by Matt Wilson
On Friday (tomorrow!) my movie “The Virgins” will be released on iTunes. It is a comedy about a young Christian couple who save themselves for marriage, even though they will only have one night together before the groom has to leave for the Army. The night of the wedding they accidentally lock themselves out of their honeymoon cabin and end up on a wild adventure.
All they want is to find a place to consummate their marriage in peace, but everything they do seems to push them further away. And things get far worse when their family members get involved. They saved themselves for the wedding night, and now they’ll have to save themselves from the wedding night.
The idea had been sitting in my head a long time, even back in 2001 when I was writing animation spec scripts and submitting them to TVwriter.Com’s contests (which led to my first big break – writing for animated shows on Cartoon Network and Disney Channel).
But I held back because it was a story about a wedding night, and I felt weird writing about a wedding night as a single guy. It was also a story about Christians, and the advice I got was to keep my faith in the closet unless I wanted to make “Christian movies,” which were always terrible.
So I started writing high concept feature comedies in hopes that the studios would buy them so I could build enough clout to make movies I wanted to make.
But it didn’t work. I wrote sixteen spec screenplays, and none of them sold.
After a decade of this I decided why not write the way I wanted to write in the first place? Why not write a story about Christian characters, but make it a comedy just like any other?
So I sat down and wrote “The Virgins,” and then sent it out to the usual suspects.
The conversations I had afterwards went like this:
“So we’re going to pass. I loved the script, though.”
“It’s a great read. I couldn’t put it down.”
“No, why are you passing?”
“Because it doesn’t work.”
“What do you mean?”
“It needs to either be a Christian movie or a comedy. You can’t do both.”
“Cause if it’s both, it’s neither.”
“What does that mean?”
“You just can’t do that.”
“But didn’t I?”
“In the script, yeah.”
“And you loved the script.”
“Of course. But it’s unproduceable.”
“Meaning you won’t produce it.”
“Meaning no one will produce it.”
“Cause it’s unproduceable.”
“Listen, I gotta go. You got talent. Keep writing. But not like this.”
I clearly had something people were reacting to, but no one believed the audience would react the same way. And I didn’t want to just throw in the towel and start writing a new spec, like I had so many times before. So I offered myself an alternative – make it on my own.
I had been reading about what was happening with the independent film community in Seattle, my hometown, so I decided to move back and make “The Virgins” there.
Since I had a limited budget (and it was also my own money) I needed to cut expenses down to the bare minimum. Having family and friends invite me to shoot at their homes and businesses for free helped immensely. And the theater where I took acting classes in 8th grade, Taproot, let me run auditions from their theater as well.
So after a few months of location scouting and casting I had the movie ready to shoot.
The production was more intensely stressful than anything I had ever done. For a typical shooting day I had to make sure all the actors and crew knew when and where to go, make sure the actors knew what to wear, check the script to see what props I needed to bring, and go to the grocery store to pick up craft service items. And that was all before I arrived on set, where I had to do the actual directing.
We shot for fifteen days and by the end I was so exhausted that I got bronchitis. And then I had to start editing, where the real headaches began.
The scenes came together well, but the sound did not. I had major problems with getting the various sound takes to match each other, and since I couldn’t afford to pay a post sound company I had to just figure it out. I did, though, have a friend who used a program to remove background noise from some of the takes, which helped quite a bit.
It took months of trial and error, and a lot of self-help YouTube videos, but in the end I got it to be passable. The movie is certainly not going to win any awards for sound design, but you can hear the dialog clearly and follow the story, which was the most important thing to me.
The last hurdle was iTunes quality control, where I found out about all sorts of technical problems with the movie (like “audio phase errors,” had to google it) and they weren’t going to accept it unless I fixed them. So I went back to work and did whatever I could to fix it and then held my breath as I resubmitted. And it passed!
And now I am proud to say my movie is being distributed on iTunes starting Friday.
The biggest lesson I learned that I think would be valuable to my fellow filmmakers is don’t get intimidated by problems you don’t know how to solve. No one popped out of the womb knowing how to fix audio phase errors. They had to learn. And so can you.