I flew home for the holidays in late December 2009. It was college bowl season, I had football on my mind, Wet Cigarettes had just premiered, and my goal while I was home was to begin writing my first feature script.
I had attempted to write feature length scripts in the past, but never got over that first hump. The uncertainty of “whether or not this would actually get made” would always inaugurate the demise of my motivation. Fortunately, this time I knew that as long as I held up my end of the bargain there was a very strong possibility it would get made. That was all the motivation that I needed, and on Christmas Eve, 2009 I wrote the first couple of scenes of the first draft of The Newest Pledge.
Not a word of which made the shooting script, but that’s to be expected with even the simplest of short film scripts.
At that point in time, to speak in cliches, my life was at a crossroads. A part of me was considering ending my filmmaking dream and going to Law School and taking on a more comfortable, but in my eyes mundane and strenuous life. The reason I was contemplating this had little to do with any doubts in myself as an artist, but rather because a part of me just wanted to comfortable. I wanted to be an adult and in my eyes at the time I viewed adulthood as a wife, a nice car, and an affordable mortgage.
The other direction my life could have headed was the road of going all in as a filmmaker. I spent late November and much of December as a production assistant on a hit reality television show where I quickly learned that not only did I hate being a P.A, but that the idea of transitioning from P.A to director is as absurd as the idea that I was going to eat Burger King and defecate bricks of platinum. That holiday break I weighed all the options, mapped out all of the likely outcomes, and decided to go all in. I was confident in myself, I had others who were confident in me, and I knew that if I didn’t go for it now I would soon regret the choices that I made. I didn’t want to become one of those people. I didn’t want to hate myself. It wasn’t a hard decision to make, though the aftermath would later be throbbing, the difference was just that I love being creative, I don’t love law.
I returned to Orange sometime in the first few days of 2010 and it was time to write. I had very little responsibility at that point in time besides to write this script. As a writer, my brain was in rhythm because I had my own football blog for the past few months so I was habitually used to sitting in front of a computer and writing for hours at a time. I had my script outlined; I had something that resembled a treatment, and I probably had the first draft of my script within the first week of being back in California.
My fellow screenwriters out there will understand when I say that was barely the beginning. No script worth making is ever done after one draft. That’s the easiest way to make a sloppy movie. I went on to have at least five or six drafts of that script before the Super Bowl, that year. Some things would change based on cast, other things would change based on locations, and most things would change because I simply felt things could be better. That month of my life was pretty much spent sitting in front of monitors, sitting in front of televisions watching references, sitting in movie theaters to clear my mind, and then going right back to a computer monitor.
My philosophy when it comes to writing is that when you have you have to get it out of you, because you can’t expect it to come back to you. Your thoughts are so delicate, especially when they come from an emotional place. Personally, I always try to write emotionally on my early drafts and then inject the brain of the film in after. Naturally there is some overlap between heart and head, but I always try to go into each draft with an objective, and those drafts usually stem from one or the other.
The month of February was spent putting what I presumed would be the finishing touches on the script. The film had its cast by that point, so I did what any good writer/director would do and touched up the dialogue according to who I was working with in each role to make sure that what was written matched each actors skill set. This month was spent making a lot of adjustments that stemmed from knowing that I was also the director of this script; things like locations, movement, and design elements were inserted into the script. Though in my opinion things like that don’t make a script any better or worse, they help on set a whole lot, and they make it easier to communicate with the countless people asking you questions.
In early March we got our script clearance from our lawyer. The lawyers sent a few notes in regards to a few legalities I had to change such as names of characters. Apparently if there is only one instance of a name in the census or some form of records, that name can’t be legally cleared. I went into the script and changed a few characters names to get them cleared, got clearance, and we went into production St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 2010. I was confident with my script, it had gotten positive feedback from people who I knew wouldn’t B.S me, and had no motive to B.S me.
I think we intended to shoot the 16th draft, but a week into production that script got completely blown up, for better and for worse.
The nature of directing an ultra-low budged film is that things change. The best certain inexperienced actors can do sometimes isn’t good enough no matter how much direction and help you give them. You can’t reshoot certain things because they cost production so much money, and you only have so much schedule availability when you don’t have a lot of disposable time or income. Also, the producers were constantly changing things on me in order to help sell the film.
All of these things helped me grow as both a writer and a director a tremendous amount. If an actor scripted for a certain day wasn’t available that day, I learned how to write around it, and pushed myself to make scenes better. I now know as a writer that scenes can often be better, even when they’re fine, and I wouldn’t have learned that if the schedule of The Newest Pledge wasn’t so difficult.
Maybe half of the shooting script of The Newest Pledge made the final movie that will be out August 28, 2012. The rest was written on set, sometimes less than an hour before filming it. I’ll probably never have to do anything like that again, mostly because I’ll be more prepared for changes before I enter production and foresee and fix them. Changing things on set lead to certain headaches that still disappoint me today, and as much as I think I did a good job keeping it all together given the circumstances, I know that I could have done better, and I will continue to push myself to get better, because that’s just what I do.
The hardest part about changing a script that you wrote during production is trying to keep the emotional attachment to the story that you initially had. I always pushed myself to make sure that the script changes I was making reflected the emotional content I wanted to convey. That may sound silly to you considering the film is about a fraternity that raises a baby, but underneath the surface The Newest Pledge is a film about coming to grips with adulthood, the reality that one day the college party lifestyle will have to end, and that responsibility is something to embrace not run away from.
When certain scenes would change I would always make sure to include those themes, because those themes were the reason why I sat down to write this thing to begin with.
The Newest Pledge explores my personal life dilemma without shoving it down anyone’s throat. In fact I make fun of it. Without reading this entry or hearing me talk about it on the DVD commentary, most people would never know that I put so much thought into the story, but that’s the way I like it. I write to cope with my emotion and maybe make others feel it, and that’s therapeutic. I don’t try to force any ideology down anyone’s throat, and my ultimate goal is to make people laugh.
For what I do, laughter is my currency. In the past I’ve written that my ability to make people laugh is what I believe is my gift from God. Making movies is my way of doing what I believe I was put here to do. To some that may sound illogical, and to others that may sound conceited, but when I sit in on screenings and hear the laughs that my script and movie create in the audience there is a fulfillment that I can’t explain, but it’s in those moments that I know I made the right decision in December 2009.
Jason Michael Brescia
June 14, 2012 12:03 P.M EST