Saturday, March 31, 2007

Feature Film Blog


As I'm embarking on a feature film I may as well begin journaling the trials and tribulations, the highs and the lows as I go. It might amuse some of you, serve as a warning to one or two of you who consider yourselves filmmakers or it just may be something I can look back on in a few years to cry over.

Here are the basics:

I've been in this town 9 1/2 years. I've allowed myself 10 to make a film and I'm quickly approaching that tipping point. I'm following Dov S-S Simmons' model in his book "Reel to Deal" of writing and shooting what essentially amounts to a dressed up stage play. This is what you do with very little money. And that's what we're talking about here... my life's savings. I'm not a trust fund baby and I'm not in real estate so every penny I have is very precious.

Those of you who know me may have heard me use the statement by Orson Welles: "The enemy of art is the absence of limitation". Think about it, what better mantra for the independent filmmaker? My other mantra that's going to get me through this is "turn your weaknesses into strengths". And seeing as I have plenty of those I should be fine.

My film is titled after the main character, "Revel Owens". This is my third feature screenplay. My second broke the top ten on Kevin Spacey's screenwriting website:, I've spent 14 months and about 40 drafts on this latest project. It's very simple and only 73 pages long. I want to make an impression and leave the audience thinking.

The films I compare "Revel Owens" to are: Lars von Trier's "Dancer in the Dark"; Ingmar Bergman's "The Virgin Spring"; and David Lynch's "Blue Velvet".

It's a dark film. The train of thought that sent me down this road is: I'm a little Indy filmmaker, how do I make an impression, how can I seperate myself from all the other talented filmmaker's out there struggling for attention? Are there any taboos left to explore? Sex, violence, religion, family,'s all been done. Is there anything I can do to polarize the audience, to get them talking? I thought if I could get them to sympathize with the plight of my hero but despise his actions I would have a pretty good shot. They say character is revealed by one's actions under pressure. So here is what we have at the very core of the film:

Revel Owens, a devoted family man with a hearing impaired daughter, is kidnapped by Casper Deeds, a redneck who just brutally murdered two lovers in bed. In the process of being kidnapped Revel's daughter is critically wounded and must fight for her life. Revel, in turn, fights to suppress a hidden side of himself but when Casper plans to shoot and burn his body a primal urge surfaces that no one will see coming.

Today I spoke with a detective from the Los Angeles Police Department- Major Crimes Division. I have a meeting set up with him on Tuesday, April 4th (at an undisclosed location), *that was fun to write*. I'm hoping to get some insight into 'Detective' behavior. I've had a few friends on the police force over the years. What many people don't realize is how funny people in law enforcement can be. It's a kind of defense mechanism. I'm hoping to discover some traits like this from this detective, who, by the way, was a genuinely nice guy over the phone.

How I met the detective is an L.A. story in itself. The short story is someone called a bomb threat into the building I work in via the internet. They took it seriously enough to call the LAPD and clear the building. Our head of security knows about my plans to shoot a film and pitched my story to one of the detectives. The rest is history. Funny.

Other recent developments:

I wrote this film for Los Angeles, a friend suggested Louisiana. The damage inflicted upon the 9th Ward and Jefferson Parish would undoubtedly enrich the subtext of the film. Logistically it's a nightmare. I need time to location scout, to cast the film and rehearse actors. I'm a staff employee, I need more time and more money and some key personelle in the area. I'm concerned about the lawless behavior reported down there and the rats in the 9th Ward that come out at night.

But... I just learned a very close friend and her boyfriend and their roommate are moving to Louisiana. The guys are Louisiana native's and they work in the business. One is a camera operator, the other an editor. We met, discussed the project and now, well, Louisiana may still be an option. 'Locations Expo' is at the Santa Monica Civic Center next month. I'll get the opportunity to speak with the Louisiana Film Commission and see what they have to say about my plan.

I guess that's enough blogging for now. I'll keep you up to date as we go on this little adventure together.

Wish me luck, I'm going to need it.



Wonsuk Chin said...

Glad my experience inspired me. I'll be rooting for you!

Bill Totolo said...

Mr. Chin!

I'm sorry I never ran across your message. What an honor to get a response from you!

Unfortunately my plans for my film "Revel Owens" were never realized. I am currently drafting a screenplay based on this scene i recently shot:

Thank you again for stopping by, I am much honored.

Bill Totolo