Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Hollywood Happy Ending

Get your Own Tots.
-Napoleon Dynamite


November’s focus on this blog was childlike imagination. I had the pleasure of spending my last day of November listening to the producer of Napoleon Dynamite describe the unlikely way his movie became a cult classic. Chris Wyatt went to USC film school with Jared Hess, the co-writer of Napoleon Dynamite. The movie is pretty much the true story of Hess’s high school experience in the tiny rural town of Preston, Idaho. Okay. Guess that is a redundant sentence. Are they any other kind of towns in Idaho? 

Wyatt is in Saint Petersburg at the invitation of the Sunscreen Film Festival teaching wanna be independent film makers how to make it happen. He was starting from scratch with a wide variety of name-in-lights dreamers, like me. There were stay-at-home moms and retirees and college students in the crowd. The pretty girl sitting next to me sells toilet paper for a living. Seriously. I didn’t even know that was a job. But as she pitches the merits of large commercial purchases of super soft rolls, my classmate is daydreaming about producing the next big mob movie. Think Good Fellows set in Tampa.

Who better to teach such a group than Chris Wyatt? He was a virtual unknown in Hollywood. Napoleon Dynamite was the first movie he ever produced. It is the first feature length movie Jarod Hess ever wrote. There were no-name actors. No budget. (An angel investor put in $425,000). Yet, the movie sparked a bidding war at Sundance Film Festival and sold for a guaranteed minimum of $4.7 million. It went on to gross $46 million worldwide. Not bad for an Indie.

It helped that there was a really quirky, funny script to start with. The hard work and passion of the crew also led to some happy coincidences. Apparently, Preston, Idaho (the location of the movie) happens to be less than a two- hour drive from Park City, Utah (location of Sundance Film Festival). All the Idaho farmers wanted to see their kids who played extras on the big screen. So when tickets went on sale for the film festival, Napoleon Dynamite sold out immediately. There was such a demand, they added extra screenings.  Soon everybody who is anybody wanted to see the movie that was selling out. The studio execs  were blown away at the reaction of the audience. People were jumping out of their seats with excitement when they recognized a cousin,  a neighbor's pet llama or a familiar chicken farm from home.

With his beard and hat on backwards and torn jeans and Star Wars t-shirt, Wyatt doesn’t look like your new age, positive thought guru kind of guy. But I swear everything he was talking about sounded like it came from a page from a Deepak Chopra or Wayne Dyer book. He talked about imagining yourself as a producer and all the details that come with that. He talked about asking yourself why you want to make movies. Wyatt believes there is no wrong motivation. But you have to know what is personally motivating your vision. He talked about specificity in your vision. Not just I want to make movies. Rather, What role will I play? What kind of movies? What audience do I want to reach? What is my message? Wyatt quoted existentialist Nobel Prize winning author Samuel Beckett. Something about we were all put on this Earth to create.

For Chris Wyatt, creating movies is all about imagination.

"Imagination is everything.You have to be able to see the movie on the screen. The audience's reaction. If you can't see it first, it will fail." Wyatt said.

Good advice for whatever your creating.

Are you specific in visualizing your made for Hollywood happy ending?

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