Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Movies: When filmmaking and novel writing collide

By Julie

Last week, my husband and I saw a quirky little film at Christopher Kelly's Modern Cinema - Monthly Series at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. The movie was Love and Air Sex, filmed in Austin, Texas. Here's the blurb:
When brokenhearted Stan (Michael Stahl-David) flies to Austin for the weekend in hopes of "accidentally" running into his ex-girlfriend Cathy (Ashley Bell), he arrives to find their best friends Jeff (Zach Cregger) and Kara (Sara Paxton) in the middle of their own vicious breakup. Before too long, battle lines are drawn - and with the Air Sex World Championships in town, anything can go down.
The movie was fun. It was silly in places, for sure, and downright obscene in several. (Though somehow the unapologetic cringe-worthiness of the raunchy parts somehow made it feel, I dunno ... less obscene? And apparently? Air sex competitions are a real thing. You cannot make this stuff up. Another blogger wrote, "Crude beyond belief -- and in the most endearing manner") But it was also a sweet romantic comedy with top-notch performances from lesser known actors, laugh-out-loud lines and scenes, unexpected developments, and a poignant, unpredictable ending. One of the best parts is that it was a real love letter to Austin -- and we all know Austin is Weird. Ultimately, not a terrible way to spend an evening. We enjoyed it.

What made it even better, though, was the live Q&A with the director, Bryan Poyser, who attended the screening. I introduced myself to him after the event and chatted for a moment, asking if he minded a wearing an honorary tiara here at What Women Write. Mostly I just listened carefully and took good notes as the audience asked intelligent questions and he responded. The takeaway for me was how similar the filmmaking process can be to writing, editing, and promoting a novel. A few things in particular stood out.


As a director, Poyser loves seeing his work on the big screen and believes it's the best venue, but he has to stay on top of technology and be "device agnostic." That means he makes certain choices in filming, bearing in mind how the movie will play not just on a theater screen, but on a big-screen TV, a computer screen, or even a phone screen. Love and Air Sex was immediately available on iTunes, so some of those choices were critical. Ultimately, Poyser said, a film is a film is a film, no matter how it's viewed.

As novelists, knowing our novel might be read not only on paper, but on an e-reader or phone screen might not change how we write it, but it certainly makes a difference in how we promote reading and books. We have to be device agnostic and meet our readers where they come to read.

Ultimately, a book is a book is a book, no matter what platform is used to read it.

Investment of time and balancing the work

Poyser talked about how filmmaking is really a three-year process. He spends a year developing the film, casting it, securing locations, and so on. He spends close to a year producing it. And he spend the better part of a year promoting it. In the meantime, he's thinking ahead to future projects, and trying to balance all the tasks in tandem.

Sound familiar, novelists? Being a published author is a balancing act, and it's a marathon, not a sprint.


Poyser didn't write the script for Love and Air Sex, so directing the film was like writing a whole new draft. His biggest task was making it personal--putting his "voice" into the produced film. This meant, for instance, writing additional bits that weren't just funny in general, but funny to him. He said the concept of air sex competitions was awkward (ok, downright embarrassing) to him as the director -- and that came across in the camera work and in the main character's interactions. Ultimately, for the film to work with Poyser at the helm, it had to have his stamp on it. It clearly had to reflect his world view.

As a novelist, your second and third and every additional draft is about being sure your voice comes across in the story. 


An audience member asked if the final cut was anything like his original vision, and whether the differences made it better or worse. Poyser said he hopes he never thinks a film is perfect in retrospect, because he always wants to be learning. As a novice filmmaker, he said reshooting a scene felt like failure. Eventually he realized it wasn't failure, it was re-writing. It was editing out the stuff that didn't work and making it the best it could be. Also, he said, because filmmaking is collaborative, the end result and the "accidents" made it different from the original vision, but often so much better. He pointed out one particular scene that was the actors' idea. He never would have thought of it, and it added a really winning moment to the film.

As a novelist, re-writing a scene that doesn't work isn't failure; it's an opportunity. And publishing a novel is a collaborative effort. Sometimes the editor or publicist or critique partner has an idea that ramps up the quality exponentially. 

What about you, readers? Can you think of other similarities in the process of creating these very different mediums? 

(Here's the trailer for Love and Air Sex. If you are easily offended, don't say you haven't been warned. I'd say even the trailer is a strong pg-13. The movie is unrated, but it's a definite R in my opinion.)

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