In May of 2003, I had the opportunity to direct a film of my first
feature screenplay, a family drama called Winter Solstice.
Anthony LaPaglia plays Jim Winters, a landscaper in American Suburbia,
who's trying to keep his family intact despite the natural changes
occurring in his life. His older son is leaving home, his younger son
is becoming rebellious, and his romantic feelings for a new neighbor,
played by Allison Janney, force him to grow again and stumble towards
love, in middle age. Ultimately, I think it's a story about how
we conquer fear, how we communicate with our families, and the different
ways that men and women express themselves.
The entire process took five years and three months—from the day I
started writing to the day we sold the film to Paramount Classics. It
was a marathon, and my memories of the process run the spectrum from
agony to ecstasy. However, with the film now done and awaiting release,
I find myself in a new, flattering situation—going to parties
and having other aspiring filmmakers ask me how I did it. Although
Winter Solstice was my first feature film, I now realize I've
made one more than tons of people who would like to. I'm a young guy,
and life is long, but I have learned a couple things about the filmmaker's
marathon. I learned the seven steps.
This is the fun part. Let your mind roam, whenever and wherever. I developed
Winter Solstice mainly on the subway to and from my
job uptown. As for topics, some people say a marketing hook or trendy
subject makes the day. Unfortunately, Karma dictates that any person
who starts with only a desire to make something trendy or marketable
is doomed to failure, mockery, and a wallflower existence on the periphery
of the Good Life. Better to develop something that gets your blood flowing.
Good news: Step 1 is by far the easiest.
Bad news: It never gets this good again.
Things get rough in a hurry with Step 2. You probably have a job, which
relegates writing to your spare time. Staying focused is always the
hard part, especially if you always get new, seemingly better ideas,
or if you want to
maintain your social life. Lucky for me I'm a bit obsessive, and
didn't want to write anything else until the Winters family story
If you do have time to write, go home and start. The first half hour
is always the worst. That's when every insecurity you have gathers
around, points at you, and laughs heartily. Just keep
typing; they shut up after a while.
Yep, this is where everyone turns back. The
difficulties of fundraising are so well documented,
I won't join the chorus. I don't have much advice for selling
yourself, and neither does
anyone else. Supposedly Dale Carnegie wrote a decent book. All I'll
say is—genuine confidence and passion go much further than you
Amazing. You're going to shoot a movie. If you get this far, you
are truly hardcore and have my sincere respect. Be prepared for some
mood swings, both positive and negative. And while the rollercoaster
rolls on, be prepared to make twelve decisions at once—the prop
truck is late, can we use this instead? where goes the dolly? when do
I say this line? can we shoot A instead of B? does it have to be night?
does it have to be here? can he stand to the left?….
Take care in choosing cast and crew; filmmaking involves serious physical
labor and sincere, emotional acting—none of which you'll be doing.
My cast and crew on Winter Solstice was an absolute
dream, and I can't wait to hire them all again.
Time to get some sleep, correct your eating habits, and call back your
friends. In the cutting room, I learned to trust my editor's judgment.
She didn't have my production war stories; she just wanted to
make the best movie possible. That's what you want in an editor:
a talented storyteller with no memories of the shoot.
WILL ANYONE SEE IT?
Who cares? No, just kidding. Usually it's the fear of Step 6 that
scares away anyone not broken by
Step 3. The world is filled with film festivals and distribution companies,
but it's still incredibly
difficult. As to why, I say forget the analysis—it's a waste
of time, and there's too much work to do. Hit the streets, show
your film everywhere you can, and drink up each screening like wine.
Now, this is easier said than done. A cavalry of people, lead by your
mother, will surround you and tell you how exciting this all is. And
then ask you about your excitement level. And of course you're excited,
but if you're ambitious like me, behind the smiles lurk the questions—who
will buy this? who will see this? will I get any reviews? will they
be good?…until the anxiety reaches a crescendo…why did
I do this?…and thank God, because it leads to the last step.
ANSWER THAT QUESTION
There are approximately two hundred reasons not to make a film,
and only one reason to go forward with The Marathon. If you're like
me, one is enough. I know how it must look, me with Winter Solstice
sold and hitting theaters, talking about the "romantic
artist life." But when I first sat down to write, I had no idea
what would happen. I only knew what I wanted: to tell the story of a
suburban family of men, each of whom takes their first steps out of
the shadows into the light.
I just crossed my first finish line, and I'm still catching my
breath. And for those people contemplating this life, I will say the
same thing I say at every party:
Keep going, it's worth it. It is absolutely worth it.