“TAKING CHANCE” co-writer-director, Ross Katz
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, Jan. 16, 5:15 pm — Racquet Club, Park City]
I went to school for two years at Temple University, studying story and structure with professors David Parry and Allen Barber. I was completely impatient (which has never gone away) and always wanted to go shoot, shoot, shoot. But David’s and Allen’s message, understood through studying all kinds of films, was always about story. No matter how ready I thought I was, they would always come back to “who is your audience,” “why are you telling this story,” and “the script isn’t ready.” They were right. Though I never got my degree (I dropped out after two years because I was restless and wanted to get going), their emphasis on these questions has stayed with me every second.
When I was an assistant to producer Lindsay Doran (one of the most inspiring producers today), I watched and listened as she worked with writers on draft after draft. Whenever I thought to myself, “”When are they going to make this movie?” a better new draft would come in. Though I never got an actual degree, I consider myself a graduate of Good Machine University. While at Good Machine, James Schamus, Ted Hope, Anne Carey, Anthony Bregman and Mary Jane Skalski furthered my education on the importance of not shooting before a script is ready. Whether a small, radical independent or a larger more mainstream movie, the bar was very, very high for them.
At the Sundance Producers Conference a few years back, Gary Winick and I were on a panel together talking about movies shot on DV for tiny amounts of money. Gary and John Sloss radically reshaped the landscape by making movies for impossibly low amounts of money. They were never satisfied with saying, “Oh well it’s pretty good, considering we had no money.” They applied the same emphasis on structure and storytelling that they would have if the film had cost $10 million. I wondered what movies could work in this format. I also wondered what it meant that filmmaking was in the process of being democratized. We had an offer to shoot In the Bedroom on video, but none of us could imagine making it on anything other than 35mm. Yet there were many great movies where the story was so compelling, the format didn’t matter. And over time, filmmakers began to stop apologizing for shooting on video and started infusing the format into the storytelling. So we sort of went back to basics. The script still had to be strong or the movie wouldn’t work, regardless of format.
My development processs on Taking Chance, with co-screenwriter Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, was very old-school. I attribute this to HBO Films and the executive producers’ emphasis on story. Even though I knew better as a producer, while writing I was pretty impatient. Even though the technology could potentially allow us a shorter prep and shorter shoot, we didn’t pass go before they felt the script was right. It was a rigorous process and they made the script better at every pass.
We shot our film the old-fashioned way too (I remember running into a great guy from a film lab. Incredulous, he said, “You’re processing your film photochemically?!” I was like, “Uh, you mean like shooting film and going through the chemical bath — yeah.”) I did think about how the film would play on an iPod or a laptop. Ultimately, because we have distribution with HBO Films, I was safe in terms of having at least one major platform for the film. When I look at the film now, I think it can play well on various platforms. But ultimately new technology didn’t play a role in how the film was conceived. I think we would have had to think somewhat differently if we didn’t have distribution.
What’s so great now is that the bar keeps rising and rising on films made for the Internet (and cellphones ). When you look at the brilliant shorts on Funnyordie.com, you realize that the best films go back to basics of storytelling, just tailored for the medium.