A Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie is a new weekly written series by Erin Bagwell. To view the whole series click here.
Part 16: The Executive Producers
After my honeymoon, I felt rejuvenated and relaxed. To make matters more exciting on the way home from St. Lucia I got an email from Clinique asking me if I wanted to attend the red carpet premiere of Ricki and the Flash for their #smartideas campaign. I walked through customs crying and squealing “MERYL!” It felt like everything was moving forward in a beautiful way for the film. I was excited to get back into the editing suite with Francesca to finally finish Dream, Girl.
Creatively speaking, producing a feature-length documentary was way harder than I ever imagined it would be. Your brain gets so fatigued watching the same story over and over again, and it’s really important to bring on people whose vision you trust and who have made long form content before. I’ve made at least fifty short films (even a 34 minute documentary) but making anything over sixty minutes is another animal.
Thankfully we had two incredible Executive Producers, Linda Goldstein Knowlton and Bous de Jong, on our side to help us shape the film and our story. Their guidance and support gave us invaluable creative advice and really pushed us to make the best film possible.
Towards the end of editing our rough cut I remember sending Linda and Bous a copy of the film and waiting not so patiently by my phone for their feedback. They always watched the film separately, then would come together to discuss without us and then call us to make sure we got the most concise feedback, which would always take a few days depending on their schedule.
Komal and I got on the phone with them one cloudy afternoon in September, and from the get-go this call felt different. After a few minutes of awkward small talk they got right to the point- we needed to lose a couple of women in the film. At first this didn’t seem like a big deal. However pulling at this what seemed like a tiny thread actually unraveled our whole story line and we realized we needed to re-shape the film’s overall message and re-shoot some of the footage.
They were asking us to restart the film.
My heart sank. I thought that we were summiting the peak and all of a sudden we needed to start at the base of the mountain again. I felt overwhelmed, angry, sad, and confused all at the same time. However, I did know was that I wasn’t going to release a film, my first film, if I thought I could do better. I wanted this documentary to be an homage to the incredible and powerful stories I got on camera.
So Komal and I took a break, had a big cry, and went back to the drawing board to figure out how to re-shape this story. In the first cut, Dream, Girl was 3-4 minute vignettes based on different themes and my story is the glue that puts them all together. However, with 16 people on screen you don’t get to really deep dive into any one person’s story. In our new cut we picked five women and I put together a 15 minute draft of their story. We polished that story and then wove in the other stories. Because I was too deeply in love with some of the quotes we added a few extra women’s experiences to enrich the narrative, who we called “pop-up” entrepreneurs.
This process would end up taking us another eight months to complete and re-shoot. Once we went down this new path, we realized there were moments in our entrepreneurs lives that we wanted to see more of. So we added in some shots of their offices or families when we needed them, and contracted out our friends at Mighty Oak to add some stop-motion animation to fill in the gaps of their story we couldn’t see.
This break in the creative, and the re-birth of the story was by far the hardest part of the filmmaking journey. To have to crawl back to the start when we thought we were finished was devastating. However, I can honestly say without a doubt it was the best thing that ever happened to us.
It gave us permission to dive deeper into their stories, take risks, and push ourselves harder to make it the best film possible.
Next time on a Gal’s Guide to Making a Movie. Part 16: The Cancer. The Dream, Girl team focuses on their health.
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