In my book Naked Filmmaking (both the first edition and the newly revised edition now out on Amazon) I stress the value of trying out ideas for a movie in a “Concept Film.”
When starting out writing a script and thinking about the film you want to make, how it should look how ti should be shot — until you actually start shooting none of it really amounts to anything more than brain cells and palaver.
Once I start imagining a film I try to start getting some footage burning. I may not use any of it in the finished film — provided I actually move forward with making the film and finding the actors who are willing to be a part of it with me — but it helps to be able to start seeing something of what I’m writing about and talking about.
Ever since finishing Nightbeats there’s been a story swirling around in my head for another film that I’d like to make with Bonnie as the central character.
I’ve written chunks of screenplay, then thrown out parts for being too melodramatic, gone in other directions, but nothing’s hit the mark yet. I think I’m getting closer and, hopefully, I will start rolling on some of it this summer.
When we made Year several years ago, one of the actors who played a very small yet pivotal part was Kelley DuHain, who is the daughter of KCRA reporter Tom DuHain, with whom I’ve worked for 24 years now.
Kelley is a truly wonderful actor who can step into a scene and jail it without any effort. She’s completely natural and just a gorgeous and nice girl to boot.
I’ve always wanted to do another film with Bonnie where Kelley could play a part as her daughter — they’re both tall, thin, blond, great bone structure in their faces.
Then it started to dawn on me that with this next film, perhaps she could play a part, not as Bonnie’s daughter — but as Bonnie when she was a younger woman and had her whole life still before her.
One evening after work Kelley met me along the river near her home and we shot for an hour or so around dusk. Bonnie has been an athlete her whole life so I just improvised some footage with Kelley running, walking, in thought. This was the result of that little bit of test footage:
(This was edited to a track from Hans Zimmer’s brilliant score for Inception. A piece of music that I could never use in a finished film, but which is used here in the same was as a director or editor edits to existing music from other films as a “temp track.”)
Kelley was great, but once I’d cut this together I wasn’t happy with it. It missed the mark. It didn’t work.
Kelley was great. The camera loves Kelley. From any angle, the camera loves being focused on Kelley. Even the back of her feet when she’s running.
But it just wasn’t there. It was me. I’d missed it.
An idea. Maybe that’s all it was. An idea. No more.
Then it dawned on me: This footage was all intended to be flashbacks, inserts to scenes with Bonnie — a woman at one stage in her life thinking back to herself at a different stage in her life. The concept film had the flashbacks, but not what they were flashing back from.
I went through my hard drives and found this bit of footage from one Sunday morning when Bon and I were out walking the dogs on a gorgeous foggy morning.
I also pulled some other mood shots of sky that I’m always rolling on in the back yard whenever the light is too beautiful to let it get away — and good light only lasts a couple of minutes at the most.
By cross-cutting with Bonnie and the dogs and the footage with Kelley, and using the shots with Kelley in a less chronological, more fragmentary way, I think this suggests a montage moment from an existing film.
This looks like a film clip from a film that could be just coming out or is playing somewhere now.
You can’t tell the story or plot or any of that — but you can get a sense of the film and its mood.
(I’m not suggesting theatrically, because the independent theatrical distribution opportunities for indie films made by people like myself dried up and blew away years and years ago. But in a film festival, online as a film to stream or rent and download, or purchase as a DVD or Blu-Ray from Amazon.)
This sequence — this clip — now gives me encouragement. I can now see some of this idea that’s been swirling around in my head.
And by putting this together, when I’m talking with actors and other people about this film, now they would have something that is tangible that they can see. To give them an idea — in advance of filming — of the project type of film we’d be making.
This gives me confidence. And the encouragement to keep writing.
If you’ve taken the time to look at both the clips, I’d appreciate your thoughts/reactions to this.