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If you read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, then you know we're following CJ Walley, an optioned screenwriter who is working with a production crew on his first feature script, 'Break Even,' which was written on assignment.
This is Part 3, probably onee of the most colorful pieces yet in his series, which takes us to the other side of filmmaking. It's the not-so-glamorous side.Yet with CJ's edgy sense of humor, it's a story we can all appreciate; especially if we've ever experienced motion sickness. Keep reading to discover how his journey across the water is indicative of one's journey into Hollywood.
I write to you from the veranda of a supposedly haunted old bungalow overlooking Two Harbours on the beautiful Santa Catalina Island, a haven that’s particularly stunning to behold right now, given the recent rains have caused grass to cover the hills in a soft blanket of green. There was a time I’d call it a blessing but, for this week at least, my mind has been trained to instinctively exclaim PRODUCTION VALUE!
To start shooting our movie Break Even, we sailed out of Marina Del Rey with a veritable armada of boats. Our luxury motor yacht carried most of the cast, crew, and equipment out. It took us two days to load up as we made every effort to make sure coffins and stands didn’t catch teak or fiberglass. Behind us was our sailboat, its glorious royal blue hull carving through the waves and ready to soon serve as another location. Ahead stormed Fair Warning, our hero speedboat wrapped in wild custom graphics and riding the ocean with the same playful enthusiasm as the dolphins all around us. Behind the wheel, Lee Stanley, 75 and still pushing the motor like he was dirt bike riding at 17. Lee has seen pretty much everything when it comes to Hollywood and this very journey into the North Pacific from Los Angeles was one that had pulled him into the industry originally. I can think of no better man to ensure safe passage.
The glamour quickly became what I’ve heard described as a “ballet of chaos” as half the passengers, including myself,. became seasick and I unceremoniously honked my guts up behind one of our female leads. Within this madness stood Shane Stanley, lee’s Son and a man with more directing credits than years on this planet, completely unfazed by any of this and directing a scene while listing heavily from side to side. Shane runs a tight ship and a tight schedule and he doesn’t let either drift off course. “Cut! Again from the top!” Shane would call as most of us clung to what we could. “Hey, there’s a great white!” he’d point out, somehow casually spotting it over someone’s shoulder from half a mile away, before jumping back into the shoot.
I spent that magical moment when, for the first time in my life, a scene I’d written was shot for a feature film, hanging over the side vomiting into the North Pacific - now I was surely in the movie business.
The bucking of those waves very much represented the emotions filmmaking brings. Many people talk about how people want to be on a movie set all their life and finding they want to helicopter out five minutes after getting there. I was told there would be endless waiting around but this has been the complete opposite. This has been like a military operation and I’ve been trying my hardest not to face Court-Martial. There’s at least a million different ways you can unwittingly sabotage a production and get thrown off set. I think I might already be in the five figures range as I continue to demonstrate my life-long ability to be, as I often put it, “Just useful enough to become a problem” due to my tendency to try and jump in to help with everything while not really knowing how to follow through.
To name but a few issues, I have failed to deliver lines to actors when acting as script supervisor, managed to settle down and miss an entire boat docking to pick me up with the essential media cards, and unwittingly sidestepped a line of communication so fecklessly many producers would have had me walk the plank.
Thankfully I’m surrounded by a production team with kindness in their hearts and I can’t thank my blessings enough. These are people who mentor those willing to listen with remarkable patience while still making sure the job gets done. Shawn Frederick, who playfully insists on calling me by the Britishism “mate,” has been giving this rookie screenwriter enough guidance to make sure I, well, don’t completely fuck up this movie and thus send a trusting investor’s precious capital straight to the bottom of the ocean.
Meanwhile, Anne Gayer and Michelle Raymond have been supporting the team with unwavering beaming smiles and warm hugs even when it seems every person there needs a problem solving yesterday, their walkie-talkies hissing and crackling as everything from prop needs to dietary requirements are addressed as efficiently as possible. (Well, as efficiently as one can when your set is floating on top of an ocean in the middle of nowhere.)
Days shooting range from feeling like you are in The Wolf of Wall Street to Das Boot, depending on if you’re slouched on the back of a yacht in the sun deck or crammed into the hot confines of a sailboat salon. I was overwhelmed with emotion when I watched actors perform my writing out loud; Tasya Teles nailing the “dope” monologues I’d provided to the highly emotive reactions of Brent Bailey, Alisa Reyes, and Erik Fellows. These guys are stars in the truest sense of the word. I couldn’t have asked for a better ensemble for the first week of filming.
And that first week has been intense. Days are long. I’ve learned to grab food whenever it’s available and that the day’s sides (script pages being shot) travel to other dimensions if you ever leave them unattended. I’ve become accustomed to sleeping beside busy computer drives processing the dailies, now know how to jump start a 7.4 MerCruiser speedboat motor, and will certainly never try to shop in Costco for two dozen people last thing on a Saturday - seriously though, on which isle do they keep the turkey sausage? But the evenings, when we get back to the cosy Two Harbours restaurant and share our tales from the day, there’s wonderful camaraderie that’s part sailor and part filmmaker.
This talented cast, directed by an amazing director, enabled by proactive producers and supported by a diligent crew has resulted in something I never saw coming - filmmaking that exceeds the beautiful images I originally had in my mind’s eye. It seems that despite all the turbulence we’ve been through recently both Santa Catalina Island and myself have been blessed with something rare and special and, as a result, what we have to offer is flourishing into something magical to behold.
CJ Walley: I’m here for the gritty movies, the rebellious movies, the b-movies, those features that are here to be good old fashioned entertainment and pack a punch that’s a lot harder than their budgets would suggest.
I love pulp and exploitation, I like car chases and gunplay, but I also love depth and themes that resound with viewers at the core of their being. I like dialogue that crackles and has weight behind the words. I love scenes that twist and turn as characters vie for power or fall for each other.
2012 was the year I started writing and it’s been a hell of a ride. Following one of my first scripts being featured by Amazon Studios, I’ve been cutting my teeth writing shoestring budget short scripts and giving them away to up-and-coming filmmakers. Now I’m here for the independents and timing couldn’t be better. We need a goddamn uprising and I'm helping drive it with a recent feature script option in Vancouver and another feature in pre-production in Los Angeles.
I write what I call nextploitation; hard-hitting, in your face content with a nod to the past and one eye on the future. I’m talking progressive values mixed with nostalgic hedonism. My twist? I write female characters, often as leads, that don’t suck. I do this because I care deeply about my characters being the real deal.
I’m all about the craft and all about the love. It doesn't matter to me if it's Tarantino or Twilight, I always look for the good in everything. I’m not here to take centre stage. I’m here to knuckle down and prove myself in the hope the teams I join go on to grow with our audience.
I’m all about helping change the industry too, in any way I can and for the better. In 2016, I started the script hosting website Script Revolution, offering the same benefits of sites such as the Blacklist and Inktip but with none of the costs.
That sound cool? If so, let’s talk.
(Learn More about CJ at: https://cjwalley.com/)
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