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June 28 at 10:30am

Martin Donovan on “Gestation: A Case Study”

By Ted Hope

I set a lot of goals for myself that I can’t reach. I feel I have a really good understanding of many of the steps that one must take to transform good work into something better. I long lists on what can be done to help a film from being overlooked. But I am human. I can’t do all I want. I come from modest means. I have bills to pay. I have made commitments and honor my responsibilities and relationships. On any movie, there’s a great deal that I want to do that will never get done. It doesn’t stop me from trying to inspire others to do more though.

How do we transform desire into something concrete and permanent? When I was in film school I met a lot of people who had big dreams. Few were the sort of dreams I wanted to be part of. I did learn though that by throwing some of my energy, thoughts, labor, and other aspects & attributes of myself into others’ work, I could make a serious difference in what dreams get made into films. It is a tremendous gift this collaboration. This past year, I was thrilled to be able to do it for a long time friend and associate. How funny that it became a movie entitled COLLABORATOR. Today, the writer, director, and star, Martin Donovan of that film, one I Executive Produced, guests blogs on how he found himself in the unique position of having made a first feature.

I’ve had a life long battle with reality.  I have a terrible time defining it for myself.  “I” constantly doubt what my visual system tells me about the photons hitting my retina (I have better relations with my auditory system).  And now to make matters worse, I find myself trying to wrap my head around the realization that this film called Collaborator exists, which I wrote, directed and played one of the leads.  There are several dozen people alive today who will testify in court that they were involved in the making of this film.  I’ve attended screenings of said film where other people were present (I’m pretty sure they were there because other people confirmed that those other people were there and vice versa) and they seemed to be reacting to this film as it played.  Then I found myself listening to their reactions to the film and there were other people standing there nodding their heads in assent. This could be defined as a shared reality.  Rational people would say this is independent verification of my experience.  So I’m going go out on a limb here and state that I have in fact made a film.  I made a film.  I got a film made. There, I said it…

Ted has asked those of us involved in the making of Collaborator to blog about our experiences.   At first I was reluctant.  I didn’t feel qualified to add something of value to the dialectic of filmmaking.  But then Ted put it this way:  “Come at it as the eternal student in a world so devoid of legitimate teachers that we have to share our knowledge.”  I confess that got me.  What follows is more a very brief sketch of personal experience than knowledge per se.  But here it is:

I’ve had time to reflect on the making of Collaborator and I still struggle to find a way to describe what happened.   As my opening suggests I’m in shock.  How and why did this film get made?  I can only speculate.  I’m not being cute.  This is an honest description of what lingers for me as the film makes its debut.  I’m not going to deny that the goal of getting the film made took on significance in my life that was at times unbalanced and frightening.  My very existence seemed to rest on its completion. There was an enormous amount of will applied to its creation.  But at a certain point, perhaps after Ted read it and agreed to help it get made, it took on a life of its own and I became merely its guardian.   I’m hardly comfortable with the notion of destiny but I can’t think of a better explanation for what happened.  Is this not how everything looks in hindsight?

Sometime in the late 90’s when the existing economics of independent filmmaking was in the process of coming unraveled I was sitting across from Ted in his office at Good Machine.  He was painting a grim picture of the independent film business.  This didn’t dissuade me.  I told him how badly I wanted to direct.   I mumbled something about needing to find a script when he broke in sternly with “You’re not going to find one.”  Enough said.

A draft of a screenplay was banged out in 2003 as I sat fuming over war.  Something about another US war of aggression threatened to cause me to spontaneously combust. I showed it to a couple of filmmaker friends.  They were polite.  I shelved it but I knew I was ready to write.  (I was in my teens when I attempted my first screenplay.  I was in my late forties before I completed the task.)

After about a year I dove back in.  The only thing that survived the first draft was one scene between the two main characters with the protagonist having been given another line of work and entirely different life circumstances. Again, a couple of gracious writer friends (who I hadn’t bothered with the first attempt) read subsequent drafts and gave me notes. Yes, I was one of those people. I foisted my script on screenwriters I knew. I can’t help but wonder where I would be if I had approached Josh Olson. By the spring of 2005 I was comfortable sending it to Ted. I’m well aware of the huge advantage I had in having direct access to Ted Hope with my first screenplay. In fact, both our relationship and knowing I could get the thing to him and he’d give it a serious read were crucial in giving me the strength to write the thing at all. Within a couple of weeks of sending it I got an email from him that began with this: “It’s a good read. Strong characters and situations. Large ambitions and a great mix of humor with issues and weight. I like it.”

Six years, several drafts and many agonizing twists, turns and unexplained phenomena later Collaborator has arrived.

– Martin Donovan

Martin Donovan is an actor. He and Ted Hope met on Hal Hartley’s “Trust.” “Collaborator” is Martin’s first screenplay and directorial debut.

COLLABORATOR premieres in competition at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this July 4th. It’s never too early to tell your local exhibitor to screen it (They have a FB page, don’t they?) or fave distro to get it.

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