Fletcher: Filmmaking is always something I was curious about going back to my earliest days. As a kid I did lots of videos for class projects and thought about film editing and those sorts of things. But for the bulk of my life I’ve done the practical thing so I went to college and started out in broadcasting and moved toward the print side. I’ve had a great career in print, but when things started getting scary [with layoffs] I started thinking about what else I could do with my years of experience. And I said ‘let me start first by trying to do what I love. Let’s do the scariest thing first and we’ll save the backup plans for more practical work opportunities.’ This was under the assumption that I was going to be laid off at any time. That hasn’t happened but I’ve still been using this time to look at what can I do creatively. I started screenwriting about three or four years ago and stumbled across this story about the Pink Pussycat strip club in Orangevale. I happen to be from Orangevale so it’s a story that really resonated with me and I clung to it. It started out as a short and as people read it they said, ‘this is a really good story, you should expand it.’ So fast forward a couple years and this is where we are.
RE: When you’re in the news game you’re used to being edited. But with creative ventures that are personal to you, being edited is not always easy. How has it been for you adapting to negative feedback?
Fletcher: Sometimes it’s real humbling and it’s rough. You try to swallow it and don’t let any one point bother you too much, but try to seek lots of feedback and triangulate from there and figure out the best way to go. You still have to follow your heart and your ear, but you can’t be so naïve and cocky as an early screenwriter that you don’t listen to advice. If people have a problem with something or they don’t like a character, there’s a reason why. Their solution may not be the best solution but they’re telling you something, it’s not information you should inherently throw away.
RE: Reporting can be very solitary, but filmmaking takes a small army. How has that adjustment been for you?
Fletcher: The level of work and energy and human power that it takes to go from what I do now at the Bee to doing a movie is astronomical. I’m set up to publish at the Bee, so I can arrive and in 10 minutes we can publish something because they know it’s coming. In film, everything is different. You have to make an argument for spending lots and lots of money to try to convince people to see something they’ve never heard about. When you think about it that way, it’s daunting. But you know you’re eventually going to have to help them hear about it and hope that they enjoy that experience and tell other people about it. It’s just amazing how much work it takes to get to that point. First you write a script. From there you do table reads, get feedback, do a rewrite and then either get it to an agent or producer, who then hopefully falls in love with it. If so, then you need to find the financial support – which could be millions of dollars. Then you have to find actors who want to be in the movie, and then and only then the whole production chore begins. And after that the distribution game begins. So it’s a gauntlet. And I’m only at the beginning. But you try to keep your head down and say, this is the objective. You can’t drive directly to New York. You have to get to Reno first.
RE: You have done two previous films, correct? Goldie and Dance Step of Death?
Fletcher: Yes, two films where I’ve been the principle producer. There are others that I’ve been involved in to a lesser degree.
RE: But you wrote Goldie and Dance Step of Death?
RE: And now your current project. Tell us a little bit about Pink and the genesis of Pink from concept to where it is now.
Fletcher: Pink is a dramatic comedy based on Sacramento’s famous 1969 bottomless stripper trial. Basically it’s an indecency trial. The dancers at the Pink Pussycat, caught up in the free love movement of the 1960s, decide that it’s within their First Amendment right to dance bottomless, or completely naked. You had seen some of that in bigger cities here and there, but nobody quite knew where the law was so these girls and this bar decide to test the law and they begin dancing bottomless. The Sacramento sheriff, John Misterly, is diametrically opposed. They arrest the girls seven times over that year and it eventually goes to trial. The kicker in this is that the judge in this case, who happened to be the son of former Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren, decides that for the jury to determine whether the dance violates nudity standards they’d have to see it. So they take the jury to the strip club. So that’s our launching point for the story.
RE: You originally wrote this for a contest, correct?
Fletcher: Yes. I was in a screenwriting class and they had encouraged us to write something for Access Sacramento’s “Place Called Sacramento” Film Festival. So I was looking for an idea and at that time I wrote it as a 10-minute thing. It wasn’t accepted, so after I finished it I set it aside and wrote and produced Dance Step of Death. When I came back around to Pink later, I said, ‘if we’re going to do this as a short, let’s make it the length it needs to be.’ It turned out to be 24-pages [an average 10-minute short is only about 10-12 pages] and I started showing it to people to get feedback. They encouraged me to make it into a feature length film. Which was daunting at the time, to go from 24 pages to between 90 and 120 pages. I really had to buckle down. It was the longest sustained writing project that I’ve ever tackled and finished, which was great on that level. But when you get done, you start thinking ‘what comes next?’ And in theory, what comes next is you send it to an agent and the agent says, hey I’ll take this to Hollywood and we’ll make this happen. But it doesn’t happen that way, because agents are inundated with people from all over the world who have a great idea for a movie and they don’t want to sort out what’s good or bad. So the hope or expectation is that you either win a film contest or a screenwriting contest and that becomes your validation. Or, somebody they already know and trust reads it and sends it to them and that becomes your way in. So looking at that and looking at how independent film has gone, I just decided that I’m going to put on my producer hat and make this happen as a producer and mobilize the army to get it done. And if I can bring a couple of assets to the table, that opens the door in another way. If you get a director of note involved or actors of note involved, that changes the equation and then production companies will look at it and decide it makes sense of for them in that you’ve already done that bit of hard work. So the more work you put into it, the easier a sell it becomes.
RE: These projects drain a lot of energy away from you. How do you manage the balance of creativity and business practicality that a project like this demands?
Fletcher: I really don’t do both at the same time. I alternate from one to the other. Lately it’s been a lot of wearing my business hat, but I know that I probably have at least one rewrite ahead of me. It’s time to go on a retreat and shut down the business side and let’s just tackle it. I prefer to do it in one fell swoop rather than to peck at it, because it’s almost like going into a séance, when you immerse yourself back into the story and remember what all the voices sound like. You want your characters to sound authentic and speak in the language that they have been throughout the rest of the movie. You don’t want characters to blend together too much and have the same sort of voice. So you go back in and redo the study and reread the profiles you wrote on the key characters. You read the script from beginning to end and then you shut everything else down.
RE: What’s your process for making sure that your dialogue is correct for the era and also still snappy and accurate?
Fletcher: It’s tough because I don’t know that if the characters spoke like they really spoke back then would it work with a modern audience. I think you have to find some cadence pattern that’s somewhere in between a modern sensibility of writing without using a lot of words that hadn’t been coined yet or don’t sound authentic to the period. I don’t really have a great process. I have an old guy who reads me and says, ‘hey we didn’t say that back then.’
RE: Has all of this left room for other ideas and new projects?
Fletcher: It’s fair to say that there’s a few other ideas that are marinating. Once you’re in the mindset of a writer, other ideas will creep along. My pattern has been to try to get down as much of it as I can at the time so that if and when I want to come back to it, it’s still accessible.
RE: What about other ways to use your writing talents?
Fletcher: I don’t think that I’m going to be one thing when I grow up. I have website ideas that I need to execute, I’ve got a possible blog that I think could have a revenue stream and would be interesting to put out in the universe. So there are other things that are marinating. The blog idea started before this and I put it on pause because of some technical things. But I think people in this day and age, there’s more ability to produce content on various levels and platforms and do different things and I want to continue to explore different things.
RE: Where can people find your blog or any other thing that you would want people to see?
Fletcher: We’re big on social media. If you’re on Facebook, we have a page, Pink Film. Twitter, PinkFilm1969. The website is perpetualf.com. I had the blog perpetualf.blogspot.com and I have the website that I made. Now I’m moving the blog content to the website but it hasn’t been aimed the same way we want it to. Ultimately I’ve got to build from scratch.
Follow Ed Fletcher’s work for the Sacramento Bee at @newsfletch.