Bali Brothers - Publishing the script as a book
BALI BROTHERS – Publishing the film script as a book
Scripts are usual secret documents that are only shared initially with actors, department heads and financiers. I took quite an opposite approach and just published the script which is now available in all bookstores and on Amazon BEFORE the film has been made. This is the rationale behind such madness. mw
GREAT UNPRODUCED FILM SCRIPTS™
No one doubts that the road to getting an independent film made is filled with incredible obstacles. Not only is writing an original script a laborious accomplishment that may take dozens of rewrites, but even if it’s great, truly original and has something to say, sadly, that doesn’t guarantee it will get made.
To get made (by someone other than the writer) a script has to land in the right hands at the right time. Many screenwriters do not live in L.A. or New York. They do not have access to agents, studios, or independent producers. And even if they did, their “small” (e.g. non-blockbuster) movie would fall well below the radar of most executives anyway. Therefore, their films need to be made outside the system, be great, and then with the luck akin to lightning striking a penny, find distribution and audiences.
The publication of this “great unproduced script” is the first of what we hope will be a series of original, heart felt stories from screenwriters seeking to get their independent visions into the world. By publishing these scripts, we hope they will be read by producers, filmmakers, or private investors seeking fresh material and that these films will get made. If not, then at least the story will be read by many more people than would normally read a script.
We’ve been doing what we can to support independent film since 1981 when we released our first book, The Independent Film and Videomaker’s Guide by Michael Wiese. At that time there was only one other “how to” filmmaking book in the bookstores. Today we’ve published 150 books about all aspects of filmmaking. We’ve helped define the genre. This next step is an experiment to see whether publishing great scripts will assist in the process of getting great films made, that have something to say and that will inspire audiences for generations to come for the benefit of all.
Once again, Michael Wiese steps up to the plate first, and his Bali Brothers script — a story he has been developing for years — serves as the guinea pig.
INTRODUCTION & BACKGROUND
Bali Brothers was inspired by the time I lived with a friend in what was then a remote village in Bali. It was 1970, and not far away, the Vietnam War was in full bloom. We were film students setting out to discover who we were and what life was all about.
A Balinese painting salesman found us on a beach and invited us to his village. Dewa Nyoman Batuan, the kind and generous head of the village, gave us a tiny room to sleep in and fed us. We learned some Indonesian, prayed in the temple ceremonies, participated in ritual magic, studied painting and shadow plays, and played extraordinary gamelan music. Besides being immersed in what has to be one of the most creative and exquisite cultures on the planet, we saw a people who lived communally, where the family and community came first, where the ego was suppressed for the benefit of the whole, and where an entire people lived in close harmony with nature and their gods.
After many months living in this remote location, being a participant in the spiritual and ritual life of the Balinese, immersing ourselves in the trance-invoking gamelan, and the mythic archetypal characters channelled into life by the shadow master, we experienced various levels of non-ordinary realities.
The time spent in Bali forever transformed me at the deepest level and I’ve been exploring those feelings and trying to find my place in the world ever since — not unlike the protagonists in our script.
I’ve returned to Bali more than twenty times during my life and maintain a close relation with the village and my friends, now revered village elders.
In the early nineties, I started going through old diaries and reconstructing the events of that first trip. In 1995, I published a novel called On the Edge of A Dream: Magic and Madness in Bali which tells the story of that first year. While it is written as fiction, 80% of it is true.
Then I started work adapting it into a film script.
For eight years, I wrote draft after draft. I had written some scripts before but, as I found out, I knew little about what I was doing. This was more complicated, because the scripts were based on autobiographical material and even though some say “write what you know,” the fact that it was based on my life gave energy to my ego and kept me from the core of the material. As I learned, I was too busy protecting myself.
So I studied, took courses and published a lot of screenwriting books from some of the greatest minds in the industry. This gave me an amazing ace. I had access to the world’s greatest scriptwriters, script consultants, and story editors. They not only wrote books for me but they were my friends. Over the years, some very smart people consulted on the script and gave me extensive notes and guidance.
I bow down and touch their feet with the greatest of appreciation for their contribution to my work and my life: Christopher Vogler, Steve Katz, Blake Snyder, James Bonnet, Mary Trainor-Brigham, Judith Weston, Mark Travis, Jeffrey Schechter, Matthew Bishop and Lacy Waltzman.
Of course, more than anyone else, my wife, Geraldine Overton, has watched me twist and turn in the wind, and I am grateful for her patience. I’ve come to call the project “Michael’s folly” because of the vast number of hours (and dollars) I’ve put into this work over the years. Granted, I’ve been running a publishing company and making the occasional other film and I haven’t been working on it every day, but it has been fifteen years, and I have yet to make this film.
Howard Suber, UCLA educator and mentor to just about every major director and producer in Hollywood, says the average films takes nine years to make. People don’t realize this. They think a script is written, and then shot, then appears in the theaters. Many times I’ve despaired and really questioned whether this was something I wanted to pursue and every time I got “yes” as an answer and there would be another burst of creative energy. If this is the film I was born to make, then let me make it! I take frequent comfort in friend Bucky Fuller’s advice when he said that great things like the redwoods, the great whales, and the elephant have long gestation rates. I like to think of this film as one of those “great things.”
In 1994, after countless drafts, I realized I had taken it as far as I can. I needed help. I needed a co-writer. I found Matthew Bishop, who gave me notes and then came up with a strategy and structure for rewriting it. I gave him my blessing and he ran with it.
I took this version and continue the process I had begun earlier of trying to find producers, foreign sales reps, and talent to join in. I made the rounds at Cannes. As I’ve learned, no one says “no” but they don’t say “yes” either. They hope to remain friends with you and hope you’ll get your film made and come back to them when it’s finished. There is so much film product available, distributors do not need to finance anything, they just wait, go to festivals, and pick the plums off the tree. The filmmaker is expected to hock house and the family fortune to make his film and hence gain entry to this glamorous world.
Writing a film that is set in another culture presents other challenges. Not only is a script a kind of blueprint that gives everyone the vision and must tell a cracking good story, it has to do so within 120 pages. (The “right length” in Hollywood this year is 106 pages!) The story has to be told with great economy. So writing in a way that allows people to “get” Bali is very difficult. Most readers had never been there. So how do you create that image in their heads without them substituting Mexico?
I would shoot a trailer. In 2002, a month after the Bali bombings, I took two actors from Los Angeles, a U.K. cameraman, and a producer to Bali for ten days, and we shot a short piece. I made DVDs of it, sent it around with the script, and put it on YouTube. Of course the problem with this is that we shot it for nothing on mini-DV and the style of the piece is not the look we’ll have the final movie. Also, by now, the actors in the trailer are not the actors who will be in the film. Nevertheless, I learned that a mixed Balinese and Western cast and crew can work very well together. I learned how long things really take to shoot and what it would cost. So, for that alone, it was well worth doing.
A few more years went by and I was not getting it financed. Part of the problem is that I no longer live in the States, and I don’t just mean L.A. I live in Cornwall, England, a most powerful and beautiful place but also one of the most depressed places in Europe with high rates of unemployment. Talk about out of the loop! It’s very remote, which I like, and takes five to six hours by train to get to London. So I am unable to have lunch meetings, attend parties, and do all those social networking things that helped me find financing in the past — unless I travel far from home.
A sales agent at Cannes introduced me to an executive producer in Los Angeles who liked the script. She started making pitches to help secure young name actors. Curiously, and in contrast to what I expected would happen, the agents of the actors liked the script, but the actors passed. We were not able to find out whether it was the part they didn’t like or that they simply didn’t want to leave their new girlfriends and spend seven weeks in Bali. We started to get insecure about the script.
Another rewrite. I wrote another list of possible changes and I got more notes from script consultants. (When you garner advice from experts, they’ll always find something.)
In looking for another writer, I was given a moody script set in New Orleans by Lacy Waltzman. It was very good and had a dark and mysterious tone. I hired her and after many months we had a much-improved script.
I’m a morning person. I get up a 4:30 a.m. and by 10 p.m. I’m knackered. The U.K. is eight hours ahead of L.A. So if I want to start pitching, the earliest I can do so is about 6 p.m. my time. I found it far too difficult to make late night pitches to actors’ agents or anyone, for that matter.
I decided to set up the production in the U.K. I did a series of auditions and mixed and matched actors until I found a trio that I felt would work very well with one another: Phillip Barantini and Leo Gregory would play the roles of “Nick” and “Eddie,” and Rebecca Grant would be “Shakti,” the mysterious apprentice to the shaman.
I made one-sheets (sales sheets) and appointments at the market of the Berlin Film Festival. My actors, while I was confident they all had the potential to be great stars, had not yet arrived at that place in their career to be worth anything from a world sales perspective. They were not on that short list of “A” actors or bankable stars.
I like these actors tremendously and have spent as much time with them as I could every time I went to London. I know they can deliver memorable and moving performances. That, it seems, isn’t what the money people want to hear. They want names that will guarantee box office sales and a great return on their money.
For anyone who’s tried it, you know it’s a chicken and egg cycle that you have to break out of. You need financing, but that won’t come without a bankable star, but a bankable star won’t come without a firm cash offer. You can’t get the cash without the actor and you can’t get the actor without the cash. But, if you have a great script, you might be able to get the actor, if you can get the script to the actor without going through the agent. Ultimately, of course, you need to work with the agent.
So my strategy was to try to obtain an “A” actor for the small but important role of “Nigel,” the expat. At Cannes and other film festivals, I met several name actors who I thought would be good for the Nigel role. (It can be played by a wide range of actors.) I got them the script, but they passed. This time I found out why. The part wasn’t substantial enough for them.
I withdrew from the selling process. Lacy and I again worked on another rewrite strengthening the lead roles and also deepening the ex-pat role. When the script was finished, I gave it to the leading casting director in London, who presented it to the first person on our list. After about six months we never got a reply so it was time to move on, assuming they didn’t want to do it. It is now with another “A” actor and we are waiting to hear.
Without cash in hand and the ability to say we are definitely starting on this date, months and years pass. If a name star does agree to be in your film by the time you actually do raise the money, that “A” star could be booked up for many years.
Even with an “A” star there are no guarantees. Every year there are many films made with “A” stars that do not perform at the box office.
So, what you have in your hands is probably not the last version of the script. It will go through more revisions until it is shot. And the film itself will be different again because the story actually gets told three times — once in the script, again in the performance, and lastly in the editing.
Regardless of whether or not the film is funded, I continue to do works that will inform the envisioned film. A few years ago in Bali, I gathered together a Balinese composer and a dozen musicians. I gave them ideas for short sound sketches that related to scenes in the film such as “Shadows on the Wall,” “Flirting,” “So Sad to Say Goodbye,” “Demons Approach,” and a few dozen others. In less than a day we recorded some twenty-eight cues, which, if they are not used in the film, they are a healthy start in banking sounds and sound design ideas for the ultimate sound track.
Also, after years of watching Dewa Nyoman Batuan paint mandalas, I published 140 of them in Mandalas of Bali in November 2009. These mandala paintings will have a presence in the film.
For me, this is and has been a process of exploration and discovery, trying to create something that was seeded in me decades ago that continues to grow and find expression.
For the last twenty-five years, I’ve given filmmaking seminars all around the world. I’ve heard hundreds of story pitches. Many of them fail because their creators are not able to communicate (or even know) what their story is about. Okay, to some degree this criticism is not fair because filmmakers and writers go through this process to discover what their work is about. Nevertheless, to deepen their understanding of what they are trying to achieve and to help them articulate it, I put the attendees through an exercise I call “What’s it REALLY about? Two seated people face each other. One runs the mind of the other (the writer/filmmaker) with a simple question: What’s it really all about? The question is asked flatly, without judgment. A short answer then erupts. Sometimes we run this exercise for half an hour. All kinds of stuff come out, most of it rubbish, but if the writer is really willing to dive deeply, a very powerful statement often emerges that surprises everyone.
In all fairness, I run this exercise on myself about Bali Brothers: “What’s it really all about?”
• It’s about freedom and responsibility.
• It’s about magic.
• It’s about love that heals.
• It’s about finding out who we really are.
It’s about discovering we are even more magnificent than we think we are.
It’s about two brothers who heal their differences through the beauty and magic of Bali.
It’s about the incredible capacity of human beings to pull back the veil and enter new worlds.
• It’s about how we might live together.
• It’s about how we might create a world that benefits everyone.
It’s about an amazing culture that has a great deal to teach us if we are willing to listening.
May you enjoy Bali Brothers!
August 30, 2009