Thursday, August 29, 2013

Interview: Wood Dickinson Award Winning Filmmaker


Wood Dickinson is an award winning film maker and principal at renegade Pictures. He made his first documentary in 2006 then continued onto his first feature film which was sold to Lionsgate for their direct-too-video market. He then wrote Henry lee Lucas for Drifter. Drifter won one Silver Telly Award for Budget and two Bronze Telly Awards for Cinematography and Editing at the 30th Annual competition. Following this success he produced Abandoned starring Brittany Murphy, Dean Cain, Peter Bogdanovich and Mimi Rogers.

Now I can continue raving his starry accomplishments which would undoubtedly cover more than an A4 page or I could rather just introduce him and let his words create the image of the world he lives in.

Wood it’s a privilege to have you here on M.A, thanks for taking the time to share what is ultimately your legacy.

You are at the stage in your life where you can honestly comment on the fact that construction of reality isn’t easy. What is your perception?

To construct a reality for my characters to play out their story in is an effort to express the metaphors we accept as reality. That means that the history, time and place must be understood not just “made up.” It has to feel right. In our world there are structures, systems, histories, that we all experience, learn about or hear about. If we attempt to put a made up person into a world, even if it isn’t our world, they need to feel, know, and express like we do. Their interactions and reactions need to be built on the reality we experience every day. Especially if the story happens in our world and our time there needs to be detail, detail, detail and then some more detail that encompasses everything. That doesn’t mean you need to learn everything there is to know but enough so when you write you know the characters history from birth. You want to know their parents and siblings, the places they go, what they love (and why) same for hate and what are they scared of (and again WHY!). The why of everything I think is what gives our characters life and believability.
When I had to have a hometown for my Robin Randle, Mason, Texas just popped into my head.  I know the Texas Hill Country so I learned more about the geography, city layout, street names, historical residents you know. Like I grew up there. I also used experiences I’ve had in small towns. Then sure, I make some things up because the story needs those elements but if you’ve done your homework it will feel seamless.


When we spoke you mentioned that there is a fabric of metaphor and history that we all share. You noted that crafting within that can be a cleaver task. Could you elaborate?

Sure. We all know what war looks like and famine, earthquakes etc. Especially with the 24/7 news cycle. If I write about a woman who comes back from war a hero then I need to know all I can about the war she was in, the battle(s) that made her a hero and then how she was honored. If you have her receive a Bronze Star in the US military then you need to know all the criteria around the awarding of that meddle. It is all documented. The worst thing we can do as writers is lie especially because we’re lazy. I know it sounds funny but when you write fiction you must still tell the truth. When things don’t fit or experiences aren’t deep enough the reader feels this and starts to think that the writing is thin, out of whack or it may just feel wrong to them and that takes away from the truth you are trying to get across.

You are obviously very gifted when it comes to the mash up between photography, film writing and reflection of all things related to film, image and life in general. Where is your creative spark currently directing towards?

At the moment I’m finishing a photography project (book layout etc) called “100 in 365 version 2.” The photography part is done so I’m working on the book design, text and layout. First proof is back and I’m hacking it up and getting close to a second proof. This project is creating 100 photographs in 365 days. These photos are pieces that have been passed over or a lose end not attached to a project. You seem to collect a lot of lose ends and this is an exercise to keep producing work even when you aren’t doing a project. I read about the concept in a copy of Lenswork a magazine on black and white photography. I know it sounds pretty simple but when you search old work and lose ends plus new shots that just come to you and spend two or more hours per image in the digital darkroom, getting one out per day isn’t so easy. Photos in this set include old film shots done during college, pictures taken with my Leica M8 and even my iPhone. To get a preview go to http://www.100in365.com. There will be a limited edition book, a trade version of the book along with limited edition prints of several of the photographs and trade editions of the photographs. I’m planning on a show in Kansas City sometime in 2014 to bring it all together. The version 2 is because this is the second time I’ve done this. The first time didn’t go so well.

I’m also crafting a mythology I call “The Robin Randle Stories.” I really didn’t mean to write a book (or at least her book) but she had other plans. By writing that book I finally got to the core of a project that’s been elusive and around in my head forever called “Mercy Lake.” I’m designing “Mercy Lake” as a multi leveled, mixed media experience. The central character is Emma Swift and what I’m doing is constructing the journals she kept while living at Norwood House on Mercy Lake. From that main source I’d like others to create a web video series, a prose version of the story and lots of other fun things. I’d like all the relevant pieces to be released concurrently so kind of like real life, you have to go to several sources to really understand what happened at Norwood House.

From my own experience I find that the line between writing and filming trots an extremely narrow rope. What is your perception? How has the two grown over time?

You know us poor writers just mention to the film director type guys that they wouldn’t have anything to do unless we came up with some stories and watch them bristles! When I conceive a story I don’t think about budget, talent, directors and all that. First and foremost I want a good story. Once the story’s on paper moving it to a screenplay is mired in structure mandated by the film medium. Most films are written in the three act format and I’ve had great success spending time creating scene cards with all the plot points well developed. The more planning and research you do before writing makes the writing part go smoothly. I also like collaboration so having a second writer on the project feeds the idea mill. We create a great dialectic which produces twists and turns that individually we wouldn’t have thought of. Filmmaking is a collaborative effort so this seems to make sense to me.

Now as I do all this I begin to see “my” movie and it gets very tempting to start writing in all kinds of specific directorial instructions. That is just a waste of time. The director will not even read them and really the detail becomes aggravating over time. I focus on story then let the director do his job. If I see that he’s getting ready to make a mistake due to a lack of understanding all the story elements I jump in and explain the practical reasons for not making that mistake. For sure by the time I have a finished screenplay in my hands I’ve done hours of research, writing, outlines and notes about the events in the story. I love that part.

In your work do you try to create things the way you see them or do you ultimately try to create something you want people to see?

Both I think. The role of the artist is to reveal things unknown to show what the rest of us can’t see and to experience things in a way that our work allows the public to experience the same things but at a safe distance.

There are so many trends in the local market today. There are epic films and series that have filled the market in the likes of Spartacus, Revenge, Arrow, The Fixer and the newsroom to name but a view. Where do you think the trends will go in the next five to ten years?

People like the vicarious experience. You can dream of being the Arrow and watch him risk his life with out having to risk yours. I also think in times where people feel less power over the events of their lives they tend toward escape. The world sure is a place out of control at the moment and if you allow the Real to overtake your life you will become lost in it and end up like Christopher McCandless.

Over my life I have seen cycles in popular contemporary film and television. At least in the US during robust economic times, more interpersonal stories are told. Stories that contain elements of tragedy. Personal tragedy we can identify with. When the economy falters as it is now and things are scary these stories give way to things like fantasy. Films like, ”The Avengers” and “The Great Gatsby.” Not so much things like, “The Day After Tomorrow.”
The bigger story is the trend in distribution and even the media itself. For Hollywood, the international market has grown as large and at times larger than the domestic (North American) market. This will change things. Also the Internet as a distribution media, the mix of interactive print journalism, self publication and self distribution are wreaking havoc over everything. This is a good thing I think. Blending mixed media around concepts, stories, is in the future. We’re figuring it out now.

Currently one great area where the need is massive is direct to video and also cable channel content. The distributors can’t find material fast enough to fill the pipeline but you must understand the different niches that need filling and make films that fit a specific niche.

Friday the 23rd of August 2013 brought on huge comments about Ben Affleck being cast as the new Batman. What are your thoughts?

My take is he’s as bad a choice as George Clooney was.

Wood you are an avid network commentator, blogger, networker, photographer and filmographer etc. How has the internet and being able to network globally influenced your creativity?

It allows easier collaboration with those I work with regardless where any of us are. I live in Kansas City, the center of the U.S., but have made three films based out of Los Angeles. Yes I do have to travel there for some business but a lot of preproduction and postproduction work can be handled without travel. Another aspect of the new technology is being able make contact with other creatives out there that I respect. From a business standpoint this is very handy. Apart from that, writing is work one does alone even when collaborating. You can’t escape that.

Social media platforms – which ones do you prefer for your line of work?

Today, I like LinkedIn, Facebook Pages, Twitter (great marketing tool) and I also use Behance, about.me, see.me. There’s more like LiveJournal that I have used and I blog using Wordpress. There are so many you could get trapped online at social media sites and never work again. I feel you have to be calculated in your use. LinkedIn has been great. I’ve meet a lot of the people that I’ve connected with and expand my rolodex.
But tomorrow there will be ten new sites and one of them will knock off Facebook blah blah blah…

What’s the overall idea behind the Robin Randle stories?

The first two Robin Randle stories are called “InThe Region Where Madness Dwells” and “During the Time of Shadows.” Her stories are a mix of Eastern Orthodox spirituality, occult mystery traditions and ancient mythology. It is a landscape that explains a lot about the foundations of our beliefs and legends. She doesn’t belong on Earth but finds herself here with a shattered memory, a family murdered by her abusive father and not a friend in the world. When her father tried to kill her he only succeeded in sending her into a comma for seven months. Thought to be brain dead on a rainy October 1st she amazed everyone and woke up. Now she is being pursued by unspeakable monsters and the seeming target of someone she’s never heard of named Wormwood.

Before I finished the first draft I have built a bibliography of over thirty books from the “Orthodox Study Bible Philokalia” to “The Veritable Key of Solomon.”  Google Earth has been very helpful as well as Google Maps. I make sure Internet sources are credible. No Wiki for me.

So the first book is Robin putting her mind back together and the second is her meeting her worst fears to correct a wrong that was done that affects us all. In the creation of all this are many other stories mentioned but not told.

In your professional experience how has books influenced today’s film markets?

Strong book properties can translate into strong film properties but saying that I have to throw out that taking a two hundred to six hundred page book and cramming it into a two hour movie is impossible. A script page equals about a minute of screen time. So many very popular books just can’t be reduced by a factor of 80% and survive. Compare the “Lord of the Rings” to “The Hobbit.” “The Hobbit” is exactly like the book scene by scene and it was marvelous. That means the “Lord of the Rings” should have been about ten films not three.  So much was lost.

Great directors like Stanley Kubrick understood this so even though it angered Stephen King no end, Stanley made his version of “The Shining.” The basic text was a foundation but as a filmmaker Stanley interpreted the book and gave us something new yet still keeping to the foundation of the story. That’s how it should be done but rarely do filmmakers have the power and respect to take that creative leap. Money drives the movie business. Never forget that.

There is currently a huge trend in DC and Marvel adopted films. How do you think their merger will influence future films?


I have never (from childhood) been a Marvel fan. I like DC’s superhero’s better. Saying that, Marvel has done a magnificent job moving from the comic book pages to the big screen. They haven’t been perfect but watching all the films come out before “The Avengers” and each one being a two hour commercial for that film really paid off. Where they go from here is less clear.

On the other hand DC with the exception of Batman, has blundered around and making bad films. The current Superman films are old news. The Green Lantern was a decent picture and shows promise but DC has had so many classic team ups in their comic books that stand as real lost opportunities and due to a lack of organization and long range planning they seem to have missed the mark. A strong Superman film was needed then the World’s Finest team up of Batman and Superman the same time they release Other major DC heroes all aiming toward a Justice League film would have been my plan. I mean where’s Wonder Woman? To have passed her over was a big mistake. After Superman and Batman she’s the number three top heroes of all time. Then Flash, Captain Marvel, Green Arrow, Nightwing and Supergirl. They did a Jonah Hex film but he just doesn’t fit. It is what it is but Marvel stands way above DC in moving comic book heroes to the big screen and I’d give them the DC universe and let them have at it.

This all happens because of egos and money. Writing scripts for these kinds of films is no simple task even though the movies seem to be rather simple stories when we watch them. Studios like these projects. They invest $160M in the film and another $50M in marketing to realize a $500M take. Not a bad investment. That’s why it’s become nearly impossible to make “small” pictures today. Studios don’t want to take the risk on five $20M films when they know one $100M picture can gross $500M world wide. The stats on the five $20M pictures is one success, maybe two break even and two failures. It’s always been that way. Think about it, in the current market with a zillion movie screens out there a film company can rake in $350M in the first two weeks of the films fun. Then move it quickly to pay per view and on to DVD and with in six months of its release the film’s grossed $520M. Where would you put your money?

Having created your world around visual perception, writing and creating -- where are you aiming to go next?

I’m exploring the blending of media. “Mercy Lake, a ghost story” is unfolding in an odd way and I’m going with the flow. I see a blending of published written material, mixed with ebooks of course, webisodes, and interactive content. All coordinated and released in a highly planned way to most affectively reveal the story. To “get it” a person needs to grab on to each piece and experience it as things unfold to understand the total picture. After the release then packaging the experience will be interesting.

I’d like to weave in limited edition parts along with trade versions and keep the cost of the experience under control. And that’s the first time I’ve thought of it that way. People will Experience “Mercy Lake” not just read, watch or listen. The use of the new media is changing everything. We need to learn where it can take us. Mounting a project like this is highly speculative so funding will be out of the question. Having a core dedicated and talented group of people willing to walk this road is what I’m building now.

In your own words what is an idea?

A wanna-be writer says, “I have an idea!” The real deal says, “Give me ten minutes and I’ll hand you thirty ideas.” He knows these “ideas” are really just sparks and not until the research, exploration and for me, lots of yellow pads covered with notes, story bits, photos, and art pertaining to that spark do I really have an idea.
The spark can live on a piece of paper. The idea needs a box.

Where does connectivity, history, etc fit in a person’s fictional world?

Everywhere. If you are writing pure fantasy with no connection to our world it still needs its own history, connectivity, mythology and the like. If you don’t write a story grounded in a full and complete world it will feel thin, false and just flat.

I love to connect stories up and down our entire historical timeline. Not all stories need that but when I get into something like “The Robin Randle Stories,” I see connections from creation to the end of time. Hooking it all up is the fun part.



You mentioned Lacan’s ideas on the real, the imaginative and the metaphor. From my very limited research Jacques Lacan was a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who studied the human mind. His studies ultimately led him towards defining the difference between symbolic, imaginary and real order.  What is your take on his perception?

I think I create visually. I try to show not tell in films but beyond that in my prose and photography I subscribe to the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan theories about the Real. We endlessly use metaphors in our lives. Language forms the basis of this. You see a chair but really what you see is the metaphorical construct expressed through the word “chair.” If you saw the same chair in the Real then you’d be trying to see the unnamable thing behind the chair. Given this reality itself can’t be captured in language. What the writer, filmmaker, artists must do is express that unnamable thing that exists. That is the area we artists work in. We try to remove that boundary, if only for a moment and show everyone what true reality looks like.

One of my favorite books that demonstrates this extremely well is Josephs Conrad’s classic “Heart of Darkness.” Films, art, books that show us “The Real” are disturbing to us. We can’t live in that place. Christopher McCandless showed us this in his efforts to erase all boundaries between here and their. It is well documented in “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer. I just heard a story on the radio about a A young man names, Jonathan Croon who was just found dead in the wilderness of Oregon. The story seems very similar. That quest to find self by stripping away all boundaries around your life. We just can’t survive it.

In a nutshell -- what in your mind separates, the wanna-be from the doer?

Well I always say, “A writer writes. Everyday!” The same goes for photographic work, filmmaking and the rest of it. A person who is serious about all this stuff spends a lot of time working on his/her craft. You can never know too much about methods, practices, concepts especially now. Right now everything is changing all around us in unpredictable ways. I talk to everyone and ask the same question, “Do you know what’s going on?”

Beyond craft a real artists has an unending thirst and curiosity that drives him to explore, learn and think almost all the time. I read everyone else’s work, watch countless movies, look at any art I can all the time. Grist for the mill.

Where can people follow you work?

If you visit “www.wooddickinson.com” you can get to all the sites, blogs and craziness that fills my mind. Beware.

If you had the opportunity to give fellow aspiring producers, photographers and writers one tip on what it takes to succeed what would it be?

Never give up. That’s the hardest part of all this. I spent twenty years in the movie theatre business. I know all the heads of the studios. When I sold the company and became a writer and producer suddenly no one knew who I was anymore. I wasn’t doing what I was suppose to be doing. I was right there with all the twenty something filmmakers but I do have a little wisdom from my twenty years they don’t. Still it took three years to get my first picture made but once done I sold it in two weeks to LIONSGATE.


Set your goal, stay strong to your commitment and become an expert path finder. I call it Pathway Building. There are many ways to get to your goal keep building new ones when old ones dead end and most of all don’t give up. Write, photograph, create. Learn all you can and be as curious as humanly possible. I drive people nuts with my curiosity but I won’t let that stop me. There so much to know and understand no one person can do it so there’s never a lack of material. Right?

Wood it's been an absolute pleasure picking your mind. We wish you well in your future endeavors. 

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