How To Make A Movie In A Week - Part 1

Identical Dead Sisters - 'How To Make A Film In 1 Week'

During the second half of the summer of 2008, I was home visiting family in NY, as I'm accustomed to do.  I was there to celebrate birthdays, go on vacations, and just bum around the pool.  But I began to realize that there was something else I could and probably should have been doing as well: making a film!  Unfortunately this idea only popped into my head with about a week left before my flight back to LA.  

Now, I know what you're saying.  "Just make a film?  Really, Dennis, it's just that easy?  Suuuure."  Your next thought may be, "And in one week?  Now you're just speaking that white man's voodoo."  Well, let me clarify a little:  It was going to be a short film.  Obviously.  (don't you feel stupid now?).  And yes, you CAN make a film in a week.

See, this first blog of mine is going to be about a  lot more then just how we made 'Identical Dead Sisters' in one week.  It's going to be about that intangible drive we call ambition and how it can consume you sometimes and blind you to how easy it is to just get - shit- done.

So there we were.  Kevin and I, sitting at my laptop.  Gestating ideas.  Something you learn, being a writer/director, is that you can't always just write anything down on the page.  The man dove through the plate glass window, stumbling into a roll.

This might be a fun scene to shoot, but it immediately raises the following concerns:

  • Who the hell are we going to find to dive through a window in such short notice?  Do we even know any stuntmen?  What do they charge?
  • A plate glass window!?  Okay, obviously we need break-a-away glass.  And a large enough sheet for a stuntman (that we don't have) to dive through.  And how expensive would that be anyway?

Doing a short film in a week is all about convenience, budget, and having fun.  You have to pool your resources.  Write what you know.  Plan shots in locations you know you already have access to.  But first, you need a story.

Identical Dead Sisters - How To Make A Film In 1 Week

Kevin and I started with a concept:  What if we did the entire thing in one shot?  We follow a girl from her bathroom mirror, to a car ride, to a convenience store, to a seedy party where she finally shoots and murders someone.  All in one shot.  Problem then, became exposition.  Was this just to be a conceptual idea?  Or were we going to explain why she kills this motherfucker?  And who exactly was this dude anyway?  The words "seedy party" though, definitely got us excited.  We began to see a pimp.  Picture Roy Scheider from Klute or Gary Oldman from True Romance, mixed in with a little Alfred Molina from Boogie Nights and Willem DaFoe from Wild At Heart.  And who was the girl?  Just some scorned chick?  Nah, how about something more interesting.  Like a beautiful young woman hellbent on killing the pimp that murdered her sister.  No!  How about her identical twin sister.  And how about, these weren't your normal twins.  But two girls who shared a strange, abnormal bond.  And how about this guy is a real class act.  He's a suburban brat who thinks he's smarter than he is.  Oh, and he's utterly psychotic.

With the elements for the story in place, Kevin and I set to pound the thing out.  We've been writing scripts together for over twelve years now, so working together comes like clockwork.  But - in keeping with my rules above - what did we have to utilize in this film that was at our disposal?  We knew we wanted that seedy party, and my parents did have the pool.  So why not a seedy pool party?  We knew we wanted violence and mayhem.  So we'd be needing some fake guns.  We also knew we wanted an iconic villain.  Someone who would really chew the scenery.  So it helped that Kevin had decided he would be playing the role of the pimp, Lloyd "Cutty" Crothers.  We knew who this guy was, and this was actually a part that Kevin had already played (in a different incarnation) in one of my early college films.  So we had the benefit of acting the scenes out, as we wrote them.  This supercharged the script and we plowed through a draft in about two nights.  

Then came the matter of producing the thing.  You hear the word "producer" and you think a lot of things.  Isn't he the guy who accepts the Oscar if a film wins best picture?  Well, this thing wasn't going to be winning any Oscars.  And there's a lot of different types of producers.  There's Line Producers, Associate Producers, Executive Producers and well... just Producers.  For the purposes of 'Identical Dead Sisters', I was going to fill this role.  (the last definition, that is).  So come Tuesday morning, I immediately got on the phone and pooled my resources.  I called Meghan Miller, a wonderful actress we had just worked with, as she starred in EXT. LIFE, a film Kevin had directed that past June.  I thought the story of a sadistic pimp who burns off the face of her twin sister, just before cutting her head off, would frighten Meghan away.  But I should have remembered that, this was the girl who got giddy at the opportunity to be in Kevin's previous film, once I told her that she'd be strapped into a harness and hoisted fifteen feet off the ground during an out-of-body-experience scene.  So Meghan was in. 

Next up was crewing the thing.  JR Skola was another alumni from EXT. LIFE.  He had done the sound recording on that gig.  But I remember a conversation we had on set one day where he told me that he also loves to shoot films.  His own website revealed that he was actually a pretty accomplished DP.  And so a phonecall later, and JR was on board.

Now mind you, these phonecalls were all sort of amusing really.  I was calling people on a Tuesday afternoon to ask them if they wanted to come down that weekend and shoot this ambitious little short revenge flick by my parent's pool.  Everyone who read the script really dug it, but had serious concerns about our timeframe.  So come Friday night and the eve of that weekend, Kevin and I were beginning to realize that we had just assembled a tiny crew and about six actors to 'perform' a twenty page script with multiple set-ups, stunts, SFX, and massive monologues.  And that we were going to try and pull this all off in two days!?

To be continued...

Watch 'Identical Dead Sisters'


Jessica M.'s picture

Awesome blog Dennis!!!

Awesome blog Dennis!!! Can't wait for the next part. Are you going to follow it up with "Unaimed Arrow"?
paluka's picture

Great job. Enjoyed it a

Great job. Enjoyed it a lot. JR Skola is a great name. It's attention grabbing.

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