08 Dec Funemployment: Script to Screener
Making my first feature, Funemployment, has been an epic adventure… one of the most difficult journeys that I have ever taken as a filmmaker. Would I do it all over again? Hell yes. I am 200x the filmmaker I was before I started because I learned so much. Here are some things that I learned.
Throughout the process, many people tried to talk me out of doing a feature. Some even seemed angry that I wanted to embark on this journey. The reasons varied from not having enough money to needing more experience to affecting the progress of Moth to Flame as a business.
Though all these reasons were valid, I knew in my heart that I had to make the movie now. I had an incredible location, a lot of resources and support from people who did believe in me. Was I 100% ready for Funemployment? Honestly, I don’t think anyone is ever fully ready for their first feature, but my heart was ready.
If I had to be 100% ready, I would have never made Funemployment. Is Funemployment going to be the best movie in the world? Who knows… but I am f-in’ proud of it and now I’m not afraid to make the next one. I made a feature, that’s more than I can say for all the people who told me not to. Maybe it will be crap, but I tried, made mistakes, and learned.
I had been contemplating making a feature for a long time. I started thinking about the possibility 4 years ago. The first obstacle was finding a strong idea. Once I had an idea, the story of Funemployment itself took about two years to write and perfect.
The reason why writing took such a long time is that writing is not something that comes second nature to me. In fact, until Funemployment, I had only written short film scripts. I recall the first day I took Funemployment to workshop at the graduate screenwriting course at UT, and I found myself walking out of the first day of class feeling like the worst writer in the class (probably true.)
Writing was also a very cathartic process for me since a lot of the experiences that the characters in Funemployment go through are based off of my own personal experiences. Not all these experiences have been positive, but they have definitely shaped me into the person I am today. My hope is some will watch Funemployment and walk out feeling like they saw a small piece of who I am.
I learned how to write as I edited Funemployment. While editing, I discovered dialogue that didn’t flow, felt slow, or was unnecessary. Casting actors that were strong in improv also helped me shape the script. I wanted the talent to make the characters their own so I gave them a lot of leeway, which I feel helped to bring the film to life.
Bringing on a second writer and a few other unbiased editors helped me become a better writer as well. When you are so personally tied to a project, it becomes hard to become absolutely critical about your work. Inside jokes or moments/scenes that you want to keep, but may not necessarily be relevant to the story, are difficult to separate yourself from. Having someone who isn’t emotionally connected allows for necessary cuts and changes to be made.
When you are making a feature for very little money, you have to be flexible. Even if there is a specific location you had in mind or a specific way you wanted your story to go, sometimes things have to change because you do not have the money to get exactly what you want. Sometimes these little changes actually make your movie better. In the case of Funemployment, all of the obstacles we faced organically grew Funemployment to where it is right now.
No matter how much you plan and schedule… sh*t happens. One of the major scenes in Funemployment, a tubing scene that takes place in San Marcos, took us three times to reschedule due to rain. Some of our talent members had to drop out because of scheduling issues. However, by being flexible, we also met new cast members who filled in or found alternate locations and events that we were able to use.
In hindsight, scheduling is the part I wish I had more help with when I started filming. Dealing with multiple emails and chasing down crew and talent was extremely stressful. Bringing on a couple of strong ADs, for the later half of Funemployment really helped to alleviate these stresses and keep the team more focused and organized.
70% of making a feature is mental strength. Spending most of 2014 in my room editing instead of going out, seeing friends, or taking personal time took a lot of discipline. I look back and realize that 2014 was 110% Funemployment and that was very very hard. When my project file corrupted with 50% of the movie completed, I became extremely depressed because I lost months of work. Luckily, I had a Kickstarter to run so that gave me another major goal to achieve, which helped to alleviate the emotional pain, but I was very frustrated.
During these times, having friends who are there to ask how you’re doing, find you on text/chat to talk and vent to, or force you to take some time off to get food or hang out is key. It is incredibly easy to become obsessed with a project of such magnitude.
Having a crew who believes in the project and are willing to work just as hard and support you to the finish line is key to finishing a project. When I was down or frustrated, their extra enthusiasm allowed me to pick myself back up and continue to move forward. If I hadn’t brought on my co-editor, for example, I probably would be stuck at the mid-point of the film, indefinitely.
Sometimes I look back and wonder how I still have friends, since I could not find time for anyone, even myself… but now I realize that I have some incredible people in my life and they are there with me through thick and thin. I am so very lucky. I could never have completed this project without all these people. Sometimes the hardest part about making this project was feeling alone. In reality, I was never alone. I had my friends and a great team.
There can always be things to improve. A film can always be better. That is why setting deadlines is especially important. Mine was the SXSW 2015 submission deadline. If I did not have this deadline, who knows where I would be in the progress window right now. With a looming deadline, it gave the entire team a goal to hit. The extra stress of a deadline gives a team the much needed adrenaline shot to finish a project.
I almost pulled an all-nighter every week during the month leading up to the SXSW deadline. But we made the deadline and now we have a finished product that I never imagined I would have in the beginning.
Deadlines provide a stepping-stone and clear plan to completion. It is structure in an otherwise open ended project. That’s really the problem with a lot of creative projects, the possibilities are endless… so endless that is VERY easy to not complete anything.
Set goals. Set deadlines. Set concrete steps and plans that will help you get to the finish line.
So what now? We’re STILL not done! We just sent Funemployment to a few selected screeners and are now working on the final re-edit. I want this film to be the best I can make it. We are almost there. Thank you for believing in this project, in the team, and in me.
We cannot wait to share Funemployment with you. Until then, be excited, tell everyone about it. Your enthusiasm and support is what helps keep us going. My biggest hope is that people will watch Funemployment and feel inspired to do something, to follow a dream, and take the necessary steps to fulfill that dream. So I leave you with this…. Take a chance. Never give up. This is the spirit of my first feature, Funemployment.