Thursday, March 19, 2015

Dylan Kidd on "Roger Dodger"

How many scripts had you written before Roger Dodger?

DYLAN KIDD: I had written two other feature scripts, and then that had been sort of abandoned. So I guess, two and a half. This was after NYU; at school I mainly concentrated on cinematography, and then directly after I sort of forgot the reason I went to film school was to be a director. It wasn't until the mid-nineties that I woke up and remembered.

One screenplay was based on my experiences in real estate. It was nice to get it out of my system, I think I was aware when it was done that really wasn't good enough to show anybody. The other one was a horror movie, an attempt to do something in a genre. It was fine, but wasn't anything that I was that excited about. Roger Dodger was the first time that when I finished a script, I was like, "Okay, I want to make this movie."

What was it about the script that made you feel that this was the one?

DYLAN KIDD: Probably the quality of the writing, but also the fact that this was the first time that I felt like I had a character that an actor would want to play. For me, a big thing about writing something that could be done for no money, was trying to write a role that was so good that we could attract a name actor to work for what turned out to be peanuts. That was a big part of my strategy: write something that somebody would walk through broken glass to play the role. Most of your expense in a movie is the above-the-line costs. It's difficult but it's possible to make a movie for a low-budget, but what's really hard is getting someone that anyone's ever heard of into that movie.

Where did the idea for the story come from?

DYLAN KIDD: The real estate script I had written was big in scope, and so apart from the fact that I didn't think it was that strong, even if someone did fall in love with it, it was still a big movie. So the idea of Roger Dodger was giving myself the assignment of writing something that could be done for no money. That lent itself to a series of conversations and monologues.

It started with the idea of a guy who feels like he can tell everyone else what they're thinking. It was based on a friend of mine, who in college had this strange ability to go up strangers and take their psychology apart in minute detail. It struck me as disturbing but also very compelling.

I started with Roger. It ended up being a buddy movie, but his nephew didn't come in until later drafts. You go through a certain amount of time thinking, "Well, maybe this guy is compelling enough, maybe people will sit and watch a train wreck for an hour and a half." And then there was a point where I realized there has to be some foil, a character who we want to protect has to enter the movie, there has to be a reason for people to hang on and keep watching.

Do you follow a three-act structure in your scripts?

DYLAN KIDD: I guess so, but without really thinking about it. I read the Syd Field book when I was at NYU, but I think, for me, things work internally. I can't even remember thinking about the act breaks when I wrote Roger Dodger. I just had the sense that we were at this stage of the story and this is what should happen.

If you go to 5,000 movies in your life, then without even knowing it that structure is going to be in there when you're writing. I don't think it's a front brain thing; it just ends up being in there.

For me, it's really important that the first draft be the spill draft. I feel like the last thing you want to do in a first draft is be thinking about what page is the act break. I'm the exact opposite of someone who knows the ending before they begin. For me, the first draft is the spill it draft. And after that you can look at it and think, "Well, I have a 70-page first act, that probably can't work."

But your first time through is when your unconscious is really trying to tell you what the movie wants to be. Maybe what the movies wants to be is that the first act is the entire movie, and that's the lesson, as opposed to, "Oh, I need to shorten the act." Maybe it's, "Oh, I need to lose the second and third act."

For me it's important to follow your bliss in that first draft, even if it ends up at 180 pages or you hate everything but ten percent of it. At least you've got that ten percent, which is ten more than a lot of people have.

Were you writing to a particular budget?

DYLAN KIDD: No, but having a background in production was definitely a help. It was understanding that if you could tell the movie in one night there would be only one wardrobe change. It was less specific -- I want to do a movie with less than six main characters and have it take place in one 48 hour span. It was more of a general thing -- I want to make a movie that I shoot on digital video with credit cards if I absolutely had to. That was as far as I got. Then once the script was done, I realized that this character was compelling enough that it was worth taking a shot and trying to get a name actor attached and do it on film.

There are basic rules that are pretty commonsensical, like don't have a car chase, don't make it a period piece, keep your locations to a minimum. And also, a big thing for us was that we knew we were going to shoot with two cameras, and that allows you to really burn through scenes more quickly. Basically, the who second act of the movie is four people sitting at a banquette, having this extended conversation. We were able to shoot that entire thing in a day and a half, because we were rolling two cameras.

There's a scene where Roger takes the kid out into the street, it's the first time where he's instructing the kid. It's a long, extended scene, and even when it was written it was intended to be shot in one take. That was a 12-page scene that we shot in half in a day. If you have two sequences like that, that's 20% of your movie that's shot in three days.

Did knowing that you were writing for a small budget cramp your creativity in any way?

DYLAN KIDD: Not really. This is one of those movies that felt like it wanted to be tighter. There were earlier drafts that took place over a longer span of time, and it just felt like it wanted to be as tight as possible. So there's nothing in the movie that I feel we would have had if we'd had more money, except for the luxury of being able to shoot it more. But if somebody had said, "We love it, here's 2 million dollars," I wouldn't have written in some dream sequence of Roger when he was young. It just felt like it is what it is, that we were just dropped into the middle of this guy's meltdown, and we just hang on just to make sure that the kid's going to get out of there okay.

What did you learn writing Roger Dodger that you still use today on higher-budget projects?

DYLAN KIDD: The main thing that I learned from that script was that it was the first time ever when I was writing something that I thought, "This is good, this is working." My other scripts had been okay, competent, but the hair on the back of your neck didn't stand up. For me, the most important thing is now trying to make sure that I get as close as I can to that feeling. I never want to settle for, "Oh, this is okay." You want people to read it and get genuinely excited about it and want to shoot.

You can get to a place where you are genuinely pumped with what you're doing, and as hard as it is, you can't give up on a script until you've gotten to that place.

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