In early 2012, the hope and idea of a legitimate film career had all but disappeared entirely into the vacuum of exhausted bank accounts, burnt out relationships, and fragmented artistic vision. After years of traversing the realms of unconventional approaches, only one truth remained obvious- I was lost, adrift in a windless sea of failed decisions.
On nearly the eve of my decision to exit the field all together, I connected with Michael Gee, an experienced crew hand with countless hours of real world Hollywood film set experience. In the exchanges between us, I had told Mike of our efforts on November Renaissance- the story of what at the time seemed like a remote future, but now as the years have caught up, the narrative reads less and less like fiction.
I had told Mike the story of multinational corporations wielding their miracle technology to achieve power over any and all authority. As these entities grew in power, so did their omnipresence and all the overt and blunt machinations such unchecked ascension would have to offer. By the time I had discussed the notion of computers in the brain and what that would mean for human vulnerability, Mike was convinced he had to leave Los Angeles and return to Phoenix to work with me on the project.
After many nights of brainstorming our path forward, we had decided to take the story to the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter. The idea was a simple one: if we could create a small version of our larger narrative, surely it would be enough to attract the resources of the mainstream film industry. After all, the path of the short film used to pitch the full feature was truly the most reliable tried and true method. Mike and I spent the remainder of the summer forging together our resources to create the content that ultimately fostered our success at the crowdfunding campaign.
By early October 2012, what we had considered to once be only a miracle had unfolded: we received everything we had hoped for to create our shared vision. It would be hard to distort the clarity I still have for the moment we reached our goal as I sat in my backyard, observing the tide of doubt and disbelief recede back into the void of self-sabotage that had lost its fight against the project... or so at the time it had seemed.
With four years now having past, there is a certain honesty and transparency that time has allowed in the act of retrospect of our efforts, especially that of the early days of the project. There is an unfortunate easiness in being able to so clearly spot in hindsight, the great nemesis of this project: the enticing promise of “playing it safe.”
Not nearly a week after we had found our success with Kickstarter, the internet would become flooded with similar success stories, but not those of a crowdfunding kind. Instead, we watched as whole independent science fiction projects were being bought up left and right by the Hollywood system. “True Skin” “Rha” “Ruin” “Archetype” “The Flying Man” “Noon” “Keloid” are just some to name for your own research. Most noticeably the commonality between all these projects was a focus on “The World” of the story being the main character. These works signified a departure from common narratives of character and linear story. Instead of short films, they were trailers for movies that weren't made yet. In the end we decided to adopt the trend in hopes of finding similar success.
It was at this departure that we jettisoned the existing script, and compressed a 15 minute short into a two minute trailer. In our decision, we traded dialogue for special effects sequences, and character for second’s worth of action scenes. In the eyes of the filmmaker, we had created a disaster, but in the eyes of an investor- it was a masterpiece of a marketing tool. In the end what we had in total was a feature film script that was best described as Inception being an episode of Star Trek, and a fake trailer that was a cross between Call of Duty and Blade Runner. We thought we had it all.
By the first week of March 2013, Mike had called as many of his contacts in the studio system as he could find. We ended up pitching to a contact of Mike's at Fox studios, where in the meeting we played our fake trailer. Needless to say, the reception of it was underwhelming at best. At that point in time, never in my life had I encountered such an assault from irony. There I was, giving Hollywood two minutes of special effects, gun fights, and gorgeous women... only to have it result in them asking me: where were my characters, where was my story?
A whole essay could be written chronicling the happenings of the rest of our evening, but I will instead compress the details. We managed to save the meeting during dinner, where we told the story we wanted to make. By 11pm that night, we had agreed to retool the presentation and the pitch to better reflect what we wanted to do (so that when we took the project up the ladder, it would be met with less resistance). We returned to Phoenix the next day, humbled and willing to face the truth of our mistake to depart from the original goal... not lost however, was our determination to make it all work.
As the months passed, the exhilaration of “editing” the existing body of work progressively waned into a struggle of fighting to keep interest and hope alive. In the countless exchanges, it became apparent that it would be easier to just start over with something new, a whole new project, rather than attend to the effort needed to reconstruct the existing one into an acceptable body of work for the studio. What was to be a collaborative artistic effort had become a text book diagnosis of scope creep. By October 2013, exactly one year after our Kickstarter success, it was apparent that the ship was once again, adrift at sea. Our funds, along with my own personal savings were exhausted.
Nearing December 2013, our group remained unwilling to give up, and thus November Renaissance underwent a re-branding. We took all that we thought was best about the story and compressed it into the rejuvenated version known as “Open Source” - a story set in the same world. Open Source chronicled the rise of a villain known as The Pardoner – an anonymous human retrofitted with a direct neural interface, one pre-loaded with an artificial intelligence.
Trusting our instincts- as well as our original vision, we shot a handful of new footage and in the end created a short film centered on The Pardoner, the enigmatic villain that demanded humanity unite together as the only means of defeating him. By January 2014, we had finished the short, as well as a whole new feature script. This time, we felt that using the internet as our audience was a wiser choice in channel than the studio system. While most of the online blogs and websites we wrote didn't feature our submission, we did (ironically) gain the attention of a film executive working at a production house at the time. So off we went back to LA to pitch. (March 2014)
Again sparing the quagmire of details, the pitch was mixed at best. Ultimately it ended in the agreement that the ideas were intriguing, but the script needed to be rewritten. By May of 2014, the edits to the script had been submitted but ultimately were met with dissatisfaction. It was at this time that I felt a haunting presence of Deja vu... looming over this endeavor was the feeling of “having been here before.” So thus, I walked away.
We used the summer of 2014 to once again, start over and re-brand the project. Once again we took the best and compressed the ideas into a new narrative. Once more, the world remained the same but grew in depth and complexity. This time, we chose to investigate the truth behind the origins to such a strange future. The story took a turn into the conspiratorial and sought to uncover what was hidden about the early years of the computer revolution, and how the cold war was instead just a political cloak to excuse inconceivable depths of corporate espionage. These questions about the narrative ultimately led us outside the fabric of time and our own reality.
So thus, we did what we knew how to do best, shot more footage, crafted a new short film, and drafted a new script- this time, we called it “Apocryphon” (hidden and secret truths privy to only few). Still seeking the traction of an internet audience, we once again submitted to numerous blogs and online forums specializing in our niche areas. We were again, not featured. By November 2014, for the first time ever I had finally hit what I considered to be the end of all possible roads, any avenue forward seemed inescapably familiar.
After the holidays, and nearing March 2015, the executive who had wanted to make Open Source had notified me that he had left his previous job and was working independently. We agreed to collaborate and find a writer who could adapt Open Source into a workable script. We agreed on a candidate and by summer 2015, we had a new version of Open Source (just a treatment, not a full script) that we wanted to pitch once more.
By this time, fake trailers for films were practically an expectation and were well beyond the norm, so it was suggested that we have one as well. Ergo, I decided to suspend my cautions and get to work. Countless phone calls later, I had assembled another crew to attend to an “update” of all our footage. By September 2015, we once again had what most would consider a wonderful marketing tool.
By the end of September, we had pitched the film to over 20 well known production companies, some with such credits as The Hunger Games, John Wick, and Black Hawk Down. But the problem remained of actually putting together a script, a dilemma that would find itself going back and forth all-through the holidays and into 2016. Eventually negotiations with the writer we had chosen fell through, and with myself unqualified (in the studios eyes), the task fell to the Executive at the helm of the project. Wasting as little time as possible, we fought to the completion of the script (around May 2016).
Time has a way of creating a callous over any unrealized idea, and more so for excitement for such. As both the summer and fall of 2016 passed with sporadic, yet dead end negotiations with various production companies... the shadow of the obvious was approaching like the slow flood of a dam imminent to rupture. Eventually those waters would reach their way into the present as I write these words.
So thus as I approach the reality that there is more story behind this project than the fiction it works to create, it seemed necessary to write it all down as a testament, and more so as a justice to reclaim it from the sepulcher of a crumbling institution, and return to its original intentions.
This excerpt is not intended to be a magnet for pity or woe, nor is it to claim a precedence or validity over any other artistic struggle. What it is instead, is a disclosure of the history behind the most prominent narrative of the past 5 years of not just my life, but the lives of all those involved. Beyond the kinetic language coated in vernacular ferocity, a question arises, was all this negative and awful? The answer: Absolutely not. Was it insightful and bountiful in it's teachings? Very much so, as challenging as those may have been.
In summation, does any of this excuse us from not fulfilling our end of this project in a timely and reasonable manner, does any of this revealing absolve us from the lack of communication? No it does not. The only answer I have to the questions that may be circulating, is that my goal was to offer you, the backers, elements of this project that accurately reflected a present version of it. As the months went on, it seemed erroneous to me to be giving out posters and rewards that reflected something that was never going to be made, and more so for something that changed in vision literally, bi-weekly. My hope and goal was that the day would come when I could release something with a finalized conviction- and say to you all that- "this is what got us our feature film deal." I wanted everyone involved to have pieces of art that were fragments of that incarnation- not pieces of a half realized vision.
With that being said however, our accountability begins now. With the storm of our negotiations with the industry now past, a reclamation of this project is now in effect. I will be comprising the best of my work on this project over the past 5 years into a form of reward to be given back.
In the past, I was often asked what November Renaissance meant. Determined to cling to the subjective and trust the audience, I never gave out its meaning. But now it seems an exceedingly meta and relevant gesture in restoring the overdue vigor to this body of work.
Science Fiction owes its existence to Frankenstein, and whilst reading the titular work I found myself (and ever more so now) drawn to the famous line: “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils. With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet. It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” Ergo in observation, November Renaissance in all its literal sense has always, and to this day remains defined as a rebirth of Science Fiction.
- Clayton Haugen