Writing a script is a lot of work. “Anyone who says otherwise is selling you something,” a liar, or a prodigy. I’m a pretty smart guy, but if it’s possible to have natural talent as a screenwriter, I haven’t got it. Instead, I work really hard at it, for a long time, until I know what I’ve written is so good that anyone who reads it will instantly want to be a part of the project.
A GROWING CITY is not an exception to this rule. If anything, it’s a perfect example of how making a movie is a marathon and not a sprint.
I first wrote A GROWING CITY as a short story. It was an exploration of how the city of Compton could go from basically an American slum to a megalopolis. And, I’ve got to say, I kind of like the way Compton is. It feels like an interesting social enclave, a little slice of Central America right here in Los Angeles.
That said, if I were to talk about the skyscrapers of Compton, you’d think I was crazy. I don’t think there’s a single building in Compton taller than four stories. Thus, the gap needed to be filled.
A GROWING CITY started out as the story of Eddie, a homeless man who returns home to live with his sister and help her cover the mortgage. It was warm and wholesome and felt totally unlike the rest of the world I’d created. But, it was before the real trouble started, so a little levity was nice.
When I first tried to take the short story and make it into a screenplay I took it scene for scene, nearly word for word, and pasted it into screenplay format. (In case you’re wondering, I used to use Final Draft, but since I upgraded my computer to the latest Apple OS, the version of Final Draft I was using no longer works. Rather than shell out the nearly $250 for the new version, I went with the best writing program I’ve ever come across: Scrivener.)
Well, you can’t just take a short story and copy and paste it and have a good working movie. But, I tried. Boy, did I try. I built it out, filled in the gaps, stretched a scene here and there, added bits of dialogue and great character moments. Every time I patched one hole, another two would show up.
Here’s a couple examples:
I decided that one of the effects of the total economic collapse that caused the dystopia, would be a lack of electricity. Without a viable source of electricity, all kinds of things wouldn’t work. No running water, no computers or cell phones. No air conditioning. No power to pump gas. You get the idea. I’d solve one part with solar panels, and then I’d have to worry about people finding clean laundry. Not to leave you hanging, the electricity issue has been solved.
Another example is, the main characters, Eddie and Sonja, weren’t working. There was just something missing about them. All of my first readers just didn’t care about their relationship. I added backstory and motivation, but it didn’t help. The problem was that Eddie didn’t want anything. And, since he didn’t want anything, nothing could get in way of his getting what he wanted. That means no conflict. No conflict, no story. One brilliant guy put it this way, “No one wants to watch a movie about the village of the happy people.”
After several months of patching and rethinking, I finally decided to rewrite the story from scratch. The larger world stuff still happened the same way, but all the characters were very different. There were some other brilliant people who gave some insights, but the real turning point came from a conversation with Lucas McNelly and Victoria Wescott, who I met at the Film Courage Crowd-funding Panel. I added a third character, who quickly became the driving force of the story.
Now, all that may seem like it was quick and easy. Don’t be fooled. Those few paragraphs span the better part of three years. On top of that, the script version of A GROWING CITY is now on draft 20, and that’s not counting the ten or so drafts of the short story off of which the whole thing is based, nor is it counting the year and a half I spent writing the novel, or the six months I spent researching the novel.
Oh, have I not mentioned the novel yet? A GROWING CITY is the first installment in the WORTH universe. The strange thing is, WORTH started as a short story, add two more years, called EGO MANIA. You see, I’m hoping tell a much larger story, using A GROWING CITY as a springboard, a foretaste, if you will, of the flavor of the larger story. WORTH is massive and will take years to complete. On top of that, it will cost way more money than I can hope to raise via crowd-funding.
Back to A GROWING CITY. The script is nearly finished. It’s gone through 20 drafts, as I mentioned above, and I’m sure there’s at least five more before it’s the finely polished gem it has to be before I move forward into pre-production.
Oh, and what a nice segue.
The next segment in this case-study will be pre-production where I’ll share about finding money, casting everyone, location scouting, working with a VFX house (or one really gifted individual), finding the Director of Photography and the rest of the crew, etc.
Jonathan Schiefer has been writing screenplays since 2003. He has written and directed a feature-length movie, a music video, two corporate commercials, and two short movies. For more information, check out his website http://www.jonathanschiefer.com
Filmmaker Jonathan Schiefer shares with us some of the challenges he was able to overcome in making his first feature film ‘Hunger’ along with the lessons he learned along the way.
Filmmaker Jonathan Schiefer tells us about his commitment to filmmaking along with his thoughts on taking big risks in order to make reach his dreams.