PRODUCTION DIARY: Pre-Pre-Production (1 of 3)

A long time ago in a basement apartment far, far away…

EPISODE I:  The Script

When I first set out to write the script for Misery Loves Company in January of 2003 I had no grand scheme in mind for the story. I knew point A – the opening scene in the coffee shop, which was originally a diner, and point Z – how I wanted to end the film (Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it). That was it. I immediately grabbed my designated script notebook and began developing the characters; what they looked like, what their relationships were, physical descriptions, hobbies, interests and occupations. Once I had that information down it was much easier to distinguish them in the story and give them unique personalities. Of course in the beginning they weren’t as defined as in the end.

In the beginning most of the characters reflected myself and people I knew, or had known. There was no specific individual model for any of the main characters, although some had stronger influences than others. As I was writing I began to see certain people in the different roles and sort of tailored them to fit the person. They weren’t movie stars, just people I knew. The script was written with every intention of filming it on a small scale and even at 19 I knew Bill Murray wasn’t going to return my calls. There was definitely a strong parallel between Brian and myself, because as the main character he wound up embodying a lot of what I wanted to say with and in the film. This was offset and diluted by the existence of the other characters. Because I had outlined them ahead of time I was able to develop them down their own paths, guided by my own experiences. At the time of the first draft, which was completed in April of 2003, I simply didn’t have enough experience to go around.

The first draft was written on Microsoft word and came to about sixty pages. As stated above I had no grand scheme when I set out to write, just my beginning and end points. The first act came together relatively quickly and still remains fairly close to the first draft in the final script. Introducing and establishing all the characters was easy. It was getting them across the finish line that took some finesse. I had taken some time away from the story and returned after a few weeks with an outline of what I had done already, so I could see it all at a glance and continued from there, making little notes about where I wanted the story to go.  In the first draft most of the second act was written almost directly from personal experiences. This was to act as a bridge for the story to continue from A to Z. In the end that sequence wound up very different from the first draft. It wasn’t until the third draft revision in 2006 that the script and characters began to take on their current forms. Of course, at the time (2003) I was ready, willing and raring to go. I just wasn’t able.

The first draft, despite being completed, was far too ambitious and had it been filmed at that time it would probably wind up being something that I would only show to really close friends and never release otherwise. In hindsight the story wasn’t ready, the characters weren’t ready, and most importantly – I wasn’t ready. Still, the people who read the first draft were enthusiastic about it and that was encouraging. It kept me coming back to it through the years and in between projects. In fact the first person to read the finished first draft was current Associate Producer, Ray Zablocki. Shortly after that he and I embarked on a series of film projects and collaborations that continues to this day.

The only differences between the first and second drafts were pretty much proofreading mistakes and corrections. By early 2006 the kid who had written that first draft three years earlier hardly existed anymore. A lot had changed in my life both personally and professionally. It was with this new perspective that I sat down to tear apart my work and see what remained. Just like a house, if the foundation is good everything else can be rebuilt. The characters, setting and scenario were all strong enough, but there wasn’t a whole lot of depth to the story. In the reconstruction of the second act many things in terms of the story began to come into focus. The characters were getting to live their own lives, apart from mine, which was really exciting. This version was re-written in Final Draft and came to about eighty pages. The beginning and end were still there, but now the story had a unique flow to it that was original to these characters. Once again there was another push to get this version filmed, and once again it was met with resistance.

The following year I began production on the RIPHOUSE documentary. At the conclusion of that production I had intended once again to get MLC off the ground. The fourth draft, completed in the fall of 2008 – now written on Celtx and coming in at 93 pages was the most fully realized version to date. Constructive criticism to the previous draft pointed out the lack of motivation and growth in the main character. On paper Brian was still that 19 year old kid with no concept of the world outside of his small circle of friends and acquaintances. In the previous revision in 2006 I overlooked the characters, focusing more on fixing the story. This version saw the ending as it was scripted and shot during principle photography while still adhering to the original intention of the piece. In the process of revising the story and updating Brian’s outlook I took the opportunity to experiment with the narrative. It was something I felt uncertain about the audiences acceptance of, but certain about my intention of – in other words: a risk.

Of course, in 2008 the film didn’t happen then either. I was simply too burned out from RIPHOUSE and was lacking the overall support and commitment required to take on another large scale production (relatively speaking). Timing and availability is everything when dealing with an independent film. It determines the cast, the locations, the equipment, and the crew you will have to make your film. If the timing isn’t right, you will have nothing available. It just so happened that in the spring of 2011 I had a lot of things available to me, a sure sign that the timing was right.

Taking all of the comments from all the previous drafts into account and stacking them up against my intentions and resources for the production I sat down to do the fifth and final revision of the script (not including re-writes during principle photography). The result was a slightly leaner draft than the previous one, but with a clearer sense of the intended story. Of course, throughout rehearsals and filming you constantly face challenges and must adapt; dropping lines, re-writing or adding scenes, condensing dialogue, but that is why the script is just a blueprint and you’re free to paint the walls any color you like, or modify things as your needs see fit, because until you open the doors and let people in nobody will know anything except for what they are shown.

The saga will continue in EPISODE II:  The Cast

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