BY JOHN REED
SC Staff Writer
Breaking into the film industry is a dream for many students, but blazing a trail into the industry is not an exact science.
Jack Thomas Smith, the writer, director and producer of the film, Infliction, took time out of his schedule to give prospective ESU filmmakers some insights into the reality of Hollywood filmmaking.
Inspiration for writing can come in many forms and, in Smith’s case, writing the screenplay for Infliction just happened.
“I knew I wanted to tell a story from the camera’s perspective without it getting too cheesy. The idea just popped into my head,” said Smith.
Inspired by the movie-making legends that have come before him, like “Scorsese and Lucas,” Smith hopes to use out-of-the-box thinking to be as creatively realistic as possible, and maybe inspire a few young minds as well.
“Independent films can be done well when you take risks and that’s why I like these filmmakers. It just feels real,” said Smith.
Smith enjoys looking into the human psyche to see how we tick. This allowed him to focus his writing in a genre that interested him.
“I’m not necessarily a horror guy – more like dark drama or psychological thrillers. I’ll write whatever feels right, but not your traditional Freddy Kruger horror flick,” said Smith.
According to Smith, having intimate knowledge of your writing material can make the process of completing a script that much easier. Situations that have been experienced firsthand allow for greater detail in the writing.
“There are elements of the story in my writing that is based upon personal experience which allows it to hit home with family. You should definitely borrow from your own life,” said Smith.
In discussing his academic background, Smith confessed that he is not college educated.
“I began writing as a young kid, but I barely got through high school. I visited my local library and took out a book on writing screen plays. I’m self-taught, but I wouldn’t recommend this approach” said Smith.
Smith continued, “Having the degree is worth it, but you have to get on set to get actual experience. Being on set helps you learn to adapt to changing situations and real world instances.”
Earning a degree in film is not just about the academic opportunities that it offers. Students will be able to study and learn in a field with like-minded individuals.
“The people you go to school with can be important. Networking is key,” said Smith.
The writing process for film making can be difficult, but it all starts with an idea. It does not matter how the idea comes to be, but to start a script the writer must have a basic premise.
“In Infliction I wanted to tell a story about two brothers that are struggling. I thought about making them thrill killers, but that felt too cheesy. I had to think about their motivation as characters to help mold the story,” said Smith.
In-depth character analysis allows for the story to take on a life of its own. In Infliction, Smith is able to use the brother’s childhood abuse as a driving force to his movie.
“The brothers go after the people who abused them as well as the individuals in the system that let them down by posing their corpses in the way that they were affected,” said Smith.
As the story begins to progress, the brother’s true character shows through, but complementary characters, like their sister, become an issue.
“The sister’s part was tough because I couldn’t figure out how to kill her. I was at the barbershop one day and I realized that she was a type of false protector. From this I decided to have her face cut off,” said Smith.
Smith believes anyone can write a screenplay. Get an idea that has a beginning and ending point and follow the simple structure that all movies follow. It is a formula that all Hollywood movies follow.
“From The King’s Speech to Caddyshack, all screen plays follow the same formula. ESU students can easily follow this structure and write their own screen play,” said Smith.
The editing process can involve many re-writes, or just a few, depending upon the initial writing. Tweaks are a part of the process as the script moves through the editing process.
“Editing can be crazy. One page of a screen play represents one minute of film time. I put a lot of effort into the initial writing,” said Smith.
An independent filmmaker can wear many hats while trying to get their movie created. It is important to focus on the writing as the writer and not try and add elements of the other roles that must be filled.
“Sometimes I struggle when I write as I describe a scene. You need to just write and not let things like camera direction and angles get in the way. Details are important. Everything must pop,” said Smith.
Creating movies is a difficult process. The film cannot be created without an agent, but without the film there is no agent.
“It’s a catch-22. You need to have the movie made, but you need an agent too. You need previous film work and you need money,” said Smith.
If the goal is to become a director, there are certain realities that prospective filmmakers must be aware of. The size of a movie’s budget will come into play when making all movie-related decisions. There are certain realities to creating a low-budget film.
“You cannot have crazy special effects with a small budget. You will need a budget and a business plan to be able to lay out and organize your finances,” said Smith.
Moving forward with a business plan, filmmakers can attempt to entice investors to invest in their movie. This will go beyond the movie budget and will include an understanding of tax codes, write-offs, and tax credits.
“I would recommend going to business school too. It’s all about business and it will help you understand the financial aspects because it is hard to get investors. You should be prepared to answer any and all questions thoroughly to satisfy inspectors,” said Smith.
Breaking into the movies business can be difficult as a writer because of the difficulty of finding an agent, but there are other ways to get involved. The interconnectivity of today’s society makes film creation for college students a simple process.
“Create a short film and keep it simple, but show turmoil. Shoot and edit it and then put it out there. Put it on YouTube. Don’t tell people you can do it. Show them. Continue to build your resume, network, and get experience,” said Smith.
Movie making is still a business and it is all about making money. Filmmakers must balance their financial commitments with their creative ones.
“The 1970s had a great run of films like Rocky, Godfather, and Star Wars where the picture was just as important as the money,” said Smith.
Smith encourages any prospective ESU student filmmakers to contact him via Twitter at @JackTSmith1 if they are interested in breaking into the film industry.
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