Feature Article

Generosity: The Making of an Indie Film

Part I - The Writing

August, 2007

Rick Schmidt


The Writing

I've had the good fortune to be intimately involved in the creation of an independent feature film. The process has been ongoing since 2006. In this series of articles, I hope to give you a flavor of the endeavor and Indie ("Independent", i.e., private funding, and not through a big conventional movie studio) filmmaking in general.

You could say that the initial steps for any film are in the idea and in the writing, but in this case and many others I suspect, the initial steps were actually well before that. I was a co-writer on this film along with an old, old friend, Ray Keller, whom I've known for 30 years. Pause. That's a long time. (Insert lament about middle age here.) Ray and I met in Jr High. Audio-Visual and film classes were enough to give us the confidence that indeed, we could do this.

Our first film, made with the aid of other dear friends from the era, was Star Wreck. It was a spoof of Star Trek with some strong visual humor as I recall, but the presentation was indeed wrecked when I failed to press play on the cassette recorded sound at the appropriate time to sync up with the 8mm film. The other 15 or so film students knew they were missing something, but what exactly they missed will remain clouded in film lore, unless we post it on YouTube someday. Technology to the rescue indeed.

So, the idea of making a movie, which turned out to be this movie, has been around a long time. And although film school, or at least, some film classes were certainly on the list of 'things to do in college', engineering and computers made their way to the top of the list and took up all the time.

Middle age certainly helps you see the good and bad in everything, and while looking back at the idea of graduating from film school in 1986 Ferris Bueller's Day Off had just come out, and films like Say Anything or Ghost were just hanging there in space, simple in plot and execution, waiting for someone to bring them to earth and a theater near you - makes it seem like a career in film was a no-brainer-fork in the road that certainly should have been taken.

But, at the same time, young companies like Intel were there as well with some mysterious and alluring ideas that held quite a bit of fascination, and their meteoric rise to a place of importance in this modern world also appears in retrospect like a no-brainer that had to happen. So, with no regrets and some extra resources for having chosen an engineering career, the two roads eventually re-converged and making a movie, hopefully many movies, is now the road.

The movie we made is titled Generosity. It is a drama about homelessness and becoming homeless. Usually when someone hears this they immediately think documentary, and since we met many homeless people on the streets of Boulder, Colorado filming this, I can say first hand that there is indeed some rich material for such a documentary. But Generosity is a scripted drama, 120 pages worth, which true to form, has worked out to 120 minutes of movie (if all scenes are included). We did include some of the homeless that we met in a scene in the movie, more on this in a later article.

Photos by Lori Moehn

Ray first had the idea for a short film about this subject in part because living in Boulder, he sees a large homeless population on a daily basis. Short films typically revolve tightly around an idea boiled down to its essence. I won't reveal the hook in this case because it survived into our full length movie, but it has to do with greed and excess.

After having told me about his idea for this short, and asking me if I would like to help refine it, Ray came back about a month later announcing that he had expanded it to a full 90 minutes (assuming one minute of screen time per page of script). I was shocked to hear this because, for one, it should take longer than that to come up with so much material, and two, I didn't know the idea had that much mileage in it.

How Ray came up with those initial 90 pages so quickly will certainly become part of film lore, but it didn't involve drugs if that's what you're thinking, because yes, we're too old for that.

I can see in retrospect how the idea expanded to a full length movie however. If the (potential) short was the kernel, the heart of the movie, the expansion around that idea came from asking, "Who is affected by this (greed)?" and, "What is their story?"

The short expanded by asking these questions, which led to characters with their own stories, and in the end the movie can be described by saying that it is the intersection of these characters and their stories.

However, the word "initial" cannot be emphasized enough. At various times there were corrections or enhancements to the plot line. The plot driver of this movie being the intersection of multiple stories, it was especially important that the timelines and details make sense. "Has 'David' met 'Chloe' yet?" If not, he can't be talking about her can he? But mostly it was a process of revising dialog. After going through the script from page 1 to whatever it was at that time, we started the process again by picking a character and going through each of their scenes.

I can't recall exactly when all of this rewriting started, but it ended in March of 2007, which was about a month before filming began. I have 10 versions of the script on my computer dating back to July of '06.

In the course of writing and re-writing the scripts, the characters start to come to life in your head. Again, this has good and bad effects. The good is that it seems ridiculously easy to write dialog sometimes. Also, you develop a mental picture that can be used later for casting and to fill out wardrobe requirements, etc. The bad is that it is hard to know what you have to include for the audience to know this character. When the audience sits down to see this, they will not know the characters the way we did after having spent months with them. Did we do enough to introduce these people to the audience? Did we give the actors enough to work with? I think so, but only audiences can tell us. Making films is a leap of faith.

Here are some pages from one of the script versions. You can see from the language that it will eventually be rated "R".




NEXT UP: High Tech to the rescue, engineering skills required for movie making, and casting calls via the Internet.

- Rick Schmidt -

Copyright 2007 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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