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The Script

Lesson 7 from: Producing An Independent Film From The Grassroots Up

Michael Gottwald

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Lesson Info

7. The Script

Lesson Info

The Script

All right, let's go to the next lesson which is about the script um now let's go to this this is the title page of a script um this is one that I wrote with a friend of mine in new orleans that uh uh as sort of a side project I don't really write um I usedto write scripts probably in college but this is one that I did as a side project um with a friend and, uh you know, there's always a balancing with script so when you meet with the director or a writer has a script understand that it is a blueprint, right? It is act I mean, I know that's a cliche, but it's it's really true? Like I've read there was something that there was a a movie that just did very well at the sundance film festival and I had read the script and I read the script and I completely dismissed it I thought there's no way that this film is actually going to be good. I didn't pass on it we weren't gonna work on it, but I read it just because I like to read scripts just to see what's what's going on and as as references ...

for other writers and everything and I haven't seen the film but the film is is getting tons of accolades and I wantto see it because I think that I'm it's the perfect example of a script just being a blueprint it it might in script form have not really talked to me, but in film form it can completely, uh what's the word transform or transcend I guess what I'm trying to say and uh that's I don't know I see it all the time is just like in a director's and you know, a good directors hands material can completely transform, so even if it even if it ah now I'm gonna completely kind of backtracked on what I'm saying but that said if a script is just fundamentally bad or they're just elements to it that you just don't respond to whatsoever in the like heart of it and I don't think that's going to change, so if that if even if it's best for mitt still about something that you don't really want to go near or you do just don't really like their sense of writing I don't think that any sort of director producer collaboration is going to change that really it's okay that's okay, you know, maybe they have something else down the road that you want to work on, but you know, just knowing that and that that's a possibility I think is is good to keep in mind um so when when you, when you do meet with people about scripts, ask them how they where they imagine the script is in terms of its process, do they think it's done, done, done, done like and now it's just about shooting it. Um, and if you read it and you think this is nowhere near done, then there's a, you know, there's a disconnect there that should know. So you want to ask the writer or director where well, in what stage they imagine themselves to be, um, you know, sometimes it's part of like ben could not have written than the ben and lose it could not have written the scripts for beasts of the southern wild without going down to the by you of values of southern louisiana and actually being down there and absorbing the life down there and spending a whole lot of time down there, um, every chance they could, getting to know the the local people and and just holding themselves up in this in this marina, the edge of the road and just sort of writing about what that feels like. So a lot of writers need to kind of tether themselves to the reality of the inspiration of the place that's inspiring them to write, you know, that that could be a key part of the process and sometimes it's worth reminding them of that it's like, ok, you have this script about x um I know that you say that you're done but why don't you go back out there and just like experience what x is for a little bit you know I mean and let that live with you and maybe that can make it more detailed more specific and and I find that that's a key part of the creative process for a lot of directors everybody's process is different but these are things as a producer that you sort of should be aware of that might you might need to reiterate to them um so or sometimes they need to if they're like then casting is also a huge part of the process if they can't really right the character in a vacuum and they need a real person that they found that says like then didn't exactly then we'll say to himself he didn't know that that he didn't know who hush hush puppy was completely until we found cove engineer wallace and then he was like ok she's going to completely inform who this is now that said she's very different from the character but it had to be a melding of of the two for him that's not every director's process but that is but casting and I think being on location can be to really keep parts to get a script from I'm writing in my office for a few weeks to I'm writing about something that is really that we can make um now again do the script each script has fundamental challenges that question is do do those challenges excite you now in this conversation with a writer again where the project progress of this project is is is it near a final draft? Is there a good place in this conversation for director, director and great of producer relationship? Um that's key you know I mean, see if there's an opening or an opportunity you can't go in and be like e I would not recommend sitting now with somebody being like, well, look, I want to be a creative producer so like can I get in on this or what you khun there's a better, more tactful ways to see how they imagine your role being if they're like, well, I'm just looking for somebody to raise the money then and you know that that's not really your angle at that point it's good to know that, you know, and don't be afraid to walk away if they're like, well, I mean, I wrote the script and honestly, I've gotten some feedback, but I'm looking for more and, you know, I've just been making this project alone in my bedroom with last like a year I really I want to bring it out into the world and with somebody that if you want to be a creative producer that's a pretty good up attorney but let them speak to what the role could be not you because you don't want to be weaseling your way in there that's that's not the makings of a good productive partnership I don't think um again some other things as it is a blueprint you wantto ask how they imagine executing it um they should have some idea even though it's not totally theirjob some idea of how they want to pull something off certain sequences that maybe you have a concern with you like well we just in this in the script you have like a baseball stadium of like fifty thousand people like and we're talking about making it for one dollars like how how do you imagine we do that and you don't want to dismiss those ideas off hand because maybe they have some crazy way that they imagine doing that that fits with their you know, strange vision for making a film they're like oh well actually one film one person and put it in all the seats and you're like ok never thought of that that doesn't actually sound like a solution but um uh yeah and then any other larger scale casting we talked about a little bit like who do they imagine being in the roles what kind of people where they want to find those people and how and any other large scale practical concerns about just the scale of the operation in general um do the challenges excite you? They shouldn't oppressor frustrate you not I got into this a little bit but with beasts you know, we wanted to talk to tell a huge story um with not a lot of resource is we had to create a flood in a storm or the you know you want we wanted the audience to feel a storm in a flood and we knew that we couldn't make a storm and on actual storm or flood happened so we had to come up with interesting ways to do that we wanted to create a mythical mythological kind of beast so we had to come up with ways to do that on a budget but and use some of the ideas that people in the eighties and seventies were doing for their practical special effects, you know, like using puppetry and using forced perspective to make things look bigger it's like those kind of things that stuff is really fun I mean, that's what sort of we grew up on and so that's why we like the idea of it, you know or like making snow out of, uh, it's like potato seeds or something there's a special I don't know it's like a some of these trade secrets, you know that like they don't use in hollywood anymore because there's all cg id but you can do on a smaller scale um with not with not a lot of money. So that was something that we we really wanted. Tio dio um, with ping pong summer. The challenge that I got excited about was I just come off of be sniping box number. So you guys know, is a eighties coming of age comedy? That's? Roughly the same budget is beasts, but it takes place in ocean city, maryland. We filmed in ocean city, maryland. It's, sort of the director's kind of look back at his youth when he when he was around fourteen in nineteen. Eighty five. Ocean city and it's a very simple, sweet story about new kid in town wanting to have a good time at, you know, and his summer getaway and encountering bullies and getting really into ping pong. It's very it's, pretty much like the karate kid, but we think, um and so what I got excited about is I met with the director had read the script. I liked it, but he wanted to mix the cast. We talked about how casting, casting ideas play a role. He wanted to mix nonprofessional kids like you wanted all the kid rolls to be actual kids from ocean city or nearby, so we wanted to cast it locally the same way we did with beasts. That's cool and I like that I like that approach have done that approach before, and I'm interested in that, but he wanted to mix it with professional actors that some people recognize in some of the main adult roles, and I thought, that's cool I've never really worked with actor actors before, it would be interesting to mix those those two worlds, and so that was the challenge of doing that and also working with a town like beasts the world of peace is not is not directly anyone community in southern louisiana, ocean city like ping pong summer is explicitly about ocean city, maryland so it's sort of like we got to work with the community in an even more direct way. I mean, we had investment from the county board and city into the film that that's how it like the tourism board paid for part of the film that's, how directly we were working with the community. So we were referencing specific restaurants in the script and then shooting at those restaurants like that was really cool to me, and I was interested in that um so that was the challenge, and I I like that challenge um and then yeah again it was it was a period piece on a small budget so it's set in nineteen, eighty five and period pieces there normally have all sorts of complexities because you think about beyond costume, what else you have to change of go? Well, that house wouldn't really look like that because it's thirty years ago, you know, like we wouldn't they wouldn't refer to that there's all these things you have to keep in mind, we wanted to shoot on sixteen millimeter film or super sixteen because to make it feel like more like a like a home video from that sort of era, all those things were very does your challenges it's not it's, not as easy to film with, uh, super sixteen as it is to film digitally, so but it was authentic to the spirit of the film. So that's a challenge that was exciting? Um, ok, before we get to the take action, I'm gonna keep this up their secrets and start to think about it. But this is sort of what I'm going to talk about, which is assess for yourself like, I know that there's certain things there's certain movies just I just don't want to make because if I've seen it before, it doesn't speak to me. But it's always hard for me to articulate what exactly, this is the move, the kind of movies they don't want to make, but I really don't like, you know, uh movies that feel completely because they feel like the writer was writing a version of a film that they've already seen before and just sort of filling out different roles that happened I don't know I don't like movies where there's just sort of like the point is violence or the point is something horrible and that's what you're supposed to sort of like oh my god be entertained by I just don't like like that what I'll call the genre films for the sake of genre films now I love when a genre film is taken is tackled like very, very wisely or within with a fresh perspective or having a having a character at the center that is that feels personal you know we're like you can personally connect to this film that we just went to sundance with is called western and it's a non the idea was it's a nonfiction western the western is very much a genre picture but we wanted to make a documentary that felt like a western so that I love that and I like that idea lot um so I don't know sometimes you get pitched the's scripts that are just sort of come from a like let's see how much bad twisted things can happen to these people and one in the over the course of a hundred pages that it's just like I'm not in film for that I don't I don't want to do that and I might be coming off like a prude, but I just like don't that's not I wantto and it's not about necessarily positivity and negativity it's just about like why do you want to tell that story? And so I think it's this is just me right like ah I respect people who can make, um let's say horror films really well because if you pull off if you pull off a horror film it's very difficult to pull off a good heart phone but if you can I will watch it and I will like it I will be energy enjoyed by even if I didn't want to make it I'll be entertained by it um comedy same thing like the company is so so hard and I might read a script and be like this is just not me I I don't think that I can it just seems like it's I don't have any way into it, but if they pull it off and it's actually up there on the screen and it's working, I'm responding one hundred percent because if you pull off comedy it's like you can pull off drama no problem not really but sort of um so yes, this is my take action this is my prompt for you guys back at home is what what kind of stuff do you not want to make like what is your tolerance level for things what are the what are the stories? We're not talking about the stories that do inspire you talk about what is the stuff that you would encounter and say this is just not for me. Um now you could be, like a complete horror movie fan and you want to get into producing to make horror movies and then something that is very serious or comedic or take itself really serious? Well, those are two different things completely but let's say a drama is just not what you're in it for its like you wanted this to be pure entertainment, so you know, what is, you know, like what? What? What what's your tolerance level like, what are you into? Not into? And I think it's just as important to ask that, especially as a producer directors sort of know what stories where you want to tell but a producer you're interacting with other people's material all the time, so you have to know what don't you want to make? Um, so why don't you write it down right now and revisit it the next time that you're thinking about getting involved in a project? Think about does this film meet that criteria? Um but here at home or here at home here, here in the circle in the round, I'd love to hear just I'm just curious to see what you guys is there is there any stuff it you guys just aren't interested in you have to make all films type you're not um kind of in the same vein I don't like just pure are like horror films I'll enjoy them but I like things that make me thinking that air you know, entertaining obviously you can't we're all working an entertainment can't ignore that forget who says it but you know if you want to send a message using western union was the quote I think this buys a practice or something like that I disagree with it a little bit I think that you know, whatever we put out there should have some message or some value some purpose you know, it's not just raw, pure, you know, money driving entertainment but the way I like to describe it like tio I'm interested in telling the stories the strange stories of everyday life but with real and imagined so that since I could see myself maybe working on a you know, horror from that I don't know has a different take on it or you're a scifi film that's shot in a very indie fashion without any see jihei and it's just you know, simple compositing or instantly that um but in terms of what I don't want to do, I don't want to do something I'm embarrassed of hope that thing I'm just going off what sean said about doing something that you're embarrassed of I have just this huge thing where I really don't like he's kind of raw, shocking all comedies that a lot of going on and I know some people really like them and that's fantastic, but I just find them to be very just not funny for me and I just couldn't imagine ever doing a film with our was just pure like shock comedy I'm really inspired by ang lee's career because as a director I see him is just someone that does well, he tells whatever story he wants, it transcends jonah means the guy that did sense and sensibility also did the hulk. I don't think I want to do the hulk, but um like sean and I'm sure most of us here I am interested in story I love subtext I love grands like connecting tio myth and tradition and twisting things around. I love poor, although I certainly would not like I would do cabin in the woods not saw you're exactly right or the witch or it follows coming to you soon, hopefully to a theater near you, but, um but yeah, I think that, uh and also you said kim about like, the big the big comedies what the light bulb for me was, I don't care to make like big name movies necessarily, I'm actually really interested in working with people that are less familiar, especially if it's a story that's supposed to be more real life. Um, I love that idea of, you know, uh, drawing the audience in which becomes so much more possible. I think it has a lot to do with the magic of beasts of the southern wild is that no one knew who these actors were, right? And it just draws you into the story and create so much more magic, which I as a storyteller love I want to share a couple from the chat room. People are actually talking a lot about budget. We had people who say that tyler marino says lower budget films seem more exciting and more fun to be a part of, but then we had people like chris langer, who says, I do not like horror films so tired of them, and they are always seem to be under budgeted, so budget seemed like something that people were were impacting here and then mahogany media says, probably scifi as a genre because that's my least favorite plus, when most of it is done in post, I don't know if I could fulfill final vision of the films of thanks for all of your feedback there.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 1.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 2.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 3.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Keynote Part 4.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Call Sheet - Filled Out.xls
Michael Gottwald - Sample Low Budget Documentary Excel Budget Total Budget.pdf
Michael Gottwald - Sample Low Budget Documentary Excel Budget.xls

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

A top-notch presentation on indie film making. I learned a lot from this course which I hope to soon put into practice as I'm about to embark on my first indie film - as a screen writer for the first time out, but eventually I hope to write, direct, and produce my own film. Very easy to follow the presentations in this course, and the handouts I received when I purchased the course are quite useful.


Such a great course! Being an indie "Grassroots" filmmaker in the middle of three projects, I found what Michael shared to be very valuable. The way that he described the different aspects of producing and illustrated with examples was very clear and fresh. The course really opens you up to examine your own processes, what works / what doesn't and stirs up some new ideas on how to move forward. Thanks CreativeLive team for making the class happen!


This is a tremendous introduction to grassroots filmmaking. Michael takes you step by step through the various elements of film production and offers those so inclined a cursory understanding of what is required. Because filmmaking is a creative pursuit, the direction the individual filmmaker takes from there is entirely up to each. I would highly recommend this course to any one starting out in filmmaking. Well worth the cost. David W. King, Michigan Movie Magazine

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