The Trouble with Dragon Eggs: A Producer’s Journal (Part 1)

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– By James Powers –

I have to get something off my chest, dear readers. Although I love movies – watching them, talking about them, picking them apart – they also really scare me. Specifically, the process of making them really scares me. And this is extremely relevant for me at the moment, because somehow I’ve found myself the lead producer on one of this year’s senior thesis films at JPCatholic – which plunges into its week-long shooting period starting today. Part of me is excited, and part of me is like, “nooo you fool why did you do this to yourself again?!” This is because pretty much every film shoot I’ve worked on in the past has, at some point or other, sent my heart rate rocketing to unhealthy levels, for some reason or other. Yet here I am going after an MBA in film producing, so the evidence suggests that part of me nonetheless wants to make a career out of movies. Even if they scare me. To quote Patrick Star (yes that Patrick Star), “the inner machinations of my mind are an enigma.”

As a producer I do… well, a lot of random things, but in general I’m responsible for overseeing the logistics of the film, making sure that all the pieces (casting, fundraising, locations, crew, paperwork and permits, etc.) get in place in time for our shoot dates. And then the director, cinematographer, cast and crew work their magic with all those pieces. It’s rather like rolling a bunch of golf balls down a hill and trying to get them all into one hole at the bottom at the same time. And, spoiler alert, I’m not particularly good at golf. Thankfully I’m not rolling all those golf balls down the hill by myself, and it looks like most of them might in fact make it into the hole. But throughout pre-production they’ve also shown a tendency of bouncing off at the last second and disappearing into the void, so I guess we’ll see what happens. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Official transcript of text conversation between myself and the director. Not actually. But may as well be.

Anyway, my convoluted metaphor aside, it takes a lot to get a film made. Say what you will about the art and craft of filmmaking, but the fact is that movies require a staggering amount of logistics, money, organization, and stuff. Even on a scrappy little student project. No matter what tier you’re on in the industry, a lot of the business is extremely focused on the concrete details of scheduling, insurance, logistics and so on – which is all pretty scary for a right-brained spazz like myself. Sometimes it feels way more managerial (or even servile) than it does artistic. But take heed, fellow right-brained spazzes: I’m not saying there’s no hope for us. I wouldn’t still be here if I thought that were the case. I’d probably be, I dunno, selling insurance somewhere. I just think it’s very important for every starry-eyed dreamer who wants to make movies to be aware of the stakes, of how messy it’s going to be.

I mean really. Who wants the stress of such things as discovering that you accidentally erased all the sound recording from an entire day on set, and will therefore have to wrangle your crew and actors together to shoot all that stuff over again? Or making an agonizing 20-point turn in the lead actress’s shiny BMW so you can maneuver it out of a tiny overcrowded parking lot for her? Or arriving at the house you’re planning to shoot in only to find that it’s been unexpectedly gutted for renovations? Or discovering, three days before production, that one of your lead actors suddenly has zero availability for your shoot schedule? Or heck, just feeling like a dummy because of how long it takes for you to figure out what a C47 is? Who needs all that nonsense?

Well… oof… I think I might. And you might too, if you see stories playing on a projector in your brain rather than hearing them spoken as words. They call movies motion pictures for a reason – they are stories that move, that play out before your eyes. But if you want to tell stories that way, if you want other people to see them, that means you need to make a camera see them first. And turns out that’s pretty freaking hard to do. Jesus said it was difficult for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle; I think it’s only marginally less difficult for a screenplay to be conjured to life and shoved through a camera lens. And when it happens, it’s only marginally less miraculous.

And yet, weirdly, I’ve seen lots of miracles happen on sets, at least as many miracles as disasters. Sometimes that one shot you’d planned so carefully goes up in flames…but sometimes you’re bamboozled to see it go off exactly as you’d hoped. Or sometimes, the one that you thought would be a disaster turns out to be one of the most beautiful. Sometimes the actor who seemed so flat in the audition crackles to life on the set. Sometimes the weather is against you but sometimes, out of nowhere, the sun comes over that hill just so and blam! And sometimes you stumble home exhausted at night, sit down with some apprehension to watch the dailies (clips of the footage shot in a given day), and end up blown away by them. I dunno man, it’s weird. You never can tell what’s going to happen.

Film is riddled, just riddled, with opportunities for failure. The production ship can get sunk by the absolute stupidest things. But it can also be, just…so cool. And the thing, the tough pill that I absolutely hate swallowing, is that you can only have the “so cool” if you’re also willing to risk and deal with the “absolute stupid.” As G.K. Chesterton famously said, “anything worth doing well is worth doing badly.” Here’s another overwrought simile for you: films are like dragon eggs. Hatching one is a lot of work in itself, and even if you do manage to get the critter chipped out of its shell, he might turn around and eat you. Or, on the other hand, you might get to ride him off into the sunset Hiccup-style. The only way to know is to try it out.

I have something else to get off my chest: this whole post has been just as much for myself as for you, dear readers. It’s a pep talk just as much for myself as for any aspiring artist in the audience. So hey, stay tuned: I’ll see how this next week on set goes and then get back to y’all. Maybe the golf balls will all careen away from the hole at the last second; maybe our baby dragon might up and nom us all. Or maybe we’ll get to ride him gloriously into the sunset. Probably something in between – he’ll give us a few good chomps, we’ll fight with him a bit, but eventually we’ll be airborne. Again, only one way to find out.

Continued in Part 2


About the Author

James Powers is a staff writer for the Impacting Culture Blog, currently earning his MBA in Film Producing at JPCatholic as a member of the class of 2019.

For all articles by James, click here.

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