“Why I Make Films & Don’t Just Write Them”

whoa

Not Hank, but a cleverly constructed emotional facsimile

by Hank Isaac

There is absolutely no way you can guarantee that someone listening to your pitch will see the same film in his head that you do. No way. Everyone comes with preconceived notions about most things. How can you possibly know what they are? Answer: You can’t.

A decade ago, I pitched a high-adventure aviation film featuring a young female protagonist. Five words into my pitch, the producer said, “Nah, that’s just like [name of film].” Well in fact, it was nothing like [name of film]. The only similarity was that the lead was a young female who happened to fly something at some point, and there were also other humans in the story. That’s it. And yet, the producer had categorized all films within that exceedingly narrow spectrum as “the same.” No, actually, “identical.”

It would have been easier to talk my way out of a Middle Eastern border dispute than to convince him otherwise.

So at some point, I decided to embrace the show-don’t-tell dictum that was constantly raining down on me from everyone and everywhere. And I embraced it literally.

The downside is this: Paper and ink are a lot cheaper than mounting a project to be filmed.

And if you promise your colleagues that you’re going to make them rich, your credibility will vanish quicker than the money you’re spending on your projects. And then you’ll be back to: “Maybe I should start entering writing competitions again.”

The idea is to legitimately enchant everyone who works on your project. Not with promises of wealth or fame, but rather with the unbridled opportunity to observe a fanatic at work: You.

When I was just starting out writing, I made some pretty stupid choices. I agreed to pen this one fellow’s feature film, a road trip that he wanted to film over a weekend. How is that even possible? Where can you even go on a two-day road trip? But I said I would. He’d given me a pretty rough “outline” and I had some questions right away. So I fired off an email. No response. Another. Nothing. Third time’s the charm? Nope.

So I telephoned him. Voice mail. Next day… the same.

Finally, a week before he said he wanted to start filming, he got back to me. “Where the heck were you?” I complained.

“I was skiing.”

“Skiing?!”

“Yeah, what’s your point?”

“This is your project. Don’t you care anything about it?”

“Hey, dude (big deal-breaker, that word), I got a life, ya know.”

Well, actually, if you’re working on a film project you really don’t have a life. Ever. And if you do, then you’re really not working on a film project. There is no middle ground here. Either the bomb goes off or it doesn’t.

Needless to say, that was the end of our tenuous-to-begin-with relationship. Oh, he never made his film.

Surprised?

So I figured this: I can spend my days outlining the best route up to the summit of Everest, select the best equipment, pick the right moment… or I can just go climb it myself.

I’m in the middle of my own “Hero’s Journey.”

And I will succeed or die trying.


Hank Isaac is a Seattle area film maker whose latest project, the web series LILAC is wracking up film and video festival prizes. Learn more about Lilac HERE.