Hello Phantom Astronauts. I’m sitting in my studio here in Los Angeles and getting ready to talk to the graduate producing class at USC tomorrow. I’ve been asked to come in and talk about my life, my work, and some of the finer points of the business. In the entertainment industry I’m kind of a misfit toy. It’s human nature to try to define things and it’s corporate nature to make compartmentalization a priority. This has hurt me in my life because I’m difficult to define. At the same time it’s helped me tremendously because I’ve built a methodology that allows my projects to rise above the noise. In this week alone I’ve had a top ten anthology of short stories on Amazon, I’ve broken 200k views on a single platform for the last VR film I directed Coyote, and I’ve taken meetings with other filmmakers and new brand clients for Clever Fox. It’s largely because I’m involved in everything. I even bought a mocap suit the other day. I operate this way because on all the projects I get involved in I need to understand not just the material in front of me, but the overall scope of what the work is trying to achieve. Then it’s my job to figure out how to get us there.
This brings me to vision. I have a friend who has been writing a television pilot for a long time. He and his partner are striving to get it right and they have meeting with mentors to read it and evaluate it and get it “perfect”. To me, the script, as a tool, is necessary but it’s never perfect. You need vision and you need a group of people from financiers to DPs to actors to understand this vision. For example, I have a script that I wrote and one reader said…
The concept at the core of ——- is very strong. —— is a likable character who we feel quite a lot of pity for, in the best possible way, and we nearly buy his journey to becoming a “mule.” —— is an excellent sidekick—Jesse from BREAKING BAD, rebooted. His family is clearly well defined and the pilot shows the fundamental problems of modern income inequality (the first class passenger in LA vs. his dilapidated home in Detroit) quite well without hammering it home to harshly. The pacing of the script is particularly good as well.
That’s awesome! They get it and dig it. The very next reader said…
Much of the script feels like the older tv version of smuggling and domestic violence stories. The lines between good guys and bad guys are without nuance, and the pilot trades in stereotypes. Because of that it doesn’t feel grounded in reality or in line with the non-black-and-white view of the world that most of television has moved toward.
That’s a very different evaluation. I kind of like the nuanced Breaking Bad thing better. What does this have to do with vision? Well, readers are the first step in defining a relationship and they’re a good measure of whether one particular group will be supportive of you and your work. For my friend who is trying to get a perfect script, well, this is a harsh lesson because you’re going to get drastically different opinions from readers regardless of how hard you massage your material. That’s actually a good thing. Don’t take it as a kick in the teeth because someone doesn’t share your vision. Find someone who does. If you stuck with one opinion and reworked your script for them you’re not being true to the spirit of the work. At that point you’re not working with a partner to make your project closer to achieving its vision, you’re working FOR someone you hope cuts you a check. If you have the right producer who understands where you’re coming from — what the “look” should be, how the performances should be, you’re going to start seeing things fall into place. Staff your team with people who get you. If you’re making a gritty cyberpunk adventure maybe you don’t want a DP who doesn’t like Bladerunner or some actors who think sci-fi is beneath them. Keep control of your project at every turn and don’t compromise. You’ll find the right team if you don’t settle and your project will be better for it.
Now here’s the other part of the equation. Once you have that team… trust them with your life. If they “get” it they’ll be right there with you and they’ll only want to make it better. As a producer I think that it’s important to ask questions. Get at the meat of it and discover the influences. Really understand where your writers and directors are coming from. Maybe make a mood board of all the things that you talk about and keep it as a visual bible then dig deeper into those influences to see where you can improve the project toward its goal. The first step is always confidence in your project.