Last week, we featured a guest post by English student Sarah Chaney in which she described her experiences in Advanced Screenwriting (ENG 410) as well as her involvement with this past spring’s Cinema Entertainment Immersion showcase. This week, Rusty Fox offers his account of his experience with CEI, which transformed his original screenplay into a short feature film. Continue reading below to find out more about Rusty’s experience and be sure to visit the link provided to see all five short films featured in the 2012 CEI showcase including Rusty’s film entitled, Crossroads

*Photo provided by Rusty Fox

How a story is told is as important as the events of the story itself. Not only the style of voice, point of view, or any of the other innumerable methods of telling a story, but also the medium through which it is told presents the audience with a window to that world. Amateur critics seemingly always like to point out how the book is better than the big screen adaptation, especially when defending a story they hold dear in their heads, then seeing something completely different from what they imagined themselves. This is the simple nature of books vs. movies. A movie is an adaptation of one or a team’s vision of what is in their heads, and it won’t be the same as everyone else’s image.

Just look at Shakespeare’s plays, having been repeated over and over again with a different interpretation from each director casting a new angle on the same story. It doesn’t matter that Mercutio is a coked (Mabbed?) out fiend in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (a detail left out of Shakespeare’s original work). What does matter is that he curses the houses Montague and Capulet to help set forth the actions of the rest of the play/film.

I had to remind myself of this when I handed off my script to Ball State’s Cinema Entertainment Immersion, CEI, program to be turned into a short film. Though scripts are meant to be turned into films and stand as a skeleton than a fully formed figure that story was still my story just as much as any piece of prose.

I worked with Professor Matt Mullins on draft after draft during Christmas break on the screenplay I had already spent a month on earlier in the semester trying to manifest a single mental image: a young man walking away from a car crash alone in the dark with bright traffic and car lights all behind. That was only an image, a single shot, which ultimately needed to become a story. We tweaked every last line and detail of not one, but two scripts (the second was ultimately dropped) until we got to the point when we both felt the stories were in good enough shape to be presented to CEI. Matt was doing this not only with my scripts, but an additional 10+ that were up for contention to be produced. My hat’s off to him.

Matt informed me a few weeks later that Crossroads had been officially selected to be produced. The draft I handed off to CEI looked nothing like the first draft (like any first draft) first typed up months prior. Even this draft wouldn’t be the last edit.

I met my crew in the weeks that followed. They turned out to be a wonderful group of individuals proving near professional in their respective fields. They of course had a few concerns with the script however. They were more than courteous enough to talk through their problems with me and allow me to scribe rewrites of scenes instead of doing them on the fly themselves. Once a script is handed off or bought it can feel like chopping off a nonessential limb (not life-threatening, but it’s going to hurt), because there’s no way to tell if I will be allowed to come back to it and restitute what others may have altered.

After making the few changes they asked for (minor details really) I heard little from the crew over the passing months as they filmed. This is when the worry started to settle in. They had my story, but they were going to make it as they saw fit. While writing a script I’m not only forming words on a page, but also plotting out the shots, the angles, the lighting, etc. It was a strange thing to see a particular scene shot from a completely different angle than the one I originally saw in my head. This is why so many writers want to be writer-directors, so that they possess complete creative control. Those writer-directors present something that can more closely be called ‘their own’ rather than an adaptation as I mentioned earlier.

So, I tried not to worry, even though I heard whispers here and there about some of the other CEI films not going smoothly. A trailer released midway through the spring semester reassured me that my film was going in a direction thatI didn’t consider disastrous.

Ultimately the day finally came near the end of the semester for the premiere. All the crews gathered along with a larger crowd than I expected. My roommate and a few others showed up for support.

Crossroads turned out to be the last film in the showcase.

After the fourth film screened I knew there was only one more film that could be left. After a few moments of black the title, Crossroads, glowed across the screen. The next twenty or so minutes I attempted to absorb every last detail of what was flashing in front of my eyes: strange shot angles (or at least strange to me), my roommate’s band playing in the background, a Robert Frost poem inserted throughout (not in the original script) amongst a multitude of other minutiae that only the writer would notice or have knowledge of.

More than anything the bewilderment of having something I wrote more than six months prior show up in moving images, a transition from one medium to the next. While I didn’t agree with everything that was done with the film I appreciated the hard work the crew obviously put in to breathe life into this story in the only way that film is able.

This film is equally my story as it is the story of the crew. Viewers go to see a movie and expect to have a good time for a couple of hours, but I doubt many realize just how many hours go into its creation from the writer and director to the boom mic operator. Each person involved added an amount to how the story was told.

Coming out of this experience has reinvigorated my hope in the movie industry. If a small crew can manage to create an engaging film experience it makes me wonder why there are so many misfires in the movie business. Perhaps it comes down to poor writing, because without a strong backbone everything can fall apart. That skeleton must be in place for every person thereafter making their own alterations and additions. If the story is there in the beginning the chance at success rises.

I hope to continue working on films and to use this experience as a means of learning for future work.

If you wish to view Crossroads it can be seen on vimeo: