INT. KITCHEN – DAY
Writer sits down with coffee and laptop, and looks out over an expanse of green. FX Suddenly, an alien ship lands in the backyard.
Suddenly, a portal opens and a girl on a beautiful horse gallops desperately through, turning to shoot one last arrow at her pursuers as the portal closes behind her.
I mean, a little on the nose – probably should describe the horse better. Dapple grey, Andalusian, intelligent kind eyes.
Suddenly, a gong sounds, and two martial artists float down out of another portal – come on, we all love portals – and commence dance fighting, their robes flowing around them.
Maybe, but I kind of like the horse one.
Suddenly. Suddenly. Suddenly.
Sometimes things don’t happen suddenly; they unfold over the course of months, or more accurately in my case, over a semester. And it’s been a hell of a semester.
Film Class Statistics
Screenplays written: 3
- Films made: 4
- Films crewed on: 3? 4? 5? I lost track.
- Screenplays written: 3
But let’s go back to the films made stat.
Y’all. Y’all. I MADE FOUR MOVIES.
This is the part where I was going to say, oh, but they’re not that good, and there are so many mistakes, and I feel like I let the actors down, and I still can’t do sound editing, and color correction defeats me too, and…
No. I MADE FOUR MOVIES
This is the reason I’m doing this. To embrace the technical details of making a movie, understanding how lighting and shot decisions and sound and editing tell a story. To work with cast and crew on a shared mission, and to keep getting better at each part of this.
Lighting Class, or how I learned to pronounce Fresnel
As some of you know, in Fog Season there’s a character named Abel Fresnel, the Harrier (think Pinkerton) detective who is a thorn in Yvienne Mederos’s side. I chose the name Fresnel after a trip to a lighthouse on the California coast, which has a Fresnel lens. I wrote the book in 2017-2018, read from it at multiple book signings and events, and even had people comment on the name, which was specifically chosen because the character sheds light on a mystery.
So then I start intro classes last semester and learn I’ve been pronouncing it wrong this whole time.
For the record, it’s fruh-nel.
I personally think it’s a typically hilarious thing for a book-nerd to do. So, uh, Laura and Jay, thank you for enlightening me (hah!) about how to pronounce my character’s name.
What else I learned:
- After never noticing lighting in a movie or TV show ever before, I’ve become pretty fascinated by lighting choices. I am looking forward to getting better at it.
- Being a gaffer is hard. Being a short person who is also a wee bit older than other people on a typical student film makes it harder. I can still do it.
- C stands will always baffle and try to hurt me.
- If I sit with a crate of lighting equipment long enough, read the instructions, and watch YouTube videos, I can put together the components and make it work. I also can just ask questions from more experienced people.
- “No one knows anything in this business,” William Goldman famously said. No one has all the answers, is my version. As I learned on student films especially, we all have some of the experience and information and somehow everyone brings what they have and it comes together.
Film Style Production, or how the old lady got it done
So, this was an … interesting experience. For a variety of reasons, the class never gelled. Not going to go into it, but it was a frustrating semester for all of us. We didn’t shoot a single project for most of the semester, and probably weren’t going to get anything done, until I stepped up.
I realized that instead of learning to use the camera in class I was going to have to take responsibility and learn it on my own. So I reserved a camera and tripod and lenses, and built and shot with it every day for a week on my own. I used it for a film lighting project.
With that experience under my belt, I gained confidence and was able to move forward with other projects.
- Casting. Instead of waiting on our instructor to help me find actors, I cast my two-person shoot myself, using other resources.
- Reserved equipment. I reserved the equipment, reserved the studio, and moved everything forward.
- Shoot day. Despite being a bundle of nerves, I shot my project in one morning.
That process broke the logjam. Too many details, but my classmates and I completed our projects. We also did a final project for the class, shooting an ambitious film from my screenplay over a weekend.
This is where I discovered my inner producer and assistant director. I managed the following and delegated the rest:
- Crew assignments.
- Location scouting. (The director of photography was instrumental in both props and locations as well.)
- Shooting schedule and call sheets.
It was an amazing weekend. When the film is out of editing – as of this writing that will probably be the final week of May – I’ll make sure to post it. Excellent performances and a great team experience.
I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did, but I’m glad I stepped up. Otherwise, it would have been a disappointing semester for all of us. I’m most proud of taking charge of my own education.
What’s coming up
2019 was the year of the short story. 2022 is the summer of projects.
My latest novel goes out on submission this summer. It’s ambitious and personal and possibly the best thing I’ve ever written. The novel is with my agent and out of my hands. Knowing how to cede control – it’s a hard thing to learn, but it’s essential.
Petrichor and Ozone, a short from my 2019 story challenge, will appear in The Gingerbread House literary magazine at the end of June. You should go and read Gingerbread House now – it’s a lush and glorious magazine and I’m so proud Petrichor and Ozone will be part of it.
Theo Ballinchard and the Oranges of Possibility sold to ParSec last year; not sure of pub date but I will let you know as soon as I do.
New novel project. It’s been simmering for a long time, and I’m pretty sure this novel is going to take a long time to write. But that’s okay – that’s how long things take for me. I’ve never been a writer who writes a book in six months or a year. I admire those writers. I’m just not one of them.
New screenplay projects. Two, actually. (Well three, but I’m pretty sure that a heist movie without an actual heist plan isn’t ready for project mode.) These are both feature length. To do them right I will need to outline and write a treatment. No cutting steps on these. Surprisingly, not portal stories, although technically that’s what books, movies, and stories are – portals. But that’s another post for another time.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. There’s still so much to come, and the summer of projects awaits.