catandthetrollsfilm

the evolution of an independent feature

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Writing Cat And Trolls; Scene Cards and Visualization

catandthetrollsfilm

I have been writing screenplays for a little over 30 years and I still feel like an amateur. The ultimate outcome of a screenplay is something to be watched, not something to be read. But a screenplay is not so much visual in and of itself as it lays down a visual foundation for the movie that is to spring from its pages. So with each successive screenplay, I explored writing strategies that would distance me from needing to think and bring me closer to needing to see. CAT AND THE TROLLS was a big step in that progression.

THE SHIFT

I spent about ten years writing and re-writing a screenplay in development called BIG ENOUGH aka TEACHING TOOTS aka MIDNIGHTS LAST RIDE, until I sold it outright to director Euzhan Palcy. The producer had feedback. The director had feedback. We’d have a table read and all the actors…

View original post 803 more words

The Origins of a Screenplay

catandthetrollsfilm

As a writer, I have always had a passion for the stories of my immigrant ancestors. But my choice of protagonists has developed and changed over the years. As a young man, I had been attracted to the struggles of the men, the fathers. As I grew older, I began to understand that the stories of the women were often left behind.

For example in my own family, my grandfather would become disabled at the age of 47, leaving my grandmother to take the responsibility for the welfare of her family as well as my incapacitated grandfather.

This is a situation that would repeat itself when years later, my mother would suddenly have to singly support the family and look after the welfare of my father who was dying a slow death from cancer.

There is no doubt I pulled from these experiences in fashioning the story of Siri, the…

View original post 743 more words

Writing Cat And Trolls; Scene Cards and Visualization

Writing Cat And Trolls; Scene Cards and Visualization.

Writing Cat And Trolls; Scene Cards and Visualization

I have been writing screenplays for a little over 30 years and I still feel like an amateur. The ultimate outcome of a screenplay is something to be watched, not something to be read. But a screenplay is not so much visual in and of itself as it lays down a visual foundation for the movie that is to spring from its pages. So with each successive screenplay, I explored writing strategies that would distance me from needing to think and bring me closer to needing to see. CAT AND THE TROLLS was a big step in that progression.

THE SHIFT

I spent about ten years writing and re-writing a screenplay in development called BIG ENOUGH aka TEACHING TOOTS aka MIDNIGHTS LAST RIDE, until I sold it outright to director Euzhan Palcy. The producer had feedback. The director had feedback. We’d have a table read and all the actors had feedback about their respective characters. Or we would want to attract a certain actor and it was back to the keyboard.

Under the gun as I was, there was no time to explore the rewrites. There was only time to put words on paper and hope for time to visualize it later.

But CAT AND THE TROLLS was different.

Coming off three straight features with very low budgets, 15 day shooting schedules, lots o’ speaking parts and extras, and way too many company moves, I was determined to avoid such craziness in my next movie. I wanted few locations, actors and no extras.

Plus, I had wanted for years to do something that would honor my immigrant grandparents who homesteaded southeastern Montana. And in doing so, I would utilize my favorite themes of themes of faith, forgiveness, self-reliance and redemption.

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I settled on the main characters: 13 year-old Siri (the protagonist), her brother Toad, and two strangers who would bring some violent conflict into their small homestead shack. And I knew one of them would be a young cocky but troubled bronc rider.

Paddy Ryan, Montana cowboy

Paddy Ryan, Montana cowbo

MENTAL HOLOGRAM

Before I ever began to type a word of dialogue or a line of description, I wanted to be able to be able to create a mental hologram and visualize this movie in my mind.

I poured through dozens of books on the homestead period in the West. I turned to first aid books and medical studies about hypothermia and frostbite and amputation to give me ideas on how to structure the conflict. I was much inspired by the excellent book THE CHILDREN’S BLIZZARD, David Laskin’s harrowing account of a devastating blizzard in 1889 that killed close to two hundred school children on the plains of Nebraska and the Dakotas.

And I kept track of every fact and every inspiration that came to me while doing the research by writing them on a stack of 3×5 index cards, limiting each card to as little information as needed.

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I engaged my other senses. I listened to music. The beautiful Hardanger fiddle arrangements of the Norwegian musician Annbjorn Lien never left my ipod.

I even built a scale model of the shack with balsa wood and Popsicle sticks and dressed it with tiny furniture.

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A JAM SESSION WITH CARDS

Armed with my stack of research cards, I took up residence on the bed in the guest room accompanied by my cat, Olive. I reviewed, juxtaposed, and rewrote the cards over and over until I saw connections as a story began to take shape. I had a young cowboy in my story suffering from severe frostbite. I made choices about what course of action was open to the suffering cowboy and to the children whose home he’d invaded seeking shelter from the storm.

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That’s when that rough jumbled jam session of research cards began to be replaced by actual scene cards. Each card declared the location, time, characters and conflict specific to that scene. And I numbered them so I could keep the order intact.

I thought of the first scene. I wrote its location, time it took place and who was in the scene and what happened in that scene on a separate card and numbered it. If I thought of some mighty line of dialogue, it went onto its very own card. If I conceived of some sequence of events, that too went onto a scene card.

New ideas would suggest themselves. I would set aside cards that I found repetitious. I played with their order because cards can be moved around or put aside when no longer needed and new ones written. With scene cards, nothing is set in stone. Their non-linear nature makes it possible to improvise their order, searching for better juxtapositions.

Multiple drafts of scene cards were written. I continued to go through them over and over until with familiarization, I freed myself from the cerebral written details and opened my mind to visualize the story as if I watched it on a screen inside my head.

There is the story that when Walt Disney was in development on a new feature, he would tell his daughters the story of that upcoming movie as a bedtime story, and in so doing was able to identify the slow spots and the moments of confusion.

That’s what I was doing, repeatedly telling the tale over and over until I knew it well enough that I could spot the weaknesses and strengths. And it was not until the story was clear in my mind, not perfect in detail but in spirit, did I sit down at the keyboard and begin to write the screenplay. And I wrote what I saw in my mind

A new poster for CAT AND THE TROLLS

A new poster for CAT AND THE TROLLS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Origins of a Screenplay

As a writer, I have always had a passion for the stories of my immigrant ancestors. But my choice of protagonists has developed and changed over the years. As a young man, I had been attracted to the struggles of the men, the fathers. As I grew older, I began to understand that the stories of the women were often left behind.

For example in my own family, my grandfather would become disabled at the age of 47, leaving my grandmother to take the responsibility for the welfare of her family as well as my incapacitated grandfather.

This is a situation that would repeat itself when years later, my mother would suddenly have to singly support the family and look after the welfare of my father who was dying a slow death from cancer.

There is no doubt I pulled from these experiences in fashioning the story of Siri, the little immigrant girl alone on the Montana plains forced into a situation beyond her control. In many ways it is similar in spirit, though not in fact, to the challenges that faced my own grandmother.

My grandparents Tønnes Andreas Amundsen and Karen Gyland met in Coon Prairie, Wisconsin. They were both children of Norwegian immigrants. They were high school sweethearts and married in 1899.

 

The wedding

The wedding

 

Tønnes was essentially an orphan. His mother had died and his father had disappeared to Norway to remarry. But Karin came from an intact family.

So it was much more difficult on her when her husband abandoned Wisconsin for the hardscrabble prairie of southeastern Montana, which he did in 1907 when Congress expanded the Homestead Act.

He laid claim to a homestead in the Bloomfield area of Dawson County, Montana. He spent that first year in a small shack, much like the one where the Omsdals in CAT AND THE TROLLS lived. He proved up the claim, beginning to plow and plant, and built a larger home for Karen and by that time, the oldest daughters Esther and Doris. The family came that next summer.

The Amundsen Homestead

The Amundsen Homestead

Karen did not like Montana. She was stuck on a homestead miles from neighbors. She missed her family. And besides, Wisconsin was green and pretty. Southeastern Montana was very dry, brown and rough. And like in CAT AND THE TROLLS, the weather could be harsh and even life-threatening.

Tønnes worked hard all week and then disappeared to the big town of Glendive (population: 5,000) to hit the bars and get drunk all weekend long before he came back home to begin his demanding farm work.

On those weekends, Karen was left alone with the children on that barren isolated plain, subject to bad weather and the random stranger who would appear at the door begging for food or money. Were those stories inspiration for the troubled strangers that intrude on young Siri and her brother Toad in CAT AND THE TROLLS? Although the details are different, I know I drew from those events.

Four more children were born, including my father and Ivan who perished from the Spanish flu before he reached his first birthday. CAT AND THE TROLLS opens with the Omsdal mother, also named Karin, dying from this same epidemic.

 

My grandparents and their children. My Dad is the youngest.

My grandparents and their children. My Dad is the youngest.

In 1917, when Dad was three, the family moved into Glendive and bought a house. Tønnes worked at hard labor, like harvesting ice from the Yellowstone River.

Months later, Tønnes had a stroke. The entire family thought he was about to die. He didn’t. Instead, he was paralyzed on one side, unable to walk or talk.

At that time, his farm neighbors owed him a lot of money. He owned the only thresher in the area and farmers would borrow it with promise of payment when the harvest went to market. It was a verbal agreement that was quickly forgotten when one of the contracting parties lost their ability to verbalize. It sent Karen and Tønnes even deeper into financial despair.

Like Siri in CAT AND THE TROLLS, Karin was faced with hard decisions. She became the breadwinner. The family was moved to the back of the house and boarders were taken in for the front. Karin took in laundry and provided hot meals for all residents.

Karen Thressa Amundsen and son Arnold

Karen Thressa Amundsen and son Arnold

And early responsibility was foisted on the children. As soon as he could, my father found a job and paid for his own school expenses and clothing.

CAT AND THE TROLLS takes a hard look at the responsibility expected of immigrant children.

This family tragedy influenced my father’s view of his parents. It made him closer to his mother, whom he always admired for her strength and faith.

Ironically, this situation would be repeated later in my own life when my mother had to take over for my father while he slowly died from cancer over a period of a year.

 

My mother, Maurine Andersen Amundsen

My mother, Maurine Andersen Amundsen

Having been exposed in my youth to strong women forced through no choice of their own to take charge of the welfare and survival of their families, it was natural for me to choose 13 year-old Siri to be the protagonist of CAT AND THE TROLLS. These remnants of my family’s stories are what I wove into the fabric of my screenplay CAT AND THE TROLLS.

Cat & Trolls Finished 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CAT AND THE TROLLS : the beginning blog

CAT AND THE TROLLS : the beginning blog.

CAT AND THE TROLLS : the beginning blog

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My ​independent feature film CAT AND THE TROLLS, now posted on Kickstarter, is a passion project. My grandparents homesteaded in southeastern Montana in 1909 and raised their children there. Those children faced challenges that make my filmmaking challenges look like a walk in the park. I have loved tales of old time farmers and pioneers and Montana since I was a kid. And CAT AND THE TROLLS is an opportunity to make something that I can totally throw myself into.

For the last 2 ½ years, I have tried to get this movie made through traditional investor funding. It is difficult to attract money for an independent movie that has no violence, sex or zombies, and yet is too gritty for parents looking for something like CHIHUAHUA: THE MOVIE.

So I have turned to Kickstarter.

Arnold Leipzig wrote in CULTURAL WEEKLY that 3,812 finished films were submitted to Sundance in 2011 and only 40 of them received distribution of any kind (and some of that distribution was minimal at best). That’s a scary statistic for the independent filmmaker.

However, I have beaten the odds. I have directed 3 feature films, and their success has placed me in rare company. Those films, all low budget, had distribution and made their money back. They can be found at Walmart, Redbox, Target, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu.com and even the Shell station down the mountain from me. To add to that, I have had documentaries on PBS, TAKE WILLY WITH YA, one of which is still in distribution

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When I wrote CAT AND THE TROLLS, I kept in mind every trick I learned from all the low budget films I have made. And even though this film has a blizzard and SAG actors, I have kept the budget pretty low.

But I need a budget large enough to do the kind of quality work necessary to find a distributer. After all, if you are going to donate money to a film, don’t you want people to see it? This sum, $39,000, pays for the actual production (filming) of the movie. Then being a professional editor, I will do a fine cut with temporary music track. And that will attract the post-production funds needed to finish the film.

I have had amazing help from many wonderful caring and dedicated individuals because you can’t make a great movie by yourself. Future blogs will feature cast and crew.

I invite you to follow this blog, to share with me the adventure of bringing this very personal film to light. It will be fun and we will learn a lot about life, the challenges of immigrant children and filmmaking.

 

MTA

 

 

 

 

 

CAT AND THE TROLLS

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