Monday, 14 October 2013

BJ's SOLSL: Author Jaq D. Hawkins on Writing and Film Making!!

Jaq D. Hawkins is a pseudonym – and a brilliant one, so I am not going to tell you her real name, though you can in fact find it on her website:

I have been reading her pagan books (chaos magic primers, nature spirit primers, and some feminist work) for years, and always loved her to the point style and no nonsense delivery.  There was also something quietly glamorous about her writing, and I was never quite sure what it was.  She also had really well illustrated books, a  bit of a rarity in this niche.  When I found her on Facebook (another hooray for social networking sites) and she replied to my ardent and probably annoying fan mail with calmness, kindness and not a tincy bit of self importance, I thought – blimey, she’s a really nice person too.  She’s still chatting to me now, on and off, years later. Even though she’s really busy now, having branched out from her original books to move on to fantasy fiction (also cracking good reads), and then to guerrilla filmmaking (filled with fascinated envy!).  I’ve never found her to be anything less than immensely kind, tolerant yet plain spoken at the same time, and really helpful.  It’s brilliant when an author turns out to be as nice a person as you hoped they’d be (makes you feel like you could go further than you thought to – the gap is not so great!).

So I asked her to contribute to this Guest Series; and this is the Penultimate Entry, we’re nearly done now!  And she said yes even though she was flitting about the country at the time, doing reshoots and editing (which she is addicted to and does most of herself for her films) – and making constant cake for her crew and cast (yep, also kitchen goddess).  *And* she got this piece to me in a couple of days flat…whereas I then got caught up with personal life crises and am now posting it up 2 weeks later than promised….arggghhh…

Without any further ado – one of my favourite magickal authors, fiction authors and now a film maker too…be inspired!

Doing the Impossible

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
~ Lewis Carroll

"It’s quite fun to do the impossible."
~ Walt Disney

"Think big and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. Life’s too short to think small."
~ Tim Ferriss

I've always been a writer. Someday, when I've accomplished all I need to in filmmaking and retired from that, I'll still be a writer. Until then, I'm doomed to live a double life, dividing my time between writing, which is life and breath to me, and accomplishing the impossible within filmmaking, which is addictive once you get far enough along the path.

I first became a published writer in the 1990's, back when an author still needed a publisher before the digital age took over. I even developed a reputation within my field, which was writing books for what used to be called the Astrology and occult section of the book store but is more recently known as Mind, Body, Spirit. I wrote about magic and nature spirits, subjects that have always played a part in my life and continue to be sufficiently of interest that I'm planning to write several new books in this category in the near future.

In 2005 my first fiction novel was published. I had written fiction in my younger life, but this was the first time I had completed a novel. More would follow, but not before the demon of filmmaking arose to take over my life.

It's no doubt very common for fiction writers to see a possible movie in their novels. In the case of Dance of the Goblins, the story itself came to me in scenes that I found very visual and the idea of a film had taken hold by chapter four. I finished the novel with the idea in mind that my next task, even before the first of the two sequels was begun, would be to try my hand at writing a screenplay for the story.

The irony is that I spent my teenage years in Los Angeles, going to school with aspiring artists of all sorts and especially filmmakers, but never had any interest in stepping into that world myself. I saw the movie industry as cold and cutthroat, difficult to breach, and pretty much the preserve of a closed society of people who knew each other by reputation if not from working together sometime in history. Some of these people were parents of my school friends. The contacts were there, but the business side of filmmaking still looked unattractive to me.

When I wrote the screenplay for Dance of the Goblins, my plan was to sell it to someone in the filmmaking industry. That was to be the end of my involvement. I could carry on with writing the sequels and any other books that I was inspired to write forever more. However, in the course of researching who I should approach to sell the screenplay, various friends with filmmaking connections suggested I read The Guerrilla Filmmaker's Handbook. That was my doom. I got hold of a copy at my local library and read with fascination as the germ of an impossible idea began to take hold.

I rang one of my friends who had gone to film school and told him what I had been thinking; that I could potentially make the film myself. To my surprise, he didn't tell me I was crazy. He even encouraged the idea. From that point I began reading filmmaking books. My library was well stocked with some of the best research material that can be found on the subject. As I learned more and more about what was involved in the process, the impossible began to look doable.

The sticking point of course was that filmmaking costs money. Usually lots of money. I've been a non-materialist all my life and there was never any doubt that this would be the most difficult aspect of the process for me. How was I supposed to approach potential investors and ask for large amounts of money to do something that I had no experience doing? I had by then surrounded myself with more experienced people. Other producers, directors, crew people; everyone I would need to make a movie with experience behind it. Not big names, but people who made their living in the industry.

I had discovered independent filmmaking, which by definition is any filmmaking that occurs outside of the Hollywood studios (or the BBC). Someone suggested that I should try going on the television reality programme called Dragon's Den to ask for investment. It was yet another crazy idea and unlikely to result in an offer, but it would bring attention to the project which for many businesses had resulted in private offers. While I didn't get a financial offer, I did get an amazing amount of free publicity and a substantially larger circle of support from within the industry.

There were a few detractors who missed the point of the exercise and expressed that they thought they would have had a better chance of getting the investment if they had thought of the idea first, but there were far more who wanted a piece of the project. All I can say to the former is guys, who would invest in a film without at least having a look at the script? The real benefit of allowing a couple of ill-mannered nouveau riche cretins to tear into me on national television is yet to come.

The following summer, I began production on the first of two no-budget B-movies that would define my future in filmmaking. I can't honestly say that it was all planned, but it did seem to fall into place as if it all came out of a grande design. While most people make a short for their first film using friends or classmates as actors, usually without a decent script, I went almost straight into doing a feature film There was one 'trailer shoot' that taught me much about dealing with volunteers and amateurs, myself included. I had never aspired to be a director, but one of the most important lessons of that shoot was that I would have to take control of the set and the crew. It was time to rise to the occasion.

By the end of the summer, I had a film 'in the can'. More importantly, Graveyard Shift was a good film. Despite amateur mistakes and inexperienced production crew, I had something in my hands with a good story and some really exceptional acting by the main roles at least, as I had recruited from local actors who were constantly honing their craft in local productions. Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky with recruiting editors and a series of let downs would delay the release of the finished film. In the meantime, the filmmaking bug had smitten me beyond hope and I produced a second film, Old Blood. This one took two summers to complete, during which I continued to try to find a reliable editor. Not being one to wait for fortune to come to me, I also studied the art of film editing. That actually dated back to the trailer shoot, when the editor of that project left a copy of an old version of an editing programme on my computer when he had something to demonstrate to me.

I found effects fascinating and as an old Photoshop addict, I naturally began to work out some of the problems myself. Eventually, I accepted that I was going to end up editing these projects myself and bought a new version of the editing programme, getting a good price because my work with student crew had qualified me for a student/teacher price.

Despite having to constantly re-write parts of Old Blood as actors moved in and out of the area over two years of shooting, I now have two good B-movies in my hands and work continues on them constantly, although my writing also continues and I balance between the two. The summer of 2013 has been spent getting ADR (Voice recording) of the actors for Old Blood while working on the visual effects continues in between. Both films will be ready to release within a year or so.

And they will be seen and scrutinised closely, because everyone has heard of the crazy goblin lady on Dragon's Den. They still show my episode on rerun. For most independent filmmakers, getting anyone in the industry to look at their film is a real challenge, if not impossible.

First there was Dance of the Goblins, now Demoniac Dance! Power of the Dance coming soon. Keep up to date with the Goblin Series at

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