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Monthly Archives: February 2001

FilmHelp FilmHelp: Pre-Production FilmHelp: Screenwriting Films

Staging a Screenplay Reading

By Greg Pak

Last month I held a reading of my new screenplay “Robot Stories” at the Asian American Writers Workshop. I was very happy with the event — here are a few pointers based on the experience.

Why do this reading?

Step number one is to decide why you’re doing the reading. This will determine your schedule, presentation, and target audience. I wanted to do a reading of “Robot Stories” primarily for workshop/script revision purposes. The film is a feature consisting of three shorts — I wanted an audience to absorb the material in one sitting so I could see how well the shorts work together as a feature.
    Finding a producer or financier willing to back the picture would have been an added bonus, but that wasn’t my primary purpose for holding the reading. So I didn’t go hog-wild trying to get industry presence at the event. I sent emails to people on my mailing lists, but I largely left the publicizing of the event up to the Asian American Writers Workshop, the fine organization which was hosting the reading.
    It’s worth noting that if you want maximum industry turnout, you should avoid holidays. The reading took place on January 15, Martin Luther King Day, which a few folks mentioned as a reason for not making the event.

Casting, rehearsal

For the most part, I cast actors I knew in parts I knew they could nail. But I had no intention of doing the reading cold — I wanted the screenplay to come alive for the audience, which meant rehearsal. Since it was a just a reading, without blocking or memorization, we were able to be very efficient with rehearsal time, meeting the day before the reading for four intense hours.
    In casting the piece, I had everyone read multiple roles. This avoided the boredom an actor feels when he or she has a two page scene in the middle of the screenplay and never appears again. And it kept the number of people involved in the event smaller, which meant less logistical complication and fewer mouths to feed.


I provided three meals. First, an informal dinner at my place a few nights before the event, for whoever wanted to come over and hobnob. Two actors came, and since they were playing a husband and a wife in the piece, we were able to talk about the script and their characters and do a little reading. Entirely helpful and made the subsequent formal rehearsal more efficient.
    Second, I treated the cast to brunch right before the big rehearsal. The meal let people get to know each other, which is always good. And it ensured that everyone was well fed and jolly as we began to work, which was outstanding. A four hour rehearsal can be grueling if people have skipped breakfast.
    Finally, I took everyone to dinner after the actual reading. Since the reading was over, this clearly didn’t affect its outcome. But it was fun. And an entirely appropriate thank you, since I wasn’t able to pay anyone for participating in the reading.


I told the actors not to act out any of the characters’ movements physically. We treated it a little like radio or voiceover work. We set chairs in a half circle on stage. When an actor was in a scene, he or she would stand up, script in hand, to deliver lines. The actors would look at each other, working off of each other emotionally. But they did not march through any blocking.
    I brought in a few clamp lights, two light stands, and a dimmer. This allowed us to have a few light cues, fading up and down when the script dictated. A nice touch which helped the audience settle into the piece.

Two people reading narration

Having been to readings before, I knew that the most important and hardest-to-execute part of the production are the stage directions or narration. Without anything to see, the audience can quickly zone out during these descriptions. In order to enliven the narration, I always had two actors trading lines — every time there was a carriage return in the screenplay, a new voice took over. I paired men and women for this narration. So the actors could play off of each other a little, building a little scene as they read the narration. And the audience’s interest was maintained by a variety of voices telling them a single story.


In the biggest coup of the evening, my friend Rick Knutsen provided improvised accompaniment on the piano to the reading. We spent about an hour right before the reading going through the screenplay, talking about and practicing a few different music cues. We rehearsed many of the transitions with actors, music, and light cues.
    The music was minimal, but it helped enormously. It gave the actors something more to work with. And it helped bring the narration to life. I was extremely happy with the music in the last two pieces, less thrilled with the music in the first piece. This was my own fault as a director, though. And, actually, making a mistake like this was exactly the point of doing the reading — better to do it now than when I’m actually shooting the film.
   To be specific, the first piece in the screenplay is something of a tear jerker, and the music was very sentimental. So the piece became much too gooey. To make the piece work, I’ll need both the music and the performances to run counter to the sentimental tendencies of the story — then the emotional impact at the end will be much stronger. An excellent thing to learn at this early stage in the development of the picture.

Customized Comment Sheet

I made a one-page sheet which I asked audience members to fill out after the event. Here are the questions I asked:

  1. What moments did you like the most? What did you like the least?
  2. What, if anything, did you find confusing?
  3. Do the three stories hold together as a single feature for you? Would you like to see this as a feature film or as a series of half-hour television programs?
  4. The title “Robot Stories” may be taken… Any suggestions for an alternate title?
  5. Please list three of your favorite movies
  6. Any other thoughts/ideas/suggestions? Things that could be cut, things that are missing, things that you just loved or hated so much you need to rant about ’em? Don’t be shy! (Please use the back of this page if you need more space).

I found the responses very interesting and helpful — although no one did have a good alternative title suggestion. I asked people to list some of their favorite movies just to get a little hint of their preferences and taste — helpful in determining how to take certain comments.


That’s all I can think of for now. After I’ve revised the screenplay, I’m hoping to do another reading or two, this time perhaps in hopes of getting some industry interest. I’ll let you know how it goes!


FilmHelp FilmHelp: Festivals & Distribution Films

Sundance Pointers

By Greg Pak
So I finagled my way to Park City, Utah, for the Sundance Film Festival this year by snagging a job as a videographer for one of the festival sponsors. No pay, but they hooked me up with a plane ticket and accomodations. I’ve just returned and I’m chock full of practical hints.

Cold weather clothing

I wore long johns and sweaters every day, and my knit cap was essential (although I managed to lose it before the week was out). However, I did not need the eight pound insulated snow boots I hauled out to Utah. My leather Redwing hiking boots served me just fine, worn with heavy wool socks and liners.
    Some folks dressed up for some of the parties, but cold weather casual ruled the days and nights.

Self promotion

The festival is aggressively flyer-unfriendly. Park City actually has an ordinance prohibiting people from handing out flyers on the streets and annoyingly officious Sundance volunteers quickly throw out any publicity materials unrelated to festival films which are left on tables or posted on kiosks. So much for the scrappy independent film spirit.

Transportation and Lodging

Shuttles to and from the Salt Lake City airport cost about $25. The company I used was Park City Transportation, 1-800-637-3803. The airport is about half an hour from Park City, without traffic.
    The festival venues are spread out widely — unlike Telluride, where almost all the theaters are within walking distance of each other. But Sundance runs an efficient shuttle bus service which trucks filmgoers from theater to theater. I never had to wait more than fifteen minutes for a bus.
    But be careful where you stay — not all of the surrounding condos are on the shuttle circuit. I stayed in several different places, with my level of convenience and luxury decreasing as the week wore on.
    First I was at the Lodges at Deer Valley, a pretty nice ski lodge which has its own shuttle to and from Main Street. It’s also on the Park City shuttle circuit. Very convenient, but expensive. My tab was picked up by my employers — I think it was around $250 a night.
    Then I stayed a night at the Best Western, which was 6 miles out of town. Only (!) $169 a night, but considerably less convenient. The hotel ran an hourly shuttle to Main Street, but it stopped running around midnight. After that, I had to catch cabs ($12).
    I spent the last few days in a shared condo with friends of friends. A mere $100 a night, but there were no convenient shuttles. I ended up taking cabs in and out of town, at $8 a pop.


The Japanese restaurant on Main Street is terrible — congealed rice, sugary udon broth, tempura vegetables cut too thick. Ugh.
    The Thai and Vietnamese restaurants were pretty good, but wildly overpriced. One of the best little meals I found was the soup special at Burgies — tasty and good for cold weather.
    Warning — the condos and lodges don’t have adjoining restaurants. To get food, you’ll have to shuttle or drive into Main Street. For general provisions, take the shuttle to the Holiday Village Cinemas — there’s an Albertsons supermarket a few doors down.


If you get into any parties, grab the free stuff early. I was working plenty of swanky parties, shooting video, but invariably I’d forget to make my way to the swag tables until it was too late. Missed out on some nice stuff, too — people were walking away with free pagers and backpacks and whatnot. Ah well. We all have enough junk anyway, right?
Video equipment

I brought my camera along as back up and then had to use it for my gig when my employer’s camera turned out to be broken. So at the last minute, I had to scramble to find a video light on a Saturday morning. I ended up going to Salt Lake City — I found a camera store called Inkleys which helped me out. 127 S. Main Street, 801-328-0561.
    For extra batteries, try the Radio Shack next to the Holiday Village Cinemas. The theater shuttle will take you right there.


I didn’t have a film in the festival, so I wasn’t there in maximum self-promotion mode. But the streets are full of Los Angeles and New York film industry people fairly itching to toss their business cards your way. If you’re even marginally friendly, you should be able to meet producers or managers or agents or fellow filmmakers — they’re sitting beside you in the theaters, sharing taxis, and standing next to you in line. Bring business cards.

Getting screened

When I found out I was going to Sundance on a videography gig, I promptly submitted “Asian Pride Porn” to TromaDance, one of Park City’s supplemental festivals. There are a slew of alternative festival screenings going on — and although no one’s offered me a three picture deal on the basis of my TromaDance screening, it was nice being able to tell people I had a film showing during the week.
    I met another TromaDance filmmaker who was even more savvy about getting his work shown — upon arriving in Park City, he talked to the organizers of NoDance and got himself a screening in their festival as well.

Seeing films

I got very lucky with tickets — a friend hooked me up with a number of comps and I was able to get into a few press screenings in my capacity as the editor of If you don’t have an inside angle and don’t want to pony up the bucks ahead of time, I’d recommend going to the matinees rather than the evening screenings. Almost every evening show I attended was sold out. The matinees were very well attended as well. But screenings begin as early as 8:30 a.m. — if you’re willing to get up early, you oughta be able to see something on short notice.


FilmHelp FilmHelp: Festivals & Distribution Films

Tip of the Day: A nifty trick for enlivening Q&As

By Greg Pak
I caught a clever trick at the Sundance screening of the Korean film “The Isle” last week. To encourage a lively Q&A session, the producers handed out free CDs of the film’s soundtrack to everyone who asked a question. Clearly, this could get expensive if you did it every time your film screened. But for critical screenings where press and distributors may be present, this kind of gimmick might be worthwhile… After all, the more questions people ask you about your film, the more favorable an impression you may be able to make about the film and yourself.

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