February 13th, 2014 | The Exquisite Corpse Project | Newport News, VA
I realized that I haven’t told you about our movie. In our movie, The Exquisite Corpse Project, I challenged five comedy writers to each write 15 pages of a feature script, with the added constraint that each writer was allowed to read only the previous five pages of the script before writing his section. So, that meant that each writer had only a tiiiny window into what had already happened in the movie. To make things even more fun, we simultaneously filmed a documentary about the writing process – beginning with the meeting where I assigned the projects to the writers, to each writer reading the five pages they had access to and reacting to them, to the group of writers reading the finish script together. That documentary footage is then cut into the narrative film throughout, to give the audience a better sense of what the writers experienced, and also to create a lot of opportunities for comedy (as the different writers poke fun at the awful script that they wrong). It’s a fun format.
At nearly every Q&A session I’ve done so far (and I’ve done many at this point, having completed our festival run), I’ve been asked whether I’d consider doing a sequel to this film. My answer, which always gets a laugh, is simply: NO. Our answer is typically something along the lines of, “We’ve already explored this format, so now no one ever needs to explore it again!” The audience always laughs at that, but I think they also understand from our response that it was a difficult format for us to work with – not because it wasn’t fun, but because the rules of the game necessitate that the finished script is not only a first draft, but one written by a team of writers who know nothing about the rest of the film. It’s a great game, but turning a script with those qualities into a watchable, enjoyable film was a tremendous editing challenge.
That’s why my visit to Christopher Newport University was such a huge treat – not only had the students already seen and enjoyed our film, but a student film group responded by writing their own feature-length exquisite corpse project, which they’re planning on producing in the Spring. They just gave me a copy of their script, and I can’t wait to read it.
While at CNU, I also had the honor of being able to teach a workshop to a group of student filmmakers and comedians. And while I don’t think very highly of my teaching abilities, below is a question that I was asked and an answer that I gave that I felt was important enough to share:
What’s your advice on how to make my project happen?
One of the greatest hurdles to overcome as an artist is not becoming overwhelmed by the scale of a project. With a feature film, like with any large project, there are literally hundreds of steps that need to be completed (often in a fairly specific order), and it’s easy to become intimidated by the sheer volume of what needs to be done – at which point the easiest course of action is usually to give up. I think that an inability to overcome this problem is the biggest obstacle that most artists face, and I’ve watched a few tremendously talented comedians and filmmakers languish in obscurity because they couldn’t overcome this hurdle. I think it’s a constant challenge for all artists.
My solution is simple: you need to break your project down into the smallest possible parts, prioritize and order them, then tackle those small, individual pieces on a timeline of your choosing. You need to set goals for yourself, and you need to keep them – but that’s much easier to do when your goals are very small than when you’re looking at the project as a whole. For instance, it can be overwhelming to say, “I’d like to write a screenplay in the next three months.” But, on the other hand, if you give yourself the goal of writing a single page every day, at the end of 90 days you’ll have a completed first draft of your screenplay. More complex projects are no different: whatever it is, break it down into small, manageable pieces, then tackle those pieces one at a time in a logical order. It’s that simple! Fun fact: I learned this method from reading about how Michaelangelo’s approach to working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This approach has guided me through all of my successful creative endeavors, and I hope it serves you just as well!
For more of my poorly-worded filmmaking advice, listen to my interview on the On Screen In Person podcast HERE.
Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Ben Popik.