by Allegra May
So, we have a story, and a pretty good one by some people’s estimate. It’s a psychological adventure at the borders of reality, a story of finding deep connection on a human level and beyond. Some say this is a story for our times, that we’re looking for deep connection now and going forward.
So far so good, but how does a small publisher on the coast of Maine, with no contacts to producers, directors, or actors, turn this story into a movie, when CGI or animation costs $15,000 to $25,000 per minute? It looks like a hopeless project.
But we at Kai Press are fond of playing in the unknown (see How to Love the Unknown), and our intention is to create a movie “from the ground up.” What this looks like (although in the unknown, you can never be sure how anything will look) is a natural, cumulative process that starts where we are, with what we have, and grows from there.
What we have to start is a story, writing talent, and experience in graphics, acting, and film documentaries. More important, we have a few passionate people, a wide circle of connections, and a spirit of play. From the ground up means finding needed resources as we go along, refining our ideas of how to translate the story to a screen, and expanding our network of connections.
Ideally, these are the steps of a the book-to-movie process from the ground up:
- Movie outline: We have a writer so we can do this step right away.
- Scene outline: Ditto on having the writer.
- Scene sketches to visualize the story: But we need an artist!
We asked a close friend, a well-known artist, if she could recommend an illustrator. She surprised us by saying she would love to do the scene sketches, and by the way, she likes to work from photographs. Sometimes the unknown really delivers! So we replace the third step with:
- Photos for scene sketches: This includes exploring locations and using a stand-in for the main character, Lee. This step is on-going, as fall turns to winter in the story and in real life. Our timing was good to start the project the same month that the story starts. With a background in documentaries, I know having an opportunity to photograph on location at the right time of year will feed my visual imagination as the project moves forward.
The next three steps don’t call for any new resources, so we could move right through them. But these are vital steps, and need to be taken in order so they build on each other. Speed is not always a good thing in a developing project.
- Character descriptions: Two main characters carry the story, as they attempt to resolve the story’s premise. To make their characters compelling, they need clear, believable backgrounds and motivations. Minor characters aren’t critical at this point, and the (spoiler) non-human characters will be represented rather than portrayed by actors.
- Scene sketches: This is an on-going task of the artist, who will receive a steady supply of photos. In this early phase of the project, we’re concerned only with pivotal scenes, but eventually we’ll need a visual rendering of almost every scene. Scene sketches promote the visual quality of the film, opening doors that words can’t open. They also replace the need for a story board.
- Screen play: Writing the screen play is not only a big job, it’s the best representation we’ll have of the final film. Producers, directors, and actors read the screen play before committing to a project. The screen play determines location, characters, dialogue, voice over, time of day, point of view, scene transition, and more. It has to work out many unknowns, such as at what place in the story the movie begins, how the gradual drift into the unreal is handled, what can be omitted from the book, and which scenes are essential. The screen play is also the foundation of the shooting script.
By this stage we’ll be well into the project, and it will be time to wade into the visual invention we need to convey an experience of unreality. There’s a huge catalogue of visual effects from shows like Star Trek and Marvel movies, but none of them feel right for this story. This is a personal story of two characters grappling with something they don’t understand and consequences they can’t predict. So here is where we get to discover and create:
- Visual experiments: Using a high quality graphics program, we’ll play with how to represent the unreal. We already have some ideas on how to do this.
- Animation experiments: From the beginning we knew that, because of its content, this story would require CGI or animation. We want to depict a seamless shift between the real and unreal in a believable way. Amazon has done this in the animated series “Undone,” but that technique carries the price tag of $25,000/minute, and we’re not sold on its look and feel. Our artist will consider what programs are available outside an animation studio, and what styles can produce the experience we want to give our audience.
There are five final steps in the first phase of from the ground up:
- Preliminary casting: We have our eye on a possible Tomás, a fortyish priest who believes that someday he will save, maybe, the world. We’d love suggestions for Lee, a mid-sixties retired mental health counselor who, despite being a hard core realist, believes there’s a thing hiding in her mind.
- Selecting which sample scenes to produce: Feasibility will be a big factor here.
- Sample scene shot lists: We do this from the screen play and scene sketches.
- Music composed for sample scenes: This step will have started earlier, by discovering a composer and having extensive conversations with them.
- Sample scene production: Depending on whether we’re doing live action, animation, or some combination of the two, we’ll use standard low-budget video production methods.
With a reel of sample scenes, we can now look at the market, our potential audience, a budget, and sources of funding. Will it be a GO or NO GO? If we’ve grown and discovered and had fun along the way, we’ll be ready for either.
We invite you to come along with us, making suggestions, cheering us on, possibly contributing your own talents to the project. Email us to let us know your opinions, questions, and suggestions.
#kaipress #AWUmovie #AWUbook #intheunknown