BY SCREENPLAY WRITER MATT STEELE
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If I were a rich man
March 15, 2016
If I were a rich man, I’d just fund this movie, myself. But since I’m a poor, struggling actor/writer/director who will be paying off the student loans for his BFA until the end of time, I’ve got to find another way.
So the time has come to prepare for a crowdfunding campaign. That includes a lot more than just making a snazzy Indiegogo page. That includes creating a Twitter account for the film. And an Instagram account. And a Facebook page. And a website… which you are currently viewing, so I hope you like it!
There are also a number of other tactics my team and I came up with to try and build a bit of a following before we release the concept trailer online. One of those was building an Instagram account for the main character, Ricky Redmond. "Ricky" spends a lot of his time sharing sassy memes and pictures of his favorite Broadway divas. If you’re not following his Instagram, @broadwaydiva, yet… what are you waiting for?! Ricky is desperate for more adoring fans! Maybe one day when I’ve got this movie under my belt, I’ll be able to hire a big, fancy marketing company to run all social media advertisement for my future projects for me. Until then, I’m going to be living on my phone.
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How I love my trailer of many colors. It was red and yellow and green and brown...
January 12, 2016
I’ll be honest. Color correcting is the last thing that was on my mind when shooting this thing, but it turns out that color plays a huge part in… well... everything! So much can change about the mood of a film when you brighten, darken, add more shade or highlight something as simple as the redness of a dress. (My high school film teacher, Mr. Sinkleris, always used to tell us to, "Note the use of the color red." Now I do!)
The hard part about color correcting is that there are limitless options. And certain things that you never thought you’d consider, you now dwell upon: Are the shadows too dark? Do they make the film look too serious? Too dramatic? Too moody? Is the color contrast strong enough to catch your eye? Or is the contrast so weak that it looks like we’re living in a comic book?
Oy… So many things to consider.
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Art isn’t easy. Every minor detail is a major decision.
November 1, 2015
I’m fully convinced that about half of the titles for these blog entries will be quotes from Sunday in the Park With George. Y’all have been warned.
Ryan (director of the DIVOS! The Movie concept trailer) and I have been spending the past month and a half going through all the footage we shot. We’re trying to piece together something that is fun, funny and gives the best overall impression of what the feature film will feel like. Luckily, Ryan and I work very well together due to our different strengths. He’s been so great in terms of creating the story arc of the concept trailer (which lines of dialogue/voiceover should go where, which shots we should include to tell the story in a compelling yet easy to follow way and other technical details). I’ve been the one to set the pace and energy and to make sure there are enough fun musical theatre references to appeal to the target audience.
Ryan is nowhere near as musical theatre-obsessed as I am, so it’s been helpful to get a non-theatre geek’s perspective on what jokes and moments will still land for our viewers who aren’t as theatre savvy. And it’s been fun on my part to teach him a thing or two about Broadway. He’s now well-versed on musical theatre history, from the importance of Oklahoma! to Patti LuPone’s, “STOP TAKING PICTURES!” diva rant.
We have so much great footage that the hardest part has been getting rid of fun moments that aren’t crucial to the storytelling. If we keep every shot I love, the concept trailer will be so long that it might as well be the feature film. There were so many awesome takes featuring hilarious improvisations from all of the actors. My favorite moments included shots of a few of our extras (students from the actual high school in which we shot) performing their own “auditions” on the stage. But, alas, that footage ended up on the cutting room floor.
Right now, we're in the middle of making another set of tiny (yet major) decisions with the opening dance montage. I’m a stickler for rhythm and movement in film. Editing around music is like choreography, and I won't give up unless the flow is timed just right. Ryan and I have already had a bunch of discussions about the opening dance sequence… Does it start too big? Does it build enough? Do you get enough of a sense that the students’ dancing is supposed to be bad? Is the students’ dancing too bad?
Every single moment, every single line and every single edit has had me pulling a few stands of hair out of my head. I have to keep telling myself that the final product will be great. It will. It will! …I hope.
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Bang! Crash! The lightning flashed!
September 15, 2015
Picture it... It’s the morning after the most exhausting and stressful weekend of my life. I have to get up early to shoot a role in a web series. I drive up to Glendale, CA, which is at the complete opposite end of Los Angeles from my own neighborhood of West Los Angeles. And it’s still raining.
As I drive through the early morning storm, I reflect back on the absolutely horrible year it’s been for my car. My poor little Hyundai has seen the mechanic more in 2015 than every other car I've ever owned have seen mechanics in total. This car has needed new tires, new spark plugs, new engine coils and new all other car parts I never knew existed... I think about my recent car troubles and legit say out loud to myself, “It’s a good thing I didn’t have any car troubles this weekend."
Jinx! No less than ten minutes after I say this, I’m waiting at a stoplight... I'm a mile from where I have to be...
I feel nothing, but I hear the loudest crash I’ve ever heard in my entire life...
A giant, dead branch from a tree has collapsed right onto the back windshield of my car. Glass is everywhere.
But I’m lucky because:
1) If my car had been just a few feet further back and that branch had fallen onto my front windshield, I would have gotten severely hurt - maybe worse. And then where would we be? The whole DIVOS! The Movie trailer would have been shot for nothing!
2) The tree was on the property of Griffith Park, so the park is responsible for the damage.
3) The crew of the web series was incredibly gracious, picked me up, and gave me a place to store my damaged car while I was filming. BTW, the web series is called Dirty Talk and is set to come out in June of next year, so look out for it! (The crew was so great to me! The least I can do for them is spread the word about the series.)
4) If a tree falling on my car was destined to happen, I’m happy that God decided to make it just after filming for the trailer had wrapped. If it had happened yesterday or the day before, I think I would have crumbled into pieces.
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Curtain up! Light the lights!
September 14, 2015
Tonight, we wrapped filming for our concept trailer, and I can now finally breathe again because…
It WASN’T a disaster!!
My prayers to the theatre gods (Channing, Martin, Merman and too many others to name) were clearly heard. My team and I successfully got enough footage to put together a solid concept trailer. That doesn’t mean there weren’t a few hiccups along the way.
Let’s start with the first day... As it is with pretty much any film set that I’ve been on, it took a little bit of time to get our bearings in the space and get a feel for pacing of filming. The first scene we shot took longer than we hoped, which put us an hour or two behind schedule for the rest of the shoot. Then, in the midst of shooting a Ricky/Teacher scene, a cord for our boom mic suddenly stopped working. It was the only one we had rented with our equipment, so not being able to get it to work again meant shutting down production for the entire day. I had a silent panic attack on the inside as crew members searched the backstage of the school’s auditorium for a cord that would work. By some miracle, the school had such a cord, and we were able to resume filming.
Then, it began to rain. It rains exactly three days out of every year in Los Angeles, and Mother Nature decided this would be one of those days. It made our outdoor scenes a bit of challenge, but we pulled through.
All of the delays on the first day prevented us from getting footage of some key moments that I really wanted to capture for the trailer, so I knew going into the second day that we would have to work extra fast to catch up on everything we missed.
And catch up, we did! The second day of filming (today) was a whirlwind. It was a shoot filled with dancing, singing and screaming - all of it in front of the camera (well, except for some off-the-screen dancing… I tend to do that in my own downtime.) We not only got all of the footage we needed, but we even managed to capture it all with time to spare.
I can’t thank all of our cast and crew enough. They had the best attitudes and work ethic, and for a film called DIVOS! The Movie, there wasn't a diva outburst in sight.
I can’t wait to work with the trailer’s director, Ryan, and go through all of the great footage we have. In the meantime, I’m going to the store to buy some extra strength Tylenol for my thighs. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced, so I’m sure I’ll be feeling all of today's high-kicks tomorrow morning.
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White: a blank page or canvas...
September 12, 2015
Tomorrow, we start production on our concept trailer for the movie, DIVOS! The Movie Like our good friend, Little Red, I’m “excited AND scared.” Or to put it in non-musical theatre terms, I’m “wildin’ the *beep* out.”
Since this is my first blog entry on what has been and what will continue to be a long, long journey, let me give you some background on what it took to get here...
So let’s start at the very beginning - a very good place to start! (I hope you’re all singing with me.)
I conceived and wrote the first incarnation of DIVOS! The Movie all the way back in 2011, which seems like both yesterday and a million years ago all at the same time. Glee was running rampant in pop culture, and kids’ networks like the Disney Channel were throwing beautiful and talented pop stars at us like confetti. Young people loved watching kids discover that they were gifted with musical talent and then see their dreams realized as if stardom were some sort of divine destiny that was meant to be.
I loved all of it. Who wouldn’t? Not only is stuff like that a blast to watch, but plot lines like those allowed for some great musical numbers. And if you know me, you know I LOVE a well-filmed musical number.
But that’s not what life is really like. I’ve been involved in enough school plays to know that not every kid was born equipped with a fierce belt or the coordination to dance like a Broadway pro. In a school play, you usually find a small handful (if that) of kids with a huge passion for performing while the other students stumble around doing box-steps. Because of this natural element in student performances, the success of a school play is not (nor should it be) rated by how much “talent” is seen on the stage, but by how much fun is seen on stage. With all these “destined for stardom” narratives coursing through the media, I wanted to highlight the other, more realistic side of high school theatre and the humor that comes along with it.
That’s when the first draft of DIVOS! The Movie was born.
I knew I wanted to focus specifically on the boys involved in a school musical, and the first draft featured a lot of the same characters that are in the current screenplay. The story follows Ricky Redmond, our fairly obnoxious but ultimately harmless protagonist, as he deals with being the only “shining star” in a production full of misfits. While his ego causes him to clash with his peers, he eventually learns that you get more out of performing when you stop trying to be the “best” and start trying to be a team. I had filled this draft with ;'
\funny and truthful moments based on my own high school musical experiences - experiences that were near and dear to my heart.
While I was proud of myself for being able to crank out a script that made a relative amount of sense (isn’t that what we all at least hope for in a first draft?), it was painfully obvious that something was missing…namely a plot. The message was there, and I was proud of the characters I had created, but there was no real story to hold an audience’s attention. While Ricky’s problems were important to him, were they really, in the long run, important? The screenplay read like a writer indulging in his own sense of nostalgia for his high school days instead of really telling a story. The character of Ricky just seemed to be rolling his eyes at the chaos around him, but there wasn’t any battle to be fought. There audience needed a reason to root for such an anti-hero…
That's when I thought, "What if that anti-hero finally meets his match…?"
Enter Josh Kelly: the school baseball star who bulldozes his way into the South Hamilton High School theatre scene. He's a welcome addition to everyone except for Ricky, who’s never had to share an ounce of spotlight in his life.
High school theatre isn’t all fun and games. Just like any sport, the cutthroat world of musical theatre can be war…in its own fabulous way, of course. The addition of one powerhouse (Josh) to challenge another powerhouse (Ricky) gave the project a whole new life. Instead of having a plot that could easily fall into a fairly cliche “We’re All in This Together…” narrative, DIVOS! The Movie became an exploration of ego and the desperation that comes along with being "the best.” The screenplay answers "How did Ricky’s confidence level get to the point where he has become an unbearable figure among his peers?" "How is Josh able to mask his equally inflated sense of self-adoration and turn it into charm?" And as the story progresses, you see the great lengths people will go through just to be seen and adored - all in the world of one, big, campy teen comedy.
After countless drafts, meticulous editing and thousands of hairs I’ve pulled out of my head while deciding on minuscule things (like the wording of a tiny action line), I can confidently say that I have a solid and entertaining working screenplay on my hands. Now, on to the harder part: making it happen.
I’ve assembled a terrific team to help me create a professional-looking concept trailer. The trailer will be used to pitch and promote the film to potential backers, and it stream online to build an audience. I’ve hired a great director, Ryan Bartley, with whom I’ve collaborated with on short films and music videos. Our director of photography, David Haverty, saved the day and came to us at the last minute after the cinematographer we were originally going to use had to drop out. Our small, but mighty cast consists of fellow actor friends of mine, as well as my friend and co-host of my YouTube show, Two Gay Matts, Matt Palmer (who is, in a sense, playing himself, as he is actually my inspiration for the role of Mitchell).
The final (and most daunting) step was to find a school. Luckily, I have a friend with access to a school facilities, Susan Silver, (known to her drama students in the Covina, CA, school district as Ms. Silver). Through Susan, we were able to secure two high schools - one to use for the classroom and hallway scenes and one to use for the auditorium scenes. Yes, we are filming the trailer at two different high schools but giving the impression that it's only one school. Ah, the magic of film!
I’m sure that there will be many problems on the two shooting days. It’s rare that a film set runs anywhere near as smoothly as you would want. But I’ll try to uphold a Nellie Forbush-level of cockeyed optimism and (hopefully) have enough craft services to keep everyone satisfied. (My brother, Mike Steele, is in charge of that. Don't screw up the food, Michael! We're hungry!)
Here goes nothin’!