Friday, December 30, 2011

Goals 2012: Where do I want to go as a storyteller?

As in the previous posts, the following questions are taken from Scott Myers' Go Into The Story blog.

* Do you want just to write movies?

Movies are what it's always been about for me. If all I ever did was write for film, I would be okay with that. I have written a spec for fun, and I'm planning a comic with a friend who is an artist, but those are more for the exercise, the experience, than any true professional ambitions. I love telling stories with pictures, any medium, including theater, that does that, I will someday probably consider dabbling in. But it begins and ends with two hours of light projected onto a silver screen.

* Do you want to write and direct?

I absolutely want to direct. Directing and writing have always gone hand-in-hand for me. At first, I wanted to be a writer, but then I found myself taking over the camera when making movies with my friends. And at a certain point, I made a career decision that I didn't want to put my scripts in someone else's hands. As I began to devote concurrent study to visual storytelling and directing actors, my passion for it grew to encompass writing. Soon enough, the relationship reversed, and I wanted to write my own scripts because I didn't want my directing career to depend on waiting around for a script to direct. And so on.

Now, I've reached an equilibrium where I consider everything from the dreaming up the story all the way through to mastering the sound at the very end a vital and valid part of the storytelling process.

Apart from that, when I write for too long, I get cabin fever and need to get out on my feet and be physical, collaborating with designers and especially actors to craft the living movie. Once that invariably burns me out, I'm ready to hole back up in a room and stare at a screen for 16-hours a day, stitching the pieces together. Throwing that out, mixng and matching, and re-stitching until a complete, pointed motion picture exists.

And by then I'm burnt out on the story entirely and ready to go to work on a new one.

* Do you want to write and produce?

Right now, producing doesn't interest me. But I imagine that a lot of the logistical work I actually do when directing short films is technically "producing", so I imagine that at some point, being the control freak that I am, I'll take up producing my work as well. Probably to the same extent that Spielberg or Cameron produce their own work -- may I be so fortunate.

* Do you want to bounce between writing big commercial movies and character-driven indie films?

I don't distinguish between the two. I try to craft stories that require only what they need to be told. That said, a story about the final battle for the future of mankind? It probably needs a MASSIVE budget. A story that features a plummet from 150,000 feet to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean? Probably needs MASSIVE budget. You get the idea.

* Do you want to write screenplays and novels?

When I was 9 I thought I wanted to be a novelist. As I tried to write novels over the next few years, I slowly realized that the only reason I read novels was because my parents wouldn't let me watch movies on weeknights. So I'd read novels as a kid, and every night I'd watch them as movies in my head. Then when my friends and I started making short films in junior high, my writing naturally transitioned to visual storytelling. The rest is history.

* Do you want to carve out a niche writing specific types of movies or write across multiple genres?

As I mentioned in a previous post, science fiction is my bread-and-butter, war my stock-and-trade. Given that, it shouldn't be a surprise that my first feature script was a post-apocalyptic war story.

But as a rule I like stories of all kinds, provided they're well-crafted, emotional, and not self-indulgent dramatically or artistically. As broad as that is, it actually includes a very narrow range of films; the very best. Casablanca and Aliens are my two favorite films, and could they be any different? They're as unlike as two films can be except in one regard: the pitch-perfection of their level of craft. If every movie I made was a hybrid of those two, I still wouldn't complain. But I'm also drawn to the high adventure -- The African Queen was the first "classic" film that I fell in love with. I was age 8, home sick with food poisoning for three days. I watched it every damn day I was sick and rarely have I felt better. I love Hitchcock's witty suspense films: Rear Window, Notorious, NxNW, Shadow of a Doubt. John Ford's westerns, especially Stagecoach and The Searchers.

And I don't say "love" with empty respect, I'm not praising these films because I feel obligated to -- they really are the movies that fuel my passion.

It's also not a coincidence that mentioned Spielberg and Cameron earlier. The depth, breadth, and diversity of their careers has been an inspiration for me my whole life. They were the first two filmmakers I became consciously aware of. As much as I love "Star Wars", I came to it a later in childhood than most. Instead, the "Star Wars" of my childhood were "The Terminator", "The Abyss", and especially "Aliens". I had those three on constant rotation before I ever knew they were made by the same guy. Likewise, "Jaws", "E.T.", "Indiana Jones", and "Close Encounters". I was a Cameron/Spielberg fanboy many times over before my friends' love of "Star Wars" became infectious.

So if I had to pick, I'd want my career to be as malleable as those two great filmmakers' careers have been. I want to be able to jump from one genre to another as nimbly as Spielberg, and and embed myself in SciFi as deeply as Cameron has, before shifting gears to spy thrillers and historical action/romances. Do I want to make the next Titanic? No. But do I want to be the next Spielberg or Cameron? Not that either.

I want to take those influences and be the first Erik LeDrew.*


*(special thanks to Jackie Chan for the assist)

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