A while back I cast Melbourne comedian Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall in the role of Jefferson, who is the best friend and housemate of the protagonist Jamie. Al is a very funny guy and working with him has been absolutely hilarious. For the last few weeks I've been working with him on a song that Jeff and Jamie will perform (when drunk one night in their living room) late in the film. I'm totally stoked with how the track is turning out and I can't way to record the final version. I don't want to give away too much info about the song just yet, but for now here are a few photos of Al in action:
Over the past month or so I've spent a lot of time workshopping scenes with the actors and then rewriting them with Jack. I first started thinking about using a process like this back in 2007, so it feels really great to be finally giving it a go. The good news is that it works fantastically well!
For the past twelve months, Chris and I have been developing the script that has turned into PLAY IT SAFE. As the project now approaches the production phase, we occasionally remark with wonder that, "Hey, we're making a movie!" Though a lot of work remains - really, the bulk of it - to get to the finishing point, reflecting on the project's humble origins to the broad, collaborative task it has now become is quite inspiring.
In my last post, I talked about the main aim I had when I started this project. To put simply, I didn't have a particular vision or idea I want to realise. I just wanted to make a feature film! When Jack and I agreed to write the screenplay, we both knew that realising that (seemingly simple) and was going to be very challenging. Neither of us had written a feature length script before, and we both enjoyed procrastinating as much as the next writer. To combat this, we decided to set up a bunch of commandments or rules to help us along the way. We decided upon four main commandments to keep us on the straight and narrow, and then gradually added a bunch of other guidelines to help us with specific areas.
Over the next few months I'm going to do my best to not only keep you updated with our progress as we begin shooting Play It Safe, but to also fill you in on its development during 2011. The first step in charting our journey must be a discussion of the aims I had when I set out to make Play It Safe.
As I famously exclaimed to my co-writer Jack White one night back in early 2011: “If I’m doing things then I want to be doing them, not like not doing them!” In some ways this eloquent statement sums up what Play It Safe has been about from the beginning. Namely, I wanted to make a feature film!
After years of making short films and then music videos I needed a change. In late 2010 I decided to take a risk and make my first feature film. I also decided that I wanted to get it done as soon as possible. There were a few external factors in this, but primarily I just wanted to force myself to get it done. I'd heard many stories about films ending up in development hell, just gestating for years and years. I didn't want to go through that. I didn't have a concept that I was precious about and would give up anything to realise. I just wanted to direct a movie. If someone handed me a great script that I could direct on a micro-budget, then I would have just done it. Unfortunately that wasn’t really an option for me, so the next best thing was to just do it myself.
I love (and also loathe) writing, but it wasn't (and still isn't) my primary aim to work as a writer. I wanted work as a director. I wanted to make films. And any kind of screenplay that Jack and I were going to write needed to feed into that, regardless of how much we might want to write about explosions and dragons and all those other awesome things. I needed a screenplay that I could shoot as soon as possible! I wasn't interested in developing a spec script that I would probably never be able to sell or get funded.
That's what I meant when I said “If I’m doing things then I want to be doing them, not like not doing them!” I certainly could have put it better, but that sentiment has guided everything we have done since then. It might be fun to imagine a grand epic, but if it can't be realised with the resources we have then it's not a road we can go down. I've mentioned before that working with limitations can have a lot of benefits, and this has definitely been true with Play It Safe so far. Our focus on practicality has forced us to be really creative, and consequently I think that the final film will be a lot more nuanced and interesting than if we just threw in a few CGI dragons and explosions. (Although I guess you guys will be the final judge of that.)
That's all for today. Coming up soon will be the next stage: Defining some commandments that were essential in creating the screenplay.
Okay, just a quick update for today. (I'm trying to get into the habit of making short updates regularly instead of putting them off because they have to be long and detailed - we'll see how it goes.)
I just wrapped up a day of workshopping with Spencer that went really well. On the one hand, workshopping can be quite challenging - both for the actors, and for myself as the director. However, on the other hand, it's hard to call something that's this fun "work"...
One of the best film-related decisions I’ve ever made was enlisting the help of my good friend, Jack White, in writing the screenplay for my first feature film. Without him, I really doubt whether this film would have ever gotten made.
In my office I’ve got whole boxes filled with drafts for novels, novellas, screenplays, all sorts of crap, that I start but never get around to finishing. A lot of this stuff hangs around for years. I might pull it out every now and again to have a look, but I usually end up shoving it back in its box despondently. It’s a pretty terrible thing to see the result of years and years of work in such a scrappy state and know deep down that most of it is never going to see the light of day.
I believe that learning to work within limitations is an incredibly important part of being a filmmaker. On many (if not not all) projects it is simply a requirement. In addition to this, however, I believe that it can actually be a very big help to the creative process. This is something I learned early on in my film career and I still believe it today. Some of my best work has come out of the technical or logistical limitations I had to work with. So with every new project, instead of cursing the limitations and restrictions I face (even though sometimes it’s mighty tempting) I do my best to actually embrace them.
In late February this year I started work on a feature film project called "Ten Easy Steps". Six months (and a lot of work) later, that same project now has a completed script draft and a new title: Play It Safe.
Play It Safe is set to be my first feature film. I've already learnt a lot in the last six months and I'm sure I will be learning a whole lot more over the coming months (and probably years). I'm going to try to document this process as frequently and in as much detail as I can. I've gotten a lot of benefit from indie film websites like No Film School and Hope for Film so I hope I can give a little back that some of you might find useful.