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What to do When You Can’t Produce Your Feature Film? - Hey Onicia

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What do you do when you can’t afford to produce your feature film? Well, after almost seven years of writing and coordinating with collaborators, I finally co-produced Sucker’s Garden a Caribbean a radio drama with my friend Kimberly Meyers. Here’s how we got to this point.

Hey Onicia is a series where I tap into my type-A side and answer questions from my friends about this starving artist life. If you find this helpful, share with your twitter homies or thank me with ice cream. Want to chat or collaborate? Holla at me!

Create your vision then worry about budgets.
That was the first lesson in my undergrad screenwriting class. When Kimberly approached me about turning her dream into a screenplay, we agreed to first tell the story before worrying about marketing, budgets, or casting. Telling the story as you imagine – not as what’s trending in Hollywood or what you can afford – liberates you.

You own the rights to your story. There’s nothing stopping you from later reformatting it for different mediums or repurposing storylines and characters. Superhero origin stories are constantly retold. TV characters appear in multiple series.

Time and living are the best ingredients to improve a draft.
Usually, in writing programs, you're rushed to deliver multiple drafts within a few weeks. I never really understood/appreciated the benefit of rewrites until I wasn’t rushed to pump out words.

Writing is not just sitting at your computer and typing. We develop stories and characters while doing everyday activities. Through taking time to mature as an adult and unlearning negative Character stereotypes, we gained the opportunity refine Sucker’s Garden.

Have a plan and be patient while the universe presents options.
In grad school, a professor advised us not to be precious about our work. Just because you got an A+ in a writing workshop doesn’t mean you deserve an Oscar. So write your draft, shop your draft, live your life, and repeat the cycle. Screenwriter Cas Sigers shopped When Love Kills for 10 years before finding a producer. Yes, be a self-starter. Be persistent. Also, be patient with yourself and collaborators.

Initially tried to use a grant to produce the full film. We quickly learned that $5K doesn’t cover squat -- especially when one producer needs airfare. It’s unlikely you will film your first feature during a 1-month holiday. After our failed summer shoot, we decided to scale back. Instead of feature, we’d produce a short, a web series, an animated film, and even a novel. Finally, we tapped into our Caribbean roots and settled on an audio drama.

Prioritize proper spelling and grammar.
Reformatting delayed the project. I was stuck trying to confirm industry script standards. When producing independently, the only thing that really matters is proper spelling and grammar. Actors care more about credit and payment than story and script formatting. Note: polished scripts attract literate actors and a crew that is less likely to flake. Besides, screenwriting software does most of the heavy lifting. If there’s no preset, be creative not obsessive.

Low-budget projects are exercises in ‘completion’.
After all the re-writes and re-formats, we finally got voice actors to record the dialog. However, perfectionism got the best of me. It took another 2 months before I even opened my audio editor. After we released the trailer, it took another 6-ish weeks before we completed the final track. Perfectionism is often the reason why we procrastinate. The project only moved forward when I go of trying to win awards or compete with big budget productions. Done is always better than perfect.

Release it because you like it, not because they’ll like it.
After listening to the final cut, a friend told me not to release the project because it would “hurt my brand.” I played the track several times. I was proud of Sucker’s Garden. We improved as writers, paid our talent and crew, and dedicated years of our life. There’s no way I was shelving it because it didn’t have the potential to go viral.

The final product is only a 10-minute excerpt from a 90-minute story. There is no resolution. No crowdfunding campaign. No merchandise. Only completion. The next week, I uploaded it to YouTube and distributed my press release. The results: I had mad fun adapting my feature film into a radio drama dope with my friends. My new producer’s credit pushes me.

What do you think?
 Tweet me questions using #HeyOnicia
I'm a creative with type-A tendencies who tried working in a call center but realized I'd rather help creatives get organized. I'm pimping out all my marketable skills to fund my art and ice cream habit.
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