Time to be a writer and take the road less traveled.
Time to be a writer and take the road less traveled.
An addendum to Crazy Thing #45.
I finally got to see my first paid screenplay being filmed. After months of rewrites from the producers and director and with changing budgets, directors, and locations it was finally out of my hands. Although I have been insanely overscheduled and busy this month I managed to keep one whole day free for a quick day trip to Vancouver.
Originally the production was supposed to be shot in Duncan but they changed to Vancouver, which was extremely convenient for me. A 3 ½ hour drive vs. 6 hours and a ferry ride was very manageable.
I actually really enjoy driving when I’m not in insane traffic or three feet of snow so leaving at 6am and driving the Coquihalla on a (then) sunny June day was a treat I should give myself more often. I got to Ft. Langley and followed the directions to the parking area for the crew. On the way through Ft. Langley I drove through another film set where they had the streets set up for winter – not my movie. There are over 50 film projects underway in Vancouver and there is a desperate scramble for locations, crew, and equipment. The crew parking was at a golf course where they were sharing the parking with the crew from the film I had just driven through.
When I arrived I was asked which production I was with and had a bit of a shiver when I said, “Justice Unleashed” – well now, this was starting to feel real. They directed me to park and another crew member asked if I was in the crew. I said no, I was just visiting.
He looked skeptical. “Do they know you’re coming?”
“Yes, I’m the writer.”
Suddenly the conversation moved much quicker. I was driven to the shooting location where the trailers for the cast were set up. After checking in with the AD, who apparently didn’t expect me to check in with anybody, I walked to the very modern, very “out of my budget” house where the day’s shooting was taking place and I was greeted by another crew member. Although I wished, for the sake of claustrophobia in crowds, that it was an outdoor shoot. The astonishing waves of rain later in the day made me glad I was inside. I lived in Vancouver for 15 years and never did like the rain but it’s not often you see it come down that hard.
When I arrived they were shooting in the garage. I was shown into a tiny hallway where more crew were working and the sound guy was huddled in a tiny corner with headphones on.
Having driven for three hours the urge to pee was pretty huge so I asked one of the production assistants where the washroom was. He pointed me to some trailers outside – no big deal. The man who greeted me at the door interrupted and said, “Actually she’s a VIP – she’s the writer. She can use the washroom in the house.” Well! There was a perk I never expected. Everyone in the hallway stopped working and stared at me when I went into the washroom – awkward!
Finally, they finished the shot and I was escorted in to meet Farhad Mann – the director. We had spoken for hours on the phone but had never met in person. He invited me in and told me what they were shooting and let me watch the monitors with him. The garage was so crowded it was making my skin crawl – I don’t do crowds of people in tight spaces – not a big fan of parties either. I sucked it up, though, because when I saw the crowd it hit me that I had created a project that, for a brief time, was keeping all of these people employed. That was a pretty huge dose of reality.
I remembered when I was in my early 20’s and worked as an extra and a script reader to make extra cash. That was a long time ago, but a feeling came back to me that I had forgotten – despite the crowds, the “hurry up and wait” pace, and the frenetic energy – this was a place where I felt comfortable, where I belonged.
Through the day the crew and equipment moved from one part of the house to another. I felt in the way a lot but I was trying to be more of a fly on the wall than a fly the crew wanted to swat. I think I was partially successful.
Farhad introduced me to a lot of people, most of whom did a double take when they found out I was the writer. In true introvert fashion I said hi to a lot of people but really only connected with a couple. Sarah, the Script Supervisor, and I had a great talk about writing and the Director of Photography and I had a few laughs.
As the day went on I realized I wasn’t very interested in what the actors were doing, but I was more interested in what the crew was doing. I was trying to absorb as much information as I could and that’s where most of the action was happening. I loved it.
I got a message in the afternoon that there was a snow storm brewing on the Coquihalla and they were expecting at least 6” of snow so I decided to leave a bit early. It had been a great day and a total success from my point of view.
On the drive home I was thinking about the next Movie of the Week I have in the works – I’m waiting for notes from the producers and the network, and a short film I’m writing that I’m really excited about, as well as other writing projects I have lined up. From start to this point the process for Justice Unleashed had taken two years, but it was more like a year if you took out all the long waiting periods. The story idea I submitted in the beginning is completely different than the story I watched being filmed. That’s OK. That’s how the process works. Working with Odyssey Media has been awesome and I’m looking forward to what our next project becomes.
I’m writing this on the last day of shooting for Justice Unleashed – now they move on to editing and post production. I’ll post again when I know when it will be broadcast.
I do feel a bit weird about announcing this. It’s not a totally done thing yet but my part is done and the rest is out of my hands.
Actually, that title is a little bit misleading. I have been writing screenplays, among other things, for many years. The difference with this one was that I was going to sell it and it was going to be made into something that someone other than me could see. Generally, the criteria for my crazy things is that it had to be something I had some control over. You can’t just say “I’m going to win the lottery” because we don’t really have control over that… or at least we shouldn’t!
I had pitched some ideas already to Odyssey Media of Vancouver. They produce a lot of movies of the week for networks like Lifetime and SyFy, among others. Right before my crazy year began they picked one of my story ideas and asked me to develop it further. I did, and eventually I got a contract to write a script for a movie of the week that would air on the lifetime network. This is a pretty big deal. It’s not a union production and it’s not huge money, but it’s a 90-minute credit on a major network and it’s a nice toe in the industry door. The fact that I didn’t have to be living in Vancouver or Los Angeles was extraordinary – yay for the internet! I was given deadlines for the synopsis, treatment (basically an outline) and once that was approved, the full script. Now came the hard part, I had to deliver a script and they had to approve it.
When I tell people I’m having a writing day, I (usually) really am writing and this year I had an extremely tight schedule because I didn’t want to have to take time off my job to get this done. 90 pages needed to be finished and approved. I also have some minor… or maybe major… issues with procrastination.
I’m happy to say I accomplished my goal and in October the script for Justice Unleashed, a mother-daughter thriller about human trafficking, was complete and approved. This was very much a process of writing for the specific needs of a client rather than just writing creatively with no need to have anyone approve what I’ve done. They did request changes, and some of them were … well… ridiculous… but in the end they are the client and what they say goes. It was difficult because I could see somewhere great that the story could go but the network has very strict requirements based on demographics, markets, etc. Not my call.
I have done a lot of professional writing in the past – magazine articles, book contributions, marketing writing, etc. I’ve also been paid to write video scripts for different organizations for training and promotional purposes so being paid to write is not new to me. The fact that I created a project that will have a $2-3 million budget (making it a low budget production) and take a year to complete – that’s new for me.
I didn’t write this earlier because the crazy thing is still ongoing. When the script for Justice Unleashed was approved, they asked me if I felt like doing another one. I said.. “Sure!”… (duh!). I’m currently working on it and I’m hoping the first draft will be finished in the next few weeks.
Justice Unleashed has a director, but he’s not yet locked in with a contract and I’ve just been told it will likely be shot at the end of June or early July in Vancouver. If it is in Vancouver I’ll also be able to visit the set, which should be exciting! I’ll do more blog posts on this as I know more.
Once the one I’m currently working on is finished I’m going to take a break from movies of the week and concentrate on a script I’ve been dabbling at for about a year or so… something about a woman who does 50 Crazy Things in her 50th Year.
Why was this crazy?
How many other people do you know who are doing it and getting paid?
Would I do it again?
Not too long ago I made a shirt with the image of labyrinth appliqued on the front. I’m not the best at sewing but I’ve been learning hand sewing techniques from the book Alabama Studio Sewing + Design by Natalie Chanin of the Alambama Chanin studio. This book and the studio promote handmade work using organic materials and slow, thoughtful craftsmanship.
This philosophy blends well with the reason I sew, knit, paint furniture, or even make risotto. I find I need to have creative projects to do with my hands when I’m writing, and even when I’m not writing. Working with my hands uses a different part of my mind and energy that takes the pressure off of the ‘writer’ part of my brain. I look at ideas like a big bag of gum balls or jellybeans. The red one in the middle is the one I need, the idea I’ve been searching for, the answer to a difficult plotting problem, or even a brand new project I haven’t even thought of yet.
The trick is, all of those gumballs or ideas get dumped into a funnel, or a gumball machine. In order to get to that red gumball, all the other ones, have to move through the funnel first. Sometimes they get jammed. Putting pressure on them only jams them further. By working on something with my hands, like sewing, knitting, or cooking, it takes the pressure off and they all move a little here and a little there, wiggling against each other and eventually unjamming and starting the flow again. Once the flow starts happening the red one comes through easily. If, however, I kept applying pressure to try and force them out, they just get more stuck. This is the best way I can describe the writing process in my head. I need projects to do with hands in order for other projects in my head to wiggle themselves free.
Now, back to my shirt.
I love labyrinths. As opposed to a maze which is filled with dead ends, a labyrinth has only one path to the centre, but it twists back and forth on itself so you can’t see the route you’ll take to the centre, you just have to trust you’ll get there if you just stay on the path. There are labyrinths around the world that people walk as a form of meditation. There is even a society, The Labyrinth Society, that teaches labyrinth walking and even how to build them. Kamloops has a labyrinth on the path between Riverside and Pioneer Parks.
The most famous labyrinth is the one in built in the thirteenth century in the cathedral in Chartres, France.
So I envisioned a navy blue sleeveless t-shirt with a turquoise labyrinth and red stitching on the front.
Although I’ve followed the Alabama Chanin instructions and done reverse applique a few times, where the image is underneath the front piece of fabric, this is the first time where I’ve done applique and placed the image on top of the front fabric.
1 m of navy jersey fabric
Small amount of turquoise fabric
Navy bugle beads
Approx. 4 spools or Coats Dual Duty Plus Craft and Button Thread (red)
Freezer paper for making shirt pattern
Plain paper for image
I started by making a pattern using a fitted stretch shirt I that I liked. I used one of my ski shirts.
I made the neck using the curve of a tank top I liked, and then adjusted the whole pattern to fit better as I went.
I printed the image of a Chartres Labyrinth from the Labyrinth Society Website and sized it so it fit the front of the shirt. The navy fabric I chose is standard jersey t-shirt material, but the turquoise is much thinner. If I was to do it again I would have attached some fusible interfacing to the back of it to make it stronger and easier to sew. Hindsight is wonderful! I did have a bit of a brain wave, though, and I used temporary spray adhesive and stuck the paper to the fabric so I could cut out the thin curvy line that loved to twist back and forth on itself with a bit more ease.
After I cut the image out it took quite a bit of effort to lay it flat on the shirt fabric. Once I got it there I used the spray adhesive again to stick the image to the shirt fabric. I started stitching the image down, peeling the paper away as I went.
Image adhered to the turquoise fabric and cut out with the paper left on.
Once I completed the stitching I added some decorative beading to the centre. I had planned to do a lot more but it seemed to be too much so I quit while I was ahead.
I planned to use red beads to make the markings that go around the outside of the labyrinth but I decided the beads I was going to use were a bit too big and they would have been out of proportion with the rest of the image. After some thought I looked back Alabama Studio Sewing +Design book and saw some of the embroidery techniques she was using. French knots popped out at me and they worked perfectly. As a bonus, I learned how to do a French knot!
Once the image was finished I sewed up the sides according to the instructions in the book. Chalking the seams was a very good idea because I can’t even walk a straight line, never mind sew one. I felled the seams as well which makes it look really nice, and it’s definitely not going to cause a wardrobe malfunction! Felling is when you take the seam (or the part where the two pieces come together and fold them back on the material and sew a second seam.
Next came the binding around the arms and neck. Yet another opportunity to learn something knew as I’d never done binding before and never done Cretan stitch. I had to look on Youtube to see how the stitch really worked because the diagrams weren’t working for me. This is the video I used. I also used the stitch in a later project and had to Youtube it again because obviously this stuff doesn’t come naturally to me.
I left the bottom seam unfinished because I think it looks nice and it’s not going to unravel.
Overall, I am pleased! In the process I worked on a screenplay and had a lovely balance of creative energy happening in both projects.
For my first post I thought it would be most appropriate to highlight some of my writing. Part of the reason for the blog is to be more available and more visible in my own world and the world at large. I wrote this in January for the CBC Canada Writes Creative Non-Fiction contest. I didn’t win, or even place (there were over 1,800 others who didn’t either) but I’m very proud of what I wrote and writing it got me fuelled for writing for the rest of the year. Even now, seven months later, I’m still proud of it and I wouldn’t change a thing.
The story is one that haunts me even 25 years after it first happened. It’s hard to believe 25 years ago I was living in Ireland trying to figure out my life. I’ve since discovered that trying to figure out my life is like trying to bottle a cloud. It just doesn’t work that way.
I hope you enjoy.
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