Updated: a day ago


Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Once I have an idea for a movie, I will relentlessly chase it until whatever conclusion I have set for it in my mind. In the case of short films, it's making the short film. In the case of features, it can either be finishing the screenplay or producing the movie. I have two feature films in more active stages of development right now. And there is this gnawing low-budget, quick shoot, DIY feature that will not stop eating at me! It's that suspense marriage movie I keep talking about.


It might be fun to document how I make a film. So I'll write about the making of this marriage movie. It will also be interesting to refer to (at least for me) in the future to see what I learned, how my process evolves, naval-gazing stuff like that.


Okay, so anyway. Here I go. The moment you have an idea for a movie, you have a problem. What's the story, who are the characters, how are you going to write it? That's like the basic, step one situation. And from there, problems mount. Basically, movie-making is a giant problem that doesn't stop when it's filmed. You still have to edit it, market it, distribute it, and nourish whatever big or little life it goes on to lead in the world. I guess what I'm saying is that if you like stories, you're creative, and you like problem solving, then movie-making might just be for you.


I really love solving problems. Big past time over here.


So. Where I am with this particular movie -- I'm calling it the marriage suspense movie for now because I haven't landed on a title I like enough yet -- I've written a draft. A bad, lousy draft, none of which I will use. It wasn't even a suspense movie the first go. I sent it to a friend (a very generous friend!) who read it and gave me notes. I also sent it to a third-party person I don't know, paying them blindly over the internet, to get their notes.


It helps to get notes from friends. They know you, like you, trust you. They know what you're made of, to a degree, and so can be informative to your story in that way. The particular friend I sent it to is a therapist. I wanted to get the perspective of someone who has seen a lot of people go through a lot of marriage trouble to understand if I were portraying a failing marriage realistically.


It also helps to get notes from complete strangers because they won't sugar coat a thing. As for the third party, I used Indie Film Hustle's coverage service. I had used them in the past, and I find their coverage to be thoughtful and helpful. I also wanted to have a screenwriter's brain picking apart the story.


At that point, I took their notes, read them, and let everything marinate. I had hoped to revise the script a few times and submit it to some of the screenwriting contests this spring sheerly to force myself to write toward a deadline. But after considering my own thoughts about the draft and the notes I received, I decided it was too much of a heavy lift for those deadlines.


Then life happened. My son's residential setting closed, he came back home, my role as mother ramped up. I had to table the story until he finished the school year. I resurrected it a few weeks ago. I have set a personal goal for myself that I'm going to write and film at least one feature a year. This year, we released Cecily and Lydia at the Waypoint, the first feature that I've written and produced. This means, I must have something released next year.


As mentioned at the top, I have two films currently in active development. That means that we (meaning the director, writer, and myself) are working on getting those stories to the point that they have been turned into compelling and entertaining scripts. Our goal is to film one of them this fall. At the same time, that's not a guarantee. Producing the film to shoot this fall requires a script and funding. To get funding, we're going to need an attachment (which means a recognized person) so people inspired to fund the film feel like the movie has a fighting change to "make it" in a crowded market. People are probably way more interested to watch "that Angelina Jolie movie" versus "that Christina Shaver movie." Who is Christina Shaver?


Anyway, it feels like a big leap to go from no viable script yet in mid-June to an attachment, funding, and a shoot by late this year. It is possible, and I'm doing my best to make that happen. But with every day that passes, it's a bigger and bigger stretch.


So I'm hedging my bets. If we are able to film that feature this year, great! If not, I'm shooting my DIY, low-budget marriage suspense movie in August regardless. I have a bit of a script problem with this film at the moment as well, in that a script doesn't exist! But it will by the end of the month. I can use it to start casting.


I'm not precious with this film at all. It's very seat-of-the-pants DIY. If it works, great. If it's terrible, also great. I did a thing. I learned something from it. The other projects I have in development have a lot of weight and pressure on them for various reasons, including the fact they are bigger budgets and outside investors. More riding on them. This little marriage movie has much less pressure since I plan on using the limited resources (read: my credit card) I have to get it done.


I will shoot it on the two iPhones I have at an apartment I have access to. I plan on finding cast through the film community in Chicago and also by putting out notices online. I hope to crew the shoot also through the Chicago film community -- people who are emerging in their careers or want to do something more creative than their work in commercials or corporate videos and have time those first two weeks of August.


The biggest problem I have at the moment is figuring out the directing and cinematography. I have ideas, but none of them have yet moved to the front position. I can't really go out and look for a director or cinematographer until I have a script. And even at that point, will the director or cinematographer want to work on this project for so little up-front payment? Those are the producing problems I'm facing at the moment.


But, first thing's first. I need to write this script. I still have a major roadblock on page 15 (another problem!), and until I get through that question, it's hard to move forward. Something will occur to me. It always does. Dear Universe, please let that something occur to me sooner versus later.


Photo by JP Fariax from Pexels

My first and only writing coach, the esteemed Rich Leder, told me many years ago there’s no such thing as writer’s block. If you don’t know what to write, it’s because you haven’t figured it out yet. And you haven’t figured it out yet because you haven’t spent enough time “butt in chair.”


I fought hard with writer’s block today. I’ve been working on a film about a long-term marriage for a few months now, and I’m back at the beginning. I finally, finally, finally figured out the plot either last week or two weekends ago. Now I’m into the nitty gritty - laying out the story practically by page.

I’m trying something new for myself with this script — it’s a suspense movie. I usually write dramas. Suspense isn’t very different from comedy — it’s basically set-up / punchline, except instead of laughing at the punchline, you feel incredibly worried about what happens next. I am a supreme worrier, and don’t know why only now have I considered writing suspense.


We were taught at The Second City about jokes per page. The higher the joke per page ratio, the better. It doesn’t work quite that way in suspense. Part of what makes suspense so suspenseful is the suspending — those moments that feel like time stands still before the bough breaks and the cradle falls. You want to draw that moment out in time. You want to watch the baby float over the cradle, hovering in mid-air right before that crushing fall. And if you can slow down that crash so that it seems like maybe there’s hope, that maybe the baby will make it, that right before it hits the ground, there is a hand that comes closer and closer to catching it… even more suspense. I’m estimating I need a new, suspenseful event to happen once every 5 minutes or so. I watched the first half of North by Northwest, and that timing seems about right, so I’m going with it.


Funny I should bring up that film because it was actually a lesser known film of his, Rope, that inspired this newest rendition of my marriage movie. Hitchcock called that film a failed experiment. He attempted to film it as close to one-shot as possible, but couldn’t because film reels only held about 10 minutes per reel back then. I understand the motivation for him to film it in one shot, to not let off the gas, to keep the audience wondering if any of the characters will figure out what’s hiding in the box right in front of them.


Since Hitchcock, of all people, “failed” at the experiment, certainly someone the likes of me should take up the mantle and try again, right? The good news is that it’s recorded what he didn’t like, so I won’t make those same mistakes with my film. I’ll probably make different ones.


I suppose first I need a script. And part of that script is figuring out the darned plot point that’s been evading me all day.


It‘s been helpful listening to the writers talk on the MasterClass app. It doesn’t matter how many screenplays I’ve written. Every time I’m writing a new one I’m listening to how other people do it. I often hear writers say in order to write, you need to read. Controversial opinion here: in order to write, you need to listen to how people who write do it. It‘s totally impossible to reverse engineer narrative prose. Sure, you can analyze it and criticize it and armchair quarterback your improved version of events. But you cannot reverse engineer it and know how the author got there.


I couldn’t reverse engineer this blog post for you right now, and I definitely couldn’t reverse engineer any of my scripts, which take months and months to write well. You just can’t learn to write by reading. Read a lot and become a great analyzer. Write a lot, and you’ll at least have a start. I’m looking to write.


Or I will be looking to write once I figure out what happens on page 15 of this darned script! Until then, I’m living in suspense.



Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

Tonight was our last parent group meeting for my son's former therapeutic school. When the pandemic lockdown started and all the students returned home, the school started a parent support group. We were going to meet for "a few weeks" until the kids went back to school.


When a few weeks turned into a few months, we kept going. When all the kids eventually returned, we kept going. When the school announced it was closing the residential program, we kept going. When our kids all celebrated their last day of school, we kept going. We kept going until tonight, saying goodbye to the two therapists leading the group this whole year plus. The group of parents have decided to stay together and continue our Thursday evening meetings, but we'll take on a different chapter, without therapists at the helm.


It feels like the end of an era.


Tomorrow, the state of Illinois is lifting a whole bunch of restrictions, including masks. People who are vaccinated no longer need to mask. I've been going to more restaurants and cafes lately - I actually sat down this afternoon to work in a cafe like I used to do. To see everyone's faces feels so nice. I love smiling at people, and I can't stop doing it. It's like I'm channeling to them, "I see you! Isn't this great! It's safe again!"


I remember feeling so jarred the first time everyone in my sightline had masks on. It was a pre-school class. Kids holding a rope as they crossed the street. A teacher at the front of the line and a teacher at the back. And they all wore masks. The sight of these little tiny people holding a rope and all wearing little tiny masks felt apocalyptic.


I live on the Chicago river, and as I write there's a party boat floating my way. Music blasting, people singing, cheering. The sounds of joy! I have missed that. I will never, ever call the police ever again about noise complaints of party boats on the river. (Yes, I was *that* person.) The silence last year was too quiet -- and meant we were in grave trouble.


When you have a family member who requires extra and specialized support, you learn not to sweat the small stuff. You also learn how much small stuff is out there. A heap. This pandemic has reinforced that for me. I have a feeling when I'm upset about something, I'll be saying to myself well into the future, "It could be worse. There could also be a pandemic."