A Writer Writes, Right?

“I like a good story well told. That is why I am sometimes forced to tell them myself.” – Mark Twain.

A writer writes, right? And a good writer writes a good story that is well told. That is the simple secret of the difference between that one memorable film (or book or any form a story is presented through) and all that just disappear into oblivion. (The exception being that one that is told so remarkably terribly that you remember it because you simply can’t get over just how awful the story was and how bad it was told.)

When writing in a literary form, the only thing standing between you and your reader is your publisher. Once your piece of work is accepted by a (preferably large) publisher (with a huge market potential) your story, as it is told by you, will interact with your readers. Even without a publisher, you can print out your story or make an e-version of it, and your words, true and untarnished can play with the imagination of a handful of readers.

Writing for film is, well, an entirely different story (excuse the pun).

Ink to print a book is a relatively small cost compared to what it costs to produce a film. The chances of even a good story well told getting through that needle eye is so slim, I dare wager that there is a larger chance of hitting the big lottery.

Until the words on the paper are transformed to the screen, no matter how good a story and how well it is told, they are just words on a piece of paper. Print that out and give to a friend to read, the format itself will probably stand between you and the reader’s imagination. Unless she is familiar with reading screenplays.

The first crucial step to getting that good story well told depicted as film, is to igniting the fancy of both a producer and a director. If by luck this happens, the moment they are on board, is the moment you can kiss goodbye to control of your story. It now becomes the story of the director and will be told they way he or she sees fit. The writer has to give their child up for adoption.

Chances are, however, that a writer may never see his or her own original work ever make the screen. Since everyone seems to have a story or more to tell, this may be the ticket the writer needs. (Sadly not everyone has a good story and a surprising small amount of people ever stop to consider what it would take to have this particular one well told. This goes for both people in the film industry as well as almost anyone you meet.) Lucky for writers, though, is that that there are film directors who have visions of stories but who cannot seem to get it down on paper. If the writer is especially lucky, he or she will hit a rare species of directors. The one who admits that writing for the screen and directing are two different (and equal) crafts, where without a good story well told as a fundament, there is not a chance in hell that a film will be good.

For many directors, the writer is merely a tool to help clarify and translate his or her vision to a working document (the screenplay).

After that, the director takes full custody of what at one point was a common child.

It is a painful process.

Especially when the writer sees the mature child, now in film format, the very first time. Important scenes might be missing. The portrayal of a character might not even be close to how that person was intended. The tempo, visual style, overall tone… so much can be completely different from the initial story. Or so it may feel like to the writer who had to let go. After all, letting go was the only way the story could be depicted as a film.

Then again, it is no longer the writer’s story told as the writer had. It is now the director’s story told according to the director. The opening credits are very clear on that.

I realize that this may come across as a sour criticism, but it isn’t really. I am proud as hell of the directors I have co-written with and the films they have created. Only a couple of my co-written screenplays have been made into short films and I get a kick out of seeing my name on the credits. Even though I can still miss some of the scenes, wonder why some things were cut and elements changed. I have even learnt to swallow the bitter pill of having feature film contracts slipping out from under my feet after a spell in development hell. I have come to terms with the realities of writing for film.

I truly and deeply love film. If I ever forget it for a minute, just sitting in the darkness of the cinema for a second reminds me of this love. It is this love that drives me to continue to hone my craft, my art, so I can honor that good story and tell it well. For film.

And so the writer writes. Right?


«Spark» as VOD

These past couple of weeks there has been an unexpected jump in hits on the page on my website about «Spark» (original title «Gnist» ), a short film I wrote that was produced way back in 2007. There has been the odd hit on this page from time to time, but all of a sudden people from remote places all over the planet are googling the title and names of the filmmakers involved.

Then it dawned on me: the film is probably now in distribution online!

Several months ago, director Inger Lene Stordrange and I were approached by a VOD site in the making, requesting that «Spark» be distributed there. Last I checked a couple of months ago, the site was still in construction and I had forgotten about the entire thing. Now it is finally up and running!

So, if you want to spend the entire $ 1.99 it costs to see the film (after checking out the free trailer you can click on first), you can join the people from all corners of the planet evidently viewing it these days.  You can see it at  https://buskfilms.com/films/spark-gnist/

The film is the first one I co-wrote that actually was produced. I wrote it with directors Inger Lene Stordrange and Endre Kvia, in addition to instructor Ida Robberstad. It was produced in 2007 and has been shown at more than 30 festivals worldwide.

«Spark» is about passion, dreams and the choices we are faced with when these are on the line.

«Spark» was released by SF Norge on dvd in rental shops all over Norway in 2009. The dvd  “4 filmer om drømmer, lenglser, lidenskap”  (“4 Films About Dreams, Longing, Passion”) also included three other shorts by Norwegian directors. Here is the trailer from the dvd:

 

 


My Roller Coaster of Producing Film

Anyone who works with the creative part of film production (and maybe other creative professions) knows the roller coaster it is. It is heaven and hell all rolled into one.

First there is that initial idea – the magic of inspiration that gets the ball rolling. Anything can set this off: something or someone you pass on the street or encounter as you are going about your daily life as usual, a sound, a scent, a small note in the newspaper that almost everyone else misses, the way a situation makes you feel, something somebody says…

It can strike you like a lightning bolt or it can be the quiet whisper that you barely even notice at first. But once it is has made its presence known, you feel it. There is no where to hide.

Then the overwhelming rush fills you. The flood of inspiration. You can almost taste what it will be like to see the end result. A vision so clear fills you that you can reach out and touch it. You fall in love and could not be closer to heaven.

If the passion for the idea is strong enough, it propels you into action. You take the first steps into the creation process. Enthusiasm and faith get you going, lasting long into the Honeymoon phase. Like all relationships, though, sooner or later the uphill journey begins. Usually sooner than later.

What seemed to be so clear, becomes a bit murky. All the small details that were hidden by the overall picture scream out at you. It is like trying to do a puzzle only to find that pieces are missing. At first you might try cramming down any old piece lying around. It gets frustrating though, when you try hammering down a piece into a space it doesn’t belong in. If you force it, you might just make it more or less fit. You can pretend not to let the little part still sticking up and the little space not quite filled bother you. Good enough…. until you see that the entire picture isn’t. Manipulation and force rarely create the vision you initially had. You can either let the entire piece of incomplete garbage go flying around you in the room or instead start the search for the missing pieces. You turn every piece of furniture in the room, open every box in every closet, shine a flashlight in all corners. You know the pieces are there somewhere. It is just a matter of not giving up.

Creating a film is probably one of the most complex forms of art there is. It requires an enormous amount of resources – money (especially money) and time. Since film is teamwork, it also means enough people have to believe in your vision and make it their own. Hopefully, they will be both talented and share your initial enthusiasm and faith. Sharing these are important, because the team can usually rekindle them again when you might loose sight of them trudging on your uphill journey.

In the nitty gritty commitment stage, it is usually: The Decision of The Commitment that keeps you going. Deep down inside you still are in love, but you might not feel like dancing in the streets (like you would have wanted to earlier, rain or shine) or making proclamations from the mountain tops.

This is where a lot of projects meet their end in a painfully slow death. Development Hell is the greatest challenge in many cases. This is where you could use your knight in shining amour to conquer the dragon’s fire, but you have to do it yourself. No magic wands, no 3 wishes from a genie. You endure and keep trudging on.

The reward, if you do, is that the nano-seconds of the rush and the sparks of love can rekindle the fire again. It can happen at any given moment and when you least expect it. You can taste it again. Smell it. Feel it. The vision.

And somewhere far down the line is the ultimate rush of seeing the Vision Brought to Life. (Here is where the dramatic, emotional music would go… sparking even the hardest of hard to tears in the corners of their eyes….)

…. I write “you”, but you might not feel it like this even if you work with film. So replace all the “you”s above with “I” and “me”.

I am usually in several of these stages all at once, juggling more than one project. In the “Die Smiling” feature film project mentioned in my last blog, we are in the commitment stage. At least for my sake, the Decision is what has kept me going these past months. Moving like a snail, but moving. After days away from my e-mail in bed with fever, this morning I plowed my way through the stack of mails waiting. Midway through, the spark of love flooded me again. I am feeling the excitement rush of the roller coaster ride again, thanks to fellow producer, Solveig Arnesen, who sent me this:

 

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Die Smiling

The film project that currently is taking most of my time these days is a feature film called «Die Smiling». For starters, a brief synopsis (of the first part at least) of the film:

Our main character is David, a young American guy in his early 20’s. He’s a passionate musician and really loves heavy metal.

As a joke, David writes a list of what he thinks will make his life complete:

1) land the record contract with his band

2) see his favorite band in concert (and maybe be on stage with them!)

3) live happy ever after with girlfriend.

If these come true, David says, he can die smiling.

One evening when David’s band is in concert, he gives all and dives off the stage into the audience, head first. He lands right on the floor and breaks his spine, which puts him in a wheelchair.

David’s Die Smiling list comes back to haunt him. His band gets the record contract, but that slips between David’s fingers. His girlfriend leaves him. All he has left to live for, is to see his favorite band in concert. After that, there is nothing left for him.

His favorite band is from Norway and is touring the country. They have made an epic music video on the North Cape that David really loves. So he gets on a plane and heads for Norway.

His first goal is to go to the concert.

His next goal is to wheel off the North Cape, but finds out that it isn’t filmed there. David feels that life is really out to get him. He can’t even find the right place to put an end to it all. What a disaster he is!

Getting into the concert is a problem, because construction in the building blocks the elevator he needs to use for his wheelchair.

He still doesn’t give up and decides to take the train to the next concert venue.

At the train station he meets the annoyingly optimistic Becky, her father Truls and her mother (who is in an urn on Becky’s lap.). Becky is in a wheelchair, too. She had been in a bad traffic accident, which also lead to her developing a terrible claustrophobia. Her father sustained a head injury, so his short term memory is no longer good and he no longer always can tell the difference between reality and fantasy. He makes up things, believing them to be true.

Just before the train leaves, Becky panics, throws the urn to David and dashes off the train. David follows to give her back her urn, but the train pulls out without them and Truls waves to them from the train. Becky is upset, but David wants no part of this.

Decent as he is, he ends up helping her at first. But only until he can leave without seeming like at complete insensitive jerk.

This is the start of a road trip along Norway’s back roads. David wants to leave them as soon as daughter and father find each other again, but then he finds out that Trul’s supposedly fantasy story of a backstage pass to the next concert is actually true. So he sticks around a little longer.

Along their journey they encounter a semi criminal biker gang on their way to a MC festival, a charismatic pastor who wants to heal them and Truls keeps wandering off, getting into all kinds of trouble. By mistake he is put in jail for kidnapping and bank robbery…

After a long journey and a lot of misunderstandings, David comes face to face with himself.

In the end…. well, you’ll have to see the film to find out.

More on the process of producing this film to come….

 

Visit my homepage at www.lindamaykallestein.com

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Shadow of a Midsummer Night

Earlier this week I received the wonderful news that a short movie I co-wrote is accepted to The Norwegian Short Film Festival 2011 in Grimstad! This is the first time any of my work has been accepted there, so I am very pleased about this.

The movie is entitled «Shadow of a Midsummer Night» (original title: «Midtsommernattens skygge»). The screenplay is a collaboration between award winning director Stian Einar Forgaard and myself.  This is director Stian Einar Forgaard’s third short movie about young children and existential issues. His last film “Ekorn” (“Squirrel”) won him several  awards and honorable mentions in film festivals worldwide.

The film is totally fresh. So fresh that I have not even seen the final version myself. The last version I saw was an offline cut, before the final sound was complete. Composer John Erik Kaada created the music, so I am pretty excited to see how it all turned out in the end. Like a kid circling the Christmas tree, I am constantly checking my mailbox for the dvd I know is on its way to me.

Fingers crossed for good reviews from Grimstad next month!

About the movie:

«Shadow of a Midsummer Night» opens on Midsummer Eve. The brightest night of the year. During the celebrations 10 year old Jon and Line escape to their secret hideout in the forest. However, the idyll passes as Line has to leave.  This is the last time Jon sees her. A story about a child finding his way back.

“Shadow of a Midsummer Night” is funded by The Norwegian Film Institute, Fond for lyd og bilde, Filmkraft Rogaland and Vestnorsk filmsenter. It is produced by Phantom film.

 

Please visit my homepage at www.lindamaykallestein.com


My Journey as a Filmmaker

Since this is my first blog for Montages, I thought I’d introduce myself.

About 6 or 7 years ago, I started the Long and Winding Road on my journey as a Filmmaker. It actually happened as an accident. I had flirted with television production back in the Stone Age (= mid 1980’s), when I worked as an intern for one of the very few production companies outside NRK (the Norwegian Broadcasting). This was back when NRK had monopoly on tv in Norway and the typical Norwegian week was organized around what was on tv that particular day of the week. (There were a lot of activities going on Tuesday evenings, since that was the low of the tv week… So as not to offend any of my collegues working on the Tuesday evening productions, I’ll leave it at that. The rest of you who can remember back in the day, know what I mean.)

For about a year I was a part of a tv team that made weekly magazine format programs for cable in Scandinavia, and I was in charge of producing 1 montly half hour magazine for an international audience. Pretty cool knowing I had audiences in far away places like the Carribean Islands and Africa.

Following that intern year, I returned to the University to pick up  my studies. During my time at the University, I met a successful writer. I had always dreamed of being one myself, so I asked for her advice. «Run as far away as fast as you can. Avoid becoming a writer at every cost,» was what she told me. «Don’t put yourself through it, unless you have no other choice.»

Several years later with a degree in Visual Communication, Media and Art, I took the safe road and steared clear of anything remotely to do with any form of production or creative work. Life just seems to happen sometimes, and so it did for me. Some interesting doors opened, and I walked through them.

After a decade or so advancing in my chosen career, a story found me and would not let me go. I had done some writing over the years, but it was mainly for art and culture publications. And I had the odd freelance journalist assignments. Now all of a sudden there was this voice in my head (I know I run the risk of sounding schizofrenic), I gave in to it. A character took me by the hand and lead me down a road, telling me her story. Showing me places, people, experiences that had turned her life upside down.

I did they only thing I could do: I wrote her story.

My first attempts at writing it were as a novel. Once it existed on paper, I didn’t really know what to do with it. A close friend of mine ratted me out to a mutual writer friend, who asked to read it. He encouraged me to rewrite it as a screenplay.

I pulled out all my old books on film analysis, screenplay writing and bought a few newer ones, and followed his advice. All of a sudden I had a screenplay on my desk. That was my first step on my journey as a filmmaker. I knew then that I had to give this a serious go. I had taken the first writer’s advice and run as fast and as far away for as long as I could. Now I knew I had no other choice than to slowly embark on the road that opened before me.

I quit my secure 8 – 4 job while I was pretty much at the top of a career which was heading even further up, for the uncertainity of following my passion. A lot of people thought I was crazy, because I was supporting two young kids on my own at the time. In all fairness, it was a little crazy. But good crazy.

Since then, I have had a few film contracts for a major film production company (which ended in development hell and got pulled), I have gotten numerous writing grants to test out my writing and work on my craft, I have produced/co-written/directed projects such as short films, a music video, cooporate films, films for various organizations and documentaries. I have traveled to several exotic places on the planet to produce some of these, including bringing my children with me to live in remote areas in Africa for shorter periods. I have written a few feature screenplays, none of which have made it to the screen yet.

YET. (Take notice of that important word!)

I was slow at arriving where I am, but I am here now. And I know my journey has barely started.

 

You can read about some of my previous projects and see clips etc on my homepage at www.lindamaykallestein.com .