The first time I heard independent feature films typically take 4-5 years to complete my mind was boggled. After all, we turned around a pretty successful short in under two months. How hard could it be?
Turns out, pretty dagum hard.
Officially we started writing the John Gray feature film September of 2011, which puts us at about the 16-month mark. I sometimes wonder if I had known how utterly frustrating and maddening this writing process would be, if I would have even started.
Fortunately, I discovered these difficulties gradually.
Blood + Sweat + Tears = Breakthrough
When we sat down to write out the John Gray feature film, I had some thoughts on what I wanted to happen, but I knew I wouldn’t be the one to write it. For that, I called upon long-time collaborator Jessica Adducci (née Powers). We bounced some ideas around, and I encouraged her to take the story and make it her own. Soon we had our first finished treatment.
Unfortunately, it was fraught with many many glaring problems. It was clear that if Jess was going to write a screenplay based on my story and characters, I’d have to really (and I mean REALLY) understand the characters and their relationships. Not being a strong writer myself, this proved to be a daunting and difficult task.
One of the biggest helps I had came from Allen Palmer’s A New Character-Driven Hero’s Journey. In his post, he breaks down the mythical Heroes Journey (as put forty by Joseph Campbell) in a way that us mere mortals can comprehend.
I spent close to two weeks locked in my room grinding through characters, motivations, conflicts, and surprising resolutions. While a lot of that orignal work has been trimmed in favor of newer material, it paved the way forward and created what we hoped would be an exciting high concept steampunk story that focused on the characters and their internal conflicts.
Once I got the nut cracked a teeny bit, Jess took over and smashed it wide open. The first time the team read the finished second revision, we were speechless. For once we had in our hands something that very well could be a legit, for real, feature film.
John Gray x BlueCat Screenplay Competition = Validation
A short time later, Jess called and asked if we could submit the screenplay to the BlueCat Screenplay Competition. It’s a national thing that awards lots of money to people who have been writing far longer than we have. I didn’t put much stock in it initially, but Jess eventually won me over; John Gray was her first feature-length screenplay and BlueCat was the perfect way to celebrate the milestone.
I’m not expecting much; I doubt we’ll win anything, but it turns out BlueCat is known for one other thing: really really great feedback. Within weeks of our submission I had two sets of in-depth screenplay analysis…and it was POSITIVE! Very positive!
I’ll spare you the several pages of breakdown and serve up some simple affirmation:
This script works extraordinarily well, considering that it focuses on character rather than its high concept. The setting is wonderfully realized, with steampunk flourishes but still being rooted in historically accurate period.
High-fives for everyone!!!
(John Gray)Time = ?
And here lies the unknown; where to go with it next? I puzzled over a troubling Act II climax, but Jess, being the enigmatic writer that she is, decided to scrap the whole thing and start over.
As nervous as that makes me, I remember what I told her when we started: that I wanted her to make this her story too, and I think she’s finally tapped into something special that has allowed her to do just that. I won’t get to read what is now the third revision till after new years, so like all of you, I wait with bated breath.
I don’t know if we’ll pursue traditional production and distribution partners, or if we’ll try to tackle it ourselves. Either way, I’ve never been this excited and anxious about a film. Directing John Gray will be a culmination of years of hard work, waiting and preparation.
Jess, HURRY UP ALREADY!!!