Mentor Encounter: RFF’s Coutney Hope Meets Jeremy Kipp Walker
Here I stand outside a building in the West Village, staring at a door without a knob. I look up at the building. How am I supposed to get in? Fortunately, someone’s leaving the building as I stand looking perplexedly at the door.
“First time here?” he asks.
The Man holds the door open and I slowly step into the building. Now what? The Man holding the door notices my confusion – or awkwardness – and asks whom I’m there to see, as if I’d just stepped into a doctor’s office.
“Jeremy.” Should I give his last names too? Who is this guy anyway?
I don’t see any stairs. What a strange place I’ve just walked into. Must be some sort of trap.
“The stairs. They’re through there. Just go straight back and they’re on your right.” This guy must think I’m an idiot
“Thanks.” I follow the stranger’s directions and walk down a hall covered in movie posters. Aha! Stairs! I climb the staircase until I reach an open door. Is this it? I step through, my boots stomping into the room. No one. Great. It was a trap. Where am I? I peak around the corner and see a woman. She, like everyone else apparently, can tell I have no idea what I’m doing or where I am.
“Hi. Who are you looking for?”
“Jeremy?” Ugh. I should just go home.
“Oh.” She gestures to a half-wall from which Jeremy pops up. We shake hands.
“Yeah, I didn’t even hear you come in.”
Great, now he thinks I’m some creep who slithered into the building.
“Well, you have a very confusing entrance…” Oh boy. Why am I so awkward?
I follow Jeremy into what looks like a living room in the office and sit. Maybe I should have brought coffee so I’d have something to do or hold or just to give the general sense of importance. Too late. No coffee. No prop. Just me in this chair with a copy of my script, which I pull out of my bag only to find the edges have begun to curl. Great.
“First of all, congratulations on the grant. It’s really a great program.”
“Thank you,” I try to muster my confidence.
“So, tell me about your film.”
Oh no. Pitching. That’s the worst.
“Well, my film is about two little girls who run away into the woods from an abusive home to be wild.” I wonder if it sounds convincing anymore. I must have said this exact sentence about a thousand times by now.
Jeremy asks where the story came from, how I envision the film looking, and some basic production questions. The standard questions, for which I have my well rehearsed answers.
“So tell me about the gun in your script.”
“Oh, well, what about it exactly…” Uh oh.
“Why is it there?” Never a good sign.
I explain that the gun is an extension of the father, that it represents that you can never really escape your upbringing, but it’s how you use what you’ve lived through that tells who you are, blah blahblah.
“It seems that you don’t really need it.”
Um… What? That’s what the whole movie’s about… I’m not really sure how to respond to this.
Jeremy explains that he could show me at least 40 student films with a gun. Ouch. Well, this isn’t a student film, so… Then he asks me again what the film is about.
“Two little girls who run away into the woods from an abusive home to be wild.” Same thing I said before.
“If that’s what the film is about, then you need to focus on that. The gun’s kind of distracting.”
“Oh. I guess…” I am thoroughly impressed. This guy’s good.
“Maybe they take something else from their dad that they can fight over, but there are other ways to show their relationship, I think.”
Jeremy gives me some suggestions about what other props might come from the sort of home the girls come from that are a bit more neutral than a gun. He casually mentions that raining night exteriors are probably also unnecessary. This also being a large part of the draft, it takes a minute to digest all this.
To make an already long story short, Jeremy wanted me to rewrite most of the script, but without losing what the film was really about. And he understood the film as a story about sisters who are pushed to do something drastic. So, as I left the office (much easier to exit than enter), I wasn’t sure how I really felt about this Jeremy character. I agreed that the film needed some simplification, but his suggestions seemed a bit extreme.
While thinking about the notes Jeremy gave me, I started scratching some notes on my crinkled copy of the script. After replacing the gun with a lighter, transforming the father into a mother, and turning night into day, I realized that maybe he had a point. The film is character driven, and inherently dramatic without all the extras I’d written in.
The most important thing I took away from my meeting with Jeremy wasn’t anything he said, or even how to open a door without a knob, but rather, I realized that the only way to make a film is to surround yourself with people who really care about it enough to tell you when it sucks. When Jeremy forced me rethink my script, I realized that the notes from my producer and editor and production designer all were crucial to making the film. If others aren’t invested in the script, no one will invest in the finished film either. One of the most important things for any filmmaker to do is to listen, take advice, and adjust the script instead of simply explaining away the problems that exist. There’s no such thing as a finished script until it’s picture locked.
RFF 2010 Fellow Courtney Hope (mentored by Jeremy Kipp Walker) recently graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a degree in Film & Television. While a student at NYU, she wrote and directed several short films. Hope’s thesis film Sex & German Grammar, was awarded the prize for Best Cinematography at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival and screened at the Southside Film Festival and the Palm Springs Shortfest. Hope has also shown films at the London Super Short Film Festival and the Reed Media Festival, and took home a prize at the 2007 Southside Image Over Words competition. Hope recently completed her first independent short, Another First. Courtney’s RFF Film, Wild Birds, is about two young sisters who enter the woods determined to be “wild.” As the story unfolds, we begin to understand what they are running from, and see the power dynamic between them shift as the younger sister develops second thoughts about their plans.