I had been writing in my spare time for a few years. I read a ton of books on screenwriting and went to "YouTube U” as my kids call it. I attended a number of seminars, online and in-person. I even wrote a few scripts during this period, none of which were very good.
In April of 2017, I attended a 2-day seminar at Raleigh Studios, right across the street from Paramount Pictures in Hollywood. The seminar was supposed to teach you everything you learn in a four-year film school - in just two days. Of course, it only touched on every subject from lighting and camera angles to raising money and distribution. But at the end of the seminar the speaker said something that immediately sunk in. He said, “Do you think you’re gonna write a script and sell it to the guys next door (Paramount)? It’s not gonna happen. You wanna make a movie, then make a damn movie. Don’t be a pussy!”. His words, not mine!
Wow. He was right. Nobody was going to make my movie. I had no experience, no education, no contacts, nothing! If I ever wanted to see one of my stories on the screen, I’d have to do it myself. What a revelation. But how could I possibly go about making a film with my limited knowledge?
I immediately returned to Colorado and penned my plan. I’d have to write a script that limited the number of characters and shooting locations. There needed to be limited “action” in the film because action costs money. The film would have to be shot in Colorado using a Colorado-based cast and crew. It would have to be a non-union production. Maybe I can enlist the services of my son, Andrew, who had just graduated from Arizona State University and my wife, Ellen.
I got to writing. I used a character from my first script and developed a new story around him that fit the restrictions of my micro-budget. It only took me about 2 months to complete the script working part-time. I was on a mission!
What’s next? I need a cast. I Googled “How to hold auditions” and put a plan together. I advertised the auditions on a local Facebook casting group and started scheduling actors. Soon, I had four full days of auditions scheduled. My wife, son and I held auditions over two weekends. Ellen greeted the actors and had them sign-in. Andrew and I help the auditions. It went off without a hitch and, after two more days of call-backs, we had our cast.
What else? I need shooting locations and they need to be FREE - as in no cost. We didn’t have the budget. The majority of the film takes place in a bar. Andrew and I visit over 20 local bars in the Boulder area (tough work, I know!). Most turned us down flatly. A few thought about it and then turned us down. What to do? One night my wife and I were meeting another couple at Mudrock’s Tap & Tavern, one of our favorite restaurants near Boulder. When we arrived, it hit me! Mudrock’s had a second bar that was segregated from the main restaurant. It was rarely used AND I knew the owner. Why didn’t I think of this before? I immediately requested a meeting with Harpo (the owner) and asked if we could use the second bar to film a movie. He immediately agreed. I warned him that we had no money to pay him. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "No problem.” What a great dude! We had our primary location!
Now what? Well, I needed a crew. But I had no connections to the local film industry. I asked a few of the cast members if they knew of any good producers in the area. One suggested DK Johnston, a local film guy. I contacted DK and met him for a half hour meeting at a Starbucks in Denver. Three hours later the meeting concluded and I had my co-producer. Months later I asked DK why he agreed to work with a guy like me who never made a film. He said he gets requests from people all the time who want to make a film, but typically they haven’t done any work. In this case, we had the material, cast, locations, and sponsors all ready to go. We just needed a crew. He also told me he laughed out loud when he read the script (which doesn’t happen very often) so he was in.
DK broke down the script and developed a budget. He built the crew and we had our first production meeting. Things were getting serious. Finally, we scheduled the shoot for November 2017, and had a table read with the actors. As I heard the actors reading my words and laughing, the whole project came into focus. This was actually going to happen. But was I ready? Could I actually direct? I had no clue what to expect, but the first day of shooting was just a week away, so I had to figure it out.
Next week we’ll discuss being the in right frame of mind to lead a group of talented people when you really don’t have the background to do so.
Army & Coop trailer: www.armyandcoop.com