Sunday, December 17, 2006

Napoleon's Battle Plan

This was originally posted on Live Journal on June 19th, 2005. I'm posting it here now, because I wanted to include it in this blog and because it's still relevant for me today. Enjoy.

Sometimes you don't have to do anything.

Sometimes you just have to let it go. Let it do it's thing. Let the flow, flow. Let the groove, groove. Let the bears bare and the bees be.

I wrote a script for the movie we are doing now. But the problem with making movies in general is that most times things may go wrong. Things may not turn out the way they are supposed to in accordance with the script. Lord knows that this is oh so true for low budget films, and more specifically and most definitely for NO budget films. After tonights shoot, I thought of the scene in State And Main where Walt the director(William H. Macy) and Joe the writer (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) are sorting out how to shoot a movie called The Old Mill after learning that the old mill has burned down.

Walt: Don't run off. We need you. You know why? You're why we are here. You're script is why we are here. Big deal, we fight a little bit. Show me a family that doesn't. But we got something good here. You know what it is? We're here to make a movie. We can't use the old mill. That happens. What you gotta do, you've got to figure out the essence. What is it that brought us all here? It wasn't a building, Joe. It was an idea. What is the essence of your story Joe?

Joe: It's about a man who gets a second chance.

Walt: Then you write that. And then this is our second chance. That's why we're all here.

Joe: I want to make a good film.

Walt: I know you do.

Joe: Maybe it will be a better film without the old mill.

Walt: Hey, it's with the gods. We don't have the money. We got to write it out, the best or not. And that's a lesson.

RIGHT THERE. "We don't have the money. We got to write it out, the best or not." And that is most certainly is a lesson. This is a realization that I learned over the 7 years it took to make my first movie. And a lesson I knew all about going into this movie. We don't have the money. So, you do what you can with what you have and try to tell the essence of the story. Too many people bail out when there is no money. When everything that the script calls for isn't there or isn't available at all. And I can bitch all the live long day about not having enough money to finish the movie. But all of that is window dressing compared to the real deal.

What is the essence of this story? When I came up with the idea for The Midnight Special I knew what the gimmick was. I knew it was going to have some solid scares in it to be a watchable horror flick. I knew it was going to have laughs for it to be an entertaining comedy. I knew that I was going to have to go for the "Cops" look in order to properly use the medium that was available to us. I knew what I could do and what I couldn't do. I knew what was possible and what was even more possible even if everyone said it wasn't possible. I knew what I wanted. I knew what we could get. I knew what we couldn't get but I wanted anyways.

But I also knew about the essence. I knew that I had to hold on to the true essence of this movie in order to be able to truely finish it. I knew that anything and everything can and will go wrong and that when it did I had to be prepared. And I must say some moments were real whoppers. Some things occured that I expected, but it still threw me back. And there were a few moments here and there where I wanted to throw in the towel and head on back to the world of the 9 to 5 working class dreamer. But I held on to the essence of the script. I had to pay attention to the fact that although we couldn't get the costumes we wanted, or always get the location that was called for in the script, or always get that specific shot, or always get every bit of the cast to be together all in one place and on time. Although things did go wrong, and sometimes horribly, as long as I held on to the essence of the story, then anything was possible.

I knew that everytime I had to shoot to keep in mind of what part of the story needed to be told and what the audience needed to feel. Not necessarily see, but what did I want them to feel. You try to shoot the script, but if it doesn't workout, do you give up? Pack it up and go home? No. You figure out exactly what is it that needs to be conveyed here and you try your best to convey that. You try your best to tell the essence of your story. So you soldier on using whatever you can. Maybe it wasn't the original prop, shot, set, you wanted, but are you still able to convey the same message that is in the story of this particular screen?

So now when we go to shoot some scenes. I aim for what I want and how I want to tell it. But if I can't do it my way then you have to do it the story's way. You have to figure out how to do it creatively without that particular thing you thought you needed. And most often then not you may come up with something better than what was originally written. This has happened many times within this movie, and each time it turned out better than what was written, but still in accordance to the essence of the story. And this is the lesson.

Bruce Lee said, "The great mistake is to anticipate the outcome of the engagement; you ought not to be thinking of whether it ends in victory or defeat. Let nature take it's course, and your tools will strike at the right moment."

As a story teller sometimes you can't tell it the way you want to. As long as you tell the story. When things got rough I tried to apply this philosophy to the obstacle, and many times that obstacle turned into a productive tool. Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you should always abandon form and not aim for a specific goal. Just realize that sometimes formlessness can be your form and within the realm of no buget filmmaking, you should let your story be your goal.

Tonight specifically was one of those nights. I knew what I wanted, but I knew that maybe we couldn't pull off what I wanted. But instead I just let it flow. I let nature take it's course. After awhile it all came to me. We let the tape roll and we just did the scene. No form. No rules. And it all fell into place. We got some great shots. We shot a very necessary scene for the movie. We kept the idea of the movie and the story in mind and we went for it. Low and behold all of our tools struck at the right moment. And looking over the footage just now I realize we got the scene I wanted to get. The scene I needed to get tonight. We achieved the goal of the story. And we are that much closer to getting it all done.

Hopefully soon you'll be able to see what it is we've all been working so hard for. Hopefully soon everyone will be able to finally see and hear and feel the essence of this story. Hopefully soon you'll be able to be witness to our goal. Our story that is.

Yeah I wrote a script. But going in I had to realize that the script isn't always the story. The story is something truer than that. And as long as I can tell that truth, then I'll reach my goal. We will have made a good movie. The script is just a script. For most people they turn it into something more. Like a code or a set of rules that MUST be followed.

I say hang the code and hang the rules.

They're more like guidelines anyway.

"The first lesson in my film school was that it's not your wallet that makes the movie. Any monkey can tap himself out financially. The idea is to tap yourself out creatively first."
- Robert Rodriguez

Casey: Technically, I have a plan.
Dan: What's the plan?
Casey: It's Napoleon's plan.
Dan: Who's Napoleon?
Casey: A 19th century French emperor.
Dan: You're cracking wise with me now?
Casey: Yes.
Dan: Thanks.
Casey: He had a two-part plan.
Dan: What was it?
Casey: First we show up, then we see what happens.
Dan: That was his plan?
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: Against the Russian army?
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: First we show up, then we see what happens.
Casey: Yeah.
Dan: Almost hard to believe he lost.
Casey: Yeah.

- Sports Night, Episode 22, "Napoleon's Battle Plan"

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