Adventures in indie filmmaking
With The Truffaut Affair movie set to begin filming in a week, TTA screenwriter Benjamin J. Gohs takes a few moments to reflect on the process so far.
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If you’re anything like me—and congrats if you’re not—the only movie producers you’ve probably ever heard of are Bialystock and Leopold … and that one guy rotting in prison whose name rhymes with “shminesteen.”
So, I didn’t have a lot to go on when the folks making The Truffaut Affair asked if I’d like to join the project as an associate producer. But, as a lifelong film fan and burgeoning screenwriter (really, Ben, “burgeoning?”) I was like, point me to my limo!
If you’re movie obsessed like me, you may look at the massive credits sections, the many scenes, locations, extensive wardrobes, complex camera work, neato props, lavish set decoration, awesome actors and actresses, makeup and hairstyling—not to mention the staggering costs behind it all—and think: how in the world did they ever pull it off?
Until you’re on the other side of the screen, you don’t realize that all that stuff—and it’s a lot of stuff—is just part of the costly, crazy, amazing process that is filmmaking.
Overwhelming is an understatement.
In a lot of ways, I feel like a kid whose dad’s taken him to work for the day. I’ve met a lot of really talented folks, eaten a few stale doughnuts, thrown up on my shirt, and fallen asleep during at least one video conference.
Now, don’t let the title fool you.
While producers can work on big stuff like attaching talent, securing funding, and hobnobbing at Hollywood shindigs, they really tend to be factotums, whose duties range from scouting locations, tracking down props, filling gaps in labor, helping ensure things run smoothly on set, doing script development … and everything in between.
It’s a vital job but nowhere near as prestigious as Hollywood has led us to believe.
From what I’ve seen so far, making a movie is sort of like a derailed circus train whose company is determined to put the show on anyway.
Because everyone involved loves what they’re doing.
And the rent’s due.
Sure, the rail cars are scattered about the countryside.
The lion is off terrorizing villagers.
And an elephant sat on a farmer.
But we’re gonna eat fire and walk the tightrope and the clowns will terrify the little ones to the delight of mom and dad any-damn-way.
But before that cuckoo choo-choo hits the sugar beet truck inevitably stalled on the tracks, you need a script.
And script we did!
The Truffaut Affair Director Matthew Ben Miller and I set out to write something quirky, fun, and fresh.
Within a doable budget.
Well, local to Los Angeles.
I’m still stuck up here in Michigan, where sugar beet trucks are an actual thing—and our circus trains never derail.
Next came the rewrites.
If writing is rewriting, then screenwriting is re-re-re-re-re-re-rewriting.
Anyone even remotely involved with a movie wants to share their opinion on how you could improve the story.
Some of those thoughts are helpful.
Some less so.
Some make you consider going back to dental school.
First, the director gives you his notes: “I think our man should be a little taller and a little less confident.”
Then the producers render their opinions: “Could we make he a she and not quite so tall … but also more confident? Though, not too confident.”
Then there are the actors: “Would my character really be eating chocolate ice-cream the day after his pet snake’s funeral? I feel like butter pecan would read more … organically.”
Hollywood types love the word “organic.”
I mean love love.
Organic coal-fired power facilities to charge their “super clean” electric vehicles.
It’s truly out of control.
Correction: it’s organically out of control.
Then the investors chime in.
Investor 1: “I’ll give yous twenty grand if yous let me handle the books—no questions axed. Seriously. NO QUESTIONS!”
Investor 2: “My mother couldn’t eat cheese. So, I can’t be involved with a project which mocks lactose intolerance.”
Investor 3: “Idaho’s offering a tax credit if we make the lead a potato. But it’s gotta be a russet.”
Screenwriter’s wife: “Shouldn’t the main character’s wife also be a potato?”
Screenwriter’s mistress: “When are you gonna leave your wife?”
Screenwriter’s mom: “When are you going to finish dental school?”
Screenwriter’s friend: “Got that fifty bucks I lent you?”
Then, assuming your script doesn’t die in Development Hell™ you get to move on to the next exciting step … pre-production.
“So, what the heck is pre-production?” you’re super-probably NOT asking.
Also known as “pre-pro,” by those in the biz, pre-production is everything that happens prior to the director yelling “action!” on the first day of filming.
[EDIT: I’ve been informed that I haven’t been doing this long enough to call it “pre-pro” … and that I should also stop referring to it as “the biz.”]
To ask, “what is pre-production” is to ask, “what is peeling potatoes?”
What is tying your shoes with a broken shoelace and a bad back?
Or a bad shoelace and a broken back.
What is scraping lead paint off your decaying kitchen cupboards because you blew all your money on the down payment and can’t afford to hire a carpenter to install new ones? Even though you told your wife it was a bad idea to start the project in the first place!!!
Pre-production is the stage we’ve been in over the spring and early summer.
It includes scouting for filming locations—like alleys, laundromats, apartments … and the fabled bathroom big enough to squeeze in actors and a crew so we don’t have to suspend our cameraman and sound guys from the ceiling … or knock out a loadbearing wall.
Just kidding, OSHA!
The most perfect of locations will inevitably fall through due to a number of factors including acts of god, acts of permit office, and acts of my folks canceled their trip.
Pre-production also means meetings.
SO. MANY. MEETINGS.
Just like notes on scripts seem to multiply like fruit flies in spontaneous generation, meetings beget meetings.
Which beget more meetings.
And using antiquated words like “beget” and “antiquated.”
Pretty soon you’re having meetings to discuss planning other meetings that will entail more discussions about, yup, you guessed it, scheduling future meetings.
Some filmmaking meetings are long.
Some are loooooonger.
Sometimes the meetings go on for so long you forget why you met in the first place.
At other times, you don’t bother to end the meeting because you’re so close to the next day’s meeting that you’re already there!
While the things that get discussed in pre-production meetings are top secret, I can share my disappointment that there aren’t as many fancy muffins or overpriced bottled waters as I’d hoped.
These meetings are peppered with seemingly harmless phrases such as:
“I love it, but do I love it love it?
“That’s exactly what I was thinking!”
“Wasn’t this an episode of Breaking Bad?”
“Wasn’t Breaking Bad awesome!?”
There’s so much more that goes into making a movie … but my phone keeps dinging.
It’s probably the director wanting me to track down some organic paper clips.
Until next time, stay in dental school.
And watch out for circus trains.