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.