Since May, I have been working on a new project, a “test movie”. What in God’s name is a test movie you might ask—I know I did when I first heard the term. The best I could come up with was, it’s a term someone at Amazon.com made up. I say that because, that’s the first place I had ever heard the term. My esteemed writing partner Wash Phillips hadn’t heard of the term either, and was not wildly supportive of my desire to make one. Probably because neither of us were quite sure, exactly, just what it was—let alone how exactly we should go about making one and what good it would do us if we did.
Well, the reason that motivated me most was, Amazon was awarding a $100,000 to the person making the best test movie each month! And I was sure we could do it—what ever it was. After all, I had made a movie before. A real movie, with actors, and a camera, etc, in 1999, “Winos & Pigeons,” a little short film I wrote, produced and co-directed, that’s right, I said co-directed. I had never made a movie prior to that; fact is I had never worked on a movie prior to that. I like to tell students, newbie screenwriters, that as a screenwriter—you’re God, omniscient in your power. You can create characters, worlds, weather—you control everything when writing a screenplay. But, when you go out to make the movie, God takes over again, and you learn just how limited you are. I figured I could direct the damned movie, I mean after all, I wrote it! But when we started shooting, I soon discovered my AD—that stands for Assistant Director—knew one hell of a lot more about directing a movie than I did. He had worked on a number of productions. Ergo, I became a co-director.
And now, here I was again, on the verge of yet another uncharted adventure. My partner and I had written a dandy little 97 page screenplay, filled with wonderful characters, and now I was getting ready to let God take over, yet another time—just as soon as I figured out exactly what in Hell a test movie was and what it was going to take to make one.
As best I could tell, we were supposed to record the dialogue of a screenplay, then match that dialogue with either “Animatics” or still photos, sound effects, and background music. Now most of that, I knew about—all except the term Animatics; here was yet another new word to me.
Well, I did what I normally do when I am at a loss as to the meaning of something—when I need to find answers… I looked it up on Wikipedia. I found it mixed in with the meaning of Story Boards: “At its simplest, an animatic is a series of still images edited together and displayed in sequence. More commonly, a rough dialogue and/or rough sound track is added to the sequence of still images (usually taken from a storyboard) to test whether the sound and images are working effectively together.” Or, in Amazon Studio language, a “Test Movie.”
The bottom line was, I now had to find an animator—an artist, who would agree to draw about 800 pictures, created around our characters and story. Then we would need 10 to 20 actors to play the parts in the screenplay, a director to direct the actors, a composer to compose and play about 97 minutes of original background music, A sound engineer to record the actors, the sound effects and a studio to do it in, oh and someone to edit it all together into a finished project. By the way, did I mention that we didn’t have any money, not a dime—zip! I had to get all of these folks to agree to work with me and collectively create and shape what we hope will be a prize winning piece of art for no money up front, maybe no money ever! Well, we did agree to split up any money we might or might not win from Amazon Studios with all involved. “Fat Chance of That,” you might be saying.
Well, I am happy to report, we have to date a full crew, working collectively to produce the test movie, “Intersection,” in to an award winning piece of art, ready for release in August or early September. You have to buy a ticket if you want to win the lottery.