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Creative Process #1: Writing

Fractals is a film project that, over the course of its creation, has had many functions. Those functions shifted depending on where the project was during production, and where I was in my personal life.

When I make films, I tend to work in twos or threes. I create several different films in a row, which are, in one way or another, related. They’re never sequels of one-another, and their stories rarely exist in the same fictional universes. But they are spiritual siblings of one-another. They belong in the same anthology as one-another. My 2012 film, Lipstick Lies, for example, is the sister-film of my 2011 Caroline of Virginia. My 2010 Lancaster Square, is the sister film of my 2009 Gnarled Hollow Road. Each time, I was experimenting with a different aspect of my craft, but finding attributes of the previous project to bounce off from.

In 2017, I created an arthouse feature film that organically came together as a production at the beginning of that summer. The movie wasn’t initially scripted until the first scene had been shot and assembled. After realizing the potential of the project, an outline was created and sides were turned out every week until the whole movie was shot. From June through July of 2017, Death & Life was simultaneously written, shot, and assembled. It found structure in the academic essay form and for a variety of reasons became my favorite and most personal of the films I had made up to that point.

At the latter-half of 2017, about the time I enrolled an MFA writing program, I began working up the concept for Death & Life’s sister film – a story that would retain the same characters and collaborators. This project was Fractals.

Like Death & Life, Fractals is part arthouse and part essay. It has the undertones of science-fiction, mystery, and the New York Street genres. Like Death & Life, the approach with this project would be to expand my craft by delving into new mediums to achieve the construction of certain props, sets, and eventually (out of necessity) whole characters).

The writing of Fractals took place over the course of two years, starting from notes that I would e-mailed to myself as I day-dreamed about the characters and scenes. These notes would later be integrated into a typed-up document called a “First Work-Up”. The first work-up is always a shoddily constructed mesh of outlined scenes, scenario explanations, scene concepts, and character ideas, all mixed together with about 10 to 20 professionally formatted screenplay pages. On some projects, the first work-up is entirely hand-written, but with Fractals, every page was drafted on a laptop or written as notes on my cellphone.

Many of my initial notes were inspired by a cellphone video I shot from the rear window of an MTA Metro North Train. I would watch this video on a loop as I created commentary about the meaning of the imagery. As I wrote Fractals, I daydreamed about escaping the city, to some distant town, one of which my perception would be a total fiction. I often find myself falling into the fantasy that the ‘grass is always greener on the other side’, even though I know it’s not. Although I touched on it in Death & Life, I wanted to use Fractals to keep exploring this fantasy.

As a creator who writes for the self, it was clear that the creation of Death & Life hadn’t quite demystified my obsession with this and many other concepts. As a result, I used Fractals to further explore a multitude of philosophical ideas related to living in a big city, living a life as an artist, and pursing the art life regardless of career.

The writing of Fractals started out as an academic endeavor, with a set of guidelines I used to structure the project. There would be a master thesis (comprised of a few different theses) and the film’s scenes would act as the supporting material for the master thesis. Once this structure was achieved, I proceeded to write a second draft. This draft would serve as the first version of the script that would take me into pre-production.

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