So, for those of you who’ve been following this blog, or any of my on-going projects, you’re probably aware that I’m not exactly a “one project at a time” kind of guy. I’m currently in the process of writing and developing a significant number of additional projects while in pre-production on “40 Miles”, (both in the Film and Television arenas), the idea being that my production team and I will be going right into pre-production on the next project as soon as we hit post on the previous one.
One of my goals as a director is to do films in just about every genre. I love the change of pace and the creative challenges involved and would hate to see myself pigeon-holed into just directing one genre of film, some directors are totally fine with that, not so much with me… I have a major SciFi/Action movie on the docket, a WWII epic, a Psychological Thriller, a die-hard Drama, a medieval period piece, and many, many more films that I’d love to make at some point in my career… but after “40 Miles”, I’m currently in the process of writing my first feature musical which is planned to go into production next year. I’ve currently titled it “The Hotel”.
When I say first “feature musical”, let me explain a bit more… I come from a long background in live music production and performance. Long before I ever held my first video camera, I actually started working professionally in entertainment as a sound engineer and stage hand, eventually going on to become a producer and promoter of concerts shows across the Midwest, that’s actually how my company, Star Com Productions, was originally created 10 years ago: as a live entertainment production company working with more than 90 artists. However, within the past six years or so, as my interest grew into the film and television arena, the focus of the company changed as well. So, when I was approached last year to write a pilot for a new “music-based” tv show, I jumped at the opportunity (this is now one of several shows I have in development at the studio level).
So, with that out of the way, back to the project at hand: Without going into too much detail as to the premise of “The Hotel” (as I am still very much in the process of writing it, and it won’t likely see the light of day until next year at the earliest), I do know that many people are interested in the writing/conceptualization process behind the film (and in this case, the screenplay). Now, I’ve written about my writing process before (and how much music already comes into play as inspiration behind even my non-musical projects – LINK) but that said, I’ve actually had to take a slightly different approach to writing this particular screenplay than with any of my previous projects.
Keep in mind that every writer I know has their own unique writing process. In general, this is mine: For most of my projects, I will usually start with a single story idea, then develop the characters that will be the focus in that story (in a great deal of detail) then go back and write the story around the character’s I’ve created. This happens, initially, all in my head (with the use of dozens of pages of scribbled notes to help me remember specifics) before I ever actually sit down and put it all on the page. I am a VERY visual thinker, so I’m able to do this with a great deal of ease, the concept being that once I actually have the film down in my head, it’s just a matter of sitting down to spit it all out onto paper. As a result, the “conceptualization” process is actually what takes the longest (can be a few weeks to a few months) but the actual process of putting the story down on the page can be done in generally 7-14 days (since by that stage, it’s all already in my head and in my notes).
Now… generally, music comes into play early on, I’ll often build a very specific soundtrack around the emotions/specific moments of the characters in the film I’m writing while I’m writing it, it just helps me focus and get into the right mood to feel what my characters are feeling. When it comes down to writing a musical, however, this process has to change for the simple reason that I’m not just looking for music that gives the right “emotion” I’m also looking for music that actually can directly be integrated into the story itself, including not only the feel of the song, but the direct relevance of the song’s lyrics, since, in this case, that same song may be performed on screen by one or more of the characters.
So, these new “musical” requirements needed to be not just an emotional part of the story, but actually integrated INTO the story, I have to suddenly look both much broader (styles of music) while at the same time dissecting each song, word for word to see if and/or how it may (or may not) fit within the realm of the story I’m trying to tell. Lyrics have much more potency and importance in this case, since it won’t be just a song I listen to or write to, or a song that may play in the background of a scene or over a montage, the lyrics in many of the songs will actually become part of the dialogue in the film that helps tell the story.
Going into it knowing that and knowing that not only do I need to write a good story with songs that “fit” but I also pick songs that (to a point) are “popular” or “sellable” – ie: I’m writing a multi-million dollar film, not all the songs will be original, the fact of the matter is that songs people know sell better than ones they don’t. So this puts me in a bit of a predicament or rather, limits a certain percentage of my songs to ones people will recognize (now, don’t fret all you musical-lovers out there, there WILL be a number of original songs and several by new/lesser known artists) the trick is just to find the right balance of “sellability vs. story vs. quality”. The fact is, there are just SO many good songs out there it’s often hard to even know where to start.
So, where did I start? Where every good movie must start: Story & Characters. As with all my previous films, I wrote out a general story-line and developed all the key characters that inhabit that story… the concept being that (and I’ve been told this by a number of other writer friends of mine whom I’ve spoken about this specific project) technically I could write this same movie without ANY music and still have it be a high-quality drama- the concept that I don’t actually NEED the music at all to have a great film. This is exactly what I wanted and the perfect starting point, keeping in mind that I hadn’t actually WRITTEN anything at that stage in the game. So, that said, according to my own writing process, instead of then going straight into the “mental” development/notes stage of my usual writing process, this time around I spent MUCH more time digging through music; TONS AND TONS of music actually… but this time starting with music that not only has the emotional impact of the story I’m trying to tell, but also a similar (lyrical) message that could fit one or more “moments/scenes” in the film- I actually put myself into the shoes of my characters (some play instruments, some sing, some don’t) but focus on the music THEY would listen to or even write themselves… it gives me a musical instrumentation/style point to start from for each character and cuts down on the mass of music I need to look through for a given scene or character. After finding most of these songs, I determine which parts of the film would best benefit from “original” songs and fill in any musical “gaps” with these potential “originals”. The funny thing is that from a creative perspective, the process I’ve come up with makes SO much sense (at least to me) that when I hear just the right song, I KNOW IT, I can actually hear my characters singing it and see the scenes being created in my mind while listening to it… it’s both a scary and magical moment all at once. What’s even cooler is that what I’ve ended up with (I have already selected many/most of the non-original songs for the film), is an entirely new musical layer to each individual character, but even more then that it’s a soundtrack that has a variety of musical styles that, much to my own surprise, fit together SO well when I put them all in the same playlist, the first time I listened to it at once I almost peed myself. I’ll tell you what, while it may not have been entirely intentional, above and beyond the film itself, it’s going to be a hell of a soundtrack.
I think one thing that surprised me the most though, at least on the music side of the project, is that while much of the music in the film is certainly music I like, not all of it is… some is music that crosses into genre’s I would never have expected me to even consider as options (I like a LOT of different genres, most genres actually, but not all), essentially, the music that I’ve ended up with is music that my characters like and not necessarily always music that I like… it not only fits, it has actually broadened my own musical horizons in the process – and it’s all quality stuff. My hope is that this will result in a film whose music and story can have a broader reach than just limited to people who happen to have the same taste in music as I do.
And that, my friends, is the start of a movie musical.