Making a fan film – Part 1: Mindset, concept and script.

 

Hello there, Fanboys and Fangirls, my name is Richard Reynolds. As well as being a regular contributor to the website you are now reading I am also an amateur filmmaker and co-head a Nottinghamshire based filmmaking group called Waking Dream Studios, along with my production partner, Jordan Morris.

WDLogoVimeo

We specialise in low or no-budget shorts with conceptual twists, be they on a thematic or narrative level. Neither of us are film school trained and have made it our mission to improve in some way with each film that we make. Over the last seven years or so we have gained enough know-how, equipment and connections to be putting out films with ever increasing levels of professionalism. I shan’t bore you with our entire history but feel free to check out our dedicated vimeo page, which contains all of our latest productions.

Our films are usually very well received at public screenings, the combination of interesting/funny concepts paired with good (for our level at the very least) production quality equating to a fun viewing experience. But while this may be the case, our views online never really rise above a relatively mediocre number. This is to be expected because though myself and Jordan are advocates of pushing ourselves creatively and technically, we have nowhere near the same passion when it comes to promoting ourselves or our work; we finish a piece, get it some screenings, push it a little on the net then move on to the next project.

As a reaction to this we decided to put some major effort in to getting Waking Dream Studios noticed in a big way, but how to do this?

Me as Agent 47

Me as Agent 47

Well, the answer came easily, with much less effort than it requires to unravel that thought process here. Two prime factors governed my thinking, the first being the simple recollection of what I actually make the effort of watching when I’m online, and what of those are generally quite popular. I watch movie trailers and well made fan-films… That was that, decision made, we’d make a fan film; those things can go viral like nobodies business, a fact I knew well and good because of factor two. A while ago I starred as Agent 47 in a friend’s Hitman fan film, Hitman: Chimera, which to this point has had over eighty-five thousand views on You Tube. Those guys work at the same level as us, so I knew it could be done, and done with success.

The next decision was to select something to pay homage to in the wonderful medium of film. This too was a simple thing. I’m a massive comic fan, so we would do a fan film based on a comic franchise, but our recourses and budget, though being significantly more than we’d worked with to date, owing to the fact that we really wanted to step up our game, would still be extremely limited. High-flying superheroics were out, other people could afford to do it to a much higher level than we could, no, we needed something down-to-earth but recognisable nonetheless, something that really capitalises on what we can do and have done in the past, something British.

It was another no-brainer, I love John Cosntantine: Hellblazer and was in the process of reeling over DC’s decision to cancel the book (seriously, I wrote this article on the matter). What better way could I pay respects to this fantastic but now dead title? That besides, Hellblazer walked a line between totally urban and massively fantastical; mix a little of that together, as the book often did, and you could produce something achievable, of a genre defying ilk (as we were used to producing, our ‘Robert Edwards’ films deal with a street level supernatural trouble-shooter) , potentially spectacular and fan-pleasing, if the elements are mixed correctly.

hblazerlogo

I really mean it when I say I love Hellblazer, I could even be described as a super-fan. I have all three-hundred issues of the ongoing title (starting from 1988 going right through until last year, for anyone who’s counting. I, of course, got many of them as back-issues as I’m still a relatively young chap… kinda), and every other graphic novel and mini-series involving the Vertigo incarnation of John Constantine. So, armed with this wealth of resource, more innate knowledge of the title than most and a very distinct impression of what I like best about the character, I was confident I could produce something that could bare the harsh scrutiny of internet fandom, as far as the writing was concerned anyways, my filmmaking skills are another matter entirely.

Keanu Reeves as John Constantine

Keanu Reeves as John Constantine

At this point I shall bring up the elephant in the room; yes, a film has already been produced about the Constantine character by Warner Bros, it was big budget and impressive, and I quite like it as a film in its own right, but it wasn’t Hellblazer. I wanted to make a REAL John Constantine film, one that actually took place in the Vertigo continuity. Subsequently Warner have announced a Constantine TV show, which could have bummed me out but it only urged me to speed up my plans and I’m still pretty confident that our interpretation will be the most true to the source material.

 

Writing.

There is always so much to consider when writing a script and still more when writing a script that you intend to shoot. THE most important thing to keep in mind when a writing a film that you intend to shoot is what recourses you have access to and which you can realistically acquire, there’s no point writing something where big, spectacular things happen if you have no idea how you’re going to achieve it, the results, more often than not, are significantly unimpressive. Simplicity will always come off as more professional if you know how to apply it effectively.

The real John Constantine

The real John Constantine

Waking Dream have been writing and making films for so long now that the little but important considerations that are involved in writing now work on a more fluidic, subconscious level, and it should be said that everyone has their own processes. I, for instance, generally don’t put pen to paper at all, other than to make notes, before the main plot is pretty much fully formed in my head. I hate writing without direction and I need very specific direction. I also write quite well when certain things are set; stories occur to me BECAUSE of the limitations, be they contained in the story, character or filmmaking circumstance.

So before I even knew what my Hellblazer story would be, I knew plenty of what I wanted from it. From a filmmaking perspective I wanted it to be the best looking film we’ve made to date, this means having total control over the locations; the easiest way to achieve this? Set it in one location then light and shoot the hell out of it. I wanted it to have impressive physical/make-up and digital FX to really belie its budgetary constraints and illustrate our understanding of those processes and I also wanted it to end with spectacle.

From a fan perspective, I wanted it to be set a few months after the last issue of the Hellblazer series (#300). I wanted clever references for the big fans but for them to not feel shoehorned in, and I wanted it to represent my favourite interpretation of John Constantine, in which he is as much grifter as magician or exorcist, so much so that you’re not entirely sure if he’s won the day with magic or a particularly smart con (Garth Ennis and Brian Azzarello were good at this). I wanted this Constantine to be so cock-sure that you’d want to punch him in the mouth.

Hellblazer's final issue

Hellblazer’s final issue

In the film Stranger Than Fiction, Emma Thompson’s character, a writer, is asked where her latest big idea came from, to which she responds “Like anything worth writing, it came inexplicably and without method.” I subscribe to this mode of idea generation, that is to say, they come when they come and you can recognise the good ones right away; and so it was that with all the above requirements swimming though my brain, in no particular order, that the story for my Hellblazer short came to me pretty much fully formed while I did some repetitive task or other at work…

John Constantine would be involved in a poker game against three low-level demons, in which they were playing for human souls (much more detail than this occurred to me but I don’t want to spoil the plot). One location, potential for grifting and a cocky attitude, prosthetic FX, moody lighting and a big ending. Perfect.

Now I just had to write the script, but as well as every writer having their own process, each project too has it’s own particular ins and outs that mean the same processes can’t always be applied. Here, I didn’t want to waste time writing a script that I couldn’t make, so before I started writing I wanted to make sure that I had a poker consultant (I don’t play), a make-up consultant and a digital FX consultant, that would stay with me through the entire project (Jordan is a technical, lighting and camera wiz, otherwise I would have needed all that onboard at this point too), so that I could know what was doable and what wasn’t even at the script phase.

This might have proven to be a hell of a task, but the Midlands (our region) happens to have a community of very professional creative types that are usually willing to help out, and in so doing almost always go above and beyond the call of duty. We’ve made lots of connections over the years, paid it forward and done lots of favours. For all these reasons the first people I asked to be part of the project got onboard with great enthusiasm, which pleased me no end.

My friend Chris Shiel, who has starred in a number of our films, is an avid poker aficionado and agreed to be not only my consultant, but also my poker choreographer, for want of a better term. For what I had in mind, the poker was vitally important to the story, I needed hands designed that worked in the favour of specific dramatic beats, hands that could be interpreted to different levels of success depending on what other cards were dealt. This was important more for detail than plot, because all the audience need know is who THINKS they are winning and who is actually winning, which is all explainable through action, so the audience don’t have to be savvy with the rules of poker, but it’s technically accurate if they are.

Hellblazer's first issue

Hellblazer’s first issue

That was a lot to consider and it begat a way of writing that I had never used before. First I wrote a detailed rundown of the plot, including all the dramatic beats, then I and Chris sat down and he taught me how to play poker, we watched a few games and he hit me up with some of the lingo, then we went through the plot, changed what we needed to, order wise mostly, and designed two games, the layout of which I drew diagrams of and the order of play I wrote down as a step by step account.

From here I read a few select issues of Hellblazer, to insure that my references were correct, at which point I had enough fuel to go away and write the script, which was now so well developed in my head that it came together as a fairly detailed, fifteen-page script in a single evening. This will equate to a running time of between ten to fifteen minutes, hopefully more like ten.

I gave it time to breath then came back at it later to iron out the kinks. At this point I handed it off to Clare Gregory, a talented make-up artist (claregregory.com), and Steve Askey, a CGFX maestro (check out his demo reel), who perused it for potential difficulties. I know quite a lot more about these processes of filmmaking than poker, so as it turns out I hadn’t included anything that was too difficult to achieve, and so nothing much in these respects had to be altered.

This draft was pretty solid, so only small changes of detail have been made subsequently. And so endeth my writing adventure…

 

Tune in next time when I go into budget, acquiring a cast and crew to work for free and previsualisation.

Richard
A UK based Contributor; Richard Reynolds splits his time writing articles and interviews for Fanboy Confidential with running his own comicbook shop, Ground Zero Comics, as well as sticking his thumb in far too many pies, including illustration, writing and filmmaking, he also consumes fiction in all its forms like its going out of fashion.

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