Monday, December 29, 2014

Repost: Neophyte producer learns the film craft

In conjunction with the New Year's Day launch "Dance Step of Death" on the free video platform Viemo, I'm reposting an August 2012 piece I wrote for The Sacramento Bee reflecting on producing my first short film. Producing a film is a magical headache. I learned a great deal from doing this zombie comedy and much more since. 

Neophyte producer learns the film craft

BYLINE: Ed Fletcher;

LENGTH: 693 words

The first tangible step toward my comedic short film, "Dance Step of Death," took place in February over pizza at east Sacramento's One Speed, but the idea of producing my own film was hatched a year earlier.

I'd had adolescent film stirrings, first with my dad's old 8 mm camera and later with Super 8, but I packed away those ideas in favor of more practical pursuits.

In 2011, that itch came back.

After taking a screenwriting class at Access Sacramento, I sheepishly submitted my first short script for consideration in the A Place Called Sacramento Film Festival. The festival – in which they escort selected scripts through the production process – can be a godsend for first-time producers.

In hindsight, I'm glad my short was rejected.

A year later, I was again spending Saturday mornings in the uncomfortable classroom chairs at Access Sacramento, this time enrolled in a film production class. This time, I felt was ready for Access Sacramento's A Place Called Sacramento Film Festival.

Again I was rejected by the submission jury (something about too many zombie entries).

But a funny thing happened on the way to rejection. I had already met AK Long, who enthusiastically agreed to direct the film. We'd started to craft a funding plan, and he'd started the storyboards.

So on the fateful day of rejection, we decided to press on and enter the movie elsewhere. Within a day, I had a tentative agreement with Nathan Schemel, executive director of the Sacramento Film and Music Festival, to show "Dance Step of Death" at the festival, which opens Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

The only problem: We only had 11 weeks.

Producing a film is a little like putting together a football team for one game. Thankfully, Long, a recent UC Davis graduate, brought his own connections and a team of people who were involved in his earlier projects. In the subsequent weeks, people from his network and mine joined as others dropped out.

The job of the producer is largely to rent the kitchen, buy the ingredients, then get out of the director's way until it's time to sell the soup.

In film terms, that means finding a script (easy enough – I wrote it), finding the locations, securing the talent, finding a way to pay for everything and distributing the film.

A co-worker at The Bee asked me how I found the time. I reminded him that I don't have kids. I woke up most mornings between 6 and 7 a.m. and worked for three hours or so, firing off emails and making plans. I'd meet with Long once or twice a week after work and I followed the schedule.

Producing a movie tests your networks. My network rose to the challenge. You never know what people will say "yes" to until you ask.

The process was not without stumbles, stressful evenings and the generalized anxiety that comes with having to trust that all the various team members you've assembled will perform the job they've agreed to do – for free.

Stressful, yes, but the process was magical.

It's one thing to write about three wannabe superheroes and their efforts to look into a police coverup, and quite another to see the characters take shape first in drawings, then in real costumes and finally as local actors performing the words you put to page.

Now, I'm ready for one more magical moment: seeing it on the big screen.

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