Jane Doe Chronicles (Part 1)
Nobody wants to be Alan Smithee
Hiring an Entertainment Lawyer because he has really good pot
Our guy was sharp! Dude looked great on his 1997 Harley Ultra-Classic Electra Glide. He also had some deadly BUDDAGE. Purple intica, I believe, the smoking of which, perhaps, played some small part in this woeful tale. Our kind bud-smoking, Harley-riding lawyer lead us into some contracts that we might --in retrospect -- have wanted to think twice about. Pity, there is no retrospect. There are only losers who hire stoners to vet key documents, and those who don't.
Hiring a Director who has never set foot on a film set
Talk about high! The producers of Jane Doe decided, in all their wisdom, to yank me off the casino boat in Aurora, Illinois where I was happily dealing craps to slot-playing, hair-curlered, pajama-wearing degenerates at 2 in the morning, and put me in charge of a film set. I had never, EVER, stepped on a film set. Crazy! I was too ignorant to even question the logic of it and everyone else thought it was an inspired idea. I had written the play and screenplay, directing the play in Chicago. I had LIVED this story for God's sake! I was eminently acquainted with Atlantic City, where we'd be shooting, also the seedy Jane Street meat-market neighborhood (it was seedy then). Why not give me a shot? Surround me with capable people, maybe catch lightning in a bottle with a first-timer.
First-time directors need a strong AD (Assistant Director). I ended up with four AD's during the 18-day shoot. The first one left before the shoot, finding a gig that paid better. Two others quit during the course of the daily pressures, overtime, and insanity of those happy 18 days.
How green was I? The night before the shoot my old man told me a director always wears a hat that speaks to his individuality. I actually went out and bought a hat! And not just a hat, one of those cheesy, jokey New York City tourist hats. Cringe-worthy, even thinking about it a decade later. Imagine being on the crew when this loser walks in for the first all-hands Production meeting.
I was the first-time director who just HAD to sleep in the rooming-house where my girlfriend and I once lived the night before the shoot, without a cellphone or any way to contact me, to channel the spirits and GET INSPIRED. The poor AD begged me, saying I really shouldn't be out of touch on the eve of the production's first shooting day. This was likely the same AD who attempted to reason with me during the shoot that the director between takes needs to be with either the actors or camera, not playing handball with the PA's.
There is a such a thing as too much responsibility. Before you take on the role of director, know that you can handle it. There's very little sadder than a director losing his set.
The Curious Case of the Mysteriously Disappearing Budget
I was a goddamn craps dealer! What the hell did I know about budgeting for a movie? Not my job. I didn't even think to ask if the production schedule was realistic. I left that decision to the powers-that-be. Surely they would know how long it would take to film every scene and work out a do-able shooting schedule. We had 18 days, well over 100 scenes. Also, importantly, no rehearsal time. It would be left to the first-time time director to block out the scene on the spot in front of 15 or 20 people. This would be daunting enough, but throw in the ever-questioning Calista. She wanted to understand the motivations about her character's heroin addiction, questioning how drug addiction takes a toll in real life, reminding me, correctly, that it wasn't real life we were filming but a movie. All the while, tick tick tick. The relentless tick tick tick! The clock moving, money burning. Didn't take long for the AD to begin poking my shoulder on an hourly basis, telling me we had to GO GO GO, that we wouldn't make our day.
And we didn't.
There wasn't a single day of the 18 we made our day. Sure, you could attribute most of this to a clueless director. But a piece of it was poor scheduling in terms of shots and setups.
Guess what happens when you don't make your day? You slash the script. "Ah, Paul, you know that 7-page scene Chris and Calista studied all last night? We have to cut it. Now you run up and tell her..." Watching your baby hacked by a machete-wielding producer...something to be avoided, good people.
Work with a real budget and shooting schedule.
Don't, and fall into the abyss of obscurity.
PAUL PEDITTO wrote and directed Jane Doe, an A-PIX Films release starring Calista Flockhart. The film was awarded Best Feature at the New York Independent Film & Video Festival and grossed over 2 million dollars.
Six of his screenplays have been optioned, among them Crossroaders to Haft Entertainment (Emma, Dead Poet's Society).
He has won semi-finalist honors at Nicholl Fellowship Screenwriting Awards and Slamdance.
Other imdb credits include Home In The Heartland, and The Group, which was accepted at multiple film festivals around the country.
Four of his stage plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing Company, two of which were presented on National Public Radio's "Chicago Theaters On The Air" series. Over 25 productions of his theatrical work have been performed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York. His adaptation of Nelson Algren's Never Come Morning won 9 Joseph Jefferson Citations including Best Play and Best Adaptation. His adaptation of Ben Hecht's 1,001 Afternoons In Chicago is a two-time Jefferson Award nominee. Pura Vida, a stage play based on his novel, was produced at Chicago's Live Bait Theater, earning a feature article in the New York Times.
He teaches screenwriting at Columbia College and Chicago Filmmakers, professionally consulting on thousands of screenplays since 2002. His book Writing Screenplays is now available for purchase.