Look! A movie poster!
Writing and Directing a Film
It's taken me a long time to get the point where I can share this post. It took a lot of self-investigation to realize how much I love filmmaking, and how it's okay for a person with little experience doing it to give it a try. It's an insane process that cannot be done alone, and therefore it's full of community and collaboration, arguments and agreements, and more stress than you can possibly imagine. How fun. :)
I've written and directed a host of simple short videos throughout my life, since I usually do theater. For the most part, I don't think I was trying to accomplish much of anything except the amusement of my friends. No one really saw them except us; no one really cared except us. However, for the first time, when I decided to create We Are Kickball, I set out with a goal. By producing this film, I'm one step closer to that goal.
In the little town of Pine City, Minnesota (population 3127), there are approximately 30 Christian churches (wikipedia only lists 13, but trust me, there were more). Many of these assemblies are descended from each other; usually caused by certain members leaving and starting their own church due to some rift in the leadership. I went to a little church (about 50 people on a good day) where my youth group (about 5 teens on a good day) was my lifeline to social development. Wednesday night meant everything to me because it was full of ping-pong, pizza, and the best minute-to-win-it games you could ever ask for (oh yeah, and God). Somewhere down the line, someone in the community decided that the various churches ought to have a kickball tournament in order to bond together. My youth group, being too small for our own team, played with the Baptist church for a total of 1 game. The Baptists played like Baptists, the Catholics played like Catholics, and no one got along. It was the purest cross-section of closely-related sub-cultures I have ever experienced, and it brought out the worst in a bunch of normally good people. This film is the story of that game.
Now, originally, I was going to make a much larger film. I even considered making the film in the style of a mockumentary. As anyone who has tried to write a screenplay knows, this big-picture idea is fairly typical for a first try. Together with some of my college associates, we generated page after page of brainstorm: kickball team names, a founding father story of kickball itself, a parallel to Jesus' parables, and bit after bit of ridiculous Christian-ball-based humor (including the only line that made it into the final draft, "What an immaculate reception.") After partnering with some excellent writers, we took that brainstorm and transformed it into a 80-page screenplay, complete with an entire town of kickball fanatics, multiple teams, golden characters, and even a message of hope (something about kickball isn't life, don't let your tribalism separate your humanity, be kind to others... I don't know, probably important stuff). Since, however, we wanted to actually produce the thing, that scope was not going to happen on our budget and experience level. Thus, we chopped and chopped it down into a 10-page visually-humorous short with hardly any dialogue and just enough story to keep you fascinated. Two years since starting the screenplay (give me a break, I got married during that time) we finally set a rehearsal and a shoot date with our cast and crew: a rag-tag group of passionate individuals who, like me, have loads of talent and absolutely no idea what they're about to create.
We had to reschedule a few times since we lost a location, a director of photography, and a few cast members within a month of the shoot date. (Yes, that's right, THE shoot date. We were also going to do it all in ONE DAY. Too many conflicts, and not enough money to brush them aside.) On Sunday, May 20th, 2018, we carpooled 18 people up to my old stomping grounds of Pine City, to the exact field we had played that infamous kickball game, with a few kickballs from Kickball365 and the official WAKA rulebook, and shot the whole short within 12 hours. I do not recommend this (even if you have a wonderful mother like mine who makes food for everyone).
The collaboration and creativity levels were high during the shoot; and everyone was dedicated and willing to play. It was definitely a stretch taking mostly theatre-people to the screen in such a short time, but I was very proud of the performances I saw. They took charge, got physical, and had a lot of fun doing it. We all felt a little sunburnt, exhausted, and loved by the end of it. I couldn't have asked for more. I just adore being sunburnt. My team captured the moments I asked for, offered me their creative input when appropriate, and patiently waited when needed. Somehow, I had brought together excellent people to help summon forth the art from within me and communicate it. It's all too much to really put into one blog, which is why my wife took pictures during the event and now I'm posting them on social media, providing you, the audience, with a tour of the shoot, from The Kickball's perspective. Try and not enjoy that. (Also, please follow us!)
(I like theatre, so I'm gonna call it "the show" okay? Okay.)
We're in post-production now, which means I'm editing it myself, my co-director is working on a trailer, and I've got a few people composing music and putting together all the design elements. The plan is to share We Are Kickball at local (Minnesota) film festivals in order to network and celebrate Minnesota culture. From talking with lots of people, I know that I'm not alone in my experience of small-town church and kickball communities, so I think many people will find something to enjoy. The final draft will be in October, when we will have a private premiere for those invited (ooh, will that be you? Who knows?) and the public premiere will be the spring of 2019 at whichever film festival accepts it and is scheduled first. Pending any other distribution and marketing issues, lots of people will get to see it (especially those in Pine City itself, at the Highway 61 Film Festival).
As with any creative project, the film has changed drastically from what I first set out to create. With all the roadblocks we encountered, it's not exactly what I wanted, but I'm doing my best to make it the best thing that it can be. I still love the concept, and will likely rest with it for a long time. Perhaps someday, my career will develop as such that I can make it into a full feature or a series or even that mockumentary version. Well... Perhaps not. Either way, I have created something from nothing, something that will bring joy and hopefully (as all good comedies do) make people think.
Thanks for reading me,
If you want to learn more about the experience, read my entry from the night before the shoot and make sure to check out the We Are Kickball website!
Actor, Director, Editor, Producer