Does Anyone Remember Project Greenlight Season Three?

It’s June 1st, 2004. I haven’t slept well in the past several weeks. When I do sleep, I have a recurring nightmare that this contest I entered in will come to an abrupt halt and these well laid out plans I had will also cease to exist and I’ll have to *gasp* get a job, a real job. A job type job. The one Mr. Blonde wanted no part of.

About seven months ago in December 2003, I started writing this script about four friends who become mobsters, and how they ultimately betray one another, either on purpose or incidentally. I wrote the first draft in about a month, and did about two or three rewrites before February 1st, 2004. February 1st was the deadline to submit your PDF to Project Greenlight 3. I never entered a script in a contest before and really didn’t know such things existed up until that point. I had only been writing screenplays for about six months at that point.

Sitting at my computer with about fifteen hours to spare I finished registering and uploaded the PDF. I was pretty nervous as they had some pretty strict rules about having no title page, proper page numbering and absolutely no mention of your name anywhere in the script. I probably checked that PDF about fifty times before clicking “submit”. I recall thinking that I had fifteen hours and that I could go through a few more times and ensure that every it’s or its, or you’re and your were correct. I could ensure that every piece of dialogue zinged as much as it could. But I didn’t, I uploaded it with fifteen hours to spare. Thank God since my computer died a few hours after that.

What ensued was the most fun two months I ever had as a writer. I wasn’t writing anything new, but the peer-review process to whittle down 4000 scripts to 1000 was a real joy. We were contractually obligated to read three scripts and I ended up reading about ten. Some were really good, and some were really bad. I recall one of the best ones I read ended abruptly at page 96. I don’t mean the story just finished, I mean something happened with the PDF the author uploaded and it just cut off. Unfortunately that script was disqualified, which is a real shame because it was so good.

When I hit submit I had no doubt we would make it into the Top 1000 (The Quarter Finals) basically, and we did. What really shocked me was when we made it to the Top 100 (Semi Finals). That’s when everything got serious. We had to sign an agreement with Live Planet, and put together a pitch video. Something similar happened back in 2004, and what happened recently when I shot my initial part of my Kickstarter video.

I hated the first attempt we did.

I’m no pitch man, as I’ve stated before and I’m just not natural on camera. Perhaps with practice I could be, but I’m just not. And the first video we did for Greenlight was just stupid. We were trying to be funny and charming instead of just being charming and funny. So we re-did it, packaged it up and shipped it off.

Sadly, that’s where my Greenlight story ended, on June 1st, 2004.

I recall receiving an e-mail from the producers a few days prior to ensure they had the number where I would be during the time window they would be calling. I thought this was a sign that we made it into the Top 5 (turned out to be 6), but I found other people online who had also received that e-mail.

I recall sitting at my desk, waiting. Every time my phone ring my heart raced only to be disappointed when I recognized the number or the voice on the other end of the line.

Have you ever seen American Idol? You know when they bring in the finalists before the live show? They put them in an elevator or they make some long walk, sit down and are told Yes or No? Being told no sucks. It sucks really bad.

And  I finally got an e-mail from Greenlight saying they had picked the top 6. “Four of a Kind” wasn’t part of that.

Devastated would be one way to describe it.

So what made me think of this? After all it’s been eight years.

I’m still putting together all the links, articles, e-mails etc… I’m going to use for the Kickstarter video, and also once it launches the people I’ll reach out to. I plan on mentioning the whole Greenlight thing in the video, and thought it would be nice if there was a graphic I could show.

The Greenlight site has long since been down, but thanks to archive.org:
(I had to cut this together from two images and I suck at Photoshop so yeah)

Project Greenlight - Top 100

Four of a Kind – Project Greenlight – Top 100

If the decision doesn’t scare you, it’s not worth doing.

“…try to make the one (decision) that scares you a little bit, because those are normally the right ones” – Jeff Atwood

Considering the audience of this site I’m assuming almost none of you knows who Jeff Atwood is. There’s a slight chance you might know him as CodingHorror.

Still probably not. Anyway, Jeff Atwood along with Joel Spolsky created Stackoverflow and the StackExchange network which is a group of sites dedicated to asking interesting questions and providing high quality answers. It’s like a top 50 website now. It’s that popular. I’ve actually submitted a proposal for a Film Making Q&A site, which we can hopefully get to beta soon.

What Jeff was referring to was his initial decision to quit his day job and focus on building the initial Stackoverflow site.

I’m faced with a similar decision. I’m not quitting my job, but I’ve made the decision to shoot one of my scripts. It’s not necessarily a hard decision to make. Almost every writer would love the opportunity to shoot their own work. However, there’s only one script I’ve written where that applies to me. I’ve completed about six feature length screenplays, had one optioned which is looking like it might go into production this fall. It looked like it might be earlier than that, but tha’ts the nature of the beast. I couldn’t care less if that script was completely rewritten and only aired in Germany. While I think I wrote a great script and I liked the characters, I wasn’t passionate about it. It was someone else’s idea that I just kinda brought home.

So why now, why this script? Well part of it is the recent success I had with my first option. Not a major break through but it’s the first sort of reinforcement I’ve received for my writing, well since this script made it into the Top 100 finalist for Project Greenlight 3. Another reason has to do with Kickstarter. I’m not a very outgoing person, nor am I someone who can pitch very well. My producer Liz Friedman handled all of that for our Christmas script which was optioned. I’m the stereotypical introverted writer who isn’t great when talking about himself, or more importantly selling myself to potential investors/producers. With Kickstarter you can do a lot of fund raising through social media, and through a video which you can script etc.. I’m getting better at it, but it’s still not my strong suit.

The final reason, and this is something I don’t really like to talk about is the fact that I’ll be blind some day. I couldn’t tell you when as I don’t know. I was born with a degenerative retinal disease which leads to incurable blindness. My brother already uses a cane and attends a school for the blind. He’s only three years older than I am, and for the longest time his vision was better than mine. So the disease is pretty unpredictable. One of the things that struck me the most about my brother’s rapid vision loss was when he talked about not being able to see his daughter’s face while holding her. I’m not nearly that bad yet, nor do I think I’m close to being that bad. However, neither did he at one point. My vision has been pretty steady for years and I haven’t noticed a major decrease. I can still drive, albeit almost exclusively during the day time, and I still work a full time job as a software developer, but there’s always that sense of a countdown. So out of all the screenplays I’ve written, Four of a Kind is without a doubt the one I’d actually like to make, and therefore see.

I joked with a friend of mine that I wasn’t sure what frightened me more; raising no money through Kickstarter and being embarrassed by the lack of enthusiasm around the project, or raising enough to actually shoot it.

Like I said, it’s not the hardest decision I’ve had to make, but it’s definitely a scary one.

What I learned about film making while shooting my Kickstarter video

I’m still in the process of putting together my Kickstarter video. What’s left is:

  • Finalize flash movie/animatic trailer
  • Finalize and shoot my pitch
  • Add more to the end of the initial video we shot.

That last part about adding more to the initial video we shot is what this post is about.

The idea was to shoot page one. In screenwriting, one page is roughly equivalent to one minute of screen time. Having never shot anything before, I seriously had no idea how long it would take to shoot that scene.

For starters the location we had, which was great, had an extremely small bathroom. After watching Brian, our cinematographer, start setting up lights it became immediately clear to me why they build sets and try not to use real world locations. It’s just harder; but fuck it, art through adversity right?

I started off with very well drawn storyboard and of course the initial idea of what that scene would look like. I think we came close, sorta. We didn’t have room to get all the angles, but more importantly we didn’t have time. We had three hours to use in a bar before they opened. Which I thought was about 90 minutes more than we needed; turns out we coulda used three more hours.

What we failed to get was the part where JOHN exits the bathroom, gun in hand, on a mission. He bursts through the door, makes his way to the front door – opens it, raises the gun as three silhouettes turn and we FADE TO WHITE and roll opening credits. Of course in this video we dont roll credits.

The great idea we had, while shooting and since we were running short on time was to have me interrupt the action. Basically I stood off to the side and said “why’d we stop, did we run out of money”?  It was clever and a cute idea but I really didn’t have my pitch ready as to what I wanted to say and it fell flat.

The plan now is to go back – probably to the same bar but its not necessary since we don’e need any more shots of the bathroom, but to go back, and shoot the scene of JOHN coming out of the bathroom. He then gets interrupted by me again, but this time just to inform him that the safety is on because, in what we filmed, the safety is on. It took my friend, a sniper in the army, to inform me of that. Once we finish showing page one, I’ll go into my pitch.

So this post is about what I learned from my first attempt at filming.

  1. Make sure you find a good cinematographer/camera man. I’m sure some new directors out there could manage this, or some good Final Cut Pro people could do really good color correction in post, but having someone who understands camera movement and lighting is ideal. This is brutally obvious, but it should be said.
  2. However long you think it will take, you can probably double it. This works for software development too.
  3. What you picture in your head, won’t always show up on screen. As writers, it’s in our heads long before anyone elses. It’s perfect with the perfect location, and perfect lighting and the perfect actor etc.. Nothing against the guys I worked with and used, they were great and while it will probably come close to the vision in my head when we shoot it for real, once we’re funded, I was really surprised at how different it came out than what I originally thought of when I wrote it.
  4. What you write might not always come across how you intend. I remember watching the action and thinking “I have no idea if this is lame or suspenseful.” I think it turned out more suspenseful, hopefully.
  5. I know nothing, and by admitting that, I know something, so I just created a paradox or something….GREAT SCOTT…

Tonight I pick out which voice actors will appear in the flash movie/trailer we’re creating. It’s really hard to listen to VOX actors as most of them do radio/TV commercials and they’re doing “pitch voice” when I need “dramatic voice”.

I can’t wait to see it though, It’s gonna be great.

How to make a trailer for a screenplay that hasn’t been filmed

After shooting the initial part of my Kickstarter video, my friend and fellow screenwriter Kelly Anelons watched it and remarked on why I wasn’t showing what the movie could be. She brought up the old adage about “show it. don’t tell it” which is sacrosanct for screenwriters – at least it’s supposed to be.

So how do you show a movie that hasn’t been filmed?

Let me back up.  My initial idea for the video was simple. Shoot page one of my script.

To give you an idea of page one, well here it is:

FADE IN:

INT. BATHROOM – DAWN

A trembling hand reaches out and turns a faucet.

Water flows over callused hands. They pull up and splash water on an unshaven face.

JOHN COLLINS, 20s. Chiseled. In the mirror, his dark eyes meet his own.

He clenches a Polaroid photo, and stares at it.

He withdraws a nine millimeter pistol; loads the magazine and chambers a round.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

Startled – John points the gun at the door.

SOMEONE
We’ll be outside.

The gun lingers in the air.

BAR

Poker table. Empty bottles of beer on the bar.

The rising sun casts light around the front door. John clenches the gun tightly.

He marches to the front door. His hand reaches out, grabs the door handle.

He raises the pistol as he turns the knob – the door opens – the morning light blasts into the room.

THREE SILHOUETTES turn.

John’s finger wraps around the trigger.

The screen fades to white as gunshots ring out.

TITLE CARD: FOUR OF A KIND

So that’s page one. I like page one. I think it totally sets the tone for the film. There’s a guy in the bathroom. He’s looking at a photo you don’t see, and he’s loading a gun. Why is he doing any of these things?

If you care enough to form that question, than I’ve done my job on page one. Propose a question, give you a reason to turn to page two.

So to me that felt like a perfect way to to do my kickstarter video.  In fact we shot some of it, and you can see it right here.  It’s still rough, and needs a quicker edit, but for now, feel free to take a look:

Four of a Kind – Page One from Jack Marchetti on Vimeo.

After that, I give a pitch, which wasn’t very good, and consisted of a lot of rambling and word vomit and about my dreams of film making and why I’ve wanted to make this movie; all solid and needed for a Kickstarter pitch, but after watching it myself, I wouldn’t give me $5 – it just needed more.

So I thought – let’s shoot a trailer.

My camera man immediately said “if you can shoot 4-5 scenes for the trailer, you can shoot the entire thing.”  Not sure that’s possible, but I saw his point.  If you’re gonna hire actors, scout locations and shoot a trailer, just start shooting the movie. Well we weren’t there yet, so what else could we do?

My friend D. Forrest who did the story boards, as well as my friend Matches Malone are both really good artists; so I thought what if we did a moving story board, or an animatic. That seemed like a really cool idea. Well how do you make a trailer for a film that doesn’t exist?

Apparently I’m not the only one with this dilemma, as you can see from this IndieGoGo project.

So what did I do?

1. I immediately thought of all the memorable dialogue from the movie. My script is a character drama, with some action, but it’s mainly about the characters. Dialogue is what I’m best at so what were the scenes that had really cool lines? The best way to get actors interested in a project is to have them say cool things.  Matt Damon did “The Bourne Identity” almost entirely because of this scene.

2. Tell a story. Unless you’re doing a complete teaser, theatrical trailers tell you a story. Most often they tell you the entire story and there’s not much left to the imagination, but tell a story. My script is about four friends who ultimately betray each other – not necessarily on purpose. The pivotal moments are when three of them accidentally kill the others sister in a botched robbery, and the other is when one of them is ordered to murder the other three. So I worked that in there, by pulling out scenes that reveal that.

3. Less dialogue. Okay in point number one I said make sure to include cool things, however, nothing will bloat your trailer or slow it down more than lots of talking. Terse, simple, declarative phrases. My first draft of the trailer script was about 9 pages, which would’ve been about a seven minute trailer which is ridiculous. 90 seconds to 2 minutes tops. The less talking the better.

4. Music. Think about the music. This is important. Nothing will set the tone or emotion more than a song. Nine Inch Nails released Ghosts under Creative Commons. It’s 36 tracks of pure aural pleasure. Seriously, it’s fantastic. As long as you’re not using the song for a commercial purpose you’re free to use. However, keep in mind, “commercial purpose” is vague and if you use one of these trucks you’re agreeing to allow your creative work to also be used under Creative Commons. Pay it forward folks.

5. Elance is a site where you submit a job proposal and have people around the world bid on it. My first run in with Elance didn’t go so well as I had someone create a one-sheet poster for this project. They did a horrible job. What makes Elance good is that it completely protects you. If you hire someone to do the work, and they’re bad, or they don’t do it, or whatever you can modify the terms with them and not pay them, as you shouldn’t if their work is subpar. So if you can’t do the animations/editing/sound yourself, Elance isn’t a bad idea.

That about sums it up, as far as I can think of right now. An animation studio called MayoFlux is in the process of rendering backgrounds, prior to receiving portraits of the characters to use. Christina Rose has also agreed to provide voice over and her likeness for one of the female characters. You can check our her site here, or her video reel on vimeo.

I’ll post an update once the trailer is done, as well as the script I used.

## Update ##

Got the first comp from the animation company showing the “office” of the crime boss Vincent where he will order Mikey to murder his friends.

The office where Mikey is ordered to kill his friends.

Vincent's office.

Begun, the Kickstarter campaign to fund Four of a Kind, has.

This marks the first post in the campaign to fund the “Four of a Kind” film.  Still not sure of the exact date we’re going to actually launch the Kickstarter campaign.  As of right now, we have an animation company working on a full two minute trailer for the film. Read about how I wrote a trailer for a film not shot yet. It wasn’t easy.

So why start a blog before the Kickstarter project is even ready to go?  Mainly to start gaining interest, followers on Twitter and likes on Facebook.