(Note from Screenwriting Staffing Founder, Jacob N. Stuart) Since Screenwriting Staffing has partnered w/ 2 Film Festivals in Ohio in the last month, I thought it would be fitting to catch up with Ohio producer/screenwriter Rock Karlage. Rocky’s story should be inspiring for every screenwriter looking to see their screenplay come to fruition. Rocky is the Producer for Ghostwalk Pictures, and their latest short film (made for UNDER 2G), Ghost Walk: The Farm, won ‘Best Short Film, Horror’ at the ‘Cleveland Indie Gathering Film Festival’. If any of you have sat in on any of my screenwriting classes or panels, you probably have heard me urge ALL screenwriters to write and shoot a short film. I did this, and it propelled my screenwriting career.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Why should screenwriters write short scripts?
Rocky Karlage: To gain the experience and self-knowledge that you are able to tell your story in a few scenes and locations. Learning to be concise will benefit your longer scripts too. Think of the feature script as a few, short scripts, and your craft will
become much better. What are the pros and cons of producing your own
Pro is being more in control of your vision you impart to the screenplay, and you will learn to work closely with crew, actors and, especially, the director, who is key to telling your film on screen. If you turn it over to someone else to film, you could possibly lose most or all of your story’s vision. Producing teaches you what crew is needed, actor breakdown, and how you need to interact with and depend upon personnel. It helps to gain the perspective when writing the screenplay how it will later be translated to film and screen.
Con is finding the money, the crew, the actors and the time to manage the producing. Most aspiring filmmakers are not rich, and will agonize and lose sleep over money. Production is a ton more work, time, and literal sweat than anyone will ever know until you do it yourself, but the work is in lessons that will benefit all your writing. That is a major pro since you will learn crew positions, props, locations, wardrobe and gear; all the needs to create your film both the first time and for your future films. One other thing most screenwriters can’t know until you’re on set is the crew will need to improvise sets and props to create a scene or scenes. Knowing this before filming can add to your script’s flexibility in adaptation.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Why is writing a low-budget screenplay so important?
Rocky Karlage: You become familiar with the film basics needed to tell your story; which will benefit all your future scripts. You will begin to think in real locations, number of actors and how available they may be as you write deep into your script; aka, scheduling. Too many locations, actors, props, clothing, and your story goes from low budget to big budget in a hurry. All productions look to save money, as they spend more each film day. Your budget dictates everything about the look of the film, and it’s unlikely you will find money while filming to add something additional or special. Keep things spare, and both money and time will be kept in check.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What do you credit to your short’s award-winning success?
Rocky Karlage: Dedication to not give up, and loyalty from my friends who became part of the crew to work with me is primary. My film co-producer Victoria Vardon, art director Tony Vardon, and the DP/director/editor Steve Olander are all good friends and stuck to the production despite some of the hurdles and negatives we all had to face. We believed in the film/story and it shows; despite some of the things we would do and film different now. The original concept was to begin an epic series I created, “The Ghost Walk Saga”, located mostly in Ohio settings, and set around 3 powerful women and their families from the Civil War to today. An early and great benefit to our first film was the Director, Steve Olander, and I signed up to the Indie Gathering International Film Festival in Cleveland, in 2011, and we attended the Producers seminar before I wrote the screenplay and any filming began. The producers advised to begin filming with something small, a short film, before filming the next, great epic! After that seminar, Steve and I immediately moved from the idea of beginning on the 3 major films of “Ghost Walk”, and created the beginnings of “Ghost Walk: The Farm” over lunch. We discussed ‘the story’, which is based on actual events from my past, but also includes information relevant to the other, possible films. After post-production and acceptance at it’s first film festival, our film won the “Best Short Horror” film award at the 2012 Indie Gathering International Film Festival, and has gone on to receive several “Official Selection” awards to other festivals. We’re very proud of our first short film, and would not change most of our experiences. But we now wish we could return and film some additional scenes to turn it into a feature length film for distribution. Creating this short film taught us so many things, the good, the bad, and the ugly, that we could not have learned in any class or anywhere else.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What hurdles did you face when writing a screenplay you “knew” you would produce?
Rocky Karlage: Location is probably number one. I crafted the scenes in my mind before writing so they would fit into one location; the actual house where I experienced the events. Generally, I write the screenplay in my mind before writing to computer or paper; whether it is fact or fiction. Finding start-up money is probably the number 1 nightmare of making our film and any film; even worse than scheduling, which is it’s own beast. We created a crowd-funding campaign, and also used too much of our own money to finish the film. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, because you’ll need it! You learn to adapt as your production grows.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: What benefits have you reaped from making and writing scripts in the Midwest (Ohio) that you probably couldn’t have achieved in Hollywood?
Rocky Karlage: It is unlikely any crew or actor will volunteer time in Hollywood; even for expenses. But local, Indie films can generate a dedication to the project to see the actor and crew work become a finished film, and to receive the credit on IMDb.Com (the International Movie Database). This is not always the case, as we found out the hard way in our second, unfinished film, “The Dawson War”, but it is more possible in local filming. Available money is always the major issue, one we’re still struggling to find for our next production, but you need to be clear with everyone that the film depends more on effort than paycheck. Those who say upfront they won’t work without pay are not ideal for a low budget film; especially if they are union members. It’s understandable, because we all would like to be paid, but the reality is a small film can’t afford to pay a big budget. But, you do meet those who are willing to work for the experience and credit, and many of them will become great friends! Be flexible if you can, but don’t go broke to make your film. I believe the biggest benefit to crafting a film is becoming colleagues with other people in film, and gaining respect from other filmmakers. They know it is not an easy road to produce even a short film. And, they may also want to work on your next film!
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: How much of the original script changed once production began?
Rocky Karlage: Some, but not in it’s vision. The biggest change for “Ghost Walk: The Farm” was to edit from snowstorms to rain/floods. It was not viable to attempt fake snow for the film, so we improvised location, audio, and dialog for rain and flooding. Locations will always change the screenplay filming. We contracted The Haunted Farm’s house with the owners for filming in Pleasantville, Ohio (near Columbus) as the main location. It is an awesome film location, but it also created scene changes to adapt to the house’s rooms, the property, and the barn. Money dictates everything in a film, and we found, after growing expenses and length of time, we had to cut some scenes. Be prepared to change the script to finish the film, but never change your vision to tell the story in your heart.
SCREENWRITING STAFFING: Should screenwriters understand all aspects of the film-making process, or just focus on the “written” word?
Rocky Karlage: I’ve stated in above questions the benefit to learn the process, but it isn’t necessary for a writer, aka, screenwriter, to learn everything. The written word is critical to the screenwriter, and how it will appear on screen can greatly help the scenes and dialog which are crafted for the finished screenplay. It is often the genesis of the project, but I do believe it is a major help to understand that the locations, the director, and the director of photography will necessitate changes, dependent upon what and who is being filmed. Screenplays are perfect in the screenwriter’s mind, but actual filming will change it. Don’t hold on to your words too tight if you want your story to become a finished film. That one scene you covet most could become the worst thing to appear on screen. I also could not have answered these questions if I had not been involved in the production process. You learn. That’s a good thing!
For more info on Rocky, please visit the following links: