WRAP IT UP: A Screenwriter’s Journey Into Filmmaking

By Jack Marchetti

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“Let’s wrap this thing up and move on.”

It was the first time I had ever officially quit on a “movie” project. While this was my first screenplay I ever actually directed and produced, I have dozens of others which I never officially stopped working on. As a screenwriter, there’s always another draft. But with a finished film that no one wants to see, when it’s over, it’s over.

I failed.

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After a successful Kickstarter campaign, months in pre-pro, three days on set in Chicago, one pick-up day in Baltimore and what seemed like never-ending post-production, the final rejection letter had arrived from SXSW. I felt a movie about technology and music would be in their wheelhouse and they said no thanks. Just like every other major festival.

I only applied to bigger film festivals because music was a huge part of the project and would cost between $6,000 and $15,000 to license.  I was paying for that out of my own pocket and not from the Kickstarter funds. Those were long gone. So, I was only willing to pay that extra cost if it meant playing at a bigger festival and with SXSW’s rejection, it was over.

I failed.

It was the middle of January 2015. I e-mailed my editor and told him to just wrap some things up. I no longer needed to worry about the soundtrack because it didn’t matter if I actually cleared the remaining songs since this film would never be seen outside of a password protected Vimeo link.

No need to have a colorist go through and really make the visuals shine.

No need to go back into the studio with the sound designer and tweak every last thing to make it perfect.

No need to do anything anymore.

It was over.

In a way, it was incredibly liberating.

I accepted my failure. I moved on. I put The Evolution of a Gen-X Music Purchaser behind me. I was okay with this. I learned how to make a movie, a bad movie I thought, but I learned something and that’s all you can ask for on your first film right?

Everyone told me the first one would suck and to get it out of the way.

I failed, or I lived up to the expectations of a first-time filmmaker.

And then —

From: Sharon Badal
To: Jack Marchetti
Subject: Evolutionshort – Tribeca Festival Status
Date: January 21st, 2015 3:24 PM

Dear Jack,

This is a request for information only.

According to your submission info, the film was entered as World Premiere status. Please advise if this is still correct, and update festival history for this film, including festivals to which it has been invited that have not yet taken place. I do need this info as soon as possible, please. Thanks very much!

Kindly,

Sharon Badal

In all honesty, I thought it was an auto-generated e-mail sent to everyone who submitted their film to Tribeca. I didn’t give much thought to my reply:

“it hasn’t screened anywhere yet”  

Jack
Sent from my iPhone

I then went to grab a late afternoon caffeine boost.

What got my attention was the follow up e-mail which arrived moments later as i paid for my coffee.

“Where can I reach you at, Jack?”

I work as a computer programmer and technical lead for an interactive ad agency in Chicago. I like to write code. I enjoy it.  I’ve been told, more than a few times, that I’m too analytical with things but deductive logic at this point led me to reason that they didn’t want to call me to say that they didn’t like my movie.

Sharon called and invited me to world premiere The Evolution of a Gen-X Music Purchaser at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

As she said, “We loved your film” or “This is perfect for a program we have” I think I said, “Really?” about five or six times.  I’ve spent 13 years writing screenplays and the closest I came to success was making the top 100 in Project Greenlight’s screenplay competition, 11 years ago. After Greenlight didn’t work out, I moved screenwriting to the back burner and focused on my career as a software developer.  It’s been very minor wins ever since.

I had  a few options that went nowhere and a placement in some screenplay competition no one ever heard of but here was one of the biggest festivals in the world saying, “you’re in.”

I immediately felt a sense of utter jubilation mixed with incredible anxiety. Kinda like that moment when you realize you’re going to lose your virginity.

That liberated feeling I’d come to enjoy? Gone.

I was back on a deadline and that knot in my stomach that I carried throughout all of pre-production returned with a vengeance.

I had put the movie to bed. I really had moved on.

And I suddenly realized I had three other songs to clear along with clearing additional Internet streaming rights as my short film would play on Tribecafilm.com during the festival. Motion graphics needed to be updated, another round of sound design, a new voiceover session and a color grade.

Not to mention talking to my lawyer at length about all the clearances in the film and if I had done my due diligence.

Thankfully I had over two months to do these and I needed all of it. We didn’t officially complete the film until March 26th, 2015.  It was due at Tribeca on March 30th.

So what did I learn about screenwriting from this whole process? This is a screenwriting site after all.

I now understand why the writer is so often overlooked. I don’t agree with it, but I understand it.

The writer isn’t usually on set, they’re not part of post-production and I doubt they’re part of pre-production. Everyone you go to battle with to complete the film often has no connection to the person who generated the entire process. There is so much that goes into making INT. RECORD STORE – DAY a reality that the writer never has to deal with. The on-set drama, the post-production cramming, the tears after the first assembly cut — all of that is typically never experienced by the writer that it’s no wonder they’re never thanked when the film wins an award.

As an example, this is what goes into INT. RECORD STORE – DAY

  1. Location scouting: You spend weeks finding a store. Sure you can hire a location scout but they charge $800 a day.
  2. Lighting and Power Diagram: Go to the store, find all the power outlets and then draw it up for your DP. Also, figure out which circuit the cash register/computer is on so when you blow a fuse at least the store can still make money.
  3. Wardrobe: What clothes is the main character wearing? Does it match too closely to the background? Is he carrying anything? (props)
  4. The pen the clerk uses, what color is it?
  5. The pad the clerk writes on, is it era appropriate?
  6. Do we really need the clerk in this scene?
  7. The money the main character uses to pay the clerk – will we see the money? If so, is it era appropriate?
  8. The artwork on the walls – what is fair use, what is copyright infringement?
    – If we can clearly see the artwork, should we use a different lens for a shallow depth of field?
  9. How much noise can we make? (a RED camera gets hot and requires a fan which can get loud… very loud)
  10. How many lights will they let us bring into the store? Can we bring lights? If we can’t bring lights can we shoot near the window?
  11. How many hours will they let us shoot?
    – Can we ask customers to move?
  12. How close is this location to others if we have a company move?
  13. Who is SAG in this scene, who is not?
  14. How many extras do we need?
    – Do they need wardrobe?
    – Can they supply their own?
    – Who will remind them to make it era appropriate?

And that’s just what I came up with right now. I’m sure I missed a few and that’s one scene that takes up one minute of screen time.

One scene. And our scene had no dialogue to worry about. And all a writer ever had to do was type INT. RECORD STORE – DAY

Like I said, I don’t agree with the way writers are often treated since the whole thing doesn’t exist without them, but they never go through the war.  Remember the one character on Band of Brothers who missed Bastogne? (The Battle of the Bulge). And even though he jumped into Normandy with Easy Company he was never looked at the same? It’s not at all like that, but maybe slightly.

So what’s next?

I have about a dozen feature-length screenplays at various stages of completion. A few of them I’d love to make myself, a few I’d have no interest in tackling as a director. Quentin Tarantino once said that he doesn’t consider himself a writer. He’s just a director who writes his movies.  Well I consider myself a writer who directs his scripts, so I can perfect them in post. Perhaps I’ll get to do that on a bigger scale next time.

The goal of this project was to screen at one of the major festivals.

Mission accomplished.

I’ll let you know what happens next.

jack
Jack Marchetti is a screenwriter and director who currently resides in Chicago. His short film, The Evolution of a Gen-X Music Purchaser was one of thirty short narrative films chosen as an Official Selection of the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Follow Jack on Twitter: @JackMarchetti

 

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