Sunday, March 26, 2006

Strangers in the Night

Gary has been hounding me to write a piece on the short film we made, “Strangers in the Night”. I think, for better or for worse, a film, long or short, should stand on it’s own without an explanation from the filmmakers. With that in mind, I won’t talk about the story itself. But I will talk a little about the making of the film and how it all came about.

Gary and I had been working on a full length screenplay called “Bar Stories”. The premise of this script was quite simple: We would follow different stories that all originated from the same place, the “Bar” of the title. While this script was, at best, uneven, it did have a lot of heart.

When I decided to attend the Motion Picture Pro Course in New York City, I needed an idea for a six minute short. Gary and I plucked part of one of these “Bar Stories”. We did quite a few rewrites, getting the script down to about ten pages. Unfortunately, real life interfered with “reel” life and Gary could not be present for the actual shooting.

My instructor at the school was Ralph Toporoff. He has been in the business for many years and had made his own full length feature, “American Blue Note”. Ralph and I did more rewrites on the script. We cut a few things here and there, trimmed some dialogue, and finally got the script down to a mere six pages. (For some of you who might not know, one page of a screenplay equals about one minute of screen time.) I then started to storyboard and get my shot list in order.

We started the casting process, auditioning real New York actors. I met a lot of talented people in this process. So many in fact that it became tough to make a decision about who to cast! But, in the end, I’m happy with the choices I made.

Shooting went smoothly. We shot about four pages before lunch. The remaing two pages were shot that afternoon. We had to lay down dolly tracks, so it took a little longer to shoot. The cast and crew were all true professionals. It was a joy to work with them.

The film was cut over the next few days. As you now can see, "Strangers in the Night" really has three fathers: Ralph Toporoff, Gary and myself. And so, to make a long story short (pun intended) that’s about it. It was a great experience. What are my feelings now? I’d like to leave off with a quote from Orson Welles from his 1979 documenty “Filming Othello”.

“I leave you with a confession. This hasn’t been as easy as I could have wished. There are too many regrets. Too many things I wish I could have done over again. If it wasn’t a memory…If it was a project for the future, talking about Othello would have been nothing but delight. Promises are more fun than explanations…With all my heart I wish that I wasn’t looking back at Othello but looking forward to it…That Othello would be one hell of a picture…”

My shooting script of "Strangers in the Night". The straight lines with arrows at the ends are the shots. The numbers next to these lines refer to the shot number. The scribbled lines mean the shot has been completed.


Gary said...

Thanks scott for the post. What I wanted was to just acknowledge the fact that it was up there and if someone wanted some background on it to give it context then it was available.

As for my personal reaction to it? I remember when I first saw it on VHS tape in my one bedroom apt with a 20" old tube style, turn the dial with 13 channels on it, RCA Television. I remember being amazed that the short script we had been yelling and fighting about like it was the most important thing in the world, which was just a cover for the real feelings that it was all in vain and really sucked and no one would give a shit about it, had been made into something, by other people I had not even met, that I actually liked.

When you view something someone else makes you are very objective about it. You imediately know if you think it sucks or is pretty good/great. I find I can't be objective about anything I do. I'm to tied to it emotionally. What was great about this experience was I felt a distance from the short film. I knew I had a part in it but felt like I was seeing it for the first time. What was great was I didn't think it sucked. I liked it.

I have to say the only other time that compares may be the first time I heard words I had written read out loud by actors. Yes it has it's flaws and a miilion things you wish you could do over/better. And it's certaintly not going to win any awards but it didn't suck and that was good enough for me...

Walt said...

I think it was great first work. It showed "to me" Good writing, good acting and it was filmed very well. lighting reminded me of old film-noir. It did not suck at all. Peal Harbor now that sucked, sucked big time!! That guy had all the money in the world, a cast of super stars and all the money he could ask for. You put together a film from start to finish, with no money, no name actors, but with a ton of heart. This was the main thing that made flims of old. This is why Hollywood has not had a real true runway hit in years, it's no longer a craft of the heart, but a way to make money. Be happy with what you made,it's all yours, I wish I could have done it..
PS Gary can you send me a questionnaire??

Scott said...

Thanks for the kind words Walt! (I'll have that check to you ASAP!)
I really wish you could have been in it too! But unfortunatley, real life always gets in the way of reel life! I promise you'll be in the next one!
As for Michael Bay, I think he's a great director when it comes to music videos. But he's at a loss when it comes to story telling in the long form. Right before "Pearl Harbor" came out, I remember seeing a behind the scenes featurette for the film. Bay was more interested in talking about the films explosions than the story itself. That's when I knew the film was in trouble. The 3 most important things in film making is Story, story, story. Stanley Kubrick once said "A good story is a miracle." How true! It's really a lot tougher than it looks!

Scott said...

I really wish you could have been there for the whole process, Gary. (Then again, we would probably still be arguing about the script!)
In all seriousness, it was a pleasure to colaberate with you. You keep me from "slumming" and make me really think about the characters and story. I look forward to working on scripts with you in the future.