The Incredible Search for Jamie Klotz’s Diary was, as I’ve stated before, a title that had been in my head for nearly a decade prior to actually completing it. But after discussing the origins of the story in previous blogs, I’d like to zero in on the few months leading up to the filming and the days of to discuss how the whole thing actually came to fruition.
In February 2013, after having spent an entire year compiling footage and completing one major project that I was very proud of that continues to be left essentially unreleased, I was creatively frustrated after a year of being really productive. I decided to focus my frustrations on a quick, fun project just to prove to myself that I could even make a movie and that my shorts and projects up till then hadn’t just been workshops and flukes. On February 17, I invited several of my closest creatively-minded friends and several young people I had just recently met through Southern Hills Community Theatre to a Facebook event called “The 72 Hour Movie Project” and said, hey, let’s shoot for three days in May and see what happens. It might suck, it might be entertaining… but at least the process will have been fun.
The original plan was to improvise the entire movie over the course of those three days. In discussing story ideas in advance, within two days of starting to organize the shoot, it became rapidly clear that this was a horrible, awful idea. So, with the ideas for locations, wacky supporting characters, from friends and collaborators streaming in story-wise, I started formulating a basic outline.
The Characters, as described during story development
“A quirky dork.”
“She carries around a bag and when things get tough she pulls out some odd looking hats and is like ‘lets get our thinking caps on ladies.'”
Dorn: “Maybe the villain could be someone who knows the secrets in the diary and is trying to find it O_o”
“Perhaps the diary is one of a pair that are both needed to decipher each other and that the villain holds the second”
Brandon: “Maybe a boy who is a friend who secretly likes her and that’s why he is so persistent in helping her?”
“A hopelessly romantic young man who writes Jamie terrible love songs.”
Dr. Lawrence: “a Museum guide who later turns into a mad scientist like a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hide transformation.”
Other characters that ended up being cut: Jamie’s mom, the ghost of a teenage girl, a museum docent, a thief who thinks he’s a pirate, a crazy old hobo, two bumbling undercover cops (later became Ryan & Eric – sort of), and Jessica Klotz, Jamie’s wild-eyed old west outlaw ancestor.
Suggestions were also taken for possible filming locations and one day of scouting was done by myself and my buddy Jesse (who had played Gump in the Adventures in Hot Springs). Jesse showed me a stunning location north of Cold Brook Reservoir, just minutes north of Hot Springs and I immediately wrote it in as the location of the final confrontation between Jamie and a supernatural sorceress named Sahera.
In this outtake of an unused shot from the movie, we see Ryan & Eric watching Jamie & Kaitlyn from afar, while showcasing the downtown Hot Springs area.
As location suggestions rolled in from participating collaborators and cast members, it was clear from the get-go that one of the most important characters of the movie was Hot Springs itself, a town that lends itself beautifully to the camera. From attractions like the Pioneer Museum, Southern Hills Golf Course and Evans Plunge to the distinct sandstone buildings, murals and sculptures downtown to more obscure locations like Chautauqua Park, I wanted to make sure the film showed Hot Springs’ best side.
From mid-February to mid-March 2013, I worked daily on hashing out the details of the script based on my basic premise and everyone else’s suggestions into the first draft of a script. The first outline was typed, the first draft was handwritten and completed on March 26 and I didn’t let anyone read it – I knew there were fundamental issues with the plot. So I called in Daniel Crossman for a story development session and we reworked nearly all the characters, their motivations and simplified the story we had, which had included scenes that would be time and resource intensive, let alone the fact that they weren’t important to the real story about Jamie and her diary; they were setting up a backstory to explain the diary and its origins: a backstory that didn’t need to be shown for the story to work. The amount of ideas and reworking Daniel & I did together more than sufficed for a co-writer credit for someone who truly was “The Man.”
One of the original ideas for Jamie Klotz’s Diary included making it a 6 part webseries that would be bookended during each episode with Jamie stopping time and talking directly to the camera, and filming a number of vlogs in advance of the release of the main movie itself to establish the character.
Another involved solving riddles and puzzles before being able to find the “treasures,” a la adventure movies like National Treasure. This was simplified and discarded in early April to go straight to the treasures (coincidentally aligning it more with the earlier Quest for the Lost Treasures.) This would allow us to go to more locations quicker and add in some visual jokes instead of stopping to explain the significance of a location or a clue.
This wasn’t shared with the group, but somewhere between April and May, I completely lost it and started rethinking the whole project, worrying that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I even reconceptualized the whole project as an interactive “choose your own story” movie which would branch off at points during the adventure – a logistical nightmare for something supposed to be filmed in three days. With the help of my girlfriend Deana and a massive dose of common sense, I chucked that idea and we focused in on a final draft.
CAST: Casting was, for the most part, fairly easy. Daniel, Bridgett, Michael and Matt I’d known since high school, Aspen and Okoye I had met through the Community Theatre, Isaiah was Daniel’s younger brother and brought Sam and Garett along with. Simplifying the script also mean simplifying the cast, so keeping it to a grand total of 10 (including Alex, the kid brought in the day of to play Jamie’s “pony ride” date) and keeping to the three-day plan made coordinating schedules a breeze.
Coincidentally, at one point, Okoye had thought she was going to be unavailable for the shoot, so we had another girl who had been in the community theatre’s first production planned to play Kaitlyn, even at our sole script read-through on May 23! At the last minute the following day, she went AWOL due to her new job and we shot as much as we could without Kaitlyn… but without knowing whether we’d even HAVE a Kaitlyn. The next day, the other girl confirmed she’d have to drop out of the project but Okoye was back in town so she got roped back in.
But I’ll save more about those stories in the next few columns covering production….
LESSONS LEARNED FROM PRE-PRODUCTION:
-If you’re frustrated with the way other things in your life are going, do something you have complete control over.
-Don’t ever plan to improvise. Always back yourself up, even with a loose outline of dialogue to have structure to fall back on.
-Budget: Jamie Klotz’s Diary didn’t really have a budget. We begged and borrowed, paid for special props, water and snack foods to keep the cast hydrated and happy. Sometimes you have the fortunate of investing a ton of money in a project. Sometimes you just gotta roll with what you have.
-Writing a story based on suggestions from a bunch of people is really fun, but also totally maddening and disappointing because good ideas have to get thrown by the wayside to make the story work.
-Know your limits, budget-wise, time-wise and energy-wise.
-Don’t be afraid to admit you’re wrong and start over (or rethink it if you can’t just scrap it and go again)
-Schedule everyone ahead of time and confirm their participation. Confirm it again. Confirm it again. Confirm it again. And always expect them not to be able to show and have a contingency plan.
-If you can, do a read-through with your cast of the whole script, from beginning to end. It not only helps your cast find their character better and improve interactions, but it gives you a chance to get a feel for the pacing of the entire project in a different way than reading it to yourself does.