Broken Glass, Not Broken Dreams

I know I’ve been AWOL from this blog lately as I’ve been working very hard on getting my next short film project off the ground.

“Broken Glass” is about 11 year old Max Petersen who is being bullied at school and has an abusive father at home. One day when playing alone in the woods, he encounters a mysterious creature that changes his life forever.

In July, we were busy putting together an application for the New Zealand Film Commission’s funding scheme Fresh Shorts but unfortunately didn’t even make it to the shortlist. Not getting the money was something I’d prepared myself for and possibly in a cynical form of self-protection, I had half expected it.

However, that didn’t soften the blow from how disrespected I felt when hearing the news through a friend on Facebook, we didn’t receive an official notification about it until a week after the shortlist was announced and I wasn’t the only one that happened to either. Having entered Sundance a few years ago with my short drama “The Shoe Box”, even with the thousands of entries they get I still got told we hadn’t made the cut before they announced the lineup. Oh well, let’s move on, shall we?

So, there I was, sitting at work one morning after hearing this and wanting to just go home and hide under my duvet for the rest of the day. I sat there wondering how we were going to get this film made since I can no longer afford to keep self-funding these things. I mean, there’s only so much debt and begging people for favours a person can handle before you wonder if you should just give up, but I often get into arguments with myself about that so I don’t consider it worth thinking about often. What else am I going to do? Giving up on filmmaking means giving up on life.

A couple of people I know make a habit of being professional applicants for funding grants and just give up on a project if they don’t get the money. Personally, I think a project is kind of doomed if it comes from a place of, “I’ll only do this if we get the money”. At least, that’s not really the way I personally like to work. Even feature projects that I ve worked on developing that I know are strong commercially are films I want to make and have spent a lot of time on without being paid because I have a passion for the concept, theme, the movie I see playing in my head or something about the characters I’ve created. It takes money to make a feature film, but whether or not there is money available isn’t what decides the time I spend on developing it.

This film came into being on the night of June 12th 2011 and it just happened to be a month prior to a funding deadline so we applied. But when I wrote it, there was a short film stuck in my head that I had to get out onto paper. By the time that first draft was over in the early hours of June 13th, I’d already put it out to the universe and told myself; “I am going to make this film”. As I sit here four months later, I still don’t know how we are going to find the money or get the film made, I just know that we are going to do it…why? Because we must.

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands because, feel free to call me crazy here, but I thought we had a pretty rockin’ script and so did the LA based script editors I’d been developing it with. Thankfully, I must have done something right because after approaching a few organisations who work in the domestic violence sector, an organisation called Shine, who are New Zealand’s largest domestic abuse organisation registered as a charity, gave us their endorsement from reading the script.

Given the choice between money or the approval of an organisation representing the sector for the subject matter your film portrays, I think I prefer the latter. It’s fair to say my faith had been wavering a little, all kinds of self-doubt had started to creep in and my dad’s favourite reminder to me has been starting to feel like a broken record, “remember, overnight successes take ten years to happen”. Well, I started as a runner on a feature film in 2000 and now even my friends have started telling me that I’m due a break! Universe, are you listening? Please take note, thanks muchly 😉

I’m not sitting around waiting for things to fall in my lap though, we’ve launched a funding contributions page on RocketHub; a crowdfunding platform like KickStarter but global. We also put out a press release about the project the other week which didn’t get much media traction but it was always a long shot. We’ve certainly found so far that many companies appear scared to sponsor or support a film addressing domestic violence and that isn’t that surprising given how prevalent it is; a third of New Zealand women have experienced physical violence from a partner within the last ten years.

A few people who have read the script for “Broken Glass” have said it feels closest to the kind of films they see me making and I’d agree with that. Doing the drama short a few years ago was a very personal way to exorcise the loss of my dad, get some practice and do something serious. The web series was to try a more agile, fast-paced/loose style of filmmaking developing my skills of working with improvisation and comedy. However, I’d say that this time it’s getting serious, this time this film has me written all over it. It’s a film that has something to say and gets straight to the point but through the fusion and contrasting elements of gritty realism and ethereal childhood fantasy/imagination.

I realised recently that all the projects I’ve created to date have some kind of fantasy element to them, “The Shoe Box” might have been a family drama but there was a slight magical quality associated with items that had the power to invoke fond memories of someone no longer with us. Even “101 Dates” which was an online dating comedy was never meant to be grounded in reality, it almost exists in its own outrageous alternate reality in fact.

When I look back at the major influences on me in terms of my career aspirations, it was a film that made me believe there was an island with dinosaurs on it that made me want to be a filmmaker. It was an epic fantasy quest about dwarves, elves, wizards and hobbits trying to destroy a powerful ring that made me move to the other side of the world in search of a place where making that kind of film was possible. It was a film about the loss  of a parent disguised in the form of a monster movie involving a group of kids making a zombie film on their Super 8 camera that made me write a script combining a young boy’s harsh reality contrasted with an experience of otherworldly fantasy.

What those films all have in common is imagination and the suspension of disbelief. They are films about something or a story that are not of this world and yet they are grounded enough in reality with universal themes that everyone can relate to. Therefore, we believe we are really looking at a living dinosaur even though we know that’s impossible, we believe we are really seeing a wizard cast a spell and that we are really seeing an alien creature stalking the residents of a small town.

At the end of the day, all I want to do is make people believe in and care about things that they secretly know are not really there. It doesn’t matter if that comes in the form of a magical dragon they can’t see or just enjoying the company of a group of characters they can relate to and believe in. It takes a real-life wizard to achieve the manifestation of belief in others and ultimately, I just want to make magic for a living.

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About Chaz Harris

Chaz Harris is a writer and award-winning filmmaker based in Wellington, New Zealand.
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2 Responses to Broken Glass, Not Broken Dreams

  1. NZ mum says:

    ‘I just want to make magic for a living’ – that sums it up perfectly!

  2. Pingback: How Other Filmmakers Are Using The Internet (and how you can to!) | White Cloud Screenwriting

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