Are you an enthusiastic film lover who dreams of having your unique indie movie pitch go from paper to the silver screen? American Express, founding sponsor for the Tribeca Film Festival, answered that call last year with its first “My Movie Pitch” contest. Cinephiles submitted 60-second pitches of their best flick ideas to be voted upon and brought to life during a coveted premier slot at the annual film fete. This year, a Brooklyn full-time legal secretary, part-time poet’s pitch about dating and “Doggy Bags” took the top prize.
Cardmember Susan Brennan was the lucky winner whose pitch was picked up by actor, writer, and director Edward Burns. He turned her 60-second idea in a 14-minute short with a little bit of romance, a dash of drama, and a whole lot of laughs. Following the funny short, Brennan and Burns answered audience questions and gave a mini course in filmmaking 101.
For young filmmakers, the hardest part may be turning an idea into an actual script with dialogue, action, and other elements. Do you have any advice for screenwriters?
Edward Burns: [It’s not] the big chunk of marble that the sculptor needs… the problem with the screenwriter is you can’t start with the chunk of marble. You almost need to dig out the first draft, in a way, so that you then have something to shape, if you’re someone who suffers from the things we’re talking about — when you don’t believe in yourself enough and you keeping stopping short of the finish line.
Susan Brennan: Right, because confidence is definitely something that helps you go forward… And, you say you have actors in mind. I think having people in mind helps. Even if it’s someone from your life that you want to write about, that definitely helps.
EB: My brother is a screenwriter as well, and he’ll sometimes write with a specific actor in mind. Like, say, Owen Wilson. He’ll kind of zero in on that voice, even if it’ll never go to Owen Wilson, that’ll just help him get through the first draft.Do you think it’s easier to produce a film now than it was earlier in your careers?
SB: Technology is making it so much easier for people. I don’t know if that’s implied, but I think that’s really exciting.
EB: As far as making the film? Yeah!
SB: Yes. Like how you made “Newlyweds.” How people can just pick up a camera and not have a studio say yes or no. You can just do it.
EB: For young filmmakers, there’s no excuse now not to go buy one of those inexpensive cameras and go out there and shoot. [To Brennan] You plan on directing?
SB: There’s a short I wrote, actually, about one year I had to wrap presents in a mall for Christmas, and I’m thinking, ‘that I can handle,’ because it’s like the same scene — like a vignette. I think I’m going to do it.How different is the process of writing and directing for a full-length feature than it is from the short form?
EB: It was, quite honestly, a little difficult to try figure to out how, in 15 minutes, do you have a beginning, middle, and end. How are you going to introduce these characters to actually get the audience invested in what they’re going through? And then, introducing enough of a conflict and knowing that you have to pay it off — that was hard. The first draft was probably 35 pages long. How do you whittle it down and make the think make sense? So that was the challenge. Definitely, I don’t have any interest in doing another short any time soon. Not that I didn’t enjoy the process, but, it was hard work.
SB: You have though, in the script, all these builds—
EB: Well, the fact that it wasn’t my own idea — I knew there were certain things, based on your pitch, that I had to do — sort of helped me know where it was going to end… I had to remind myself of what the pitch was in order to bring it back down to 15 pages.
Those 15 pages worked out like a charm. You can catch a look at “The Making of ‘Doggy Bags’” below, or screen the short in its entirety here, along with these other offerings from the Tribeca (Online) Film Festival.