Life's a pitch, and then you shoot

No, we didn't win the pitch. Am I disappointed? Actually, not at all. In fact, I even feel somewhat relieved. Why? Well, since all this started in January, I gradually came to realise my script was ... well, ambitious, to say the least, particularly taking into account the relatively limited budget available from GMAC - about eight grand, to be precise.

As those who read this blog frequently enough may recall, the same script previously got quite far up the ladder in the 'Tartan Shorts' project run by the BBC, similarly a means to allow filmmakers and writers the chance to collaborate - with a budget of about fifty grand.

Quite a difference, I'm sure you'll agree. Since the pitch, some research has taught me you only pitch scripts you haven't yet written, for the purpose of getting the funds to go and then write the damn thing: one thing you don't do is pitch a script - as we were required to do - that's not only already been written, but also developed and re-submitted along with supporting material, costs, synopses, character breakdowns etc etc.

Learning this, I rapidly came to the conclusion the decision of which projects to take on board had already been made prior to the day of pitching - perhaps greatly in advance.

Another reason I'm not particularly worried is I've read quite a few books about film-making in the past several weeks - particularly Robert Rodriguez's 'Rebel Without A Crew', in which he details the making of El Mariachi for about seven thousand dollars, in all, using friends for actors and himself as ... the entire crew, basically.

This is what I've learned: it's better to have a script that's achievable, in the sense that it's set somewhere you already know you can film, and it doesn't involve anything that might conceivably require the intervention of Industrial Light and Magic. In fact, one of the most useful pieces of advice I've picked up is this - first, find your location, then write your story around it.

Personally, it's my belief 'Personal Jesus' could have been filmed for eight grand - even, quite possibly, considerably less. GMAC teaches a form of default, industry-based film-making that can frequently spiral in terms of costs - paying tremendous sums to hire known locations for shoots, for one, not taking into account such matters as post-production and so forth.

This isn't the only way you can go about it. El Mariachi was filmed in and around places Rodriquez spent frequent time in. I know of a locally made short film called Scene, filmed in a car park. The first car park they asked to shoot in wanted to charge thousands for the privilege. The second car park they asked, I think, charged nothing. Guess where they shot the picture?

I'm going to follow up some more leads for the 'jesus' script, simply because it's got quite far already in two separate funding programs, and I feel rather better informed about the process than I did before I first went to GMAC, for which I am deeply indebted to them. However, in the meantime, I'm going to work on 'Arabesque' and see where I can go with it. It should be a rather more straightforward project.

Another conclusion I've come to in the past year or so, since I first started going along to the GFT screenwriter's group, is that there's a desperate need for quality scripts. I suspect - I could be wrong, but I suspect - that once many people have developed their skills in terms of learning how to make a film, they may subsequently fail to appreciate the tremendous amount of work involved in learning how to tell a good story. Because, after all, a film is nothing without a story; as Joe Eszterhas, the screenwriter has said (I paraphrase), much of Hollywood is geared towards preventing writers from learning just how desperately the whole industry relies on that one man or woman sitting in a room and coming up with good story ideas.

It has occurred to me, on this basis, that there really should be greater communication between Scotland's writers, and Scotland's film makers. Something really ought to be done.

In the meantime, I finally managed to get the edits on Stealing Light sorted out. Peter Lavery's been looking for it to be finished in time for the London Book Fair, in mid-April, and now I have to work on the outlines for the (potential) sequels. It's been a while since I had a look at the rough synopses I came up with, but that's on the cards for the next couple of days.

Weirdly enough, I sometimes come up with titles before I really come up with the fully-fleshed story itself. Stealing Light is almost a case in point - I had the very basic idea, rapidly followed by the title. And once I had a name for the book, it was like it suddenly leapt from being a vague notion to being a book I simply hadn't written yet.

It's like the title is sometimes my back-brain's way of trying to tell me what the story is going to be - as if it's trying to give me clues, Lassie-style. So, for some reason I haven't quite figured out yet, the title for the proposed sequel (and I've googled this, so I'm reasonably sure no one else has come up with it) is: 'The Secret Language of the Dead'. My unconscious mind demands it.

Now all I have to do is, is figure out what the hell that's about.

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