With my first feature, "In the Shadow," we HAD to be shooting in Puerto Rico right when hurricane season was starting, or it was no shooting in our location in Puerto Rico at all. This gave me and my collaborators about eight months of writing and pre-production. Ultimately, unless you are one of the few filmmakers out there where this is ALL you do with your day for those eight months, I don't think it is enough time to really get under the skin of your story. With my second feature, "What's the Use?" we made the risky decision to take the challenge of jumping into a story with only five weeks of writing and pre-production. Mainly due to the availability of the lead actress, in addition to the challenge of seeing where this led us. After going through multiple revisions in post for a long time in my opinion, I will stand by my current mind set that there must be ample time in development in order to really get a story going in a good direction.
Working on my third feature more fully, now that we're pretty much ready to send "What's the Use?" into festivals and see what bites, I don't have a pressing deadline to follow. This is the first time I've been able to explore a story more fully. As I said in my last post, I pushed the plot on note cards and a rough synopsis to a good ending, which in itself deserves a small trophy. Stepping back, I realize I need to understand these characters better. My initial synopsis had some very defined visions of who they are. Of course, this is because it's coming from my own limited understanding. I did not grow up with a porn star dad, and I'm not really like his daughters or his wife that much. But now it's time to really get into these people's minds, pick out the dirt, and dance with them a bit.
As an exercise, I went back and wrote a good solid twenty pages or so of their history. How did Barry, the ex-porn star father, get into the business from his humble beginnings as a high school boxer in San Antonio, TX? What did his wife, Vera, do and think about this? Why did their three children become who they are as adults: a struggling puppeteer with a propensity for laziness, an ESL teacher with a closeted fetish for vintage VHS porn titles, and a B slasher/zombie femme-core film director with a dislike for men? Why was there so much animosity between them (Let's face it. A film is boring if everyone gets along. But I need to know WHY they don't like each other.)
Strangely enough, I started to find these characters in my dreams, roaming through my head while taking the city bus somewhere, sensing them around me like tiny pleasant ghosts. On a completely impulsive note, I started to write a play about this strange family. I never have the intention of staging this thing, it's really just an exercise to see how this medium frees up my brain and where it takes me. (My background is in theater, when I was nine and discovered that I liked hamming it up on stage. That only lasted 10 years, thankfully!). Just how every person smells different or has their own fingerprint, writing a stage play about the same characters and story is nothing like writing a screen play. I find I take more risks with dialogue and transitions in stage plays than I do with screen plays. I allow the actors to do things in a stage play that you don't see them typically do in a screen play. At a few points, the damn thing became a musical. What?!? See what I mean?
Today, I have been collecting images based on the "essence" of the character. Meaning, if you had to select some images from Google and present it on a timeline for five minutes, what search words would you type in to find for images for yourself? What sort of slide show would you make about yourself? Images of mountains? Dalmation puppies? Spaghetti carbonara? Chronic jock itch? My own time line would just be five minutes of cheese and cats.
I'm pushing it a bit further by calling on some of my earlier "acting exercises" I used to do in high school when I liked theater more than everyone, even boys. This requires getting into the skin of the character, speaking as them, answering questions on a piece of paper about why they are who they are. I'm going to record it and place these images and the audio on the timeline in my editing program. So, it becomes a narrated slide show of sorts. I've never done this for a character and I'm excited to see how close it gets me to each of them, especially the ones that are not as likeable. I think the biggest problem with creating unlikable characters, which I'm all about, is being able to latch on to them in some way to avoid making them one sided.
So, excuse me while I open up Final Cut Pro and start importing my odd collection of slasher movies, feminist writers, and other odd bits. It's time to get into the mind of Conti, the femme-Nazi B-slasher zombie film director. Here's to you, Valerie Solanis and Jess Franco!