Location

When I decided to write my own movie, I set it entirely in one house, because that was the single cheapest location I could think of. Now, after a lot of searching, and three houses that were really, really close, I think we’ve found a winner.

It’s a beautiful multi-million dollar home, and perfect to suggest that the character of Lex is having a party at her parent’s palace while they are out of town. I’ll have to rewrite the script to fit the house, but if we can sign the papers, it might be perfect.

The best part: we are getting the location for one month for $2,500.

Location

How we got the deal

The owner is completing renovations on his kitchen July 3rd. This prevents him from renting the house for the month of July. Thus, any money he receives from us is found money, as long as we carry a million dollars in location insurance! Richie found the house using craigslist, and deserves a lot of credit for patiently working with the home owner through a complex negotiation. I think we are extremely fortunate.

I love the house! It has all of the important requirements: a spacious backyard, a piano in the living room, a floor layout to roughly accommodate the script, and plenty of outdoor space for building video village, makeup, wardrobe, craft service, and sound HQ. The house is bordered by a vacant lot, a parking lot, and a quiet neighbor – so noise complaints may be manageable. Best of all, it’s located in the center of Los Angeles – easy commuting for everyone. Fingers crossed.

First Pre-Production Meeting

Tonight we had our first pre-production meeting for The Last Hurrah. From my corporate days, I set my watch on the table and begin the meeting at 09:00:00 – regardless of if everyone has arrived. This trains Los Angelinos to arrive on time.

I pass out typed agendas because if there’s anything I care about in this world, it’s an efficient meeting that respects everyone’s time.  I would run meetings with Roberts Rules of Order if I could.

If I’m honest, I still have no idea if a one take movie is technically possible. I need empirical proof. So my first goal – before wasting a lot of people’s time – is to organize a test run. I want to use the exact equipment we will use on set to shoot a five minute trial. I need to know how continuous time will feel, how the character hand offs will work, and if viewing hand held will make everyone carsick!

Assuming the test run works, our team has three weeks to workshop the script, find a location, crew up, and cast the movie.

Oh. And money. We need to raise money.

For posterity 🙂 here is our first meeting agenda.

June 4, 9:00pm General Meeting – The Last Hurrah
AGENDA

1. Introductions
2. Location – Pooling our Resources
3. Test Run of Shoot
4. Equipment for Test Run and Shoot – What Do We Need?
5. Sound Person – Pooling our Resources
6. Other crew – What Do We Need?
7. Our Production Roles
8. Set Tentative Date for Audition, Briefly Discuss Actors and Cast
9. Set Date for Workshopping script

Choosing the Director

I sent the script to some friends interested in Producing.  Three out of five of them agreed to come onboard.  Together, my team has a combined producing experience of zero years.  But we are all good friends, nice people, and let’s face it – working for free.

Having signed on the producers, I was surprised when one of them immediately took it upon himself to convince me not to direct.  Another one immediately set to work convincing me to abandon the one take concept.  I spent uncomfortable hours watching the reels of other completely unknown directors, and hearing pleading arguments for why I should just add cuts to my movie to make it more “normal.”

After hours of argument, I think I am getting to direct my microbudget movie myself while protecting my script from my volunteer producers!

The Decision to Direct

I’ll grant that I have never directed a feature film before.  I’ll also grant that every director, at some point in their career, had never directed a feature film before.

I’ll grant that there are many movies I am not qualified to direct.  If you gave me $100 million tomorrow to direct the next Hollywood action-thriller, I would almost certainly botch something up.

But a microbudget comedy I wrote for fun?  With no stunts or special effects?  It’s like directing a play, or directing sketch comedy.  And that’s something I’ve done hundreds of times.  The whole point of writing The Last Hurrah was to write something I could make myself.

Cinematographer

I met Chuck DeRosa (Cinematographer) at a friend’s birthday party at The Dresden. We had similar taste in movies and I liked him from the start. Chuck mentioned he was a DP, so I told him I wrote a script in one take. I asked him if he thought it would be possible to shoot such a thing. Chuck said, “Send me the script.”

I sent him the script and promptly forgot about it. I was surprised a few weeks later when Chuck called me and said those magic works that burrow straight to a writer’s heart: “I love it.”

I went over to Chuck’s house for a beer and watched his DP reel. I was incredibly relieved to find that he was extremely talented. It would have been awkward if he was a hack! Chuck has a great sense of framing and lighting, and shoots a lot of 35 in his spare time as well. Perhaps most importantly, Chuck has a lot of the on-set experience that I lack. We shook hands and decided to make The Last Hurrah.

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(This is Chuck DeRosa, lounging)

Writing the Script

I wrote The Last Hurrah for fun on a weekend in November 2005.

I was in a strange place at the time. Although, I suppose I am always in a strange place.

In October, my reps had gone out with my script “The Pirates of Nantucket.” Everyone clapped me on the back and told me I would make a lot of money on it. Reading the tracking boards, my manager told me to go out and get drunk. The script was sent out to 26 production companies and read by 44 production companies by the end of the day. But despite the excitement, no studios bought it because Fox had just set up a deal for a competing project, “Midlife Pirates.”

Undeterred, we went out with a new script the next month. I was very excited that my comedy, “The Last Man on Earth” received similar praise and attention. But again, Kevin James had a project by the same name, so no studios bid on my script.

I went on to complete nine screenplays that year. After years of study and practice, I was confident in my abilities. I’d performed in hundreds of improv shows, written dozens of sketch shows, taken dozens of writing classes, and written thousands of pages of material. They say Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement. On every studio meeting I went on, I felt pumped full of attention and praise. But one thing was becoming abundantly clear: Hollywood is full of perfectly competent writers who never have a screenplay produced.

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Writing The Last Hurrah

I decided to write a screenplay that would cost zero dollars. Something no production company could say no to! To cut costs, I knew the script had to take place in one location. I knew it needed a hook. And I also knew I wanted to practice my dialog writing…

So I decided to write a comedy in a single take. One slug line followed by 88 pages of dialog. I gave it 12 act story structure and arced all the characters in a single continuous scene. Multiple plot lines are followed through camera hand-offs, a la Slacker. I wanted to see if I could maintain audience interest, or even make the audience forget I wasn’t cutting.

It was a blast. I wrote it over a weekend.  Just three days in my pajamas eating Chef Boyardee. Sitting in front of my computer with my eyes closed, transcribing what I hear.  It came out fully formed.

I wrote The Last Hurrah for me and not for Hollywood – I knew it was indy and not commercial. For fun, I showed the script to my manager and agents and was shocked when they said they loved it. Excited, I told my manager I wanted to produce it. But he advised me I’d be wasting my time, and that I should focus on writing scripts that can sell to the major studios!

So like most of my scripts, I put The Last Hurrah in a drawer and forgot about it.