by Onicia Muller (@OniciaMuller)
After almost seven years of writing and coordinating with collaborators, I finally co-produced Sucker’s Garden, a Caribbean radio drama, with my friend Kimberly Meyers. Here are six lessons I learned while adapting our feature screenplay into a radio drama.
1. Create your vision, then worry about budgets.
That was the first lesson in my undergrad screenwriting class. When Kimberly approached me about turning her dream into a screenplay, we agreed to first tell the story before worrying about marketing, budgets, or casting. Telling the story as you imagine – not as something that’s trending in Hollywood or that you can afford – liberates you.
You own the rights to your story. There’s nothing stopping you from later reformatting it for different mediums or repurposing storylines and characters. Superhero origin stories, for example, are constantly retold and recrafted.
2. Time and living are the best ingredients for improving a draft.
Usually, in writing programs, you’re rushed to deliver multiple drafts within a few weeks. I never really understood/appreciated the benefit of rewrites until I wasn’t rushed to pump out words.
Writing is not just sitting at your computer and typing. We develop stories and characters while doing everyday activities. By taking time to mature as adults and unlearning negative character stereotypes, we gained the opportunity refine Sucker’s Garden.
3. Have a plan and be patient while the universe presents options.
In grad school, a professor advised us not to be precious about our work. Just because you got an A+ in a writing workshop doesn’t mean you deserve an Oscar. So write your draft, shop your draft, live your life, and repeat the cycle. Screenwriter Cas Sigers shopped When Love Kills for ten years before finding a producer. Yes, be a self-starter. Be persistent. Also, be patient with yourself and collaborators.
Initially I tried to use a grant to produce the full film. We quickly learned that $5K doesn’t cover squat — especially when one producer needs airfare. It’s unlikely you will film your first feature during a one-month holiday. After our failed summer shoot, we decided to scale back. Instead of a feature, we’d produce a short, a web series, an animated film, or even a novel. Finally, we tapped into our Caribbean roots and settled on an audio drama.
4. Prioritize proper spelling and grammar.
Reformatting delayed the project. I was stuck trying to confirm industry script standards. When producing independently, the only thing that really matters is proper spelling and grammar. Actors care more about credit and payment than script formatting. That said, polished scripts attract experienced actors and a crew that is less likely to flake. But screenwriting software does most of the heavy lifting. If there’s no preset, be creative, not obsessive.
5. Low-budget projects are exercises in completion.
After all the re-writes and re-formats, we finally got voice actors to record the dialogue. However, perfectionism got the best of me. It took another two months before I even opened my audio editor. After we released the trailer, it took another six or so weeks before we completed the final track. Perfectionism is often the reason why we procrastinate. The project only moved forward when I let go of trying to win awards or compete with big budget productions. Done is always better than perfect.
6. Release it because you like it, not because they’ll like it.
After listening to the final cut, a friend told me not to release the project because it would “hurt my brand.” I played the track several times. I was proud of Sucker’s Garden. We improved as writers, paid our talent and crew, and dedicated years of our life. There’s no way I was shelving it because it didn’t have the potential to go viral.
The final product is only a 10-minute excerpt from a 90-minute story. There is no crowdfunding campaign. No merchandise. Only completion.
The next week, I uploaded it to YouTube and distributed my press release. The results: I had mad fun adapting my feature film into a dope radio drama with my friends. My new producer’s credit pushes me.
Created on St Maarten. Based in Chicago. Onicia writes, says funny things, and enjoys hanging with creative minds. You can read her weekly column, Just Be Funny in The Daily Herald’s Weekender or on her blog. She pays her bills as a creative project manager. Find her online at OniciaMuller.com or @OniciaMuller