Fresh eyes! Boris and I pick up the script again, but not until some “philosophical” questions are settled:

–What movie are we making? The influences are varied: HARDCORE or the THE MACHINIST? CLEAN, SHAVEN or PI? MULHOLLAND DRIVE to MEMENTO?

–What is the tone? We want it out there, but how far out is out? Is it an Aronofsky reality? Or further out, Lynchian? Christ sakes, further out than Terry Gilliam?! No, that’s too far.

–The structure is challenging and questions remain: No way this is linear progression. I’ve chosen not just a Tandem Narrative, but a major POV switch. Is this something an audience can follow? What good does a complicated non-linear structure do when your reader/audience doesn’t “get” it?

–What about comedy? Yeah, I know it’s a thriller. So was BLOOD SIMPLE. Without injecting some sort of humor into this movie will be a root canal for the audience. Can’t let that happen.

Go back to the beginning. What is the story about? Logline says: “A father with photophobia struggles to find his daughter lost in the world of cybersex chat.” Yes, plot-wise, that is the movie. But go deeper. Thematically, I ask again: What is the movie about?

The movie, ultimately, is about disassociation. Modern-day isolation. How some people are left behind, are lost, forgotten or ignored, disconnected in a world of 24/7 connectivity. Recall Death Of A Salesman: “Attention must be paid.” That is what CHAT is about. That needs to be in every scene. That is the motor, the direction, the tone, the essence.

Got it.

I start Draft 3.

  • OCTOBER, 2012

While I’m at war with Draft 3, Boris isn’t sitting home whiling away the hours working Steak Tartare recipes. Boris is a producer par excellence. He starts to put our team together, bringing back producers who he has worked with before, putting out ads in Craigslist for others. By definition, micro-budget filmmaking means paying people NOTHING. It takes an absolute statesman to demand accountability from people while paying them NOTHING (Boris will correct me here and say they’re being paid on a “deferred” basis) but he is very good at it. He puts Lucy onto the Kickstarter campaign and immediately sets a 3rd week of October start-up deadline. He does this because 30 days takes us to Thanksgiving and you do not want a Kickstarter campaign that gets lost in holiday traffic. Jessica is tasked with coordinating casting until the casting guy Boris is interviewing is fully on board. Brian is a promising Columbia student who will probably end up being our zero dollar AD, has good instincts and possible investor financing leads. Jessica’s dad and grandpa might kick in. My mother, God bless her 76 year old soul, will kick in. Boris has rich friends in France and on the Board of Trade…. the hat is about to be passed.

How do you think these movies get made?

I nail down Draft 3. Now that’s IT. To steal a line from POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE: “In my bones I know it!” 95%, gotta be! Maybe some tweaks, a polish, but the drafts are done. Send it to Boris and almost can’t believe the words I get back from the Never Satisfied One: “Yes, it’s ready.” We send it out to our inner circles and get back a 90% rating. Everyone not only “gets” it but gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up. It’s a warped, twisted mindscape of a man whose daughter disappears into the computer. Psycho-sexual kinks, twist after twist an audience won’t see coming, POV through a character with an eye disease (photophobia) not seen in a major movie, commercial thriller genre, all do-able on a micro-budget.

Three women readers (actresses) pass because of personal objections to the material. Music to my ears! This movie will not get lost in the vast wasteland of no-name, micro-budget projects made because everyone can make a movie now! The dropping of barriers of entry is a great thing, but it means a deluge of product, tons of movies made for the sole reason that they can be made. I am going to mess with people’s minds. Confound them, piss them off. CHAT is not destined for that bland, banal, homogenous digi-movie graveyard.

Identify your audience.

Kill the niche.

Story rises above. And the ability to translate it from page to image. Despite the difference of temperaments, Boris and I work together because we bow to bigger fields. CHAT has got to be a game-changer—artistically; commercially—anything less will be a disappointment.

  • NOVEMBER, 2012

There will be one more script pass. This will be the polish pass for dialogue tweaks, adds and trims, maybe a couple pump ups to the set ups of back end twists (because if you set it up in Act 1, pay it off in Act 3). We’ll do that next month. In the meantime I change hats from writer to producer. For a million dollar Indy the writer might not be expected to muck in and help out on the producing side but that’s not even a consideration for Micro. I find myself sitting in on Producer meetings, providing comic relief as Boris unrelentingly details an endless to-do list of tasks to the five bleary-eyed project producers who—did I mention are doing this after working straight gigs and are not being paid up front—take on tasks and responsibilities as best as possible. The list is endless:

–KICKSTARTER: I need to write the video scene and accompanying text with full gift list. Boris will film the actress scene, then film his own pitch, then edit it them together with raw street footage and test scene stills for a three minute or less pitch that will pretty much determine whether this project gets funded or not. Lucy will place it on Kickstarter and monitor donation amounts and names, following up with thank yous to those who join the team, sorting out who gets what gift, etc. Everyone has to write personal emails and Facebook messages to pretty much EVERYONE THEY KNOW OR HAVE EVER KNOWN. Boris sets the goal at $25,000. The fate of the movie rests on raising that amount.

–BUDGETING: Micro means paying for NOTHING or NEXT to nothing but some things cost—insurance, feeding the crew, location rentals, location sound. Boris creates budgets for four levels, 25K up to 100K. State of Illinois has a 30% rebate on services for filmmakers which kicks in at the 75,000$ level, meaning if you raise 75K you actually have a 100K movie. We work on multiple levels, hoping for the 100K movie but ready and able to shoot it for 25K. Amazingly, even at 25K, we can pay SAG actors for the key roles. And you want that… you want the money up on the screen. Of course doing that, leaving nothing for marketing when the movie is in the can, is disastrous if you don’t leave cash on hand for back end promotion. Supposedly, 50% or more of the movie budget should be allocated for marketing. Right now, there’s dime zero allocated for that. The money talk spins my head…

–SCHEDULING: Boris sets the shooting dates from late March to early May. This can play out in two ways. Our primary location is a bank of offices that will serve as the Adult Chat location. All the women’s “bedrooms” will be located here. Chicago is filled with tons of empty office space. If we find an empty office we could conceivably shoot it day and night for ten days and get what we need. More likely is the possibility of having to shoot this movie in Boris’s downtown office, exclusively on weekend nights, effectively pulling 15 all-nighters over a 7 week period. I’m not aware of any empirical study but I’d say the majority of low and micro-budget movies are shot this way. I wrote the script limiting locations so the only other major needs are a plastic surgery office (hard to find), a bar and restaurant (not hard to find), a cemetery and street shots. This will have to be do-able in the 15 day window because, frankly, there isn’t an extra cent to be had.

–CASTING: We’ve got calls out on Breakdown Express and into multiple casting agents. I brainstorm great theater actors who I’ve worked with on the Chicago scene. We will have three initial round auditions followed by a pair of call back, final round auditions.

You’d think with the Micro resources we have we’d be limited with casting options. This is true and not true. Again, working on multiple levels, the plan is to find the best possible Chicago NON-name cast available to us with 25-50K. This means scrimping in other departments like Production Design or Location Scouting to pay the maximum amount of actors possible the $100 a day SAG minimum contract. This opens the door to local casting agents and lots of award-winning local actors who might be unknown nationally, but who are superb.

At the same time, Boris and I developed a list of NAME talent, a wish list of sorts. We will approach managers and agents of these names attempting to snag them. If she loved the script you might be able to get a Joan Cusack or Allison Janney for the Dr. Lauren part. Daily rate of 5K or 7,500 sounds impossible for a Micro-Budget but it might be worthwhile if you think back end sales. How do you separate yourself from the maddening Digi crowd? Having a name in your movie gives you instead cred at places like AFM (American Film Market). Someone like Michael Shannon, soon to be General Zod in the Superman remake, Academy Award nominee would look rather nice on our DVD box, no? Shannon knows my work from his days in Chicago but getting him the script is trickier than you’d think with his new found fame.

Of course if someone like Shannon says yes the movie fundamentally changes. It moves from Micro to Indy-budget. The budget moves from 50K to a million or more. You’re no longer shooting in March, having to raise money to pay Shannon, to pay everyone who previously was working for free.

Would I welcome Michael Shannon into the world of CHAT? Oh yes. He is the game changer, guaranteed to separate you from the digi-graveyard of zero marketing, made-and-never-heard-from-again movies.

Still, the beauty of micro is knowing, if we raise a few sheckles on Kickstarter, we are making a movie come March.

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