Engineering a Dream
of a Dream

Most things I dream you don't want to know about, let alone turn into something real. It's not that my dreams are weird or scary. They are boring and irritating. There is this one dream though…

…of making money selling movies made from my screenplays. THE WALLET comedy short is my first shot at that. Making THE WALLET was a dream within a dream. The inner dream was the movie itself. The outer dream was the dream of making the movie.

If you're sure you want to turn a dream into reality, it helps to think of a dream as a plan with missing details. What follows is the story of me filling in the details of the inner and outer dreams. I'm pretty sure most of it would have taken less time if I hadn't have also been working full time so factor that in if you compare this to other productions.

Writing the screenplay for the final version of THE WALLET comedy short happened over a couple months. However, the development of the concept and screenplay took about five years. I wrote about the wallet idea for quite a few months. Eventually I was able to zero in on a story which I turned into a feature length screenplay.

After a year or so of pitching the project, I put it on a back-burner while I worked on my family comedy, WATERSLIDE. Sometime thereafter, I wrote another feature length screenplay based on the wallet concept. In between, I wrote other screenplays and created two animated shorts. One of the animated shorts was derived from on my action comedy DRONE FIGHT.

I posted the two shorts online to see if they got any views. They didn't get a lot of hits, but having them out there got me thinking about doing a live action short. After looking at the screenplays I had written, it seemed that a short based on THE WALLET would be the easiest and cheapest to produce.

About that time, I also realized that I was old enough to withdraw money from my 401K accounts without a penalty. Well, a few thousand dollars could buy me a couple more days on life support or the chance to turn one of my screenplays into a movie. When I'm laying on some hospice bed in what I hope is the distant future, I may regret the decision to put the money into the production, but it seemed like a wonderful decision then and seems better now, maybe even practical.

Over a few months, I wrote a 17 page version, roughly a 20 minute short. I showed it to Mike, a cinematographer friend of mine. Mike liked the idea enough to agree to work on the project if I wanted to go ahead with it. Mike told me two things that changed the direction of the project and my life. He said that THE WALLET should be 10 minute short and that I could direct it.

My wife and executive producer Colleen agreed. I studied books and articles about directing and trimmed characters and scenes from the script. Another couple of months later, THE WALLET screenplay came in at 11 pages. Close enough. I then marked up the script to identify frames for the storyboard.

I spent a couple of months drawing the storyboard. Meanwhile, I was studying as much as I could about preproduction, production, postproduction, and distribution. I had read a lot about this stuff before, but looking forward to a real shoot in the near future gave me a focus I hadn't had before. The best producing tip came from Tina Fey: Producing is about discouraging creativity. The best directing tip is repeated all over the Web: Don't act out parts or say lines for actors.

It seemed like this was the time for me to do this. In addition to all the new cameras and equipment and online technologies and opportunities, IMDb Pro had added a casting tool. You can post a description of your project and the roles in it so interested actors can contact you. 250 actors contacted us about the lead, 150 and 60 for the other two principle roles.

Meanwhile, I took my first shot at a schedule and budget. After much estimating, calculating, and spreadsheeting, I concluded it would take one day and cost $3,000. I gave them, the script, and the storyboard to Mike. At our first official preproduction meeting he told me the shoot would take at least two days and cost more than twice as much.

I considered stopping right there because no money had been spent yet. Colleen, being a battle tested project manager, reminded me that this kind of thing happens on most projects and we were already building momentum. We had the sides out to some really talented actors and had friends who were willing to help us. She encouraged me to go ahead with the shoot.

So, I worked with Mike to assemble a shot list. I went back to my office and worked out a new schedule and budget to accommodate the shot list. Deb, Dwight, and Frank signed on for the roles of Gina, Ray, and Mr. Brawner. All of them had great reels and all had extensive on-camera experience. Colleen and I couldn't believe how lucky we had gotten.

The dream of the dream was getting real enough to scare me. I found myself wondering if I would be more or less scared if I was spending someone else's money instead of our own.

While all of this was going on, I scrambled to get locations. I cannot emphasize enough how important and difficult getting locations is. I made dozens of phone calls and wrote dozens of emails for dozens of locations. I would go so far as to say that if you can get a location, write a script for it.

After snagging a store and a bank location, we still needed locations for the office and Gina's apartment. Colleen suggested I call Ernie, our tax accountant who knew lots of property owners. Ernie referred me to his business partner, Alan, who had the second floor of his office available. So that's where we went.

The roller coaster ride of the production is another story for another day. Let's just say that the rehearsal day and the two days of production blurred together into my best dream and worst nightmare. All kinds of disasters happened as did all kinds of artistic miracles. All of the preparation paid off. I wish I had been able to bring in a director, but I couldn't afford one. I was not able to hire an assistant director in time. Whether it is because of budget restrictions or your burning desire, if you must direct a movie yourself, hire an AD.

See a little of what happened during the shoot.

If you're interested in more technical details, take a look at the production book.