Sunday, April 13, 2008

Scripting "Mister Rogers & Me" -- Twice

It's been Groundhog Day for the last month; every weekend is the same.

I walk to the deli across the street and order a cracked pepper turkey on a roll with mustard, mayo, vinegar, lettuce, tomato, and onions. I grab a 16 ounce Coca-Cola out of the cooler, a bag of Baked Lays from the display, pay for everything, and walk home.

Back home, I microwave the sandwich for forty-five seconds, set my laptop up on the dining room table, and get to work on the doc...

Today, I finished. Sort of.

The script is done! Both of 'em.

The first is the rough cut sketch version. It consists of voice over, interview transcription, plus some video direction ("VID: Driving In NYC"). Entire sections, though, are summed up in single phrases -- like "Pittsburgh Children Museum Tour" or "Smithsonian MOS." It comes to about 15,000 words, or twenty-five pages.

The other is a condensed version for IFP's Independent Film Week. The Independent Film Week is an annual confab of indie studios, distributors, and festival bookers. Everyone we've talked to (which at this point is pretty much Paul and Chris) suggested we screen at least a work in progress there before getting into the festival game. The deadline is May 2, which, given our rate of progress, is way too soon for the full rough cut.

Fortunately for us, IFP is all about new filmmakers, so they'll except even a few rough scenes for potential admission (bearing in mind that they accept only the top 15% of submissions). The condensed script, then, is basically the open (which is in pretty good shape), the close (which is written, and not too complicated), with two segments in between: Bo Lozoff (which Chris has flirted with but not tackled; Bo's vociferous and super deep) and Davy Rothbart (which Chris has already rough cut).

I have to read a few VOs tomorrow night, then I'm handing the whole thing off to Chris. He edits twelve hours a day, and is a husband and father of two, so we've been having one heckuva' time squeezing in "Mister Rogers & Me" edits. But the clock's tickin'...

It's been a long road, and I know that we've only just begun. Two quotes are currently pulling me through.

I found this one in a blog post I wrote about a Tribeca Film Festival panel I attended some years ago. Steven Gaghan was talking with Sydney Pollack about a project that had languished in pre-production for three years. Pollack said, "Don’t worry about it, kid. Any project that means anything takes nine years to get made. Nine years. You’re only a third of the way there."

The other was in today's New York Times about actress Helent Hunt's directorial debut, "Then She Found Me." "I was particularly defeated," she said, "So I asked someone, 'Whose movies get made?' He said, 'It’s the people who don’t give up.'"

As it currently stands, the film's prologue is a quote from another one of my heroes, Bono.

"The true life of a believer is one of a hazardous uphill pilgrimage where you uncover slowly the illumination for your next step."

I believe...

And I'm ready for the next step.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Reveal

Just yesterday afternoon at work, I told the head of a major studios' publicity department, "Our audience craves one thing: the reveal. Show them something they haven't seen before."

What I meant was, nothing drives clicks in the movie news business like exclusive trailer and clips. It's not rocket science.

Still, studios roll out these sneak peeks in strategically-timed microscopic pieces. They don't want to give too much away.

Our buddy, "American Hardcore" (and Slamdance founder) Paul Rachman, though, suggested to Chris and me months ago now that we deluge the Internet with clips.

Which brings me to tonight.

It's nearly midnight. We're editing. Well, Chris is editing, and I'm making (strong) suggestions over his shoulder.

We're working on the open. We've scarcely made it past my first line of VO ("It seems to me..."), which means we're approximately .005% into the film, and means that, at this rate, we'll have a rough cut sometime in 2010. Still, it already looks like a film. Which kind of blows me away.

The New York City footage is great: frenzied, chilly, and blue (in contrast with Nantucket's warm reds). Chris also digitized a bunch of 8mm footage my dad shot when we were kids that, frankly, is amazing stuff: me in a crib, Chris pushing me in a stroller.

I don't know how many times I've thought (and said), "What the hell have we done!" Little by little, though, it's feeling like the real thing. The script is 97% written. And we probably have 75% of our footage together. It's coming together. And it looks cinematic.

So I wish we could show you, and make good on Paul's suggestion. And we will. But not tonight.

I'll bring a FlipCam into edit next time and show you what I mean. But it's gonna' be a while before we roll out clips in earnest. So for now, trust me. It's good. It works. You'll see.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Golden Days

Like a lot of guys of my generation, Chris Suchorsky's mind was blown by "The Empire Strikes Back." What distinguished Chris most of the rest of us, though, was how geeked out he was by the making-of documentary he saw on HBO.

When Chris saw Kevin Smith's no-budget, 1994 Sundance phenomena, "Clerks," he wanted in on his New Jersey neighbor's racket. A self-described "typical everyday Slacker, C student," he doubled up and even audited film classes at Seton Hall. Once graduated, he began working in advertising, saving money, and writing his screenplay, "Executing Love."

By the summer of 2000, I'd had it with the Advertising Agency and decided to shoot my film. I based my actions/steps on Robert Rodriguez's "Rebel Without a Crew," an autobiographical account of his attempt to make, "El Mariachi." Rodriguez shot the film by himself for $7000, and sold it to Hollywood for around 1 million.

I set out to shoot a 95 page script in 6 six days, I rented equipment I could not afford, and I hired people (friends) who could not act. This was my failure.

A day or so after my film career ended, I had an idea. Why not turn my failed attempt into a documentary? Why not tell the story of a person trying to achieve a life-long dream and watch it fall apart? This film would become "Failure."

Check your local listings; Chris' how-NOT-to-make-a-movie documentary, "Failure" is probably playing on IFC right now.

I came across Chris via his new film, "Golden Days." The doc follows indie rockers, The Damnwells, through a major label tussle not dissimilar from Wilco's (also documented in Sam Jones' "I Am Trying To Break your Heart").

Megan Gilbert of Zoom-In described the film thusly:

Suchorsky, explores the concepts of artistry, musicianship, intra-band communication, songwriting, fame, dreams, and success. The "American Dream"-like rise and fall of a Little Band That Could provides an excellent tension that pushes Golden Days out of the dustbin of live music documentaries and into the realm of art.

Chris is still seeking distribution, but has screened the film at sixteen noted film festivals thus far, including Big Sky, Vail, Waterfront, and Phoenix.

As a singer/songwriter and first time documentary filmmaker, you can imagine my interest, in meeting Chris, and learning about the making and marketing of "Golden Days." So I emailed him, and offered to buy him a beer.

Last Monday, we had five.

We sat at the bar at O'Lunney's on 44th Street just east of Broadway for a few hours. Chris is scrappy and compact. He was a wrestler at Seton Hall, where he refused to allow a diagnosis of Hodgkin's Disease derail his wrestling career.

Chris' leg bounced the entire time we sat there. This is a guy who gets things done. I like that. Moreover, he's a natural storyteller. And sound bite machine. With nearly ten years struggling to break through the independent film world, and dozens of festivals under his belt, this is a guy with something to say.

"People love misery and chaos," he said.

"Everything corporate is bullshit."

"Documentary festivals and distributors only want films about three things: Iraq, religion, and the environment."

I felt a little silly talking about my sweet little film, given that it was none of those things, and not even a little bit rock 'n roll like "Golden Days."

"What's your log line?" he asked.

I sighed, grinning.

"I knew someone was gonna' ask the eventually," I said, stalling. "A PBS mind in an MTV world seeks illumination through the mentorship of American Icon and actual neighbor Fred Rogers?"

It was more of a question than a statement.

"What's yours for 'Golden Days,'" I asked.

"A struggling indie rock band signs to a major label only to have their album and career nearly destroyed by the people who signed them," he said. "That's what 'Failure' is about too, I guess: trying to find success in a world that won't allow you to."

I told him I thought he was kicking ass, and that I'd get back to him on my log line.

I thanked him for hangin' out with me. We stumbled into the neon-lit madness of Times Square. And I smiled the whole way home.

Saturday, April 05, 2008