There are some words that are so overworked that they have lost their gravity and grandeur. Think of awesome as in “Man, your shoes are awesome”. Awe is “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” Now really, are shoes (save Dorothy’s in The Wizard of Oz) ever really awesome?
Or think of the word literally. Someone told me, “My headache was so bad that my brain was literally exploding.” I couldn’t help wishing I’d seen that.
Fuck is similarly overworked. These days it is primarily used to emphasize, often with a tinge of anger. And common speech is so sprinkled with it that it has lost much of its cachet of obscenity.
Although I am far from being a prude, I decided early in drafting Revenge In Kind that I didn’t want lazy dialog littered with the word fuck. But could I have dialog that would be realistic without expletives? Answering that took me more time than you’d imagine. First I analyzed the characters to decide if their personalities and mode of speech would be more realistic and true if they said fuck a lot. I decided that indeed there was one character who would be more authentic if he did: a character named Brown.
In particular, there is a scene in a bar in which Brown gets really angry. I absolutely know that if he were to verbalize, he would not only say fuck, he would call someone an asshole, etc. I thought about this a while and decided that I could actually make his anger even more powerful than his voice and those words would convey; I could have him smash a beer bottle and threaten with it.
Writing the screenplay with interesting, realistic dialog—but without the use of obscenities—became a fun challenge. But I promised myself that if I ever felt that authenticity would be enhanced with such usage, I would insert it.
But the screenplay is, of course, not the final determinant of what the dialog is in the film. Although our Director, Roger, had agreed to the locked script and didn’t change the dialog, that did not obviate fucks creeping into the actors’ ad libbing. Although they were fairly good about not doing that, there were two instances that indeed appear in the film, and one which was edited out.
The one I omitted successfully was spoken by a woman being interviewed by the police. In a couple of the takes, the actress had added the word fucking into the sentence, “I wasn’t going to have a fucking conversation with him.” But she was just as convincing in the takes without it. Since her character is a young, well-educated professional who’s supposed to elicit sympathy from the audience, I felt we could do without the expletive.
But there are two that stayed in the film. Actually, the first ad lib of fuck is not totally complete. An actor who plays a villain is set upon by a vigilante. He looks in surprise and says, “What the f….!” Even though he never enunciated the “..uck”, I thought about whether it could be edited out. There simply was no way because his reaction to the vigilante was essential and his mouth was clearly saying what he said. I comforted myself with the fact that the word really wasn’t finished so it didn’t count. However, the English closed captions as well as the subtitles in foreign languages went ahead and finished the word. I had to get back to the titles company and have them change it to just “f…”.
The second ad lib of fuck got by me because of my poor hearing. An actor is departing a room angrily and says “Don’t say another fucking word.” He is off-scene and the sound could easily have been edited the sound to omit it had I known it was there. It is faint and many will not notice it unless they are watching closed captions or subtitles. Still, when I found out about it, I was pretty fucking disappointed.
The original version of the screenplay didn’t feature Nyx. The idea for including her came when I’d at last settled on the lead detective, Coxon, being a clay sculptor. When I tried to think of what he might be sculpting, it occurred to me that it should be something relevant to night and the dark side of humankind. I started doing a bit of research and soon it became clear that the goddess of night was a perfect fit.
Once I’d settled on using Nyx, I needed to develop the relationship between her and Coxon. Why did he sculpt her? What does she mean to him? What will he do with her? Answering these questions helped me to know how to interweave her into the script, both in terms of dialog and action.
One of the first ideas I had was to have Coxon actually fire the sculpture of Nyx. I wasn’t too keen of his just placing her in a commercial kiln, so I spoke to my consulting artist, Rebecca Boatman, about using actual fire. She said it was possible to use flame, but that it wouldn’t reach the required temperature to sufficiently alter the clay to make it lastingly hard. That was okay with me; I liked the idea of using fire. I had it in mind to use the firing scene as the opener to the movie.
As I was developing the relationship between Nyx and Coxon, I wrote a poem that I imagined he composed to Nyx. I even thought about adding it to the film somehow, but it didn’t really fit. Nevertheless, I’d like to share it with you here:
Nyx, Daughter of Chaos,
Goddess of the Night.
Your children give us Grief,
Death, Deceit, and Strife.
You bring upon us Sleep,
And our crimes you can conceal;
Yet it’s only due to you
Stars of Heaven are revealed.
Your power is so great
Even Zeus is sore afraid.
You’re the only goddess
Whose word he must obey.
Ultimately, I decided that opening the film with the firing of Nyx was too much of a visual non-sequitur to follow with the violence that needed to occur early. So instead I placed it elsewhere in the movie, but used it as the background of the languages-selection menu.
It was late May when I got an email from cousin Fred that outlined extensive changes he wanted to make to the script. And they were very, very substantive, involving not only revision of dialog, but plot and character as well.
I wanted to keep Fred as director because I was comfortable with him and trusted his experience. To lose him would be a setback to the film as well as to my psychology at this point.
With his notes, I went through the script, making those changes I felt would not impact negatively on the film. In the end, there were too few of his suggestions that I could accept. I sent the script back to him with a reminder that he’d come on as director with the understanding that the script was locked.
Then I got a call from him that broke my heart. He said his suggested changes were imperative, was adamant that the script was horribly deficient, and said it had taken him until now to realize it. If I were unwilling to accept his changes, he was no longer interested in directing it. And so we parted ways.
This event was seminal. I realized that I was so confident in the screenplay that I was willing to part with Fred rather than change it. Also, losing him was so sorrowful to me that it would inure me to losing any other staff on the film at any later point. My commitment to the script had been sorely tested by his challenge and criticism, and my conviction was reinforced.
Angel was a big help to me in coping with my loss of Fred. His attitude was that “these things happen on a film” and you have to just keep moving onward. He immediately set to finding another director. He had several resumes and talked to me about some of the prospects. One that interested us a lot was Roger Lindley.
Roger lived in Amarillo and had some interesting directing experience. We decided to have him read the script. Then we had a telephone conference call in mid June. When I told Roger that the script was locked, he said he was not interested. Angel and I went back to the prospects list.
Unexpectedly, Roger called me with a proposal. He would make revisions he’d like to make to the script, I would review them to see what I could accept, then we’d talk. Neither of us would be under any obligation. It was a no-lose proposition.
Roger’s suggestions were mostly acceptable to me. I liked his approach and his enthusiasm for the project. And I had a good feeling about him as a person; I simply liked him. It was wonderful to have found such a promising director within only a few weeks of losing Fred.
We three decided to hold auditions starting in mid July. In the interim, Roger and I would trade a number of thoughts on the script as we tweaked and reached a closer understanding with one another on the project.
One of the first things Angel asked me upon his arrival in Dallas in April 2016 is whether I had arranged for script clearance.
“Say what?”, I responded.
He explained that I had to have someone qualified read the script to identify all possible legal conflicts, such as character, business, or product names, locations, artwork, etc. So I had to start research for a specialist who knew how to do this and, most importantly, could produce the requisite certification letter for the insurance company. This would be required in order to get what is called Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance.
An Internet search revealed a few firms advertising that they conduct script clearance. I had to make telephone appointments and it took several days to finally interview 3 of them. All wanted between $1100 - $1600 for the job, but there was a huge stumbling block: none would give a clearance letter “that could be used as a legal document” of the sort that insurance companies required. I never could understand why on earth someone would pay so much money for a clearance that couldn’t be used legally.
I decided that maybe I was being too restrictive on getting a “legal document”, so I called the insurance company I was thinking of using, United Agencies. Sure enough, a legal letter would be required for the E&O, which itself was quite expensive.
I heard that there was a professor who taught entertainment law at Southern Methodist University who did script clearances, so I emailed her. She telephoned me and said that, although she could not do it, she advised me strongly to get a lawyer not only to do the clearance, but to help with all my legal affairs. She brought back to life that doubts I had about my contracts. I asked her whom she recommended and she advised a large entertainment firm in Los Angeles.
My concerns about paying attorneys’ fees was exacerbated by the fact that no money had been put in the budget for either legal fees or insurance. The insurance, aside from E&O, would total about $10,000, even with a high deductible. I was worrying about whether we could meet budget and we were less than a month into the one-year project.
There was an inexpensive alternative, Angel said. An acquaintance of his worked for an insurance company and he agreed to put us as a “sub” on another insurance contract for another film. He would then issue us “certificates of insurance” whenever we needed to prove we were insured. I was leery and decided to ask the United Agencies representative about such a scheme. He told me that people may do that, but it is not legal because the “top layer” firm that really is the insured doesn’t know about it. Also, if you ever need to file a claim, you can’t. There was no way I was going that route.
Next I called the large law firm in LA. After consulting with them about what they would do for me, I assented to their retainer and sent them the script for clearance. And, because I had decided to do things the “right” way, I bought the insurance from United Agencies and set in motion the process for getting E&O as well.
The Texas Film Commission (TFC) has a program that offers about 10% back of money spent in Texas for films that employ Texas residents as 70% of their cast and crew. This would have a huge beneficial impact on the budget of RIK, so I wanted to make sure that we qualified and applied for it.
Angel and made an appointment with the head of the Dallas office of the TFC and I sent a copy of the screenplay to the director of the office in advance, along with a list of what we’d like in the way of specific help. We wanted not only to qualify for and obtain the incentive, but also wanted help with film locations, a point of contact with local police (to help with authenticity), and contacts to get necessary permits. We knew that there were others who had filmed in Dallas and wanted to make use of what we assumed were well-known procedures and contacts.
We arrived at the TFC and were greeted by two very somber young men who showed us to a conference room. They sat and made polite conversation with us, but wouldn’t answer many questions, telling us to await their boss, who was running late.
When the office director entered and sat at the head of the table, she was scowling, clearly a bad sign. We made introductions, then she got right to business. She said she had read the screenplay while she was on an airplane back to Dallas. The look on her face was as if she’d just eaten something that tasted very bad; she actually made a face. She proceeded to tell us that the plot and some of the action in the film are repugnant and that she didn’t think that the film would be something that the City of Dallas would want to be associated with. Then she specifically addressed our request that we be able to film at the police department saying, “I can assure you that the Dallas Police would turn down your request, based on the nature of your screenplay.”
I was shocked. Could it really be that the TFC was exercising censorship, trying to determine what the content should be of films made in Dallas? Would she really deny us help with the film because she objected to the screenplay? As it turned out, the answer was yes.
Early the next morning, we received word from the TFC that the Dallas Police Department (DPD) had, indeed, declined our request to film outside their headquarters, to provide a point of contact for advice, or to help us in any way whatsoever. I found this to be remarkable not only with regard to the speed of the reply, but to its comprehensiveness.
I decided to call the DPD Office of Public Affairs myself. I explained to the representative on the phone what we were doing, the nature of the film, and asked if I might have an appointment with her to discuss DPD help. She was very friendly and agreed readily to see me. However, before that meeting could ever take place, it was inexplicably cancelled and my calls were no longer returned.
Not long after the meeting with the TFC, we were told that there would be absolutely no funds available to us from the Incentive Program. In fact, we were told that we needn’t even file the paperwork because, although the fiscal year in which we’d film was still 6 months away, all monies had been committed to other projects. The only benefit of this was freeing me up from the requirement to hire Texas residents.
Although the TFC would provide us with a little bit of help over the course of the project—most importantly to post our job openings on the TFC website—Angel and I agreed early on that we could not depend upon the TFC for important help. In fact, as we later learned, the TFC Dallas office sought to undermine our project by telling officials at the City of Mesquite, where we received help with the filming, that they should not be associating their city with such a movie as ours.
A fun, creative thing I did to get the film project underway in early March 2016 was to start looking for filming locations. I began with friends and family, asking who’d be willing to let me use their houses. Almost all of them said yes, but few of my friends really meant it. It took me awhile to sort out that they were unwilling because they wouldn’t come right out and tell me. They just kept putting off when I could come by to photograph, or not signing the Location Agreement.
I turned to Air BnBs to fill the gaps. But this presented problems too. Often I would find a place that was ideal, only to that the owner wasn’t willing, usually because they’d already had a negative experience with film crews or because they objected to the nature of Revenge In Kind.
I found one Air BnB that was fabulous. It was located on the second story of what appeared to be a derelict warehouse. To reach the apartment, you climbed a narrow, decaying staircase and entered a very old place with large windows, pipes showing, and just the sort of place you’d expect an evil psychopath to hide out. As I was talking with the owners, they asked me, “Is there anything immoral in the film?” I replied that “immoral” is dependent on one’s point of view and probed further. It turned out that they didn’t want any film that wasn’t “Christian in orientation” or that had any “evil” in it. I had to give up that place with a large measure of disappointment.
One of the lead characters in RIK is an artist, but I hadn’t decided what kind. I was thinking of a metal sculptor, but I had to keep an open mind because the set was more important than the type of art. If I found a really good art studio, it would dictate the type of artist for my character.
It was fun to visit and talk with many artists and see their studios. After going to a number of them, I found a man who had a marvelous backyard studio under a large roof. And he was a metal and wood sculptor. He readily agreed to let me use his studio and we made an agreement for me to pay him a set amount for a single work of art (to be the artwork of the character) and for the filming. I left him with the Location Agreement to sign, as he wanted some time to read it over. Two weeks later, when I called to come by and pick it up, he had changed his mind and now wanted 25 times the price we’d shaken hands on. He said his friend had told him it was the going rate for movies. Rather than argue the point, I moved on.
I finally found an even better studio with a wonderfully creative artist, Rebecca Boatman, who was both genial and a straight-shooter. This time I explained up front that we were a low-budget film and that what I offered would be a final sum, so she should tell me at the outset if it wouldn’t be acceptable. She was enthusiastic about participating in the art of it all, and was willing to sculpt a special piece for the lead character. And her studio was beautiful.
(One of my great regrets is that the film didn’t include a shot of her professional kilns, which would have lent authenticity and value to the scene. I should have been much more assertive with the Director about what to shoot for B Roll.)
Although I located more than half of the filming sites myself, I give Angel credit for finding many as well when he later came to Dallas. And in some cases, we collaborated.
There are not that many gun stores in Dallas that are film worthy. I had visited them all and found 3 that would work and whose owners were open to the idea. When Angel arrived in April, we went together to pick one of them. Angel thought one was too small and located too far away. We liked the second one best, but they wanted several thousand dollars for just part of a day (they’d been previously paid a high sum when Walker Texas Ranger had filmed there). The third was my favorite, so I was glad it worked out.
In all, I drove almost 2000 miles around Dallas to find appropriate locations for filming. I was glad that I started early because it took 5 months to find most of the sites.
While it may be boring to some readers (who should skip ahead), those interested in launching their own film projects probably would like to know about some of the less exciting aspects of preparation. One of those is getting legal issues in order. Although I recount the process in a few paragraphs below, let me advise people who are undertaking a similar effort that these steps are remarkably time-consuming. Not only do you have to figure out what to do, waiting for other people to act can take longer than expected and the process often is slowed by the fact that some things have to be iterative.
I had copyrighted the screenplay in 2005, but I decided also to register it with the Writers Guild of America. That was easy, but everything else from this point on required my acute attention.
It is important to set up an organization separate from yourself as an individual for protection in event of future lawsuits of any kind. That meant that I needed to create a limited liability corporation for the sole purpose of Revenge In Kind. I decided to name my company Pono Productions, LLC. Pono means “most excellent, upstanding” in Hawaiian, and was the name chosen by my husband for our cat. Having a Hawaiian name was emotionally important to me for another reason too. I wrote the screenplay in Hawai’i, where I’d lived for 13 of the best years of my life. I wanted this film, this project, to have a thread of the spirit of Hawai’i sewn throughout.
On the Internet I found instructions how to set up an LLC in Texas and set about filing papers and paying the various fees for registration of the company. Meanwhile, I also obtained a federal employer tax identification number. Once I had the fees paid and the requisite ID number, I was able to open a corporate bank account for Pono Productions. The day I walked out of the bank after transferring the first tranche of my savings to the film, I was almost shaking with a mix of fear and relief. Fear, because now I was officially spending my life’s savings on the film, and relief that I had finally taken the steps that would enable the project.
Also on the Internet, I found a number of models for contracts with crew and cast which I used as templates for my own drafts. I was wary, however. What if something were missing from these contracts? My unease was accentuated by the fact that I received a one-page draft director’s contract from Fred, but a multi-page, highly detailed draft producer’s contract from Angel. They were very different in content and Angel’s contained several clauses I had trouble understanding. I decided to look for an entertainment attorney in Dallas who could at least review my drafts.
The first attorneys I interviewed who billed themselves as “entertainment” met with me for a half hour in early April. The two of them were exceedingly careful to give me no information, which left me wondering whether they knew anything about film contracts. Also, the price of their retainer would be a huge chunk of my film budget.
After emailed to one of them declining their services, I received a reply saying that his wife was also an attorney and would be prepared to draft two contracts, one for crew and one for cast. I decided to use her services, although they were expensive at $500. Unfortunately, the two drafts she provided were boilerplate, poorer quality than what I myself had prepared, had typos, and were almost exactly alike. I was unhappy.
I decided to try one more local attorney, who also billed himself as an entertainment lawyer. The previous experience was duplicated, but this time I objected. I called him and said that the two contracts were alike and were the same as what I could pull off of the Internet. He reduced his bill by half, reinforcing what I already knew to be true in life: if you object to people mistreating you, you often get treated better.
After two misfires, I decided that I would forgo an attorney and do it all myself. Later I will explain why this was a mistake and how I narrowly missed a legal disaster.
When I made the decision in 2015 to make a movie, the screenplay had been sitting around for a decade and needed revision. One issue was updating technology. In the intervening years, communications had changed; people now used cell phones and email, not pay phones. And some jargon was dated. But I was pleased that the basic plot, characters, and dialog were still appealing to me and major revision wasn’t required.
After the update, which took a couple of weeks working as many hours a day as I could, I sent it to a script-critiquing service for feedback. After I adopted some of their suggestions, I again sent it to my cousin to ask him who could help me estimate the cost of filming it. He gave me the name of his colleague, Angel Vasquez, whom he said could prepare a “top sheet”—an estimate of how much it would require to make the film as a low-budget movie.
Angel agreed to do it, but it took him almost 6 months. I was ready to pull be plug on him in early 2016, when he finally gave me an answer. The price tag was affordable, but I knew I’d have to micro-manage the budget. But that was no problem for me. My entire professional career had involved managing programs, people, and money.
There was a major issue, other than money, that I needed to resolve before moving forward: how much of a role would I play in making the movie, and how much would I delegate to others? Clearly, I didn’t have the expertise to man a camera, set lighting, or such practical skills. But I did have a very, very clear image in my mind of how the movie should play. This included everything from what the actors should look like and how they should perform their roles, to how scenes should be shot, to what the locations should be like. So, I wanted personnel who would help me make the movie in my head as closely as possible. I was not going to turn over the screenplay to the creative capabilities of others, no matter how skilled or successful they might be.
I knew that the easiest way to maintain control of the artistic output would be to direct the movie myself, and I knew I could do it. I had extensive experience in theater and knew a fair amount about directing. Fred also encouraged me to do it. But there were two problems, both of which related to the film schedule.
I knew it was imperative financially to complete filming within 4 weeks, which meant 12-hour days, 5 days a week—which is typical for filming a feature. But this presented two insurmountable problems for me.
The first concerned my 16-year-old cat—yes, my cat, whom I dearly love. She was my husband’s cat, which makes her a link to him for me. (He was my lover, my best friend, and my idol. He died in 2012.) So, exactly every 12 hours, without fail, I check her blood glucose level, feed her, and give her insulin based on the reading. There was absolutely no way that I was going to allow the film or anything else to interrupt this schedule, which I consider to be essential to her survival.
The second problem was my own capabilities. I knew that I would be consumed with myriad managerial issues in just making the film and a producer would be crazy to think she could also direct. And I was worried I would simply be unable physically to execute the 12-hour-a-day schedule.
Knowing I couldn’t direct the film myself, I decided to lock the script; no changes in the dialog or plot would be made without my approval. And, the final say in any and all artistic output would be mine. Anyone who could not agree to these terms would not work on the movie. I would even put this requirement in the contracts of relevant cast and crew. And, hopefully, I could get a director who would share my vision and work with me to achieve it.
This made me think of my cousin Fred. He had some directing experience, so I asked him if he would come on as director, on the condition of a locked script. He agreed.
With the director decision made, I wanted to find another producer. An inexperienced filmmaker choosing a producer is akin to a teenager choosing a spouse: you don’t know if you will mature in the same direction, or even what to look for to assure compatibility. In fact, the long-term survival of the relationship is less pressing than the need to have it now.
So what was I looking for in a producer? It had to be someone who would work for me and with me, and who knew what the job entails. I didn’t want to do on-the-job training. I asked Angel, who had told me he’d like to produce on the movie if I made it. Not only had Angel read the script and liked it, he had thought about the budget and would have vested interest in seeing it kept in the black. Also, he had a pretty good resume. One of the most impressive things to me about it was not just his past producer experiences, but that he had served in the Air Force. I have deep respect for military training and it gave me hope that he could be organized and able to keep schedule.
I asked Angel to come and talk with me about working on the film with me as Producer and he agreed. We made plans for him to come to Dallas in mid April 2016.
In 2004, my husband and I were watching a movie in which a woman was victimized. I found it so upsetting that I had to leave the room until the scene was over. Later on, I complained to him that there didn’t seem to be any movies in which the woman was the victor and rapists never seemed to be punished properly. He said that I should write my own screenplay to fix that. Thus was born the idea of Revenge In Kind (RIK). Basically, it is the tale of a woman who takes it upon herself to punish rapists who escape justice.
Because I had no idea how to format a screenplay, I went online to study. I bought some good software called Final Draft and set to work. Having written both fiction and non-fiction books, I knew well how to outline and develop a plot, as well as how to create characters. After a few months of writing and rewriting, I had a first draft. But even without showing it to anyone, I knew it wasn’t very good. I thought that the plot held together well, but the characters seemed too pat, too predictable. I put the screenplay aside to think about it for a while.
In 2005, I saw the movie Crash and was deeply impressed. The most appealing element was the multi-dimensionality of each of the key characters, all of whom were individualistic and memorable. Crash portrayed how peoples’ characters and ethics are often situational, and their actions cannot necessarily be predicted based on past behavior. I also very much liked the interchange of scenes and revelation of plot through sequences.
I did not own any movie DVDs, but decided to buy Crash. Over a period of 3 days, I watched it six times, writing out an outline of each scene and character. To this day, that Crash DVD is the only movie I own, although I will soon get one of Revenge In Kind!
Crash dislodged my writer’s block and helped me take a fresh look at each of my characters. Behind every key one, I developed a complete life story—where they grew up, what their families were like, how they were educated, and so on. Then I went back to the dialog and re-crafted each character’s style and attitude. At last I had a play and was ready for someone else to read it.
My cousin, Fredrick Bailey, is a screenwriter in LA. I asked him if he would take a look at RIK and he agreed. He gave me some constructive comments to help me tighten the dialog and quicken the pace of action. In particular, he suggested that I convert some conversations to action. After another rewrite, I was convinced that I had a really good product.
At the end of 2005, I sent out the screenplay to a few studios and agents, hoping to strike gold. One-hundred percent were sent back unopened. It reconfirmed what I already knew: to get a foot in the door, you have to know someone inside. I thought about making the movie myself, but knew that I really didn’t have the financial or other resources. I put the screenplay back on the shelf, where it would remain until 2015.