If you’ve seen Justice Is Mind, First World or Serpentine: The Short Program, you know I don’t shy away from using multiple locations to tell my stories. I’ve been very lucky with my productions to secure some unique locations.
Each one of those projects had one or two critical locations. For Justice Is Mind it was a courtroom and MRI facility. For First World it was a presidential suite and a horse farm. For Serpentine it was a figure skating complex. Each of those locations brought gravitas to their stories.
For this new project, my aim is a simple one. Keep the story largely contained to one interior room and one outdoor scene. My goal is both for story and cinematography. With the primary story taking place in a windowless bunker one of my inspirations is Alfred Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. For those that have seen this classic, the story primarily takes place in an apartment. As that film was first produced as a play, it largely makes sense that it would be confined to one location.
This new story is a prequel to First World and revolves around one particular meeting. While I would obviously love to see First World produced, I also know that it’s a science fiction epic that would require, while maybe not an “epic” budget, certainly one in the seven figures. For this project, the aim is to contain production costs for independent production.
While Dial M for Murder is one inspiration, another is Fail Safe. The scenes in the Pentagon’s “war room” worked on a variety of levels. What I particular liked was the rear projection that was used to display the military crisis between the United States and U.S.S.R. Because this type of “special effect” was produced while the movie was being photographed, it saved time in post-production.
With a good amount of my research completed, I’ll shortly start the writing process. The fall and winter months are my favorite time to write an original story. Believe me, it’s the cold weather that will set the mood for this piece!
This story will revolve around a particular signal intercept and how certain government and military officials are responding to it. To give you an idea of the conflict in this story, I’ll borrow a quote from Valkyrie, “This is a military operation. Nothing ever goes according to plan.”
It’s not fashionable for actors to not learn their lines. Your number one job requirement when cast in anything is to learn lines. If you refuse to do that, please find another occupation or avocation.
When I read this interview with Bill Nighy (one of my favorite actors) that is has become “fashionable” for actors to not learn their lines, I always wonder where such nonsense started. Seriously, how do you execute a film (forget a play) when an actor doesn’t have their lines down? This is akin to a Director of Photography not interested in operating a camera.
Over the years I have unfortunately come across actors and performers that think it’s OK not to be prepared. Being unprepared is not only disrespectful to those in the cast and crew that have done their homework, but as a director I’ll never cast you in anything.
As a writer/director I do have to count myself lucky with the actors I have cast in my films. Out of the four films I’ve produced, only two of the actors arrived to set without having their lines memorized to say nothing of having read the script.
In one of my short films I was very excited to work with a particular actor who was also a producer/director. I was incensed when not only didn’t he have his lines memorized, but laughed it off in the process. Didn’t he care that there were about 15 people on set that saw this behavior? It was during that moment that I was reminded of a student film I was in the year before. One of the actors I had a scene with made a big deal that actors need to know their lines. I kid you not when our scene started he didn’t have his lines memorized at all. He thought it was cool. I was having none of it. Needless to say when he submitted for Justice Is Mind his submission was deleted.
This being said, ALL the actors I worked with in Justice Is Mind and Serpentine: The Short Program had their lines brilliantly memorized. For those that have seen Justice you know it was a dialogue heavy production. The courtroom scenes alone were basically one monologue after another. Their preparation and professionalism made the production a smooth one resulting in an on time and under budget finish. Professionalism (which has nothing to do with union status) goes a long way.
However, responsibility also falls to the director as well. Whenever I put a film into production, I always make sure the actors have received their scripts well in advance. Isn’t that my job? To give actors the tools they need to succeed? I can’t blame actors for not having their lines down if I don’t deliver them in a timely fashion.
Case in point I was approached this past week to be in a film that was shooting this week. Before I committed the director confessed they were still “tweaking” the script and it should be ready shortly. What the hell does that mean? Do I get it the day before? Or day of! Needless to say, I declined to be involved. I’m sorry, if you can’t get your act together on the production side, you’re asking for a disaster on set. Honestly, this isn’t rocket science.
As a screenwriter one of the things I do prior to writing any story is research. In SOS United States the fictional ocean liner in that story is called the Leviathan and is based on the famed ocean liner SS United States. But during this research I came across the MV Aurora and have been following this find ever since.
Anyone that knows me, or follows this blog, is aware of my passion for ocean liners (past and present) along with preserved navy ships. For me the preferred way to holiday has always been by cruise ship or ocean liner. So when I learned that Christopher Willson was restoring a cruise ship from the 1950s, I naturally had to learn more about the Aurora. And let’s be clear, restoring a cruise ship is a project!
The Aurora was launched in 1955 as the Wappen von Hamburg. When you consider that she was the first cruise ship built by West Germany since World War II, that fact alone secures her place in history. After her launch the ship passed through a variety of cruise lines and operators until a literal ad on Craigslist caught the attention of Willson. The ship at that point was in a sorry state, but it was a calling for Willson to restore her to glory.
Through the years I have been following this project, I continue to be amazed at the progress he and an army of volunteers have made in restoring this iconic piece of maritime history. Such efforts are a unique passion and should be applauded and supported by anyone that comes across such dedication.
Restoring a cruise ship from the 50s is not like restoring a house from the same time period. We’ve all seen the ridiculous modifications from the 60s and 70s in houses that have been thankfully done away with in the 21st century. But a cruise ship is different. Over her years the Aurora has had numerous, shall we say “changes” to her original design. But learning about Willson’s drive, ambition and progress bringing this ship back to life must be promoted.
While I certainly applaud the efforts to eventually restore the United States, Willson and his team are restoring the Aurora. One weld, one paint stroke at a time, the ship is returning to take her place alongside such historic liners as the Queen Mary and Rotterdam. In the case of those two liners from days past, someone had a vision to see that those vessels were saved from the fate of breakers or worse (remember what happened to the Queen Elizabeth?). But unlike those liners, there’s no hotel chain or municipality assisting in funding and promoting. It’s just Willson, his volunteers and related capital efforts to continue this important work.
All of us have seen the restoration of iconic buildings in our towns and cities. Nothing is grander when you see an old building restored to glory. Restoring a cruise ship from the 1950s is no different. In fact, it’s even more important. A ship, unlike a building, calls to you. Ask anyone who owns a boat or captains a ship and they’ll share their story. It’s clear the Aurora was calling Willson to save her. It knew her place in history and what it had to offer future generations. Personally, I’d rather sail on history than read about it in a book.
To the captain and crew of the Aurora, may the wind be at your back.
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The weather in Newport last week could not have been nicer. On the drive home Friday, I was reflecting how fast time flies and the weather we had last December and March. Let’s just say it wasn’t very cooperative from black ice to blizzards! But this round could not have gone smoother. From the trials at the Naval Justice School where fourteen of us participated as role players in their mock trial program to evening festivities and touring, it was a great time all the way around.
As I discussed with one of the newer actors to the program, this is probably one of the most unique acting gigs they will do. It’s one thing role playing a character, it’s another interfacing with over sixty students, instructors and leadership at the school. It’s that depth of involvement that has many of us returning for every class.
But with another class over, it’s time to return focus on to other projects. That new idea I mentioned in my last blog post means I will be firing up Final Draft this week. While I won’t go into the premise just yet, it will largely be a one location drama. The genre—science fiction.
As a writer my ideas come from a particular moment or experience. With Justice Is Mind it came from writing the sequel to First World. For this story, I had a basic idea for it last year and wrote down some thoughts placed in a folder called, brace yourself, ideas. But it was over the last four weeks at the Naval Justice School when I started to think about it again and talked to one of the actresses who I already have in mind for a part. Perhaps it was also the fact that fourteen of us are either in a classroom or a courtroom that the idea started to blossom.
Like I told this actress, I generally can’t start writing a story until I have an ending in mind. I need to know where the journey will eventually end. Now, that may change at some point, but it’s something to work towards.
As for the genre, the numbers I’ve been gathering over the last several years just reaffirm the market interest in science fiction. Ten years after its release First World is still generating revenue. The psychological sci-fi of Justice Is Mind, combined with a dramatic story arc through a courtroom, is what brought audiences to theaters and now online.
But for this weekend it’s time to decompress from the last four weeks. However, I will leave you with one word that will be mentioned in this new story…
The hotel is booked. The luggage is packed. Around noon I’ll be leaving for a week. This is the week of the mock trials and are the “performance” days. But unlike a theatrical or film premiere, no tickets are sold. There’s no public audience. But when all is said and done, all of us involved take our performances out into the real world.
Having played this character for the third time, there’s always something new to learn. Some new process, procedure or training an agent will need to know. Or an area of law that will be focused on. It’s one thing writing a legal drama like I did with Justice Is Mind, it’s another to be on the witness stand being questioned and cross examined by an actual lawyer. In a screenplay I know where the dramatic arcs are. I never know when they are coming in this setting!
So often I hear about this acting class or that acting class. This technique or that technique. I see actors obsess about learning this secret or that secret to acting. In my view I’ve always liked the way Anthony Hopkins has described the process, “I just learn my lines.” In the case of the NCIS Special Agent I play, I need to know my background and statements. I then research certain areas of law and procedure that may apply and then visualize the setting.
As for settings, while I’ve worked with most of the actors and staff from the school before, it has been great working with Monty Lyons. As some of you may remember, Monty played a police detective in Justice Is Mind and did an excellent job in the role. In this program Monty and I play the same character. Owing to the structure of the program we don’t often see our characters performed by other actors, so when I saw Monty play the role the other day, it was interesting to see his take on it. If I was to score his performance from the old figure skating scoring system, I’d give him a 6.0!
Finally, reuniting with some of these actors has brought forth some new ideas for projects down the road. Looks like I’ll start writing a new screenplay next week.