How do you pick the right story when you make your short film?
|Aside from using in a bathtub. That is assumed.|
Almost every independent filmmaker has to struggle between telling the story they want to tell and telling the story other people want to watch. Independent filmmaker Hal Hartley told No Film School “people don't go to movies unless you see sex and violence. So no matter what you are to address …, no one's going to pay attention unless there's a girl and a gun. And so I try to just wrestle with that.” The juggling of these things becomes something of a Faustian bargain between making something meaningful and something enjoyable.
I wanted to challenge myself with my first short film—Kelly vs The Philosophers—to effectively tell a story that was both deep and really fun to watch. Now, I have an advantage because my favorite movies are the ones that have appeal to the elites and the masses, such as Gladiator, Silver-Linings Playbook, Inception and Iron Man. So to me it’s not a Devil’s pact as it is just making the kind of movie I’d like to watch. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The story for Kelly vs The Philosophers came about when my politics professor David Tubbs told the class that we should “struggle” with the philosophers he was assigning us to read. He believed if we argued mentally with what they were saying we would get a lot more out of them than if we just passively accepted or dismissed their ideas. For me, my first thought was? What if I too that idea and had a student literally fight with the philosophers, action-hero style? And what if I played against type and made the action hero an average girl rather than action archetype? From there the ideas came quickly and easily.
|Our lineup of philosophers was actually pretty intimidating, right?|
The film, when it finally premiered, opened to enthusiastic reactions at my school. Everyone enjoyed it and were—best of all, also—engaged with the ideas. That convinced me that I was on the right track with my self-challenge to make movies that are fun and important.
1. Don’t feel like you’re cheapening the story by also having it be fun. You don’t have to be. And it will mean more people will engage with the story you want to tell.
2. Play against type. A lot of the magic of the story came from gender-swapping the lead character from the expected guy to girl. That makes your story a little different and sparks creativity.
3. Know your audience. My college was very into philosophy. So taking an idea that was relevant to the student body meant that the people I would be showing it to could get excited about the idea.
4. Love what you’re telling a story about. I love philosophy and I love action and comedy. These are things that are worth celebrating to me. People love to see other people share what they love with them—even if they don’t already love them. People can tell, and believe me, it’s infectious.
Do you have a story about coming up with a story for your film and what you learned? Sound off in the comments below!