I Wrote and Directed a Short Film: Here is How It Went and Here is What I Learned
M. Francis Enright is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. He is also a filmmaker and published author. Listen to full episodes on iTunes and Spotify and visit our website: theworkingexperience.com for videos, merchandise and more. You can also find us on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, and Twitter.
“So then the main character realizes that the person he thought was his mother isn’t actually his mother. She’s his sister.”
I had been listening to this guy’s amazing script synopsis for about thirty minutes. Apparently, my lackadaisical responses did not communicate that I could not have been less interested.
He thought his insights were quite profound.
“So, how long is the script?”
“Oh, I haven’t written any of it. It came to me in a dream.”
Are you fucking kidding me?
I’m not a very good writer, but at least I write.
SARAH WHITE, an eighteen year old white woman, is jogging along the side of a suburban road.
This is the introduction for Sarah, Brian and Ann’s 18 year old daughter. She is jogging and wearing her soccer uniform to establish the fact that that is what she was going to the University of Florida to play. It also gives a sense of motion to the movie.
Steven sat in the back of my Outback with the camera and I drove in front of Jaqui, the actor, as she ran. We also put some Biden/Harris signs in the driveway to establish a sense of time and place.
INT. THE WHITE’S BASEMENT-DAY/NIGHT
BRIAN WHITE, a white man in his late forties, is performing from a makeshift stage. We hear his voice announce himself and then he steps from behind a black curtain, holding a microphone. He addresses a non-existent audience.
Hey everybody, great to be here
Thanks for coming out! Hey, you ever notice
whenever you order pancakes in a diner they
always bring you that big lop of butter? What’s
up with that?
He practices the “What’s up with that?” line a few times, trying different inflections.
This is our introduction to Brian. And that is his routine. That’s it. Beyond the punchline, “What’s up with that”, he’s got nothing. And even that is not really a punchline; Brian just heard another comedian say it and thought to himself, “Yes, that is part of the equation; I will add that to my routine and it will generate laughs.”
At the end of his routine, Brian walks to his left and the camera pans to his cork board, upon which Brian has diagrammed his “joke”. It is covered with different colored index cards on which he has written all sorts of ideas of where the routine can go: toast, waffles, crepes, French toast etc. He adds in the side dishes such as sausage, bacon, home fries, because they could be added in to the routine at some point.
At my behest, Steve and his crew rigged up a spotlight for the stage. There was disagreement on this point. He felt that it was unrealistic that Brian would have a spotlight in his basement. Where would he get that?
Writers and directors can spend countless hours worrying about things that the audience could care less about. A film, or a book or piece of art, doesn’t have to answer every question. That is very boring. It really doesn’t matter where he got it; it’s there.
And there were more serious issues to address such as why it took the crew two fucking hours to get one light to work outside of the basement window. I don’t like to second guess the work of the crew but Jesus Christ; it should have taken maybe twenty minutes. And for the life of me I could never understand why we needed it in the first place. We could have just blocked out the window and lit it from the inside. I had written in the script “DAY” but it didn’t matter. I am pretty sure Steve has OCD and once idea lodges itself into his head it is nearly impossible to dislodge it. It looked fine on camera but I could not fathom why we wasted so much time on that one thing.
But that is a common phenomenon. People become fixated on one detail and lose sight of the big picture. It is borne from insecurity. Just looking at that one thing gives people a sense of control when the project can feel out of control. But by Steven fixating on that one thing, we lost precious time to shoot the scene.
It left me feeling very out of control.
- Not everything is in your control. Learn what battles to fight and what to let go.
- Do not lose site of the big picture; eyes on the prize. I wanted to get the film done. Period.
- Make sure to be clear and firm about expectations. This makes everyone work better.