Still working through the deal with these guys for financing of Mountain. Nothing indicates the money isn't real, but we have to figure out all the particulars of how it's going to be distributed, who's in charge of what, etc. The least interesting and most frustrating part of making a movie by far.
In the meantime, I finetune the script and prepare for making the film. I'm currently reading the book "Our Southern Highlanders," a book about the Appalachians written in the 1920's. I remember when I made Hometown Legend, I read a book called "Friday Night Lights" (which inspired the best show on TV) while we were already in pre-production. A regret of mine on that film is that I didn't read that book sooner. I underestimated how valuable "color" is to a film, the little facts and figures and characterizations that go into creating a world that people want to see. If you as a filmmaker become an expert about the topic that you're telling a story about, then all the "color" that you understand will make its way into the film and add authenticity. For instance, you can tell when watching a sports film if the director didn't understand the sport.
I'm making a film about the Appalachian mountains in the 1920's, so I want to know as much as I can. And in reading this book, I've already read a few things that I've added into the film, whether it's an interesting anecdote, a description of a cabin or a custom that the people performed. These things can provide cool background to the main story, and as a director, understanding these things will allow me to better supervise the production design, accents, even the accuracy of the dialogue. If I read something in a book that makes me think, "Oh, cool! Very interesting! That's something I didn't know, and now that I know it, I'm a better human for it!" two things will result--one, I'll wonder why I started talking like a moron, and two, the audience will probably have a similar reaction when I portray it on screen.
Published: Januray 21, 2008
So now we get to the contracts stage. I like the money guys and producers who have approached us on Mountain, they like me, and now we exchange deals. To be frank, I suck at this. I tend to want everyone to be happy, I don't like fighting for my stuff, I always assume we'll piss off the other side. My lawyer is the opposite--he doesn't want to give anything up, he thinks I deserve everything, etc. I suppose that's good. So we end up somewhere in the middle.
We still haven't made too much progress on the location thing, although I'm talking to a Georgia production facility tomorrow. I'm guessing that's our most likely location if we don't end up shooting in Virginia. Man, I want to shoot in Virginia, the actual setting of the story, so bad. Doesn't look like it's going to happen, though.
Still finetuning the script. Trying to get it as tight as possible. We've decided to alter history a bit and put Bob in attendance at the famous courtroom massacre. In 1912, there was a massacre after a man was found guilty in a courthouse--his family shot the judge, a jury member, the sheriff, etc. It had a huge impact on the community, and the subsequent national media attention really affected Bob (main character) because it caused him to realize that the rest of the country didn't live in the ignorant and dangerous way the mountaineers did. We've decided to actually put him in the courthouse to witness the massacre, which cinematically will personalize it more and send Bob quicker on his journey towards change.
Published: January 8, 2008
I'm going to start journaling more frequently here as we start the new year with the development and hopeful production of "Mountain," my passion project. I'll try to do this once a week, and perhaps you can get a glimpse into the process of how a movie gets made.
Today, Monday, Jenkins Entertainment officially secured our side of the financing. I won't give details, but we put a chunk of money into an account, combining investments from a few different people including our company. There is a financing group that loves our project and has verbally committed to bankrolling the picture assuming that they can verify our funds. Today was that verification. So now they get their stuff together to put up the rest of the money and greenlight the movie. Of course, we have to agree on all the terms and the contracts and all that, and that will likely take some time, but we're moving along.
Ironically, there's another company that is showing the same interest. I met with these guys a couple months ago, and they said they were in, but they didn't get back to me with anything official. The group from the above paragraph came in out of the blue, so I hit the ground running with them. After all these years of frustration with this project, it's bizarre that I might actually get to a place where I'm turning money down.
Here's how this current group came about, it's quite a story. A producer from Texas named David Chandler, who's been trying to get some projects set up out here for years, has always loved Mountain. We became buddies through our discussions about each other's projects, and he's always tried to get Mountain in the hands of various people, but nothing has come of it. We don't have a deal or anything, he's just been doing what he can on the side. Anyhoo, a couple months ago his aunt was in a small town in Georgia and struck up a conversation with a stranger, who told her about all the developments that were taking place in this town. For some reason, she mentioned a movie studio and gave David's aunt a brochure. David's aunt then passed it on to David, who decided to contact this production facility for the heck of it.
He cold-called them and said basically, "I know you guys are a production facility and aren't investors, but I've got a cool project that should be shot in the south, and I'm wondering if you know of any money guys who are shooting some films at your place." The guy gave David contact info for some guys, David got ahold of them, sent them the script, and wala (how do you spell that?)--they loved it, one of the producers grew up near where the story took place and had heard of Bob Childress (the man on which the story is based), and they wanted to make it. Unless these guys are liars or stupid, neither of which appears to be the case, they've got the money and are on board. All they needed was proof from us that we can guarantee some funds as well, which we did today.
Funny how God works, assuming He cares about my career and the movie business and actually has a hand in all this. Of course, I know He cares about my career, but sometimes I think we think He's devoting more time to our vain pursuits than he actually is. Either way, I'll take it and give Him credit for anything good that happens.
So right now I'm preparing to make this movie assuming everything gets in order. I need to get the script in great shape before it's sent to actors, so I'm doing some last minute minor adjustments and clean up.
One common note I'm getting from a few people is that there's a problem in the first act. This story is about a man who goes from being the hardest drinker and biggest fighter in his mountain region to a preacher who civilizes it. The thrust of the story is in the change he brings to the people in this depressed, backwards, deep mountain region, but we also need to take some time to show how he transformed. Not an easy task, because we have to do it in 20-25 pages so we get to the meat of the story quick enough.
Our trick is to try to show what would lead him to be desperate to make such a big change in his life. That's easy to talk about--"he was sad, depressed, felt like his life wasn't going anywhere, and actually contemplated suicide"--but not easy to portray on screen. We've got plenty of moments and incidents in the script that cause Bob to be frustrated and angry about how insane and violent the mountain region is, but we need moments of inner turmoil for Bob as well; private moments that show how dark and down he is. So that's what I'm working on right now, just moving a few things around, making slight tweaks, trying to spotlight those moments.
The good news is the majority of people really like the script a lot. The bad news is that those who don't love it make some decent points. It's always easier when someone doesn't like something you've done but they can't give good reasons why. That said, I think it's more important to seek out people who disagree with you or don't like something you're creating than to surround yourself with unconditionally supportive people. I'd rather hear bad things now, while I can still correct them, then read them in the paper from a critic after the movie's out.
I'm also reading Steven Soderbergh's journal while making "Sex, Lies, & Videotape," which was his debut feature. I suppose that journal is inspiring this in some ways. It's a great book, from the perspective of one of my idols, about a movie that really changed Hollywood in many ways. I'm reading this while also reading books and watching DVD's on Appalachia. I'm making a movie about the Appalachian mountains in the early 1900's--I suppose it's a world I need to know really well. I also figure that maybe I can get a few nuggets that would look good in the script.
All right, that's enough for now.