Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like a particularly long time. Most of us can have our coffee, eat our breakfast, brush our teeth and be out the door to work in about that time. For local filmmaker Kit Wilson, 15 minutes is the culmination of years of being inspired, a willingness to follow a childhood dream and a symbol of countless hours spent by many people to accomplish their goal; a short film. Wilson’s first film, “Trick Shop,” is just 15 minutes in length, but the journey took much longer than that.
Growing up in Coronado, California, the bright lights of Hollywood were never far from Wilson’s backyard. The family would drive into L.A. to see the sights, and sometimes Hollywood would end up coming to them. “I remember seeing big stars, Marilyn Monroe and others, shooting movies in my neighborhood and watching them perform in person,” recalled Wilson.
At age 12 he began writing TV scripts, never submitting them to networks, but the exercise set him on his journey to eventually becoming a filmmaker. After years of living in Los Angeles and writing TV commercials and other marketing projects, Wilson was looking for a change. His children had recently moved to the Northwest, and he decided to follow them, landing in Gig Harbor five years ago. Wilson found the Northwest a much more relaxed place full of creative artists, and thoughts of writing screenplays began to fill his mind. “I realized very quickly this was the perfect environment to let my mind run wild, and the atmosphere is so conducive to creativity here,” he said. “In L.A., it’s all business, and here I get to really enjoy the creativity and am surrounded by creative artists, and I find it immensely rewarding.”
Once settled into Gig Harbor, Wilson began looking for like-minded people to help him get his dreams going. Having never gone to film school, he was in need of honest feedback and guidance on creating a screenplay. He joined just about every film group in the Seattle/Tacoma area that he could find and started networking. While some members were just in it for the hobby, Wilson also met local professional actors and actresses, directors and photographers. The first thing Wilson learned from those in the business is that writing a screenplay is a much different process than writing a TV commercial. “I learned one page of screenplay equals about one minute on screen. I read books and online education on how to adjust my writing style.”
During his first year in Gig Harbor, Wilson wrote a dozen 100-plus page feature-film screenplays. He hired a professional marketer in Los Angeles to get his words into decision makers who would eventually bring his films to life. Hollywood is a tough market to crack, and with little headway, Wilson decided to make the change to short projects and market his films by submitting them to film festivals.
His first film, “Trick Shop,” debuted at the Gig Harbor Film Festival last season. Through his previous networking, Wilson was able to assemble local professionals at each level to help him create and execute the film. He learned quickly that once you’ve completed the first draft of your screenplay, the project soon takes on a whole new life of its own. “I sent the first draft out to professionals here and in L.A. and began filtering the criticism. It’s a different kind of criticism, which took some getting used to, but you get new ideas on how to evolve the script and just keep changing it.”
Once his new draft was finalized, it was time for a table read. This involves getting professional actors to get into character and read the script aloud as a group. From here, more adjustments are made based on how the script sounds live. A line producer is called in to go through the script page by page and estimate how much each scene will cost to make; everything from the equipment to catering. After months of shooting and post production, “Trick Shop” was ready for a viewing audience.
Today, submitting a film for festivals is done digitally though a few services. Filmmakers can create a bio, include actors, descriptions, trailers and other marketing information and build their profile on services like ‘Without a Box’ and ‘Film Freeway.’ These sites are connected with film festivals all over the world, so if you hope to show your film locally in Gig Harbor but also feel you have a shot at getting into Sundance or Cannes, you can apply to those with the same service. Once accepted, filmmakers can choose which events they want to attend and are often looking for festivals with a market where they can network with professionals in hopes of striking a deal.
Unlike going to your local mega plex to see the next big superhero movie in 3D, you’ll find a completely different experience at a film festival like the upcoming Gig Harbor Film Festival in late October. “Moviegoers are looking for excitement and a ride,” said Wilson. “People in our scene look at how to take this art form and bring it to an audience and by the end have them saying, ‘That was thought provoking; let’s talk about what we just experienced.’”
Film festivals often bring in features and shorts from all around the world. In an hour you might encounter a drama in French, a horror film, serious documentary and something completely abstract. Like wine tasting, you might not love everything you try, but the experience will open your mind to new thoughts and ideas.
Wilson has subsequently released his second short feature, “Drowned World,” and is in post production on his third film “Remnants,” which he hopes to premiere in January. Not having a degree from a film school didn’t stop him from achieving his goals and hopes it’s not a deterrent for others with similar dreams. For those hoping to bring their ideas to the big screen, Wilson offers this advice:
If you’re really passionate about it, first learn the structure of screenwriting. Use professional software like ‘Final Draft’ because it helps tremendously. Go to seminars, talks and take night classes from your local college, and be sure to rub elbows with others in the industry to expand your knowledge. Get true feedback from professionals, not just your brother or uncle telling you nice job, and finally, remember, this is a business, too.
If you are looking for inspiration, consider checking out the Gig Harbor Film Festival October 26 through 29 at the Galaxy Theatre. You’ll find feature and short films, documentaries, animated, foreign and locally produced films. Passes are available as individual screenings or unlimited screenings. The 2017 lineup is available at GigHarborFilm.org.