Peripheral City

Peripheral City
Peri, played by Josh Elrod

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Baby Jim: Everything You Can Do Wrong On a First Feature

I wrote the first draft of Baby Jim in two weeks, part of which occurred during an impetuous attempt to shoot the thing in Hawaii with the talent right there, even though nothing was finished. I had no crew, I was acting, directing, and shooting, and ran out of money really quickly. One of the actors and I worked on a house painting crew, the rolling hills of Waimea behind us, so we could eat. I made the actors do everything, including hold bounce cards and a jury rigged boom and microphone they borrowed from the University of Hilo for me, and then wrangle props and cable. Plus, I expected them to know their lines and watch me fudge my own, and to ad insult to injury, the actors bought their own tickets to Hawaii. We took over a whole little town, the town of Honaka'a, which the locals didn't take too kindly to and the cast and I were in constant fights, because we were all doing too much and I couldn't feed them. I realized how stupid it was to try and shoot a film with no crew and no budget, while we recovered on a white sand beach, each of us lying on opposite ends of the beach. But even so, the act of doing it, of actually shooting it, camera-rolling time, made me incredibly happy. Then I got a friend at HBO to lend me an editor and a suite under the heading of "project development," but try as I might I couldn't make the bad footage and sound work and the low quality product embarrassed me and I didn't think it did any justice to the writing. I don't even think I ever gave my HBO friend a copy. It devolved from a good idea into a really bad one.

There was no meat to the project, so I stuck to a tiny, one minute trailer we had cut together thanks to actor Cynthia Loebe, and have been trying to get funding to re shoot ever since. I had a friend, Kyoko, make me a website for a fake film company called Autonomic Films that could be used as a marketing tool and downloaded the trailer onto it. But really, I didn't know what I was doing, how to even get the website looked at, and I didn't know who to talk to. I was introduced to Karin Cohen at Big Bald Head through Cynthia's friend, Norman Reedus, an actor/filmmaker of some acclaim. Karin was a firecracker with a business head and had worked with Lars Von Trier as a producer. She told me no one would take a film seriously for under $200,000.00, and I was asking for $75,000.00 at the time. She told me to ask for a minimum of $200g when asking, but the people I might ask that kind of money from may want to see more big names attached to the project than I had.

My friend Tricia Vessey who worked a lot in the 90's and was in Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog" and Claire Denis's "Trouble Everyday" told me she'd play the part of Maddy, the part I originally tried to play (while directing, shooting, doing sound, props, everything myself, of course my performance sucked) but she was just below the radar these days for any kind of funding and a woman to boot, which makes getting funding even ten times as hard. F***ed up, I know, but women talent just don't call as much green to them as men do. And apparently you can't hire SAG actors for under a $200,000.00 as for mentioned budget and Tricia was SAG. Karin told me I may have an easier time lying to ask for finishing funds (but not to get caught) and to go through an editing house, but that would involve showing my already shot footage, which to me was unviewable and out of the question. And the star, a natural talent named Em Whitney, a 22 year old wunderkind playing the part of Baby, was an unknown and occasionally outright laughed at me when I was trying to direct her; a disconcerting affair, I can assure you, for any first time director.

Then there was the fact that I needed someone to play an impressive Jim Morrison. I couldn't even access the talent pool that may be able to pull a roll like that off, let alone pay for it. The folder I have of head shots of men desperate to play Jim Morrison culled from an ad on craigslist seeking a dead ringer ranged from ridiculous to ludicrous. Men of all shapes, sizes, and accents (you can tell someone has an accent by the way they write, by the way) except for the shape, size, and accent of Jim Morrison, replied to that ad.

Karin told me I could also go the route of applying for art grants, so thanked her profusely and set about researching at the Grants Library on 5th Avenue. I applied for the Nicholl Fellowship and the Sundance Writer's Lab and waited. I had been submitting scripts to a sight called Trigger Street, a Kevin Spacey run sight for people trying to bust into the industry without connections and get fast tracked to agents, industry movers and shakers, money people. Stories of a guy who got discovered off of Trigger Street circulated on the set of an exploitation horror rip-off movie I had starred in last year (and helped write- called "Holocaust, Holocaust") blossomed in my fantasies, with my face super imposed over his. But something told me that Baby Jim should go to Sundance. I waited and waited and waited. I stopped exploring other funding avenues, which was probably silly of me, but that's what I did. I got rejected by the Nicholl fellowship and passed through to the second round of Sundance Writer's Lab consideration on the same day, which I've written about previously and will probably continue to write about endlessly, for the rest of my life, because there's nothing like it- the dull crash of a rejection letter followed by the lively spike of a "Congratulations! You've made it through the first round!"- letter that I'm sure every writer lives for, but doesn't often follow a first time film writer's efforts. Endorphins and uncontrollable nervous laughter. I over wrote the next draft of "Baby Jim" for the next two months and shipped it out into the mail. Alma at the post office hugged me and said, "I know you'll get it," as I handed her the manila envelope.

I have been painfully waiting ever since. Trying to take my mind off of it, I signed up for an astronomy class and gutted my house. I have started to write more screenplays, a disaster film about global warming lead by a remote survivalist much like my dad as the hero, a documentary proposal about my dad building a solar boat in New Zealand, and punk tale of the true-life, 1700's female pirate, Anne Bonney. I haven't been able to focus, though, and everything I do feels like the waiting game. Today is the 7th of December and in ten days I find out if I get into the Sundance fellowship. I can't even read the Baby Jim script anymore and no one I've sent it to has given me any feedback, which has triggered several bouts of paranoia , but ah well, so this lesson is my lesson. I live behind a plastic tarp in my own living room and chip away at plaster, wood, grout. I learn about the collapse of neutron stars into black holes and their subsequent gamma-ray bursts. I try to stay sane. Obama was elected and the economy crashed. Work, already fairly dried up became a full on drought. I worry about getting evicted, paying my bills, and eating. I worry about stress and a lower back pain that strikes me when I start to think about paying my bills. I worry about feeding my cats and being able to afford a metro card and if I will ever be able to chip into my student debt. I think maybe I should go to grad school now that the economy stinks but the idea of more debt fills me with dread. I wake up with sandy grit in my mouth from grinding my teeth and wonder if I'll ever be able to afford a mouth guard or dental. I worry about finding love and having a family and distract myself with a charming, ex-boyfriend who is more terrified of the relationship as trap then I am. I worry that I chose the worng path, did too many drugs, will never meet anyone whom I love that I see eye to eye with, and that I'll miss my chance to have kids. I worry about dying alone. But, really I'm just a normal girl trying to get a film made, and anyone would understand- if it's not film, it's not real.


Paul said...

I was part of this film, and wondering if there is anyway I could see the footage?

Paul said...

I had a role in this film during the honokaa shooting. Is there anyway that I could see any of the footage.

Paul said...