Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb

February 16, 2012 at 9:01 am

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUR CHOSEN MEDIUM

About a year ago, I took a step back and really thought about where I want my creative career to go.  Am I a screenwriter or a director?  At the end of the day I’m neither in the professional sense.  I don’t apply for directing gigs and I still struggle to REALLY put my screenplays out there.  No, I’m a professional editor.  That’s my trade.  I work in a fast paced live television environment and I’m still addicted to it after nearly 6 years.  At work, I tell stories through highlights, reports and features.  I love it.

Still, at home, I’m a passionate screenwriter and an aspiring filmmaker.

Like any job it’s important to have a clear focus and a year ago, I felt like I lost that focus.  I was still messing around with the footage we shot for The Climb and promoting Playing Through as much as possible.  These two shorts are the focus of this post as they are the only two shorts that I wrote and directed.  I love both of those films because they taught me something very important about myself:

I don’t want to be a director anymore.  I want to be a screenwriter.

I came to this realization for two very distinct reasons.  First, I read the original screenplays for those films.  They were so much more visual than the film on the screen.  I’ve learned that I’m better describing images than making them a reality on set.  Second, during the production of both short films, I desperately wanted to write something else.  You can’t do both.  You can only focus and I fell behind on my screenwriting goals.

XTRA | Rewriting Your Screenwriting Goals

However, I’d like to take a second to make one thing clear.  I do not regret making Playing Through or The Climb.  Those films didn’t scare me away from directing.  They just made me realize how badly I wanted to write instead.  And so those two short films serve as inspiration for me now.  I learned so much by getting out there and yelling action and cut.  (Even though I felt self conscious doing so.) Directing has given me a unique perspective that has changed the way I write scripts.  But that’s a pretty generic statement to make.

So let’s get into specifics.

PLAYING THROUGH

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

It’s official.  Playing Through will go down as my most successful film.  It played in three film festivals and won a few awards along the way.  Beyond anything I’m proud of the fact that people laughed and some cried.  I saw Playing Through in a packed theater once and it was both terrifying and gratifying all at once.  People laughed when I intended them to laugh.  I can’t really confirm that they cried but many have told me over the years.

The film won’t reach everyone but I sleep well knowing that it DID reach people.  I loved Playing Through.  The entire experience with the cast and crew was one I’ll never forget.  But looking back, there are still some major lessons learned.

It’s too long.  That’s the major criticism I’ve heard since we released the film.  When we realized the film was going to be close to 20 minutes long it became a concern.  But the way I wrote and directed it left little to cut out without affecting the story.  We reordered it a bit and lost a minute or two but the film is still 19 minutes long.

When it comes to writing short screenplays, you have to get the most information across as possible.  The script for Playing Through contained one major plot point per scene but I think I could have been more creative and made each page more efficient.  It would have been shorter and the pacing would have increased dramatically.

Proof that there are always lessons to take away from a project no matter how happy you are with it.

THE CLIMB

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

I wrote The Climb a year before I finished the script for Playing Through.  Right off the bat, my biggest mistake was ignoring the screenwriting lessons I learned directing Playing Through.  The script was nearly 5 years old by the time we started production in May 2010.  I didn’t apply what I had learned…

However, I did rewrite the screenplay with length in mind.  The original script was 24 pages long.  The script we filmed was 16.  There were a lot of great moments in those lost pages but I was so concerned with length that I shredded it mercilessly.  When I was cutting, I did so with simplicity in mind.  We were shooting the film with basically no budget at all so I eliminated complex locations, merged scenes together so they could be filmed easier and deleted entire characters to avoid casting and scheduling conflicts.

That was a mistake.

It’s fine to edit your screenplays but this was a massive lesson that I’m thankful I learned.  When I cut those scenes, I lost sight of the story I wanted to tell.  The essence of the story is still in there but it’s a lot clearer on the page.  I wish I had gone back and stripped the story down and rewrote it entirely.

I learned the most when I was editing the film.  It becomes clear right away which lines work and which lines don’t.  I mean that from a screenwriting perspective.  I got rid of so many lines that weren’t really needed to advance the story.  That’s one of the first things you learn in virtually every screenwriting book ever published.  You have to make every line count.  EVERY WORD.  I feel like I failed in that respect because I caught so many that sounded good on the page but didn’t work on screen.  That’s not a knock against my actors.  That’s fundamental screenwriting.

Editors will agree that when a line doesn’t work, you really have to get creative to keep things moving.  Especially when it comes to continuity.  I think that’s why The Climb feels choppy in places.  From an editing perspective, I’m happy with the way the film turned out but that’s because I eliminated about 3 minutes of dialogue by the time we released it.  That’s a lot of dialogue.

It made me realize how many moments I could have saved when I was cutting scenes and characters before we started.  If only I had simplified the dialogue.  From a story perspective, the film comes across as a first act instead of a tale with a beginning, middle and end.  Actually, it’s kind of like a prologue.  On the page, I had two great characters with really interesting back stories and as the film evolved, I fell in love with those back stories and that became the focus.  A back story is supposed to lead you somewhere.  In the script, these characters changed but I don’t think it comes across in the final product.

There was a time when I planned to turn The Climb into a feature screenplay.  I wrote a great scene in a cemetery where ‘Cameron’ faces his past and it helps him.  I really can’t explain why I didn’t put that in the story.

Having said that, I do enjoy the theme of hope these characters talk about.  There is more to their dialogue than simply words that have to advance the plot.  There is subtext.  This is a lesson that’s truly important when you are shaping your creative style.  No matter what you don’t like about your films, your writing, your paintings or your music, do not let these things blind you from the things you do like.  Every creative endeavor moves you forward.

Screenwriting aside, I had so much fun working on The Climb.  It was stressful on set with weather issues and bitter cold but our cast and crew laughed together and created together.  These are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything.

XTRA | Read about the entire production of The Climb.

MOVING FORWARD

The two films I have made are based on screenplays I wrote 6 and 7 years ago respectively.  I think that’s why leaving directing behind is so important to me.  I never stopped writing but I do not have anything recent that showcases what I can do.  Every writer gets better by WRITING.  I’m 100% confident that my work has improved but nobody knows that except for me.  I write about passion and dedication all the time on this blog but I never really follow through by sending my work into the world.  To be honest, I don’t think it’s fair to the people who read this blog regularly.  I intend to change that.

Obviously, I’m refocused now and hopefully that will change in the coming year.  It’s time for something new.  It’s the reason why I put screenwriting aside to finish The Climb and the new website.  I wanted to clear my slate.  I wanted 2012 to be the year I put the past behind me while bringing the lessons I’ve learned along for the ride.

I’m obsessed with movies, I’m addicted to filmmaking and I’m deeply passionate about screenwriting.  Most of all, I want to tell stories.

  • We are the sum of our experiences.
  • Why do we fall?  So we can learn to pick ourselves up.
  • You learn by trying.
  • Find a job you love, never work a day in your life.

These are just a few of my favorite quotes and words I live by.  But I think one quote in particular describes my personal creative journey:

There are many paths to the top of the mountain but the view is always the same at it’s peak.

At the peak of the mountain is a successful screenwriter.  I know it.  I just have to find my way up there.

Click here to check out 17west.ca and watch Playing Through, The Climb and more.  Have any thoughts on the films?  Comment below!

Lessons Learned: Playing Through vs The Climb | Independent Film Blog

Playing Through Now Available Online!

January 19, 2012 at 12:18 am

Playing Through Now Available Online! | Independent Short Film

Playing Through is finally up on YouTube!

The film tells the story of Brandon & Nathan. Two friends playing a round of golf terribly. While Brandon does his best to distract his friend, every thought Nathan has rests on a looming phone call. A call that will reveal whether or not he has been diagnosed with cancer.

The film stars John Steptoe, Michael Clarke & Alyssa LaPlume.  It was written and directed by Jason McKinnon and produced by Eric Gamache.

Playing Through Short Film Festivals & Awards | 17 West Productions

I had an absolute blast making Playing Through.  It was the first film I directed with a professional crew and it was also the first film I edited using Final Cut Pro.  Software I purchased along with a sweet new iMac in order to complete the film.  I’m extremely proud of the work our cast in crew poured into the short.  I also have to thank Clear Springs Golf course in North Bay, Ontario for allowing us to make this film on their course.  It was a gorgeous week I’ll never forget.  I’m extremely happy it didn’t rain!

Hope you enjoy the film!  Pass it along.

There is still one more giant announcement to come regarding this movie in 2012 so stay tuned.

Playing Through independent short film 17 west productions

‘Playing Through’ Gets Honorable Mention At NSI Short Film Festival

April 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

'Playing Through' Gets Honorable Mention At NSI Short Film Festival | Short Film | NSI Canada

Recently, Playing Through was accepted into the NSI Online Short Film Festival and we just got word that our film was given an honorable mention for the A&E Short Filmmakers Award!

Check out the news story here.

I’d like to congratulate ‘Remote‘ directed by Marc Roussel for winning the award and I’d also like to congratulate Hugh John Murray for getting an honorable mention as well for his film ‘Desiderata‘.  It was the first time there were two honorable mentions.

The NSI Online Short Film Festival is a fantastic collection of Canadian films and we were thrilled to be a part of it.  Here are some of the nice things the jury said about Playing Through.

“Solid storytelling by the filmmaker and great chemistry between the actors combined to make a touching and heartfelt film.” Juan Riedinger

“This simple golf afternoon is intelligently layered with complex emotion.  I respected its patience and its humble approach in unraveling private anxieties within one simple setting.  All elements were nicely in sync in this story – photography, editing, performance, direction, and script.  It is a lovely character piece about friendship that is respectful of its medium.” Anneli Ekborn

This unabashedly sweet and unique portrayal of male relationships captures a moment of reflection on what matters most.” Danis Goulet

You can head over to NSI and watch Playing Through in it’s entirety right now.

Special Thanks to NSI Canada for their support.

Playing Through independent short film 17 west productions

Click here to visit 17 West Productions.

Playing Through Official Selection 2010 NSI Online Short Film Festival

December 6, 2010 at 7:33 pm

Playing Through Accepted Into NSI Online Short Film Festival

Playing Through has been accepted into the 2010 NSI Online Short Film Festival!

We’re extremely honoured to be a part of a festival featuring 100% Canadian content.  The site adds new films each week and it’s completely free to watch.

I will post again when Playing Through goes live but head over there regardless and check out some amazing Canadian Filmmakers at work.

Playing Through Official Selection NSI Online Short Film Festival

Playing Through is the story of Brandon & Nathan.  Two friends playing a round of golf – Terribly.

While Brandon does his best to distract his friend, every thought Nathan has rests on a looming phone call. A call that will reveal whether or not he has been diagnosed with cancer.

The film was written and directed by Jason McKinnon (Me) and Produced by Eric Gamache.  It stars John Steptoe, Michael Clarke and Alyssa LaPlume and was filmed at Clear Springs Golf Course just outside of North Bay Ontario.

I’d like to thank the festival organizers for including Playing Through in their program.

Check out the trailer below and stop by 17west.ca for more.

Directing Short Films: Playing Through vs The Climb

September 11, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Directing Short Films

I’ve been making movies since high school.  Back then we were winging it.  We shot our films with a camcorder and filmed every scene in order.

We didn’t have screenplays and barely worked out the stories.  We simply made it up as we went along.

You learn by trying.

I consider Playing Through my first official short film.

It was based on a screenplay I wrote and absolutely adored.  I couldn’t wait to see the finished film.  Screenwriting has always been my passion.  I’ve never considered myself a director and truthfully, I don’t know if my ultimate goal would be to direct for a living.  I want to write.  I love writing.

However, I also enjoy challenging myself in new creative environments. 

Why not give directing a serious shot?  I had nothing to lose.

Playing Through Short Film 17 West Productions

When we shot that movie, I didn’t know how to carry myself on a professional film set.  That was the biggest hurdle I had to leap in order to communicate with my crew effectively.  I had spent countless hours shot listing and story boarding in the week’s leading up to the shoot.  I did this for two reasons:

  • I wanted to make sure I had a clear idea of what I wanted the movie to be.
  • I wanted the crew to take me seriously.

Our first day of shooting was hard on me.  We had fallen behind and I had to adapt my vision accordingly.  When you are dealing with a golf course that remained open as well as the constant threat of rain, you really have no choice but to push forward as efficiently as possible.

We had to make sure that by the end of the shoot, we had enough footage to make a movie.

I learned early on that certain complicated shots had to be sacrificed in order to make sure the story was told.

In the end, I got everything I needed to tell my story and I’m extremely proud of the final film.

So far, Playing Through has won 3 awards and been an official selection in two film festivals.

I suppose the one thing I learned was that you can’t rely on story boards and shot lists when you are in the moment.  You have to let your instincts take over at some point.  I don’t think I did that enough.

It may have been nerves but I definitely wish I let loose a little more with my imagination while I was on the set.

The Climb Short Film Toronto

We made The Climb nearly 4 years after I wrote the original draft of the screenplay.  That script went on to place 4th out of over 1200 scripts in the American Gem Screenplay Competition.

Since that time, I’ve rewritten and simplified the script several times.  When it came time to decide what I wanted to do next, it was an easy decision.

I went into the shoot with the same amount of preparation as Playing Through.  I had my shot lists and drawings finished and I was confident we would get it all done.

With the exception of the weather, this shoot was actually pretty smooth.

The major difference?

I left my notes at home.

All I had on me was a miniature copy of the script which I rarely opened while we were shooting.  I had general approaches to each scene but because of the weather, I was forced to come up with new and interesting ways to get the work done.

From a visual standpoint, The Climb has many more varied locations and settings.  I did my best to keep things as new and interesting as possible as the entire script is essentially one long conversation.

Much like Playing Through, the weight of the script is in the dialogue.  When we were making Playing Through, I had golf to rely on during the longer conversations.

The Climb deals with two people who live on the street.  I had to find a way to keep things moving even though my main characters do not.

So I tried to use the locations to my advantage and create as much depth as possible.

We’ll see how it all turns out but I’m definitely more comfortable on set.  What’s important to me is to always keep improving.

I’m not sure if I’ll direct again any time soon as I’m now firm on my goal of writing some new shorts and a couple feature scripts.

Writing will always be my first priority.  When I’m directing, I miss it.

So while I’m finishing post-production on The Climb, expect a lot more posts about screenwriting.