Dallas’ Latest Journal Entry
An update from Dallas Jenkins on his current movie project …
Still developing two projects at once, trying desperately to figure out which one I should concentrate on. My “plan B” project, the feature based on my latest short film, is looking more and more like the one we’ll be going with. I just got the 2nd draft of the script, and it’s coming along really well. Because we would only shoot the movie for $1 million or less, this is probably a better business decision. If we do proceed with Midnight Clear, we’ll probably start pre-production in February and production in late March.
One thing I’ve learned more than almost anything in this business—getting something done, even if it’s not your #1 choice, is more important than spending your time developing something else. Getting movies made in this business is practically a miracle, and any time you can do it you should jump at the chance. I won’t pretend that Mountain (my preacher film) isn’t my passion project, but it’s a very difficult one, and it might be too tough to pull off right now. I’ve still got to raise a good chunk of money, and of course, a star actor needs to be interested in taking the leap of faith with me.
That being said, we have made our first official offer to a name actor for Mountain. We sent the script, my previous films, a passionate letter, and the offer in writing. We’ll see what happens. Either the actor is passionate about the role or he isn’t.
By the next time I write something here, I’ll likely have made my OFFICIAL ABSOLUTE NO TURNING BACK NO HOLDS BARRED decision, and I’ll be making a movie. Maybe.
———–Past Journal updates—————
This article was featured in the Nov./Dec. issue of RELEVANT Magazine. Dallas’ Nov. 8 journal entry is his first update on what’s happened since then …
I’m making a pretty dumb career move this year. The time has come for me to direct my first feature-length film, and I’ve chosen a story that will be a difficult sell for potential investors, distributors and audiences. I’m going to share with you my thought process, and maybe you can learn something, be inspired or try to talk me out of it.
A few years ago I was given a script, called The Man Who Moved a Mountain, by a guy I’d worked with on a film I produced. Even though the guy wasn’t a Christian, he thought I’d appreciate it because it was about a preacher. I read the script, and I didn’t like it. It’s based on a book with the same title, the true story of a man named Bob who lived in the mountains of Virginia in the early 20th century. The mountain region was basically uncivilized, as it was set apart from the rest of society. Dirt poor, the people mostly spent their time drinking, fighting, even killing, with very little fear of the law that was rarely enforced. Bob was the “heller of the hollow,” one of the hardest drinkers and strongest fighters. He ends up realizing his life is meaningless, he becomes a Christian and ultimately a preacher. Through his preaching, his servant’s heart and his tireless work ethic, he builds five churches (still alive today), roads, bridges, schools, jobs, etc.
It’s a great story, but certainly not very marketable. Unless they’re directed by giant star directors, period pieces are usually death at the box office, not to mention expensive to shoot. Plus, what’s the market for preacher movies set in the Virginia mountains?
I politely declined. But over the next couple years, as I worked on the release of my film, as well as directing two short films, I kept thinking about the story. I found other scripts I liked, I even commissioned a couple scripts based on ideas I had, but this story wouldn’t leave my head. I finally decided to get the rights, and I commissioned a writer to do a new script from scratch.
That was a year and a half ago. I wanted to make a movie last year, but every door kept closing. There are other scripts and stories that would have made a lot more sense for me to direct, but at the last minute, all of these projects fell apart. It took my writer this long to write this movie because it’s such a hard story to tell (which should set off warning bells, I know).
So I’ve decided to try an experiment. I’m going to give this whole “follow what God is telling you” thing a shot. Problem is, I’m an old-school fundamentalist who never claims to “hear God’s voice” outside of Scripture, and quite bluntly, I can’t tell if it’s God or Satan who’s making me think that I should do this movie. Seeing as how it’s a movie about serving others and showing the love of Christ to the most unworthy sinners, I would assume God is the one pushing me through this “bad career move” door. But on the other hand, what if Satan is trying to derail what might have been a successful film career by getting me to do a movie that doesn’t make sense from a marketing or financial perspective? I’ve prayed about it, and I believe I’m being obedient, but what do I know? I wish I could say God kept my fleece dry while the rest of the ground was soaking wet from dew, but He hasn’t made it that easy.
Either way, I’ve decided to do it. Even as I write this, I don’t understand it. The filmmakers who I’ve learned the most from are guys like Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino, Alexander Payne and Cameron Crowe. Do you think any of them would make a movie set in the Virginia mountains in the 1920s? Um, no.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Why do I care about this guy’s mental warfare?” I don’t have a good answer for you, other than I’m hoping that one of two things happens. Either I fail miserably and the film doesn’t see the light of day, in which case you can learn from my mistakes; or I’ll make a fantastic movie that everyone wants to pay to see, in which case you can be inspired to follow your gut instead of conventional wisdom. Or something.
So now that I’ve decided to do it, I’ve got to figure out how to maximize the movie’s potential. Again, this is where you can see some of the decisions that will make or break my film, and perhaps we can all learn something.
In my opinion, my best chance is to do something unconventional. Most successful independent films that come from first-time directors are unique, fresh and edgy. This movie is set in the ’20s and ’30s in the South, and most movies and TV shows from that setting look and sound the same. If you think of Little House on the Prairie, Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman, Christy and Anne of Green Gables, you picture lyrical, smooth editing and picturesque scenery. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on big wagon wheels, sassy school marms and phrases like “I’m tahhred, Sadie Mae … so tahhred.”
And most films that come from Christians like myself are clean, safe and family friendly. Seeing as how this movie is about a preacher, it’s a recipe ripe for a Sunday night PAX network special.
But what if I changed things up a bit? What if I did a period movie in the vein of the directors listed above, with fast editing, close-ups, the occasional handheld camera? And what if I actually showed the violence and vulgarity that was typical of this mountain region, especially the main character before he became a preacher? Maybe it still wouldn’t work, but at least I’d go down fighting.
Sheese. An edgy Christian period piece with bad language. Maybe it is the devil making me do it.
Nov. 8, 2005
Well, since I wrote the article for RELEVANT, I decided to hedge my bets a little and prepare a plan B, in case Mountain wasn’t able to happen. In a week, the short film I directed, Midnight Clear, comes to DVD. Because of the good response we’ve gotten, we’ve considered doing it as a low budget feature. So, even though I’m going to keep developing Mountain and push for it as my first feature, I’m also going to get a script ready for Midnight Clear as a backup plan, in case we can’t raise all the money for Mountain.
I got the first draft of the script from a friend of mine last week. I went to college with him, and he emailed me out of the blue two months ago to tell me that he wanted to get into screenwriting and was wondering if I had any projects he could do a rewrite on or something. I said, “Well, I’m thinking about doing Midnight Clear as a feature, but we don’t have any money, so if you want to write that script for free, we’ll both take a chance.” I figured it was low risk for me and a good opportunity for him, and he agreed. If the script is really good, we’ll probably make the movie, which would be an awesome start for his career.
And lo and behold, the first draft was pretty darn good. It needs a lot of work, but the dialogue and tone are pretty close to what I wanted, so we’ll see what happens. If the script works, and Mountain doesn’t get going, we’ll do this movie for $1 million or less, and our company might just put up all the money ourselves. With Mountain, we would put up $1.5 million and look for a partner to put up the rest.
On the Mountain front, a few things have happened. First of all, a major studio has said that they want to guarantee distribution. This means that assuming they like the package we assemble for the film (cast, budget, etc.), they will guarantee that they’ll distribute it when it is finished, and that they’ll put at least $1 million into “P&A,” which means “prints and advertising,” basically the cost of making copies and promoting it. This is great because even though it’s not cash in hand, it’s something we can tell potential investors—”If you help us make this movie, we know that a major studio will push it, and we’ll have a shot at recouping our investment.”
So now we’re approaching potential cast. If we can get a star to like the script and commit to the film, we’ll have no problem getting all the money, especially with the studio’s involvement. My first choice is Woody Harrelson, and we spoke with his agent last week. Apparently, Woody is in London for six weeks and not even looking at scripts, and his agent said that Woody doesn’t want to do indie films anyway if it’s not with a director he’s always wanted to work with. This makes sense, of course. But I’m still going to give him a shout when the six weeks are up, just in case.
In the meantime, we’re going after a few other big stars. We know chances are slim, but we’ve got to take a stab. I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.
P.S. Feel free to buy a copy of the Midnight Clear short—it’s only about 9 bucks, and heck, if enough people buy it, maybe we’ll get enough money to make Mountain on our own! Check out www.midnightclearmovie.com.