Screenwriter Joe Hansen never intended his film, Dream House, to be seen. He and his fiance, Nikki DePasquale, had just graduated from Berklee College of Music for Film Scoring. Their talents (composing and editing music for film and video) and patience were about to be put to the test. They answered an ad from a director who needed someone to score his feature length film. They thought they'd "scored" a paying gig, but all they got was aggravation. The movie was poor quality and they never got paid for the work they did.
Joe says he was back at "square one." It was 18 months after graduation, and Joe and Nikki still had no film scoring work. "I was sitting in front of the computer, entering data for one of the fifteen companies I was temping for, and I made a decision...I was going to make a film and score it myself."
Joe had always been a fan of horror films and the only equipment he had to work with was a Kodak CX6200, which was a simple digital snapshot camera with only 30 seconds of "gritty" digital video, and a Mac G5 with iMovie and iDVD. His next problem was audio, which was solved when his parents sent him their Sony camera. This camera, though, picked up only scratch audio. That, coupled with the constraints of shooting in 30-second increments, led Joe to the realization that he would need to work in a genre that would support the gritty, raw footage and sound.
Joe had absolutely no scriptwriting experience. He stumbled on to Drew's Script-O-Rama (a freebie, on-line script library) and started studying suspense scripts and scripts by the Coen Brothers and Stanley Kubrick. He picked up the format from the readings and began working on his film script. "I had written about two pages of script in Word before I decided to search for a better and easier way."
"I found ScriptBuddy on my first Google™ search," Joe said. "Without ScriptBuddy, there would be no Dream House! Writing a screenplay in ScriptBuddy is like taking an 'Intro To Screenplay Writing' class. Any questions I had were answered fast, and the ScriptBuddy community of writers is an extremely supportive community. There are some talented writers and some fun screenplays in the 'Published Screenplay' sections," he said. And once Joe started writing his script in ScriptBuddy, the work flowed.
"I always have a movie on," said Joe. "I can't work without background noise. People tell me I should listen to music when I write, but as a musician, I start analyzing the music, and before I know it, I'm completely focused on it," he said. "I enjoy listening to DVDs with director's commentaries, or 'the making of' features while I work. I always find it inspiring."
After three months of writing, Joe was finished and he and Nikki began shooting in their apartment. "Nikki and I were working in a disgusting, trashy, dusty, smelly apartment that we hated, but it was great for shooting," Joe confided. He learned that many people were willing to help out for free when they found out that he was shooting a film. He also learned that production was a "pain in the butt," according to Joe. "Especially with that crappy little digital camera!" But the filming continued with three purchased florescent lights and lots of creative juggling.
Because Joe had no audio in the initial filming with the Kodak CX6200, they needed to pick up the scratch audio with the camcorder. "Once we finished shooting the principal photography, we were left with a grainy, choppy movie with horrible audio," Joe said. "We had to re-record every line, every footstep, door opening/closing, glass clinking and every single bit of audio in an attempt to get as professional recording as possible," he said. "On top of this, the actress who played Franky said she couldn't come back to record her ADR due to some personal matters...what else could go wrong?" Actually, the Franky role had originally been played by a man, and changed mid-filming, so all the "he's" had to be changed to "she's."
Joe was actually the lead character in the film, and it presented a few challenges of its own. "There's a shot where Will, my character, is walking and looking at his coffee as he stirs it. We then cut to his point of view, which I ended up filming over Nikki's shoulder as she walks wearing my clothes," he said. "I was too tall for her to be able to film over my shoulder."
Though it seemed that plenty could go wrong, Joe and Nikki persevered and ended up with a unique, trendy 30-minute film, which their former professors are urging them to show at film festivals.
Dream House is a story about a man who, after moving with his fiance to an old Victorian house (turned apartment complex), begins to experience strange and disturbing visions every time he falls asleep. According to Joe, the man's solution is to stop sleeping, then adds, "...but how long can he go without sleep before losing his mind?"
Joe has already begun writing his next film, and Nikki is also using ScriptBuddy to write her first screenplay. "I've already started and finished another shorter script called 'Private Caller,' about a nerd and a deranged telephone solicitor," said Joe. "Of course I used ScriptBuddy again! It does all the legwork for me, leaving me free to just throw my thoughts down without thinking too much about the layout. I also LOVE the fact that as soon as I write something, it's saved!" he said. "No more dealing with my word processor crashing on me right before I hit save."
Nikki's involvement with Dream House was co-producer, actress, creative consultant, audio editor and engineer, and film composer. Nikki put her film scoring talents and film theory classes to use and realized that she had some talents that were raw and some that required more research and training. "Working with Joe has always been something special and we seem to complement each other very well," she said. "I would have not done it any other way."
Joe and Nikki have been working together professionally for about four years, and Nikki says that they help each other discover their own strengths and weaknesses. "I had the privilege to see the beginning steps of the film when it was originally going to be an hour long," she said. "After watching Joe develop everything on ScriptBuddy.com, I finally got the guts to work on a project of my own, which I hope to start filming this summer. I am looking forward to having Joe coach me in my first project!" she said. "I know after this experience the both of us will continue to create films."
When asked what Joe would say to all first-time screenplay scribes, he was more than happy to provide some helpful tips. "Well, first find a script that has been made into a major motion picture. Watch the movie first, then read the screenplay," he advised. "Do this with more than one film and try to choose movies by different filmmakers. Try reading a script to a film you haven't seen, then watch the DVD with the director's commentary, even if you don't like the film...you'll probably still learn something.
"When writing Dream House, I was trying to write with the same concept in mind as Leigh Whannell and James Wan when they were writing Saw," Joe said. "In their commentary they mentioned that they wrote small...they wrote a script that's mainly shot in one room with two actors. So, definitely write something that can be shot right after the script is completed," said Joe. "Try not to start your filmmaking career with a clunky feature length film that nobody wants to see. Dream House is almost 30 minutes, and I still wish I had made it only 15 minutes long.
"And the last step would be to definitely get on ScriptBuddy and write, write, write...even if it sucks! Don't be sheepish," he said. "ScriptBuddy makes it easy to edit and you can just keep rewriting!"
Joe says that he wanted to prove to himself that one doesn't necessarily need expensive equipment to create something interesting and exciting. "Making a film is such an incredible way to express one's self and an amazing way to meet new, wonderful, talented people."