Sunday, November 10, 2013

my first (uncredited) film credit: One More Pill

The first thing I ever wrote for film was a treatment that became the music video for the song "One More Pill," by the band Stabilo.

One day back in the mid-two-thousands, I was hanging out with Stabilo's lead singer/songwriters, Chris & Jesse, and they were complaining that all the music-video proposals they were getting from directors were painfully bad. They knew I liked to write, so they suggested I try and come up with something. That night I banged out a one-page treatment. I emailed it to Chris & Jesse, who loved it and sent it on to their label, EMI. The A&R people at EMI loved it, the director they chose loved it, and BAM! I was a produced screenwriter.

No credit, though. Because... I'm not sure. Maybe they don't do credits on music videos?

Whatever the case, a few months later Chris brought me into his barn-loft apartment to show me the freshly-cut video. He was nervous about pressing "play," and once the music video had rolled through, I knew why.

It was still, in many ways, what I had written. But suddenly there was this eye-candy nurse, the story line had been scrunched, and important parts had been replaced with close-up shots of Jesse's face, singing into the lens.

I was shocked and hurt, unable to understand why they hadn't faithfully reproduced exactly what I had written. My treatment was perfect, right (insert sarcasm)? So why hadn't they followed the script?! Chris explained that they'd had some issues with some of the footage, and that the label had mrphrg slrmnk prfffglitt... but at that point, I was no longer listening.

I should have listened, because that was my introduction to writing for film, and Chris was teaching me an important lesson: namely, that a screenwriter has very little control over the final product. Other people's intentions, the practical constraints of shooting, and technical difficulties can take the best intentions of everyone and turn them into something quite different.

For my subsequent two produced film credits, FORK and LOCKER 212, I have had the pleasure of working closely with directors that I know and trust. Together we refined my initial stories into something better than my initial drafts, a thing that was then further changed and developed by the cast and crew that came together to bring it all to life.

I have learned in the process that the lack of control that is the great risk of film-making can also be one of its greatest joys. I have learned that when you can tap into the creative abilities of a lot of people, you can achieve something far beyond the capabilities of just one, finite, scribbling writer.

And the world is just full of creative people!

Eventually, I was able to look back on that first, mangled treatment of mine and realize that, ho-whoah-wait-a-minute, the finished product actually wasn't half bad. It was a departure from what I'd written and intended, but it did follow the spirit of what I was trying to say, and perhaps even the spirit of the song.

That music video has recently re-appeared on the internets. So here, in case you've not yet seen it (and before it disappears again), is One More Pill:

2 comments:

  1. No knowing which part is your content makes it a bit hard to comment :) though I do like the video (hadn't seen it before) and it's still a really good song (as an aside). It's interesting how little a writer may have control over the finished product - do you think a more established, high-profile writer would get more creative control in the end? And could that potentially be that writer's detriment considering the fact that other creative visions could be a positive influence? Is the medium of film more difficult to maintain creative control than others? I mean, how much of "East of Eden" did Steinback's editor rewrite? And who decided that people would throw US dollars into a guitar case in front of Toronto city hall? :)

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    1. We as a culture are massively attached to the idea of the solitary genius, in a way that's ultimately very unhealthy for artists. To answer your questions as best I can:

      I think the degree to which an artist's work gets changed when there is any sort of room for collaborative input DOES to some degree depend on how good/professional they are with their work. Partially, I think, because it would be harder as an editor to question the creative judgment of someone like Steinbeck. However, there's a reason so many (good) writers thank their editors. It's not empty gratitude. Musicians, too, are HUGELY indebted to their producers, who can have a very strong influence on the music.

      I think you're right to wonder if this could be to their detriment. A good editor doesn't HAVE to be a genius creative -- they just have to have a keen eye for the sorts of problems that any creative person WILL miss. A good editor/collaborator catches the vision the artist had and helps the artist to realize it in a way the artist never could have without the help.

      Film is HUGELY difficult for any one person to be in control of. That's part of the beauty of it, though. When it works, a film becomes something all it's own -- a separate creature that has come alive through a communal effort. It is hugely beneficial, though, to have one person with a strong vision (and often a slight overconfidence or daring-do) at the helm to keep that ship steered in one general direction.

      As to the American dollars decision... that was the label. They were obviously pushing to help Stabilo make the move to the U.S. market, and wanted to be able to use that video if they did. When Jesse's voice died a painful death and they were unable to tour anymore (which also coincided with the choking death of the record industry) that was pretty much it for Stabilo.

      A final note: LOCKER 212, by way of example, was most strongly influenced by Matt, the Director. But we developed it over a long period of time, and our intentions for the project became so fused that even though he made it HIS baby, we shared a vision to the extent that I LOVE the final product -- even though it's not exactly what I would have made, had I been fully in control.

      Most film writers do NOT get to work as closely with their directors as I did, which is why many become directors -- to preserve their intentions in the final product.

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