Make a No Budget Movie: Chapter Sixteen

The Modern Sequence
December 18th, 2011

By Christmas of 2009 I had a sixty-five minute cut of my film complete with musical score. It worked rather well, but I was still determined to make a feature, so the movie needed ten to twenty-five more minutes of content. It was time to shoot the modern sequence.
Letters that tell a tale of Bloody Creek. Sort of.

Over the holidays I sat down to write the screenplay. I finished it in a day, a twenty minute sub-story about a protagonist who inherits his grandfather’s antique shop and all of its contents. On his initial exploration of the shop, he finds a box of letters written by Tom Saxon in the 1790s, letters that tell the entire story of the campaign to catch Le Renard after the Bloody Creek massacre.  The guy is shocked to discover that one of the characters in the story, Joseph LaForest, is an ancestor of his girlfriend’s. The movie then moves into flashback mode, represented by the historic sequence, as the guy reads the letters to his girlfriend.

It seemed a little weak, but some of the elements I’d wanted were there: the creepy old antique shop, the role of historical objects, and the survival of the Acadians within the modern Canadian context. So it would do.

I put it aside for the winter, intending to cast it later. I only needed three characters: the unnamed protagonist, his girlfriend, and the lawyer who presents the protagonist with the keys to the antique shop. Everything else I had.

Time passed, and life got in the way. I’d spent much of my late summer and fall working on the movie, but summer was over, it was cold, and I didn’t feel like doing any more work. But the project weighed on me. At last, in mid January 2010, I decided to get back to it.
My first attempt turned out to be a false start. My sister had asked me if she could be in the film, but at the time I’d wrapped up most of the historical sequence and didn’t have a role for her. Now I started thinking that she could star in the modern sequence, that the protagonist could just as well be a woman as a man. So I adapted the script and shot the first scene. But it just didn’t work. The script wasn’t ready and the role wasn’t defined.

With some reluctance, I scrapped the scene and considered my options. I could rewrite the modern sequence, recruit more volunteers, and do this thing properly. Or not. I no longer had the energy or interest. I just wanted the movie finished. And here was where my grand plan for splitting the movie in two, to make it easier, failed. It wasn’t easier.

Determined to film something, I revised the script by simplifying it. I took out the creepy old antique shop. Now the protagonist inherited a box of memorabilia, and the letters were in the box. The rest of the story was similar, with the guy transcribing the letters and so telling the story, but the end was a little different. Now he was to reveal to his sister that Tom Saxon had written the letters to their great great etc. grandmother, who had been Joseph LaForest’s granddaughter. So my modern people were now descended from Jim’s character and not Jonathan’s.

Thematically this seemed to work, so I cast myself in the role of the “Descendant Brother” and shot the whole thing, using my tripod, in about two days, hoping no one would notice that the guy playing the Brother was the same guy who played Major Aldridge. My sister got a part in the movie playing the “Descendant Sister.”

Then I began to cut what I thought was the final version of what I now called A Tale of Bloody Creek.