Tuesday, March 2, 2010

BUT WHAT I REALLY WANT TO DO IS...WRITE AND DIRECT ~ An Essay by Eric Beetner of Harbinger*33

Kate, Here is my little essay on making movies, which is what I do. I can tell more stories of pitching to studios, writing a script by assignment, making this film if you like ~ just send the audience AT THE BIJOU to my studio. The pic is me in action, such as it is, with the script in hand and doing a "director" move. No obligation to use it. 

WRITER / DESIGNER / PROMOTER, ABSOLUTELY*KATE: Eric, consider AT THE BIJOU your screening home away from home, and wax eloquent with our cheering (and popcorn throwing) audiences any time. The photo? Priceless. You couldn't have pried it from my hand in telling the projectionist just how I wanted to use it . . . for your Closeup!

an essay by Eric Beetner

When Kate put out the call to authors for their film-related experience, musings and thoughts my first was, “Hey, that’s what I do.” Well, sort of. I have been writing screenplays long before I started writing novels. I’ve even been paid for it. If you were paying very close attention to Variety circa 1998 you would have seen a mention of my “six figure deal” for an original screenplay. That number is, in true Hollywood fashion, a complete fabrication. Oh sure, it was in the contract for me to make that much but the film would have had to make about $500,000,000. Instead the movie never even got made. Sorry to burst your bubble, kids. Hollywood is full of fakery. There really is a man behind that curtain.

So now I have 16 screenplays sitting comfortably on a shelf (probably ten of them are crap) and my agent and I split ways. Not long after we did a staged reading of a script that was read with enthusiasm all over town, despite it being very weird. Charles Durning read, Joe Mantegna, David Alan Grier, Barbara Bach and more. It was a huge cast, a dense film and a cult hit at best were to ever get funded. After the raucous reception to the reading a studio exec said to me, “Great, just great. It’s not a movie. But great.”

So I set out to make my own film. I have a degree from film school and everything. I make my living as an editor, the most “storytelling” of all production jobs. It has often been said that editing is the final draft of a screenplay. I concur, even though I mostly cut TV and quite often the dreaded and hated “reality” genus of the species. Hey, I got a mortgage and two kids. To earn back your respect I will tell you I have cut films that went to Sundance, I have cut seriously minded documentary subjects like Autism and The Afghan War and I cut an animated film that played while the LA Philharmonic played a live score. That was cool. Did I tell you how much more Fear Factor paid than those projects?

The film I wrote and directed, Taking Your Life, is not a comedy in case you couldn’t tell from the title. I am known, or attempting to become known, as a crime writer with my short fiction and novels. Taking Your Life is straight-up drama, not a gun or a grift in sight. The short pitch is this:

Nate, a struggling documentary film maker is approached by Helen, an elderly woman who wants him to make a film about her. “What’s your story? Every film has to have a story,” he says, rather condescendingly. “At the end of next week I’m going to kill myself,” is her reply.

Nate takes the gig and brings along his long-suffering producer, Hilary and cameraman Tony. As they shoot the film they struggle with questions of whether they are doing the right thing. As they get to know Helen that opinion changes within each of them.

 It started as a short film for budget reasons but I wanted it to have a feature structure so it is a little longer, 53 minutes to be exact. From the response of festival audiences we did a touchy subject right.

Showing the film to an audience has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. Being met with applause and tears after a screening is deeply humbling and the post-screening discussions were always lively affairs. It is hard not to have an opinion about the film. Even if someone hates it or despises the subject matter I'd rather raise someone's ire than be met with apathy. Winning the audience award for Best Film at the California Independent Film festival was a thrill.

No more so that making the film. I was honored to work with a cast and crew who worked for an insultingly low amount of money and the star, Kathryn Joosten of The West Wing and Desperate Housewives fame, was the most generous of all. She refused to let me pay her. “Spend it on better catering,” she said.

Kathy rejected the script at first. Then her manager read it and urged her to reconsider. When the person who gets 10% is imploring you to sign on to something for free, that is a ringing endorsement of the writing.

Kathy called me at work and said she was in. “I feel like you wrote this just for me,” she said. She even let us use her house as a location, saving money on set decorating costs.

Orlando Seale came on board as Nate, bringing more nuance to it that I could have expected. Jill Farley brought a lovely innocence to Hilary and L. Trey Wilson made me regret to this day that I hadn’t written more for Tony. All three actors who deserve to work more.

I made the film as a “calling card” for the industry. Proof that I could do this. It is not visually flashy. It doesn’t try to trick the audience. There are no special effects. I wanted to prove that I could tell a story, work with actors and make an audience feel something. I feel we were successful.

So far I have not been invited behind the studio gates, have not been offered a three picture deal anywhere. I am still without an agent for my pile of scripts. But I have something I created that I believe in. Something I am not shy about showing to anyone, a departure from my usual shyness and uncertainty about my work.

There are a million stories about the making of the film and the festival runs we made showing it off. I’ve gone on too long already but here is a link to an interview I did with blogger Patti Abbott who saw the film and loved it. To see a trailer for the film go HERE. (the video quality of the actual film is much better) 

I hope more than anything to be able to do it again some day. I hope to have someone else pay for it too but that might be too much to ask.

Until then I write. I edit. I live a creative life that pays the bills and leaves me satisfied beyond my hopes and frustrated at how far I have yet to go. In this digital age it seems that everyone and their neighbor has made a movie and mine is just one small frame in the reel. If you get a chance to see it I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m happy to answer any questions. I’m happy to direct your next project (I’m doing another music video in two weeks. Budget - $0. Just like all the others I get enthusiastically “hired” to do. *sigh*)

I don’t do this to get rich. I do it to tell stories. I’m not even so presumptuous as to say, “I am a storyteller” and I rarely say, “I am a writer.” I let the work speak. Sometimes I wish it would speak a little louder but any noise I put out into the world is better than silence.

~ Eric Beetner

********Absolutely*Kate's Easy Guide ********

HOW TO PURCHASE ~ Taking Your Life

A movie made by an author we know and admire


***To purchase a DVD of the featured Eric Beetner film, please visit IndieFlix.com

***OR you can always contact Eric directly and get one for the same 10 bucks. The artwork is better and more money goes to the artist. ericbeetner@gmail.com

ABSOLUTELY*KATE: Eric, I was intrigued by the trailer and am now psyched, anticipating your full movie*magic at work for mine and Prof's viewing pleasure when the postman rings once, or twice. THANKS so much for this reel movie-time share of who you are in the what you do. Would you kindly finish up here and tell the nice folks about how you go noir in the night and where else to seek out your flicks? I have to check the popcorn ruckus Carrie Clevenger has started again . . . but it would be a crime not to let our movie'audience AT THE BIJOU know ~ 

ERIC BEETNER: Got you covered Kate. I heard you had some rowdy characters around here, some not even scripted by Paul Brazill, and the way he tells it, he does everything. Here goes: 
~ For my crime writing, including the novel One Too Many Blows To The Head, co-authored with JB Kohl, go to ericbeetner.blogspot.com
To see any of my cheap-ass music videos go over to ericbeetner.com


 All AT THE BIJOU wish you successes in Tinsel Town, and where the world leads you, which can only be more starring sensations.

~ Absolutely*Kate
and the fine staff of renown


Michael Solender said...

a cold biz for sure. good on you for doing something you believe in and sticking to your guns

Harry said...

"When the person who gets 10% is imploring you to sign on to something for free, that is a ringing endorsement of the writing." < Absolutely* true and from everything I've read of yours, the endorsement is much deserved. Fascinating how much you've already accomplished, your three picture deal cannot be far off!

Anonymous said...

Eric, I am impressed. I knew you were a good writer but had no idea of your love for the screen. Congrats. Now I run see your videos.

Unknown said...

Eric... Very very cool essay. While I haven't had the level of success that you have had, I, too, dabbled in the screenplay form in the 90s. Even got an offer but turned it down. I was a dumb kid. In any case, great trailer and a really well-written and informative essay.

Eric Beetner said...

Thanks all for letting me share my tiny slice of the Hollywood pie. Hope to see you all on the silver screen someday.

Kate Pilarcik ~ absolutely said...

As silver sheens, you're a screen gem, Mr Beetner. I look forward to seeing the stenciled back of your director's chair . . . countless times. ~ Absolutely*Kate

Pamila Payne said...

Never ceases to amaze me how many talented people there are all aiming for the small bulls eye that is Hollywood. How can we help but want it? Sounds like an amazing project Eric, I hope it gets you and more of your creative works out there.