Monday, November 29, 2010

Developing "Citizen", recruiting talent and hiring Sherriffs

The Assassination of a Citizen’s been in development for pretty much exactly a year now. After some initial ideas were gathered, I learned of the tragic murder of Sherriff’s Deputy Abel Escalante (broken down in this article in the LAWeekly). I wanted to further explore his ambitious personality and the circumstances that lead to his death and because the incident involved gang-related violence I decided to make it part of the story environment I had already created for Citizen. The word “story” rarely does justice in this context, but that’s another story. No pun intended.

I spent months creating the foundation for Reflektiv and its first project. I created a DIY business plan with P&L planning, cash flow tables and creating a non-traditional, alternative releasing strategy. I conducted substantial research for Citizen and produced a treatment of the story based on what I gathered from that and the research and experiences I made during the production of my previous short Ticked. I was able to interview various people active in gang prevention circles or acquainted with Abel Escalante but wasn’t able to convince Celeste Escalante, Abel Escalante’s widow, to meet with me and introduce this project and its objective to her. I moved on and by August I was ready to take my outreach efforts to the next level. 

The story of Citizen is told from three primary perspectives: the one of Deputy Flores a custody deputy with the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department, Diego, a normal teenager with a solid upbringing drawn to his local street gang and Flaco, a young, hard core street gangster. In order to tell this story authentically and as realistic as possible I am collaborating with people who contribute their knowledge and their experiences and thus develop an organic story that is rooted in every day life.

On a Volunteer Orientation Day (I am still waiting to be approved) at the Southern Youth Correctional Reception Center and Clinic (SYCRCC) in Norwalk, CA, I met Tony (name changed), a soon to be released inmate and former gang member. Tony is part of the Incentive Program at the Center, which gives inmates not only the opportunity to earn certain luxuries and privileges but can also help qualifying for an early release. On Monday November 15th I had a meeting with SYCRCC staff and Tony’s treatment team to discuss the potential of hiring him as a Technical Advisor and possibly talent in the film. Read about the meeting here.

Although the LAPD does grant ride-alongs in patrol cars to civilians, they are reserved almost exclusively to press and prospective cops – not me. I was, nonetheless, able to finagle myself in a single ride-along for a day with the Northeastern Division, which covers active gang territory. Albeit informative (when setting up a perimeter to catch a GTA suspect) and almost exciting (to cruise the area on a Code 3 to pursue an apparently confused, naked man wandering the hallways of an office building) I was told it was a slow day. I’ve tried a number of other Stations but couldn’t score another ride.

In order to adequately portrait jail scenes and scenes involving law enforcement I needed to bring in experts of that field. After a handful of dead ends I got in touch with retired LASD Sgt. Mullen who put out word that I’m looking for officers who could help me get the details right and share some of their stories with me. And that’s what happened. Apart from all the other great submissions I was particularly excited to hear from Ret. Sgt. Richard Valdemar, a highly regarded expert on gangs and organized crime in the United States and beyond. I had a series of meetings with him and three other former Sherriff’s who all seem to have strengths and skills, which complement each other very well. Each of them will be responsible for different areas that range from developing the script to providing production safety later on.

Besides all that, in August I commenced writing on the actual screenplay – the blueprint, the foundation of Citizen. I basically took the treatment and transcribed it paragraph by paragraph into screenplay form, added more detailed actions and descriptions of locations and characters and of course the dialogue. It was an interesting process to puzzle it together, to come up with new ideas and elements along the way, to see where the “rules” I had created with the treatment would take me, or rather the characters and the story. It was good to write again. It had been two years since I last worked on a screenplay and eventually I learned how to actually squeeze creativity in a schedule with a deadline. 

So, after many months researching, interviewing and investigating, a first rough draft of the Citizen screenplay is now fresh off the press! It counts 162 mean pages and after a little cleaning up on my part it will undergo a first thorough distillation and quality control by the skilled hands of fellow Calartian and Scagnetti Filmwerks mogul Mark McKeown. 

→ If you're interested, motivated, skilled and have the guts to put in work on the script, hit me up. Let's collaborate!  

More soon!

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