Crunch Time

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on the draft, approaching my dream cast, and gathering ideas and advice as to how on earth I’m going to get this project off the ground. Now it’s time for a little bit of real action. During the Stockholm Film Festival, I attended a seminar on crowdfunding. Something that one of the panalists said really stuck with me: he said to think of crowdfunding as finding your film’s audience and pre-selling one ticket or DVD at a time. I love that idea. One of the most frustrating aspects of the traditional way of getting a film off the ground is that you’re reliant on appealing to one or two people’s subjective opinions in order to get anywhere. Most readers and producers know their onions and generally pass for very good reasons, but this was the response to one of Fred Astaire’s first screen tests:

Can’t sing. Can’t act. Balding. Can dance a little.

Here’s another one

Kq2

‘Mr Hewson’ being Paul Hewson, or Bono…

The fact is, nobody’s infallible when it comes to picking a winner in anything creative. Subjectivity is just the nature of the beast, but it can be maddening to hear (both about my scripts over the years, and about others’ that I believed in when I was working in development), ‘audiences won’t like this,’ when I’m quite sure they will! The idea of putting that to the test in the purest form is exhilarating. At the moment I’m doing a bit of homework on crowdfunding and formulating a plan for launching a campaign for Watch Over Me in the next couple of months. Not to try to raise the entire budget, even for a low budget film such as this I think that would be overly ambitious, but a decent chunk of it. If I succeed, I’ll not only have a little bit of cash behind the project, but I’ll have solid proof that this is a film people want to see, which should help for the rest to come via more traditional channels. Last week I met with a writer/producer acquaintance who proposed a skills swap: I’m going to give him some notes on his scripts and he’ll help me do a proper budget and financial plan for Watch Over Me. Which is good, because I spent most of every maths class I ever attended secretly reading under my desk. So that’s good. This week, I have a couple of meetings which, if they go well, will set things in motion for my crowdfunding plan. If. This is the stage we’re at now. It’s the beginning of crunch time. I don’t believe in such a thing as a single do or die period for a film; timing and all sorts of things are unpredictable factors and if this first lot of my plans fall flat on their face over the next few weeks, I’ll dust myself down and start again. But still, it’s the beginning of the first lot of real tests for the project, and the momentum could kick up a gear in the very near future, or it could not. Dun dun duuuuuuuuunnnn….

Casting… Casting…

Way back when I first had a draft that only vaguely resembled the film Watch Over Me will be, I decided to organise a script reading.

I’ve always been a big fan of readings. To me, judging a script by what’s on the page is like judging a flight when the plane is trundling towards the runway. You can maybe imagine what it will be like in the air (especially if you fly often enough to be able to make an educated guess), but it’s all a bit clunky and you’re not really sure. So, as soon as I have a draft that’s maybe-hopefully-starting-to-be-something, I gather up some generous actors and get them to lift it off the page.

MV5BMjI3NDUwMTczNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzg3MTQxNA@@._V1._SX450SY450_An actor friend of mine, when I told him about the script, suggested that his friend Michelle Meadows read Regan. Incidentally (shameless name drop alert!), that night Anders was read by Johannes Kuhnke, whose film Force Majeure is currently tearing it up through awards season. More importantly, even though Regan wasn’t properly written yet, Michelle nailed her and from then on became Regan in my head… even if I didn’t tell her for about two years!

Then followed a couple of years of exploring and tinkering. Once or twice I thought I’d cracked it, a few times it came close to being optioned by production companies, but I was still dancing around the story I really wanted to tell, so those early interests tended to dwindle away.

I’ll talk more about how I decided to produce it myself in another post; today is about casting so the next thing you need to know is that I’d just about made the decision to do so when a comedy called Welcome to Sweden came on air. I was half watching it one Friday evening, when Anders walked on screen.

Not literally Anders – he’s been known to answer to the name Gustav Roth – but Anders all the10036-10 same, so naturally I stalked him until he agreed to play the role. After a bit of fruitless Googling that Friday evening, I enlisted the help of a friend who, being one of the biggest casting directors in Sweden, knows of every actor there is to know. She provided me with Gustav’s email address, I got in touch and he, being an open and trusting kind of guy, agreed to meet me for coffee.

After that, we met again with Michelle. They read a couple of scenes, it was clear they were perfect, and so now I had a Regan and an Anders!

At which point I realised I’d properly committed to making the film.

img_slide01My most recent casting coup has been Tove. For those who have read the blog (more on that later), in adapting the story back into a film I’ve kind of combined Tove and Malin into one glorious bad guy. With every draft I’m falling more and more in love with this character as she grows into a proper femme fatale. (Literally – remember the killer I mentioned a post or two ago? That would be Tove.) Finding the right actress to do her justice was a challenge.

Another little side project of mine (which has been sadly neglected for the past few months, though not for much longer!) is a series of development readings (remember how much I love those!) of scripts I have in the works. I’d seen the fantastic Josefin Ljungman on stage at Stockholms Stadsteater a couple of times, and so asked her to take part in one of the first episodes. She was fantastic and right away I knew I’d found my Tove – luckily, she agreed!

So now I have my principle cast!

Cellophane… Miss Cellophane…

Three post titles from Broadway songs in a row!! Whoop.

I am the world’s worst schmoozer. Don’t mind chatting to people randomly in social situations, quite happy to pitch formally to a panel – but wandering around industry mingles at film festivals armed with business cards and a cheesy grin? The sheer thought of it makes me want to curl up in a little ball and eat ice cream. Forever.

However, it’s how things are done. It’s not the only way things are done, I’ve made it this far mostly on email queries, but that’s writing gigs. This is producing a movie. There’s no getting around it: I have to talk to actual humans.

Where’s the ice cream?

Back in November at the Stockholm Film Festival, taking advantage of the opportunity to get a bit of practice in on home turf, I decided to force myself to go to each and every industry mingle that I could fit into my schedule, and not let myself go home until I had given out at least one business card.

The first night, I was so determined to not give myself a chance to chicken out that I headed to the industry bar ridiculously early… and was the first to arrive. I had to stand there, sipping my free glass of wine with affected casualness that was fooling no one, while the barstaff all watched me with undisguised pity.

As people started to trickle in, I sternly reminded myself that it was for the good of Watch Over Me, pasted a smile on my face and said hello to the first person who looked vaguely approachable. She turned out to a festival volunteer with nothing to do with the film industry, but having been reminded that I am capable of stringing words together in a manner that vaguely resembles a conversation, I felt a bit emboldened. Luckily, a few minutes later heard the most welcome words ever to be heard whilst braving an industry mingle alone:

“Hi! I don’t know anyone – can I hang out with you?”

They came from a lovely lady who promptly became my Festival Buddy. She’s a producer based in LA who happened to be in Stockholm and decided to drop in on the festival. Over the next few days she advised me on ‘working’ a festival, bullied me into approaching distributors and sales agents with my card, and shared all sorts of Hollywood gossip, which is one of my favourite things in the world.

One day I attended a series of seminars on independent financing and distribution, and came away with a notebook filled with ideas, inspiration, and to-do lists.

Distributors are basically the people who get your film to the audience. It’s all well and good to have completed a movie, but if you don’t have a distribution deal, no one outside those you personally show it to will get to see it.

Increasingly though, the lines between production company and distributor are blurring, and some distributors are interested in getting involved with films earlier: essentially saying, ‘we’ll support you making this film, on the condition that you sell it to us when it’s made’. This is the holy grail to the indie filmmaker, as it’s much easier to get film financing if you have such a ‘pre sale’ in place.

I’m not sure how well I’ve explained that all, please feel free to ask – or correct me! – in the comments!

Anyway, so there I am in this seminar, scribbling away, when it seemed as though one of the guys on the panel was practically saying: Watch Over Me is just what I am looking for. At the end of seminars like that, loads of people swarm around the panelists hoping to get their chance to schmooze and normally I scurry away, but that day, I was determined.

When I got to the stage, of course someone was already talking to him so I… hovered nearby, like the cool and socially competent person I am. After a while, it was clear that they were trying to set up for the next seminar, but I had hovered for so long at this point that I just couldn’t stop.

A festival staff member approached to shoo me away; I blurted something to the effect that I had been waiting to talk to the guy, but it was fine, I could just sit down… and she beckoned him over. Argh! He stared at me expectantly, I fumbled for a card and started to introduce myself – and the festival staff member snapped that there was no time for that and told me to go and sit down – mid sentence!

Oh the humanity! Why did she beckon him over if I wasn’t allowed to talk to him?

Anyway, he kindly took my card and I fled. Later that afternoon, aware that I couldn’t possibly make anything worse, I emailed him. He is now reading the script.

Maybe I’m not so awful at schmoozing after all!

A Spark to Pierce the Dark

I won’t deny that I would be mildly entertained if I managed to make every title of a post here a random Broadway lyric (I’m not much of a musical fan but I am a big random fan ), but let’s not tempt fate: we’re only two in.

The spark that would become Watch Over Me – I can’t even call it a concept at that stage because that would imbue it with way too much substance – has been rattling around my brain for donkey’s years. I have a recollection of scribbling something vaguely resembling it in my apartment in Vancouver probably ten years ago, and I first bashed out a draft which was read at Scripttank in London a year or two later.

All I knew about it at that point was that a woman would have to chose between trusting the man she loved/was falling in love with, and a female friend – and that she was in grave danger if she picked wrong.

The first films I remember being truly grabbed by – I would have been in my early teens at the time – were that slew of psychological thrillers/neo noirs that followed Fatal Attraction in the early 90s: Single White Female, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, Sleeping with the Enemy. I re-watched a few of them recently and was heartbroken to learn that they’re a bit cheesier than I remembered, but my early love for them led me to Hitchcock, Pre Code thrillers and the original noirs – and an enduring fascination with the idea of trusting those you shouldn’t, and not being able to trust those you should.

I tinkered with this spark a thousand times over the years, gradually fleshing it out and trying on various stories, but none of them quite fit. Then, I moved to Sweden.

There are lots of ups and downs to settling in as an expat, but a particularly unsettling sense I experienced during those first few crazy months was a feeling that I couldn’t read people any more. Between the culture clash and language barrier, I found, over and over, that I’d meet someone, get an impression of them, then meet them again and they would seem completely different, Or, maybe I’d meet someone else who knew the first person and would tell me a story about them, which didn’t jibe with the impression I’d formed at all. In time that settled down, but it was a strangely vulnerable feeling, and I realised that it was the perfect heightened emotional state to put my woman torn between a friend and a lover.

So Regan was born. An American (I liked the idea of her being even farther from home than I was), she’s punchy and independent to a fault (a second slightly autobiographical touch, another thing I struggled with was feeling dependent on others to translate or explain everything for me). She meets the gorgeous, mysterious Anders on holiday and, after a whirlwind romance, moves to Stockholm to be with him.

There will be spoilers in this blog by the way, I don’t think I can properly write about the writing while holding anything back, hopefully by the time you come to see the movie you’ll have forgotten who the killer is 😉

Because there’s a killer.

Not long after Regan’s arrival, one of Anders’ best friends is found murdered, and it becomes quickly apparent that Anders is the prime suspect. He swears his innocence and Regan is determined to believe him… but little niggles of doubt grow as she faces the fact that she doesn’t really know him at all.

The one person she feels she can trust is another of Anders’ friends, Tove. Tove takes Regan under her wing and fills her in on the history between the friends. In time, Regan is startled to realise that Tove is trying to warn her that Anders is the killer.

Is Tove trying to protect her friend from a dangerous man, or is Anders innocent and Tove framing him for her own dark motives?

Maybe I’ll leave that spoiler for next week!

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

Because when in doubt, do what Julie Andrews would do.

I’m Claire. I’m a screenwriter, with a background in directing for theatre, aspirations to translate that into film – and I’ll wear any hat necessary to get a project made.

After drama school, I littered every theatre in London with begging letters and for the first few years of my career worked as a reader, stage hand, children’s drama tutor, casting assistant, wardrobe mistress (which resulted in my nearly castrating Puck whilst trying to repair his trousers in the pitch dark wings of an open air production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream), and, gradually, literary assistant and assistant director.

On the bus home one day from my job as literary co-ordinator for the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, a story buzzed its way into my brain. I spent the weekend furiously scribbling and muttering dialogue out loud to myself while my flatmate looked on in alarm, and sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning I realised I had written… a TV pilot.

Naturally I did what anyone would do and promptly rang up Channel 4 to inform them I had a series for them.

“What’s it about?” asked the kind lady who answered the phone in the drama department

“Ummm… erm…. well you see… it’s sort of…”

Naturally I did what anyone would do: I pretended I’d just seen a car crash and hung up.

A few months later, I got myself into a random and passionate argument in the ladies’ of some seedy Soho bar, about where the actor Jason Priestley comes from (no I have no idea why either, it was the late ’90s, I can only suggest that Cosmopolitans were somehow involved). The following day at work – at that point I was a receptionist at a trendy ad agency and running improv workshops at night – I searched on the newfangled internet thingy to prove myself right (I was!) and somehow stumbled across an ad for the Vancouver Film School (because he comes from Vancouver, you see).

I applied to the Writing for Film and Television program at VFS that very day. Many years later, the dreamy Mr Priestley nearly became attached to a script I wrote: in the end the project fell through, but the email I received that read, “I have spoken to Jason and we both really enjoyed the script” remains one of the highlights of my career.

After graduating from VFS, I worked in script development for a small production company over there, then was commissioned to develop a TV series by a producer back in London (after I was deported from Canada, long story). Years of the usual encouraging/soul destroying dribs and drabs followed: options that came to nothing, commissions that fell through, endless “very promising, please do send us your next script” rejections. In between, I worked as a Legal PA, mannequin dresser at the Gap and IT help person at an oil refinery in Toledo, Ohio (no, I don’t know anything about computers.) In time I got an agent, was shortlisted for the BBC Writers’ Academy, then finally, a proper option for real money and and a real TV commission.

For the past few years, things have been picking up momentum, and I feel I can officially call myself a working screenwriter without feeling too awkward and apologetic about it, though the nature of the industry is that life remains two-steps-forward-seventeen-steps-back. The ‘proper option for real money’ is currently being financed, and is tantalisingly close to being a real, live movie – though as a wizened old hack I’m well aware that nothing is definite until somebody shouts, “action.”

And now, I am producing my first movie. All by my lonesome, because I am practical and realistic like that.

For a long time now, I have ultimately wanted to be a writer-producer, and having mucked about on the fringes of the industry for well over a decade, I know my stuff well enough to not be going in entirely half-arsed… she says confidently ;-). All the same, there is a huge, almost unimaginably bumpy road ahead and I really have no idea where it will take me. Will I give up in despair and spend a month lying quietly in a darkened room? Will it catch viral fire and swoop off to Hollywood? Will I succeed in producing it but then audiences unanimously announce, “my Heavens, but this is shit,” and I spend a month lying quietly in a darkened room?

Who knows.

But this is where you’ll find out.

This blog and video diary will chart – just as it says on the tin – the story of a movie. Starting from now, when it is me, a script and a certifiably bonkers amount of enthusiasm and ambition, and ending up… wherever it ends up.

Hopefully other filmmakers will be able to learn from my inevitable mistakes, and I will certainly welcome any advice or feedback (or random nice words about my hair when it’s all gone to shit and I’m in the depths of despair) along the way.

So this is it.

Here we go.