At this point in my career, I’m a dedicated novelist. I’m sticking to writing and promoting my traditionally published books like the Tankborn Trilogy and the upcoming Janelle Watkins mysteries, as well as my indie published romances.
But there was a time when I would fill in the gaps waiting for an editor’s notes or when I was between book contracts by writing screenplays. I’d work on my own or with a producer to write feature length scripts. I was a member of the Writers Guild of America and made a little bit of money as a screenwriter.
I’d also play around with short films. I’d write a short script (ten or so pages, which translated into about 10 minutes of film), then find ways to produce that script. It helped having a friend with a production studio (The Studio Center) complete with cameras, sound equipment, a green screen, and editing bay. Frank would charge me bargain rates in exchange for directing credit.
Sweet Tooth was one such project. I’d gotten the idea years before and had intended to write it as a short story. I ended up writing it as a short script instead. Here’s the logline for Sweet Tooth: It’s Trish’s last chance–she either makes big sales at her next WundaWare party, or she’s history. Trish does her best, but she can’t seem to overcome an irresistible temptation that ruins everything.
Since this was a super-low-budget film, I had to make some choices in the writing of it. I had to be able to shoot the whole film in one location–my house. Since it was a vampire movie and shooting “day for night” wasn’t practical, it all had to be shot after dark. Other than the camera and sound work (and the editing later), I did pretty much everything. I was writer, producer, set decorator, propmaster, continuity, and craft services. All the props came from either my own kitchen or the dollar store. The actors all worked for credit only.
We shot over two weekends, Friday and Saturday nights. There were a few pitfall in our choice of a production window. First, we started on the night of the summer solstice, which meant it was the longest day of the year. Waiting for “dark” made for a very late start each night.
We were all troopers, though. I got to make some fake blood on the fly (corn syrup with red dye and a touch of chocolate syrup for color). I’d sold Tupperware for 15 months back in my 20s, so I had a lot of fun setting up a display of the faux plasticware, WundaWare. I also enjoyed getting inventive with the various rooms of my house, transforming them into the sets we needed.
My takeaway from the experience is that filmmaking is an entirely different animal than publishing. The biggest difference is how many people are involved. Yes, when you’re publishing a book, you rarely do everything yourself, even if you go indie. There will be an editor, a cover designer, marketing folks, and if it’s print, someone to manufacture the book.
But imagine if books were written like films are made. You’d have to hire people to act out your characters. You’d have to bring in a propmaster to acquire every single item you’ve described in your scenes, plus a set decorator to lay everything out. A sound crew would have to record the sound or you wouldn’t have any dialogue. A gaffer would have to make sure the lighting is just right, or your reader wouldn’t be able to see who or what is in that scene. And craft services had better feed everyone, or your characters would be getting mighty cranky.
That would certainly make things a lot livelier for the novelist–and a lot more expensive and time consuming to write a book. I think I prefer the thinking-it-all-out-in-my-head-and-typing-it-on-my-computer way of doing things. That way, the only one filching out of my refrigerator is me. My characters can just eat air.
How about you? Have you ever been involved in a film production? I’d love to hear your experience.