The Making of “The Gate Keeper”-Part II: The Blank Page!

 

Aaron Bass & Jim Smith in character on the set of "The Gate Keeper"

Before we get to “The Blank Page” a little side note.   For those of you who follow my snippets on facebook, you know that the filming is ”In The Can”.  We finished shooting with a rather marathon day two Sundays ago.   All that to say, while I write about the process of making this little film, the process is indeed “still in process”.  (say that 3 times…fast).

I have as of today completed the very tedious process of downloading and cataloging each clip.  And while tedious, it’s also here that I get to enjoy all the funny outtakes.  Although, I am wondering what we’ll do if we end up with more outtakes than keeptakes?  Is keeptakes a word?  Ah, making up words, a possible sign of the fatigue one encounters while making a film and attempting to hold some normalcy of life.  A gentleman that was in the office area that we were shooting was busy with his work, but after a few hours had to come down and ask if we were making a comedy, for there was just way too much laughing going on to be anything but?

Well, ok, it’s not intentionally a comedy, but it does speak to the possible humor of the outtakes.

THE BLANK PAGE:  To restate the obvious, this is indeed my process, not advocating you would ever want to duplicate this.

I started by gathering all my jottings, my outline, my crazy ideas and I sat myself down at my computer with my “MovieMagic Screenwriter” software and began hammering out the script.  BTW, nice software, but turns out if there is to ever be any magic, it still has to come from within.  Damn!  Taken in again by the lure of lovely, promising advertising words of “MovieMagic”.   Speaking of writing,

I had the occasion to hear Mike Rich (great screenwriter and an even greater human being) speak to a group where he shared what he said would be his best advice to any would be writers… WRITE, just write.

Now, I have to confess, with my notes, my outline, my thoughts having perculated on the back burner for sometime, I find that the first drafts come pretty easy for me.  I write.   I don’t self-edit.   I just trudge through until I write the words “fade out”.

However, and this is where I learned why my first drafts were so easy.  When I completed my first screenplay, well,  I was just so pleased with myself.  WOW!!!  I was at page 126 and just finished my first screenplay.  Mike was right…just write.  Back then, I had (for the record, still have)  two good friends that will not only support my whim of writing, but I know will also be honest with me about my writing.  I asked each of them if they would read this newly written “Casablanca” and I couldn’t wait to hear just how crazy over the top they would be over my genius.

To their credit, each, independently, graciously, shared with me that they didn’t get it, couldn’t follow it.  Just “what” they wanted to know, was the story.  Well, that little hurt on my ego inspired me to go back and read (for the first time I might note) my completed screenplay.   Lesson # 2—re-writes.  To go back and read what I had written was one of the most painful exercises I have ever partaken.   Heck, I wrote the story and I couldn’t follow it.  So, I re- wrote, re-read, re-wrote, re-read…long story short, I have since put that particular screenplay on the shelf, for now, anyway.

But I have discovered that the rewards of a good story come in the bone grinding hard work all the re-writes.  In the hammering, pounding and flushing out the details of each scene and character.   In asking the tough questions like why is this scene even here?  Will this be missed if it’s not here? How does this scene move the story forward, heck, just what is the story?  It was this very difficult process that lead me to attempt cutting my teeth on short films.  A 20 page screenplay is a little less ominous for my little mind than a 120 pager.

With the Gate Keeper, I wrote the first draft over a weekend, some 27 pages.   Second draft over the next several weeks and cut down to some 21 pages.   I have found that with re-writes, removing the clutter, the unnecessary scenes, the number of pages gets smaller.  Then life got busy and it was a few months before I had the time for the next re-write.  But it was during those months, one of the more frequent stories in the news was the Bernie Madhoff scandal.  The thought occurred to me, what if that type of scandal, or more precise, character showed up in this story.  Someone who intentionally rips people out of their hard earned money, and does it under the guise of being a gifted, confident businessman.  What kind of justice would he get?  Should he get?  Or, would he even get caught?  Thus, re-write No. 8 at that point but with a new twist.

Finally, I come to a point that I am comfortable enough to know that I have the story.  I know these characters and their motives.  I’ve seen the scenes in my head and now on paper 1000 times.   And with Gate Keeper, I’m now at 17 pages.  I also know, and leave room, for some small, subtle changes.   Remember, it is a work in progress.  And there will be others,  my two friends who still are my best critics,  the actors, and the crew, that will all have ideas or thoughts on scenes and characters.  And I know that they will have some awesome ideas.  Ideas that will make the story better, Ah!  A work in progress.

Now we’ve come to the point of recruiting cast, crew and finding locations.  And I wonder how these elements will change my little Gate Keeper story?

Till Next Time!  And for heaven’s sake….have fun…Fred!

 

 

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