and chemotherapy. Over the next fifteen months, my sisters, my brothers, and I traveled back and forth to take care of her.

“During this time, my mother urged me to keep writing, but it was difficult. One day in my office in Brooklyn, I started opening files on my computer and came across notes I’d written a year earlier for a story about  girl with a broken oven trying to get her turkey cooked.

“In my notes, I had named the girl April after the moody, unpredicatble month. The month when it is sunny one moment and rainy the next. In my notes, she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner for her family. Most surprising was the reason why I’d decided April was making the meal: She was attempting to bridge an estranged relationship with her mother who was sick with cancer. 

“That’s when I knew this was a story I had to write.”
Writer/director Peter Hedges
Pieces of April; The Shooting Script—Introduction

Related posts:
Goal. Stakes. Urgency. (Tip #60)
Protagonist= Struggle
Christmas & Cancer
Where Do Ideas Come From? (A+B+C)

Scott W. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Nobody knew anything. We were just a bunch of kids making a movie.”
John Carpenter on making Halloween when he was 29-years-old
(Though there is some understatement from Carpenter who grew up in Bowling Green, Kentucky and eventually graduated from USC film school back when John Ford and Orson Welles were guest speakers.)

The fun part about embracing your limitations is seeing where it will take you. What kind of odd connections can you make that will be fresh and interesting? My post yesterday (The Perfect Ending) had a video clip of David Nutter winning an Emmy for directing, and I noticed on that clip that the actress handing him his Emmy was Jamie Lee Curtis. I wondered if there was a way I could play off that today on my all month-long of writing posts connected to filmmaker Robert Rodriguez.

When I think of Curtis I think of her first feature film role in Halloween (1978). And when I think of Halloween I think of John Carpenter who directed the film from a script he wrote with Debra Hill. And it just so happens that Rodriguez interviewed Carpenter on The Director’s Chair.

“Why would a young hispanic filmmaker from San Antonio, Texas ever believe he could be a filmmaker? It was because of your movies. I would see John Carpenter’s The Fog—I’d say who’s this guy? Why is his name above the title. Well look, he’s writing it, he’s directing it, he’s editing it, he’s scoring it, and I’d think this guy is having so much fun. He’s doing it without a studio. He’s doing it independently. He’s doing it with a low-budget. Two hands, boot straps, check, got it— we can go.”
Robert Rodriguez to John Carpenter
The Director’s Chair, Episode 1

I don’t write too much about horror films because it’s not a genre I’m drawn to these days. But like every other teenager in 1978 I remember watching Halloween in a packed theater with people screaming. Great memories. I’ll never forget the one dude being picked up in the movie and being nailed to a door by the bad guy’s knife—ending with the shot of his feet just dangling in the air.

And I remember when I was 12-years-old being enthralled watching the house burn in the House of Usher when they showed the movie one night at the junior high where my mom was a teacher.  Visions of Dracula, Godzillia, Cujo, Norman Bates, Hannibel Lecter, Alien Queen, and those giant ants in Them! will follow me to the grave.

There are plenty of classic horror films throughout film history; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1922), Nosferatu (1922) Dracula ( 1931) The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Alien (1979), Friday the 13th (1980) and Poltergist (1982). And the low-budget films The Blair Witch Project (1999), Saw (2004)  Paranormal Activity (2009) are still in the top 20 of movies that percentage wise are the most profitable movies of all time.

“Horror will always be the same. Horror will always be with us. It was around at the beginning in the birth of cinema. Edison did Frankenstein. It’s one genre that translates around the world. Big monster comes through the door everybody, in every country jumps up and screams. It’s a universal language. You don’t make horror movies to make money. you don’t make horror movies to be popular. You want to do it because you have a story to tell.”
John Carpenter
Interview with Robert Rodriguez on The Director’s Chair

The Devils Castle (1896 or 1897) written, directed and starring George Melies is often credited with being the first horror film, so ending with the beginning seems a fitting way to round out this post:

P.S. House of Usher (based on an Edger Allen Poe short story) starred Vincent Price and was directed by Roger Corman. Didn’t know that until I did some research writing this post. I have written much about Corman over the years and Carpenter names him as his inspiration from wanting to be a filmmaker.

Related posts:

Fear of the Unknown ““The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear.” H.P. Lovecraft
The Creature from…
Coppola & Roger Corman
The ‘Piranha’ Highway
Screenwriting Quote #189 (Darren Bousman)
Stephen Susco Q&A at Full Sail * Think primal. Fear and personal loss are the foundations of many fine films.
Writing ‘Silence of the Lambs’
Orson Welles at USC (Part 1) 

Scott W. Smith 

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