How I Made My First Feature Film
CHAPTER THREE - Getting Started
By now you’ve discovered that nothing in my life works out normally. Turns
out that my first writer, Bishop Holiday, wasn’t even a writer. He was a musician!
And Bishop Holiday wasn’t his real name either. It was his “stage” name as a
guitar player. Whoever he was, this slim, slightly balding young man from Manhattan
Beach had written a very nice script. And, he’d already written and produced
the theme song and musical score! It was one of those stories in which the theme
can be nicely stated in one sentence: Born deaf, a young genius invents a computer
that can hear and speak for him.
Remember, this was back in 1981. The dawn of the computer age when a Radio
Shack TRS-80 with 4 kb of memory was state-of-the-art. In many ways, the story
and film were way ahead of time. To be honest, I can’t remember what I paid
Bishop for the rights to the screenplay, although I’m sure it wasn’t very much.
All either of us cared about was that I liked his screenplay and he liked the
fact that I wanted to make a movie out of it. Money was never an issue because
we both wanted to make it happen and money was something neither of us had anyhow.
For a first feature film, this kind of relationship between the director/producer
and the writer is good. Everyone knows they’ve got to work hard and forget about
money this time around.
Obviously, “A Heart for the Tin Man,” might cause unthinkable legal problems
with Judy Garland or someone with little to do in the MGM legal department. So, the
title was shortened to just “Tin Man,” a thinly-veiled reference to the electronics
which enabled the lead character, “Casey,” to communicate with others. Doing
a bit of legal research, I learned that it would be okay to have a film titled
“Tin Man,” as long as the characters in my film weren’t on their way to Oz followed
by a bunch of oddly-dressed dwarfs.
Because I’d read all those other scripts I knew the areas where the script
needed improvement. While the story itself was unique, the dialog was too predictable
and simple. Several of the characters, including the female lead, were very
thin. Bishop agreed with me and we spent several weeks working on these problems.
Looking at the completed film, I can’t say that we fixed everything in the script,
but I believe we improved it quite a bit.
Bishop brought me a cassette recording of a song he’d written, performed and
produced called, “A Heart for the Tin Man.” It was very nice, professional sounding,
and I enjoy hearing it to this day. I could use it to entice an investor...if
I ever met one. I still had a long way to go. During the middle of all this,
I had another project keeping me busy. Many months earlier I’d decided I would
take a year off and build a house outside of Santa Barbara where I was living at
the time- build it with my own hands and hire very few people to help. For this reason,
I didn’t drive to Hollywood meetings in the latest Porsche, but in my broken-down
Chevy pickup truck. Many times the guards at the studio gates would direct me
to the delivery entrance! Thankfully, my wife had a good job and that helped
pay the bills.
Getting the script was a major step, but I still needed a lot more: a budget,
lots of money to put into it, and a star. Not too much to ask for, huh? I also
had another problem to deal with: a partner. He was older and more experienced...which
was good...but he had a meddlesome wife which wasn’t good. He’d live in a local motel
during the week and spend the weekends with his wife in Los Angeles. Every Monday
he’d return with more demands for money (as if I had any), or greater profit
participation, but he never raised a cent...never contributed anything constructive.
Soon, I dreaded Mondays. What’s he going to want this time? What demand would
his head-strong agent-manager-wife ask for this time? A very negative situation
which got worse with every day. We jointly decided to split up.
Although I had about $25,000 set aside, I needed a lot more! I had no
idea how I would raise the money, much less get a star, but I could do something
essential...make a budget. Of course, I’d never created a feature film budget
in my life, but why should I let that stop me?
Next Article: How
I Made My First Feature Film - Chapter Four (The Budget Crises)
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