One year ago, I rebooted the movie project and went public about it. That was the best choice I could ever make. A year later, I just reached the first major milestone: I finished the 2nd draft of the screenplay.
Why is it such a big milestone? Lets see.
One Draft to rule them all…
So why does this draft matters? And more importantly, why does it matter more than the first?
The short answer is simple: this is the first draft I shared with the team. The long answer is a bit more complicated. Writing the first draft of this rebooted Mythomen Movie project took me a lot more time than expected. I planned 4 month of writing, it took me 8, including a 2 month burnout period. I knew it would take some time to get to the end of the first draft, I’m having a day job, plus I’m running a publishing company on the side, but what I didn’t expect is how difficult it was to write the whole screenplay in english, and to make the new structure work.
The big issue was to get this new structure up and running (I teared apart the old Mythomen project to only keep the substantifique moëlle), and while it was working perfectly in my mind, on my index cards and various flowcharts, it was far from being as straightforward in the screenplay.
In any first draft I write, I’m putting way too much information. That’s because I embrace iterative writing, and because of an old mantra that says “if it’s not in the script, it won’t be on the screen“. If I rely on the old Hollywood fashion of timing a screenplay, that is 1 page equals 1 minute, my first draft was 171 minutes long, 2 hours and 51 minutes. If I rely on Adobe Story way of calculating length it was only 2 hours and 43 minutes. That is obviously too long. My target is around 110 minutes, 1 hour and 50 minutes. If you do the math, I had 1 hour of additional material that I need to get rid of.
Because of the creative breakdown, I had a 2 month break on writing, and this is never good news. You loose the flow, you forget stuff you had in your mind but not yet written down, and its hard to get back on track. In order to finish it as fast and as efficiently as possible, I finished the screenplay in french. So this first draft was half in english, half in french, on top of being 60 pages too long. Now you can guess why I didn’t sent it to anyone. I had to trim it down, and make it a better version. Not only because of all the flaws explained above, but also because you should never share a very first draft: its just too rough.
I took a 2 weeks vacation from the screenplay in february to get some perspective and to cool down my brain. That’s a mandatory thing to do in order to be effective. Then I took the printed version and started to read it. It was as painful as it should be. Then, I started to work on the second draft, removing a lot of unnecessary stuff, adjusting some dialogues, changing stuff here and there, and of course, translating the second part of the script into english. It took me two month to get to the second draft, the one that is a major milestone.
Now is the time to say why it’s such a big step.
First, all the important structural issues have been removed. The screen play is shorter, 130 pages, 2 hours and 10 minutes, even if it’s still too long. I fixed a lot of things and I can proudly say that the heart of the movie is there. It still need to be polished, and by that I mean it won’t be perfect until another 10 revisions or so, but this version is good enough to be shared with what I call my first circle. This first circle is only composed of the staff working on the movie, some very close friends working in the industry (or at least understanding how to read an early screenplay draft) and a few outside key people.
It is really important that you’re first shared draft don’t ends up in the wrong hands. And by wrong hands, I mean people not used to read screenplays, and of course, the famous talents, agents, producers, you want to work with (if your plan is to make it big in Hollywood). You only have one chance to make a good first impression, and you don’t want to use it on a too early and too rough version.
Once you shared the script, you’ll have to wait for feedback.
That’s how it feels as soon as you hit the “send” button of your mail. And the time can be long before you get the first feedbacks. The longer it’ll take to get the feedback, the more it’ll drive you crazy. The hardest part is knowing that some part of your screenplay is still really rough, and knowing that your reviewers will send this back to you. So it’s important to keep cool, relaxed and do something else. But what ?
And that’s where the “fun” stuff starts. When you’re indie, you’ll have to learn and do a lot more than just write and/or direct. You’ll have to understand most of the filmmaking process and even if you have a feeling that you “know” how to do that, you’ll have to document yourself. And it means more than just browsing the Wikipedia. To give a simple example: Since the very first day I went public with the Mythomen Movie Project I refer to the writing process as part of the “pre-production” whereas in truth, it’s the “development” stage, before pre-production. It might be a detail, and it is, but if you’re planning to play with “the big boys” this is the kind of detail that matters.
Anyway, I started to read a lot of books:
- Creativity Inc
- The Pixar Touch
- Producer to Producer
- Complete Guide to Film Scoring
- Bankroll 2nd Edition
- FilmCraft: Production Design
- Master Shots Vol 1, 2 & 3
To help me figure out how to produce an indie movie, to make me technically better and to understand how other successful people did. It’s really important, because you’ll learn a lot of stuff (Complete Guide to Film Scoring is awesome, even if it’s mainly targeting composers) and ultimately it will make you better.
But reading book is not the only thing I’m doing. As I stated above, this is a big milestone. The screenplay is good enough to start the breakdown.
… and in the breakdown bind them.
And the breakdown is an incredibly painful process. But the first question you might ask is why starting the breakdown on this 2nd draft when I know there’ll be 10 more revisions after? That’s a good question!
In this 2nd draft, the heart of the story is there, all it needs now is polish. That means reducing, optimizing, mixing, reorganizing, and in the end, cutting content more than adding content. So if I do the breakdown now, that’s the step where you go through all the scenes one by one and put down what needs to be done to make a budget, it will only reduce as we remove unpolished stuff. Of course, maybe some scenes will be added, but the chances of them being in new locations is really thin. On the other hand, the possibility of milking locations by merging some of them, same for characters, is bigger.
It’s always a good idea to have a rough “expensive” budget, so you know how creative you need to be to fit in your budget, and how creative you need to get things for cheap, including creating/refining tools, or just to find ways to get more money. This draft is 20 minutes longer than our target duration, so depending on how far we are from our target budget, which is way under $500,000.00 (our target is closer to $250,000 actually) we’ll know how hard we’ll need to work to make it fit.
Usually, it’s the director’s assistant job to deal with the script breakdown, but when you’re such on a low budget, you have to do yourself as much as you can. It’s a painful process, but it’s really interesting. Every scriptwriter should do this once in a while. I’m only 20 minutes in the screenplay, and already found creative ways to optimize the cost and the story/flow at the same time. That’s one of the thing I like. Having a super low budget really pushes you though your creativity limits to go beyond what you can afford. The South Park movie costed $21,000,000 to make in 1999 according to Box Office Mojo. We are targeting a better look with less than 2% of their original budget. As insane as it may look, I’m convinced that we can achieve it. And not only because it was made 15 years ago on what we could call “ancient” technology, but because since its inception, we designed the project to take advantage of it’s very low budget. That’s where leveraging your technical skills comes into play.
Another interesting part of the breakdown process is putting down the music you’ll need. I’ve been adding songs to my Mythomen playlist all along, but it’s when you have to write exactly what you need in the breakdown that you’ll notice that you’ll need much more than your thought. Mythomen is a musical movie, halfway between Zatoichi and the South Park movie, taking a Disneyan detour on the way. But all the small cues here or there to highlight a subtle (or significant) part of a scene are adding up incredibly fast. So as I’m breaking down my draft, I’m starting filling up the cue sheet, getting everything on track (pun intended) for our first big meeting with our composer this summer.
The Perfect Score
64, that’s the number of tracks I have added into the movie playlist, broken down in sequences. Some classical movie soundtrack, some weird music too. But while I was adding them during the writing process, I found out that I added more during the breakdown, even though I’m only 20 minutes in. The other thing I found out is that I added more refined music (by refined I mean in the selection of track to be used as temp music for the rough animatic edit)instead of just adding general “sequence mood” ones. Of course, I couldn’t resist to add tracks from one of my favorite bands Tenacious D, feature Jack Black and Kyle Gass. Not only because I like them, but more importantly because their style fits with some rock’n’roll sequences.
So that’s how I manage the wait for the first feedback from the team. It’s difficult as I’d love to get back on refining the script right now, but that’s how the game works.
Speaking of waiting, I know I’ve been late to write the february, march and april log, but I decided to stop them for now to focus on more in depth and punctual articles instead of forcing myself into filling the void. Yep, the indie filmmaker life is not as crazy and interesting as we’d like to make you believe ;)