I was talking to a friend the other day about his film project and how excited he is that his Kickstarter worked and how he now had the seed money to begin the arduous trek to actually getting his film made.

He’d set a realistic goal, for starters, not one of those “I need to raise Two Hundred Thousand dollars in 10 days, so if you have Two Hundred Thousand friends who can give a dollar each we’ll be funded for our film about the dangers of Glitter Tattoos”. He also said he got a couple of nasty notes from people who didn’t understand how HE could get funded when they couldn’t. I wasn’t surprised.

It got me thinking about why I think it’s important to actively support people who are trying to write and/or make films and TV. I am a firm believer in independent film and love what it can be in the right hands. I’d rather see a good small film than a big blockbuster any day of the week. (Except for the Lego Movie… that one kicked ass and now I’m singing “EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!”)

It’s a relatively small community, this group of people actively trying to be a part of this industry, and I’m startled and saddened when I hear writers and actors and filmmakers getting upset or disappointed that someone has achieved some success and it isn’t them. We should all as a community honor success and genuinely be happy for the people who worked so hard to get it. I feel great when I see someone I know, or don’t know for that matter, get that golden ticket they worked so tirelessly for.

I know how it feels to be on both sides of that equation. I know friends and colleagues and acquaintances who are happy for me when good things happen and I’ve been with people who don’t understand why it couldn’t have happened to them instead.

Success is NOT a Zero Sum Game. Because one person is successful doesn’t mean another person won’t be. Success is open to all comers. Yes, you do have to perform. Yes, there is a modicum of good fortune involved at times. Yes, who you know can be important. But those last two things fall to the wayside if you write something or make something wonderful. Every overnight success I know worked like crazy to get there. They honed their chosen craft. They trialed and errored their nails down to the bone. They networked (the right way), building real lasting relationships with people in the industry. And they were encouraged by their friends and by some of the people trying to do the same things. It should be all of the people.

I love to encourage new artists. I give to projects on Kickstarter and Indiegogo because I LIKE the project or the person whether I know them or not. I’ve helped writers in past by something as simple as giving notes on a script to as much sending a script to a producer because I loved it and it fit what was being sought. I’ve done this for friends. For people who have networked with me the right way. I’m no great shakes in the industry right now. I hope to be soon and things are looking pretty favorable, but what little I can do right now I want to do.

Why? Because we all have a shared goal. That’s the thing that binds us all in a kind of wonderful desperate hopeful community. To someday see our words, our images, on a screen entertaining, inspiring, exciting, scaring, thrilling, and educating people depending on what we’re trying to do.

So I encourage you to stop being jealous of other people’s success if that’s what you do now. Be joyful when someone gets what they’ve dreamed of. Mike Le got some amazing news this week about his script and a director hired for it. I couldn’t be happier for him. I don’t know him, but I bet I know how hard he worked for that moment. I’ve had moments like that and know how they feel. Pretty damn good. Way to go, Mike.

This Blog also came about when I heard someone bitch and moan about an acting part that went to someone they know instead of them. I’ve been on the actor side, too. If I hold my hands about four inches apart that gives you an idea of my acting range. If there’s a part within that range I’ll knock it out of the park, but those are few, so I’ve had my share of no calls after an audition. But I’ve never been angry at the person who got the part, like some I’ve actually heard. The person who got it had a better audition than I did or looked more like the director or producer envisioned that part to be. You can be disappointed and still be happy for the others.

When success eludes you or someone else gets what you wanted, it’s NOT personal. The factors involved, including the other person probably did a better job than you, are out of your control. I know that’s a very hard thing to swallow sometimes. I’ve had to do it a lot over the years I struggled. But all you can do is strive to be better and hopefully honor the person who was.

So… you wanna be a screenwriter. Ok. Do you like torture? Do you have endless patience? Are you a team player? After you’ve created a story, fallen in love with your characters, and spent endless hours, days, weeks, and months struggling to get it as perfect as it can be, can you stand watching a group of people tear it apart and reassemble it to fit their needs? Can you help them do it? Even if by the time they’re through with it doesn’t resemble what you originally wrote at all?

Then welcome. C’mon in. Grab a chair, put your feet up, and now let me tell you about the bad parts.

This blog is partly in response to a question a young writer asked on DoneDealPro (if you don’t know this website, it’s a solid screenwriter’s source.)

The writer wanted to know how much say he/she would have on set for a film he/she wrote. Would it be possible to be involved and have input in every single aspect of production from photography to post production etc.? Wanted to know if the writer was involved in casting or choosing the director. To his/her credit he/she acknowledged that it probably was a long shot, but still wanted to know.

It’s not too complex an answer either:

For new writers, it’s no. You don’t have a say in casting. You don’t have a say who’s directing. You have no say on the music or editing or the rest of postproduction. You have no say on set. In fact, there are quite a few directors who don’t want the writer anywhere near the set.

Luckily for writers, the last part seems to be changing. There are some directors who like having the writer on set, for dialogue or story questions, or just for another set of eyes from someone who knows the project well.

But… those circumstances are brought about when a director and writer have a great relationship, built on trust, working well together, and the writer realizing the director is the boss and has the final say.

Film is a director’s medium. They call the shots and it’s their vision you see on the screen. Directing a film well is a gargantuan job. The buck stops with you. Everyone on set works for you. A director has spent the better part of a year or more, sometimes years, prepping for the shoot. Developing the script to fit his/her vision with the writer or without the writer if the writer won’t or can’t cooperate.

Every aspect of what is seen and heard in a film is in the director’s hand. Good directors are endlessly creative, good delegators, and confident in what they want. A psychologist for the actors. A strong leader for the crew. And responsible to the producers. It a pressure cooker.

The script, as important as it is to a film, is only part of what a director has to worry about.

As a writer, it’s really your responsibility to understand where you are on the film foodchain and keep reminding yourself. Or you will go insane. It’s not your film. It’s your script. It’s not your film. And you have to keep saying that to yourself.

And if you’ve gotten yourself to the point where your script is getting made, you’re in a pretty special club. There are hundreds of thousands of scripts floating around out there looking to land where you are. True, you worked for it and earned it, but hey, you’re still a minority in the screenwriting field. You’re a produced writer.

I’ve been fortunate. Of the four films I’m a credited writer on, only one is unrecognizable as my script. Was I happy? Well, no. They trashed it. Was I angry when I watched it? Yeah, I threw stuff at the screen. But afterward I thought, hey, it’s the business I chose. I’m already past it. The other three films are my scripts, almost word for word, and when I watched them for the first time, it was a feeling you can’t imagine. Would I have directed the films the way they were? In one case, yes. I wouldn’t change a thing. The others?  You always see things that weren’t the way you envisioned them when you wrote them. But then… I WASN’T THE DIRECTOR.

I have what some people think is a life changing, for me, film shooting in the summer this year. I’ve been working with this director for the last eight years on it. We’ve developed an amazing working relationship and a friendship that will far outlast this film. He’s become one of my closest friends. It’s a relationship I cherish.

He’s been a guiding hand in developing the script. He knows what his vision is (damn close to mine, thank You God) and has given me the freedom to do all the creative writing to make that happen. He calls me and tells me his ideas and sometimes I love them and sometimes I argue with him and he’s open enough to listen. Sometimes I get my way. But he always has the final say. He’s the director. I get it.

And guess what? The script is now better than it has ever been. I am so proud of it and proud to have done it with this director.

I’ve been invited to be on set for the film. He wants me there. But I know what I need to do. Keep my damn mouth shut and let him do his job. The job he’s spent the last eight years working his ass off toward.

So to the young writer, NO, you won’t have a say. Can you be influential? If you play your cards right and understand what your role is in making a film, and develop relationships and trust, yes, maybe you can.

I’m going to step back for a moment and thank a couple of directors who calmed my nerves and helped me get ready to direct this short film. Elise Robertson, a wonderful LA director, who told me if I didn’t direct this she’d kick my ass. And one of my closest friends, my collaborator, experienced director, and film directing professor at Chapman’s Film School, Jay Lowi, who loaded me up with all kinds of knowledge I had to cram into my head in about three days. He was the one who told me to edit each scene in my head as I shot it so I wouldn’t forget a shot or to find a shot I hadn’t conceived of to complete what I imagined to be the finished scene. It was brilliant simple advice and it worked.

I spent the few days I had before shooting getting my shot lists together and breaking down each day's shooting schedule. I also looked at the film as a whole to decide what tone, overall look, and recurring themes I would use to advance the story visually. I broke down each character so I could communicate to the principle actors what I wanted each one to distinctly portray.  Again… there was NO SCRIPT, just an outline so this was important.

I was unbelievably fortunate to get such wonderful actors who were open to my sometimes strange ideas and spur of the moment concepts. This film wouldn’t have turned out so well without the great performances and the special things they brought and added on their own.

I’ve also been fortunate to be on sets with some iconic directors as a minor league actor. Coppola (twice), Ron Howard, Clint Eastwood (twice), David Fincher… the thing they all have in common, that I could see, is that they hire good crew people, tell them what they want, and LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS. I saw no micro-managing and that freed them up to direct. To do their job and get their vision on film. Yes, the buck stops with them, but it’s a less crazy buck. I attempted to do the same thing in my small way on this film. And it worked. You trust people and mostly they respond with their best work.

But what I really loved about directing was the rush I got from it on set. How it just opened up floodgates of creativity in everyone. How as a director you can see something in a rehearsal or a first take and that makes you come up with the one thing that makes that scene special. Something you would have never thought of writing the script. This was an eye-opener for me as a writer. And will help me in the future throwing out my preconceived notions and personal ownership of my own writing and trust other directors do what they need to do with it. It was a GREAT letting go of ego lesson.

Once we were done shooting, I realized my job was not even half through. Post production, editing, sound effects, reshoots (yeah, reshoots), original music, titles, color correction, who knows what else.

Editing is surprisingly fun, especially if you have an amazing uber-experienced editor that has been recommended by a great director (who actually puts in a very good word for you with the editor).

Rick LaCompte is that film editor. Not a short film editor. His CV is filled with successful films. The posters from those films cover the walls of his huge work space. He even said, “I don’t usually do short films.” Again, I am amazed and grateful for my good fortune. Thank You God.

He proceeded to give me an eye-opening education on the art of editing. And it is an art. He is patient, understanding, endlessly creative, and honest. It didn’t take but about half a second to trust him completely. He didn’t let me down either. He has an uncanny talent for looking at all the footage for a scene as a whole and then effortlessly manipulating it to make it look better than you pictured it. And then building from there, remembering the smallest things he’d done in past scenes to achieve the tone, the look, and theme threads I told him I wanted for the film. An artist. I cannot recommend him more highly.

Yes, the reshoots. Even though I thought I was so careful with everything, I did not get two transition shots I needed for the final action sequence. Bad me. No one’s fault but mine. The film doesn’t work without these shots and as much a magician as Rick is, we couldn’t work around it. So, in the next three weeks I’ll shoot the scenes. Thank goodness the actors and the DP are game. When you miss shots you recorded on a Red camera, you can’t just film them on your IPhone and hope no one will notice. So I have to rent the camera again for a day, too. I complained to Jay Lowi about my stupidity and he laughed and said, “Happens to everybody. Just chill and go do it.” He’s my hero.

Until the reshoots, I can work on sound effects with Rick and original music with my composer, Thomas Tissot. And baby, am I lucky to get him. He’s a creative, fun musician and I can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with. I’m getting him now before I can’t afford him anymore. He’s got a BIG future. And I’m meeting tomorrow with a title effects guy to do something special with the main title. We’ll see if he can do what I want and how much it’ll cost if he can.

This small experience as a director is going to make me a better writer. It already has.

I had time to do all this because for the last two months, I’ve been unemployed and it afforded me the time to get a lot of the post-production done. Well, unemployed until yesterday. Got word from a production company that a script I wrote with my good friend, Jeff Willis, is heading for production and they need a rewrite. Now. So, after we get the notes next week, we’ll be starting on that. And I’ll leave the composing to Thomas and free up a day to reshoot what I missed while we write.

My goal is a finished film by March first. Ok. Mid-March. (I don’t want to scare Thomas) And to have a director sample I would be proud to show any executive. I think I will.

I’ve spent most of this week editing my first short film. How it happened is a story by itself and since you insist…

I was in LA with my manager at a production company office for a meeting. The head of the company, the head of production, my manager, another producer, and yours truly were there to talk about a whole lot of things, not the least of which, for me, was which of my scripts they wanted to option as part of a whole slate they were considering.

It was a good meeting, very loose, very casual, and the head of production (who is no longer there) remarked about one of my smaller slice of life scripts, saying it was not only a great story (thank you) but very visual and did I have any interest in directing.

Here’s where we speak again about dreams you have coming true. My manager was quiet and looked intently at me because I think he was interested in the answer, too. Now, I’ve thought about it many times and imagined what I do as a director, but never been asked by a production company. So I kept my cool, jumped up, and yelled, “Hell Yeah!!”

No, I didn’t. But inside I did. I did say, “Yes, if the opportunity arose for me to direct one of my scripts, I would love the chance to do that.” The head of production smiled and asked if I had a sample of anything I’d directed. The balloon deflated as I thought about what my director’s reel would look like:

1. A cable commercial for a tape that fixes leaky pipes.

2. A short promo film about a teen after school “say no to alcohol” project.

3. Another cable commercial for the leaky pipe people for their new product that fixes holes in camper shells.

Not very impressive. I wouldn’t let me direct traffic with that CV. So I hung my head and said, “I don’t have one really.” and the subject dropped stone cold dead. Wasn’t mentioned again the rest of the meeting.

On the way out, my manager, who as I’ve mentioned before, scares me a little because he has biceps like tree trunks, said something to the effect of “Let’s not talk to anyone about directing again until you have a short film example to show.” And then he told me to write a short and direct it. And do it well.

So once I was home, I began to work on ideas for a short film. The only short films I’d written were two for my friend Tomas for the 48 Hour Film Festival a couple of years in row a while back. But when you have to write a short film in two hours, then start the film production on hour three, they usually aren’t all that good. I’ve rewritten other people’s short films. Consulted on short film scripts. But I’ve never really come up with one that I’d want to direct and use as a sample that fully represented me, both as a writer and a director.

And then… nothing. I mean… nothing. I was as blank as a summer vacation school chalkboard. Then… thank You God, the phone rang. It was my friend Mitch Costanza, who had produced and cast me in a fabulous short he’d written and my other friend Andre Welsh had directed. (It’s called The Process. Find it on the net and watch it, it’s amazing.) Anyway, Mitch wanted to talk about his next short which I had helped him with a few weeks before, working on his story outline.

He was agitated. He’d fired his director (not Andre, who is GREAT) over “creative differences”. I said I knew a bunch of local directors who might be good on short notice. He said, “No. I was thinking you might want to do it.” Heavenly lights shined down on me. Choirs of angels sang. This was the golden chance I had waited for. So I said, “Give me 24 hours.” instead of “YES!!!”. Then I called two very good directors I know in LA and asked them if I was ready to do this on such short notice. Both said, “Idiot. Go do it.”

And it was very short notice. One week’s notice. It was cast. The crew was set. Locations locked down. All I had to do was come in and direct it. Well…

There also was no script. Since Mitch wanted this to be a silent film, almost a cartoon with live people, all he had was the outline we had worked on. The other director’s storyboards were worthless (no wonder they had creative differences).

So I created a shot list, met with the AD, met with the crew, cast a couple of friends who are good actors in roles I added, met with the DP a few times to reiterate that she needed to tell me if the shot I wanted was BAD or didn’t work and to be honest. (She ended up being good at that.) And I decided to trust myself and my creative ability.

Four day shoot. Red Scarlet camera. Zeiss Primes. A crew of 24. All the permits we needed to close the streets and sidewalks in Berkeley and Oakland. Crew was on top of everything. There were no missing props. The wardrobe I’d picked for the actors was there with extra sets. Grip truck was there. Food. About 70 extras over the four days. And me, scared to friggin’ death.

We shot on a steep hill in Petaluma, inside a fancy restaurant, one street in Berkeley, four different blocks of sidewalk in Oakland, inside a townhouse, and in a park in Berkeley. We shot a lot of people riding and crashing on ice blocks down the steep hill, a runaway shopping cart, a snow cone disaster, put our protagonist through the human version of a dog agility run, shot a gratuitous crossdressing scene (size 12 heels are surprisingly easy to find), had an actress get hit multiple times in the face with a cloth napkin, and staged a car stunt.

I put the camera/DP on the ground multiple times, rolling around once on the grass of the steep hill, inside a speeding shopping cart, inside a sno-cone truck, on a rolling wheelchair, had the camera jumping up and down, put it on the top of a ladder, and under a car. I edited each scene in my head as we shot and that helped a LOT.

Exhilarating. Exhausting. Wonderful. I had a ball. By day four I was able to unclench a few muscles and take in the fun of it. I had a great crew and trusted them do their jobs. They did them and it seemed to all work. And a few days afterward, got the whole film on an external drive. Next… on to editing.