The Writing Required to Make the Film: How Reality and Diligence Help Shape Story

By Carylanna Taylor

Last summer my writing/directing/producing partner, Jacob Okada, and I produced our original feature, ANYA.

The project’s premise has remained the same since inception in 2014: a couple’s infertility leads to the discovery of another species of humans living among us. However, the focus, genre, title, complexity, and budget have evolved over 43+ versions and production.

I workshopped the script at Stowe’s 2015 Narrative Labs and 2016 Writers Retreat (as “Humans Among Humans”). Stowe helped me improve the script, understand the business of filmmaking, and gain confidence as a writer/producer. Beyond Stowe, alumni gave feedback through a writers group and table read; another, Stacey Davis, is our production counsel.

At the Labs, I learned our script contained two movies: one about a geneticist who makes a discovery and one about the couple at the heart of the discovery. At the Retreat, we were still deciding which story we should tell. The love story promised to be the most relatable and producible. We wrote that.

In February 2017, we saw a window and decided to produce the film. Our budget estimate for the new script was $250K. (The Labs version was $2.5M.). We had $140K. Fundraise or rewrite?

We opened a blank document and retyped the script, making minor changes throughout that dramatically reduced the number of pages, shoot days, speaking roles, extras, locations story days, props and company moves.

To our delight, the result was a clearer story with no less science and a lot more heart. This draft attracted our casting director, cast, investor, lab location, and fiscal sponsor.

Our shooting draft incorporates tweaks from rehearsals and location scouting.

During production in July-August 2017, we cut two locations for schedule conflicts. The result? Our opening scene changed and MARCO’s journey more clearly structures the film.

Now that we’re in post, we’re rewriting the film again through a thousand choices big and small.

For more on the project’s evolution, please visit anyamovie.com.

Thank you Stowe Story Labs and Stowe mentors and alumni for your part in its development!

Carylanna Taylor is an anthropologist and filmmaker. She has produced three short films and a feature documentary (PAINTING THE WAY TO THE MOON). NARWHAL-AMERICAN (currently in post-production) is her first narrative feature.

jacob okada