Script Dreams and Film Reality
In late 1998, my friend Joseph Bongiorno and I wrote our first short film. It was a rather ambitious script. The working title: Ghost Story. It was about a group of friends reuniting. One of them, the new owner of a house, tells her friends that she’s discovered a ghost in her cellar. Her friends investigate, our main character sees the ghost that night, and learns that it’s being held there by a dark entity.
We originally wanted the house to be somewhere in the country or the suburbs. We ended up filming in Brooklyn. When you’re young and ambitious and writing up a storm, you never think of the reality of shooting. We came up with scenes and shot lists. We wrote scenes with action and excitement that would have taken 12-13 camera set-ups, and we were happy with it. It was cool, a real page turner. We thought, “yes, we have a good script, and we’re gonna make it!”
I had never made a movie on film before. My background from high school and college was making shorts on a video camera. None of them had a budget. None of them required getting any location beyond my hometown or my backyard. This movie would be bigger and more expensive than I could handle. When I showed the shot list to Patrick Reis, my DP, he would say “We can’t do all this. You’re never going to get that many shots done in one day.” He also explained that while we were going to be able to borrow all the equipment, I would still have to pay for film stock and processing, which isn’t cheap. Because I had no experience on working with film or creating budgets, I hadn’t realized that this movie would end up costing me thousands of dollars that I didn’t have.
We began principal photography in 1999, shooting mainly on weekends. I had a nine-to-five job during the week where I made nine dollars an hour. Even in the 90s, no one could afford to make a movie on film on such a low salary. During the course of the filming of Ghost Story, I was downsized from that job, so I went from a low salary to no salary. How I expected to afford this movie, I don’t know, but I tried anyway.
If I could go back and give my young self advice, I’d probably say, “this script is too ambitious! Write something simpler! Go back and assess what you have to work with and write within your means! Also, DO YOU KNOW EXPENSIVE FILM IS?? Write a six minute movie with a simple plot and three characters in a single location. This way you won’t be buried in credit card debt. Maybe price things out before you do fifteen takes of a guy walking downstairs. You make nine bucks an hour! You’re not Francis Ford Coppola!”
I’d say that and more, but you get the point. Write within your means. Start small and write something you can actually make. The making of Ghost Story, the death and resurrection, is a cautionary tale of what not to do when you’re making your first film.