CONCEPTS–2nd post on the NexTV blog
Jake Jarvi here again. I’ll be checking in once a week and dropping tips I’ve picked up over the years about making movies without any money. Since we’re always working on the next episode of The Platoon of Power Squadron (PoPS), I’d like to just talk about whatever part of the process we happen to be on since that’s the part currently occupying most of my mind-grapes. However, we just finished shooting episode 4 and I’m elbows deep in editing and effects (when I’m not working at my day job or hanging out with my wife.) If I just start discussing editing right now, I feel like we’re approaching the process from the wrong side, so I’m just going to start from the beginning and talk my way forward over the coming weeks.
The very, very, very, very, very beginning of the process starts with figuring out what you want your show to be about. Here you have all the options in the world. A lot of first time filmmakers find something that they think is a really important issue or current event that will get a lot of attention. In the same arena, you have the filmmakers who want to stir up attention with something really controversial. Both of these are a fair way to grab attention and generate interest in your product…if you are interested in what you’re writing about. If you choose one of these options but aren’t personally interested in the story of your show, it’s going to be so boring. I’ve been to quite a few film festivals and watched more than my share of super-indy content, and you can tell—almost from the opening credits—that they think their story is important…to…the world; but it must not be important to them, ‘cause I’m bored as hell. This also goes for content creators who deliberately go out to make something quirky. If you’re going to do quirky, it’s gotta have heart. Surface quirk feels phony from the get go.
Do yourself a favor. Take a look at your dvd shelf and pull off the ones you watch the most; especially if they cross all mood-barriers. You want to watch it when you’re relaxing by yourself, when you’re with friends, when you’ve had a bad day, or when your sick. Whatever you pulled off the shelf is your genre. That’s what you should be making because you get the most joy out of it. And when you’re working on something for no money, the only thing that’s going to help you cross the finish line is the love of the game and your belief in the story you’re telling. Stack the deck in your favor and tackle a genre you love .
Now combine that genre with something you know a lot about. “Write what you know” is a cliché for a reason. You’ll have more to say about things that you’ve already given a lot of thought. Take PoPS for example…
I spent a lot of my twenties working various retail jobs, wondering what I was going to do with my life, and thinking that all of my “potential” was being squandered. That’s what I knew. Then I combined it with something I love, super heroes and special effects. I knew nothing about making visual effects when I wrote the pilot script from PoPS ep1, but I trusted that somehow they would work out. After teaching myself Motion and After Effects, most of them did. There are effects in the first episode that make me cringe, but at least they get the point across.
I knew that if I combined those two elements it would be a show that I would love to watch, hence, it would be a fun show to make. As long as it stays fun and exciting, unpaid actors don’t quit. Your crew still will, but we’ll get to that in a few blogs.
Once you have an idea that you like, don’t attack it right away. Think about it for a few days. Look at your elements and figure out what questions are raised by that particular combination of characters, conceits, and genres. Then you’ll know what matters to your characters, what your audience will want to know, and what kind of mischief you should throw at both of them. It will also probably tell you what your main theme is.
A main theme is important because you need to be able to talk about your show in two ways. If a friend of a friend or someone I meet in a bookshop asks me what my show is about, I say, “Super heroes in their twenties who don’t know what to do with their crazy super powers.” That sounds like a lot of fun and there’s a bunch of ways to interpret it. The person I’m talking to is already imagining all sorts of hijinks they’d like to see in that scenario. However, if someone at a festival or a potential investor asks me what my show is about, I say, “Unrealized potential. That struggle in your twenties where you have to harness your natural gifts and use them to get ahead. The super powers make it fun and commercial, but it also resonates.” [Update: April 7, 2011–It’s less than a year later and I already think this is spectacularly pretentious advice. Use the first description of your show always. That unrealized potential answer makes me want to punch myself in the face.]
If your casually hanging out with someone keep it short, their imagination will do the rest and could potentially make them think you’re super cool on top of it. If you’re talking to someone who can change your situation, you need to make it sound commercial, but also layered. Something worthy of study, if possible. Then it’s a legacy project too. And who doesn’t want to have a legacy?
No matter what idea you think of, there are tons of legacy-layers in there. You just have to think about it for awhile.
Next week, we’ll talk about writing tricks. This week, take a look at how I initially chose to present the PoPS concept in the first trailer. I hoped it would raise the right kind of questions to make the audience want to tune in.
Thanks for reading,