Sleep Cycle Symbolizes Joe’s Psyche

July 31, 2009

This thread, just drawn up and added to the story structuring board, represents a symbolic device I may employ to visually represent Joe’s emotional health. It’s a mostly subliminal thread that, if the audience doesn’t pick up on it, won’t hurt their ability to understand the story, but will add great value to the understanding of those viewers who either consciously or subconsciously pick up on it.

emo-thread-addedThe concept is to simply show that, when protagonist Joe Cameron is living by his principles, he sleeps soundly. But during those phases in the story where he compromises his principles to achieve the desired result, he is plagued with insomnia.

Risk and Reward

July 27, 2009

To do anything is to risk failure. To do nothing is to guarantee it.  And so we risk. We’ve hardly begun this initiative, and yet we’ve already made many decisions that have set us upon a course that will at the least affect the next few years of our lives. That much would be true of any feature film production. But, if this movie is just half of what we envision it to be, it will surely make a permanent imprint upon our personal and professional lives. Why? The story.

It’s a very different story we’re telling this time, and it’s one worth telling. Now that producer-actor G. and I have been on this earth for (let’s just say) more than four decades each, and have made several movies, there is not much pride in simply being able to say that we made a movie, or even in saying that we made a movie that made a profit.

By this, please understand that I’m not saying that we have come to underestimate the challenge of moviemaking, nor am I saying that we have lost interest in profitability. I’m saying that the kinds of movies we make and the kind of influences we hope to have on viewers have become primary influences, affecting what movies we choose to make and, I hope, even how we make them, such that they more closely reflect our principles and beliefs. I suspect too that, if we create a movie worth watching with a story that is both compelling and thought-provoking, satisfied investors will be a natural byproduct.

As anyone who has been heavily involved in independent feature-length movie production can tell you, it is inevitably a difficult undertaking, even if exhilarating. Although most of us involved foundationally in this production have had a good deal of independent feature film experience, I suspect we will find this production not only uniquely and thoroughly challenging, but considerably more rewarding than any past endeavor because of the story we are telling, the scope of the production, and the likely reactions we can expect from viewers.

In many ways, the risks and challenges of the process of independent productions are unique. Certainly big-budget studio films have their own challenges, but consider the words of Edward Dmytryk who, in describing the business of feature film directing said, “It’s a hell of a life but not a bad living.” Of course, nearly all of his experience was within the realm of major studio productions.  The first part of his quote — “It’s a hell of a life…” surely applies to independent feature production. But the latter part — “...but it’s not a bad living” — is often not true for the independent filmmaker, as it can also be a difficult way to make a living. 🙂 Because of this, I think one cannot hope to achieve much success in independent feature production unless that person gets their kicks from the process as much as the product.

In making movies, as with all things, I contend that success has less to do with luck than with unbridled determination. To my experience, the great white stallion of success rarely makes its gallant entry until after the mule train of hardship and desperation has been driven hard, and usually uphill. With Liberty in the Fires, will be driving a very different mule train, knowing that we are telling a story that we are excited to tell, which should make the process of creating it all the more satisfying, no matter the difficulties.  

So, yes, to do anything is to risk failure. But, since doing nothing is to guarantee it, we risk. We undertake this great task, motivated by both the exciting challenge of creating a feature-length movie and more so by the story it will tell. Both are worth the risk.

U.S. Federal Agents Enter the Picture

July 26, 2009

Early on in the story brainstorming sessions, we knew we wanted to include federal law enforcement agency involvement in the storyline. Based on my research so far, it looks like we have a bevy of options regarding which US federal agencies we could pick from to represent that angle. At this point, it’s only necessary to define that there’s a legitimate need within the storyline to have a US federal agency involved, that it’s realistic or believable that US agents could be working with the police of another country, and to begin outlining the plot points and character interactions related to this. I’ve now got that level of representation built up on the story structuring board:

US Federal Agents Story Thread

Is US Fed involvement realistic?

Absolutely. In the real world, Caribbean countries are often approached by, or working with, federal law enforcement agencies. These include the DEA, the FBI, the US Coast Guard, and others, plus relevant intra-agency efforts such as the Caribbean Corridor Strike Force (CCSF). The reasons for US federal agency involvement in other countries are varied but, for purposes of this story, we will most likely focus primarily on US involvement in matters related to the drug trade, terrorism, money laundering, or extradition of criminals wanted by the US.

Which US federal agency should we select?

The most obvious agency for this angle of the story would be the DEA. But there certainly are other options. For example, within the FBI, there is a division called the INL, short for Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Its responsibilities include reducing the entry of illegal drugs into the United States and minimizing the impact of international crime on the United States and its citizens — either of which could be useful to our storyline. Furthermore, although we are planning to be generic as much as possible in the story to widen its relevance — referring to it as more of a Caribbean country than a specific one — the reality is that we are likely shooting the majority of it in the country of Trinidad & Tobago, where the INL is in fact presently involved in an INL Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Program.

One appealing use of the INL in the story is the fact that they provide technical assistance and training to help certain countries implement enforcement standards. If, as we imply in the story, there are high-ranking politicians taking bribes from drug traffickers, it is reasonable to assume that they might work against efforts for the US to get involved in supporting local officers with, for example, surveillance technology that would increase their effectiveness. I could see this creating some gripping conflicts in the story between certain primary characters.

But getting back to the DEA option…

The DEA is certainly full of opportunities for effective story involvement too. For example, they often perform bilateral investigations in which DEA special agents assist their foreign counterparts by developing sources of information and interviewing witnesses. The DEA also participates in international forums that promote international law enforcement cooperation. One way for us to introduce DEA involvement in the story could in fact be at at one of the annual International Drug Enforcement Conference (IDEC) events that bring together upper-level drug law enforcement officials worldwide to share drug-related intelligence and develop operational strategies that can be used against international drug traffickers. 

The DEA is also highly involved in offerring its drug intelligence gathering abilities to support host countries’ investigations. From these efforts in particular, another useful story angle arises through the DEA’s Joint Information Coordination Centers program, which provides computer hardware and software and training  in same to country nationals overseas (primarily in Central and South America and the Caribbean, interestingly enough). Some of the US agency involvement ideas that we cooked up in brainstorming sessions over six months ago involved this very scenario. It’s nice to learn that we wouldnt have to fabricate such operations, since they really exist. Though, for the story, we’d still likely be fabricating a storyline in which certain government elements of this Caribbean nation refuse to cooperate or make such involvement difficult.

The FBI certainly remains a legitimate option

For decades, the FBI has stationed agents and other personnel overseas to help protect Americans back home by building relationships with principal law enforcement, intelligence, and services around the globe. They have what’s called Legal Attaché offices—known as Legats—around the globe. Each office is established through mutual agreement with the host country and is situated in the U.S. embassy or consulate in that nation.

And, let’s not forget the aforementioned Caribbean Corridor Strike Force

Their reason for existing is to investigate South American-based drug trafficking organizations that are using the Caribbean as a drug transshipment point for US-bound drugs. The CCSF would provide me the greatest flexibility for invoking US federal crime prevention involvement in the story since the strike force involves several US agencies, not to mention the potential inter-agency rivalries we could employ as necessary to further the difficulties our protagonist must face to achieve success.

How the Feds story thread can boost the drama

The agencies have rules — some shared, and some unique to each agency — governing the limits of their jurisdiction in foreign affairs. DEA agents, for example, are prohibited from active involvement in arrests of suspects in host countries and from participating in unilateral enforcement actions without the approval of officials from the host government. My devious mind reads this and sees such rules as a goldmine of potential conflict and dramatic escalation of events in the storyline, prompted by frustrated attempts to seek inter-organization cooperation, and the temptations of acting without approval if waiting for approval will lose them an opportunity to apprehend a criminal, or some such thing as that.  


Is this fun, or what!? 🙂  Anyway, back to the sandbox …

Filmmaking: Just a bigger sandbox

July 25, 2009

In the immortal words of Doctor Who, “There’s no point in being grown up if you can’t be childish sometimes.” That, I think, is one of the greatest allures of film making. It’s Lincoln Logs on steroids. It’s like all the mighty wars that raged in that backyard dirt pile, fought with little plastic soldiers and using pebbles as mortar rounds. As filmmakers, we’re still creating make-believe worlds, just with bigger budgets, bigger kids, and bigger toys.

Story thread: American Students

July 23, 2009

The blue cards you see below represent the means by which I’m planning to move the plot and main character development forward using the presence of six American college students who are visiting the country on their spring break. US College Student story thread added

These characters introduce several opportunities for dramatic escalation  that I can’t go into too much detail about without potentially spoiling the plot for the viewer. But I can say that the addition of the students provide an opportunity for romantic interest between one of the students and Sean Cameron, Joe Cameron’s son.

It also introduces the possibility of some divisive father/son conflicts, if Joe perceives the developing relationship between Sean and the American student as interfering with Sean’s duties as an officer.

Plus, given the realities of increased risks of criminal victimization of foreign vacationers in a tropical island nation whose judicial system is in trouble, the planned storyline can certainly benefit from such ready-made innocent victims, especially when one of the girls’ local boyfriends is a rookie police officer.

I have a few other devious plans for these US college students and how they intersect with the primary plot line that I’m not at liberty to share at this point: Definite plot spoilers, if I do.

But he must be a *believably* flawed protagonist

July 23, 2009

Just as a flawless hero cannot easily inspire, a hero whose flaws appear contrived will just as likely fail to engage the viewer. Fortunately, we need not contrive them at all for this story.  Here’s why. 

Liberty in the Fires, as it will be released internationally, is also Men of Gray III, as it will be released in Trinidad & Tobago and anywhere else that the original two movies are well known. The point: I’m not creating Joe from scratch; he has a rich history — one that we need to be true to for the sake of our existing audience, in fact.  From that Men of Gray I and II history, we can find logical, believable, life-altering events that would naturally have shaped Joe Cameron’s personality and beliefs in the 16-or-so years that have passed since we last saw him as a 20-something cop in Men of Gray II – Flight of the Ibis.

For instance, we know from the first two movies that Joe is a passionate and principled man. But we also know that, if Joe has been valiantly soldiering on as a Trinidad & Tobago officer of the law for all these years, then he has done so in a country that has seen stunning increases in the rate of violent crime, several shocking political scandals, and an increasingly difficult economic situation.  Those events and conditions would directly affect a police officer. Furthermore, many Trinbagonians have publicly expressed a growing level of disrespect for, or distrust of, their police force, either because of corrupt elements within the ranks or because the police appear to be losing ground or effectiveness on many fronts against the unlawful elements of society. So, into this environment, we’re placing the fictional Officer Joe Cameron who likely faces frequent public ridicule from those who’ve lost faith in him and his comrades.  These kinds of ongoing pressures can chip away at any person’s will to keep striving for righteousness.

So, we use that. We show Joe wrestling with the kinds of issues that real-world Commissioner of Police Randolph Burroughs must have struggled with — how long to continue sticking to principle — to keep striving for justice in a world where the law too often fails to bring the unlawful to justice.  What can Joe do when faced with the realization that, in a broken justice system, his principled ways cannot bring about justice?  When those ideals of righteousness and justice become incompatible, Joe’s zeal becomes a weakness that could drive him to abandon principle for the hope of achieving justice.

That’s how the plot of this story can test Joe and show us his flaws.  Meanwhile, earlier events could have damaged his wholeness. For instance, we know from the first two Men of Gray stories that Joe has been personally victimized by violence; his wife and several close friends were killed before his eyes. His son was kidnapped and nearly killed. He was falsely accused of murder and hunted down by his own country — made a pariah of the law that he had sworn to defend. We can very easily assume that these events would scar him mentally. So, in this story, we meet a Joe Cameron that has never remarried.  Could that not suggest that Joe has relationally isolated himself — preventing the deep hurt of love lost by not loving deeply ever since those tragic events? And, since he has raised his son Sean alone, imagine the kinds of relational problems those two would face when the dad has serious intimacy issues! To make matters worse, in this story, Sean has grown up to become a police officer himself.  It’s reasonable to think that, even though Joe ought to be proud of his son’s desire to serve his country, he would also fear that he spent his entire fatherhood trying to protect his son from ever again being endangered by evil men, only to now have him volunteer to be in the line of fire. What anguish! 

And that’s the fun of story creation.  Now, we have a man before us that we can understand and appreciate: a man that is full of hurt that he cannot face up to, full of fear that he cannot protect others from danger, full of ideals that he cannot achieve, and full of passions that gets pummeled at every turn.

That, I feel, is the most compelling approach to this story: to present a protagonist with believable human weaknesses and then to have those character flaws continually interfere with his goals.  

And yet … he must be a man that won’t give up the fight.  A hero.

That then is the goal: to create a protagonist whose sacrificial passion for restoring his country to greatness inspires us, even as we’re morbidly drawn into his battle against those all-too-familiar internal demons and relational difficulties that keep interfering with his social goals.  Then, the real drama of this story becomes less about the surface plotline and more about the interfering character flaws that Joe must overcome, or at least battle into submission, or else he will risk losing the societal battles of the primary plotline.

Creating a flawed but inspiring protagonist

July 22, 2009

One thing for sure; who Joe Cameron is and what he stands for can only affect the viewer the way we want him to if the viewer can relate to him — sees him as a real person, not as a superhero who can withstand any physical or emotional arrow. So we must allow him to show his weaknesses and shortcomings.

And those human imperfections must interfere with his good intentions.  External demons are easy to create in a story, especially when the lead character is a high ranking officer of the law.  But how often do we average mortals combat drug lords and violent street criminals?  Such antagonistic forces can be entertaining … but rarely are they personally affecting.  Not like watching a person who is battling their internal demons.  Human weakness is something we all understand, and all too well. So, a character who must rise above his shortcomings will more easily move us to care when he so rises.

At the same time, Joe can only be a worthy protagonist if he is admirable: if he represents something that we aspire to and can thus admire in him. That part of Joe, I feel, is relatively easy to create. He is a natural and recognized leader. He’s eloquent. He’s physically impressive. He’s a man driven by principle, believing in his country and his responsibility in making it a better place to live. He’s respected in his community. He’s a dedicated father. He strives to be an example of excellence and integrity to those who work under or alongside him.  For that matter, he strives for perfection in all he does.

But does he offer hope for our souls, inspiring us to greatness? Not likely, if we cannot see ourselves in him.  Not if we feel that, of course he can conquer the world — he’s infallible … but we are not. If we feel that way, then all those admirable traits become boring superficialities, and certainly not inspiring.

We must believe that the man that Joe wants to be, and the man that circumstances in this story require him to be, are hard for him, because he isn’t flawless; he has weaknesses — personal demons, if you will — that trip him up. Viewers must believe that Joe constantly wrestles against his internal demons in order to have any chance of doing or being anything worthwhile. 

Just like you and me.

Then, we’ve got something. Then we’ve got a story that can emotionally capture the viewer and, if we’re successful, affect them beyond the final credits to go forth, motivated to change their world with Joe as their inspiration.

More on Joe’s demons later…