Crossing the Border – My Arizona Film Scout

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Where to begin?  After two amazing weeks of travelling Arizona as research for my feature film, ‘Anchor Baby’, I’m home.  What did I discover about the world of my story?

Accompanied by my friend Doris,  we flew into Phoenix, then drove down to Tucson, then south to Nogales on the border, in search of the reality behind the events I had written in my feature length drama.

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Every day in Arizona, I fell in love with the landscape. Everyone had said it but I just wasn’t prepared. It’s beautiful.

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I must have taken a thousand photos.  None of them will make it into my movie but all are sketches for the world I want to describe.

I did a photo shoot in the mountains around Phoenix with a ten year old Mexican girl.  In my story the girl crosses the desert to find her Mum and so we took some shots to suggest that journey.

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It was just me, a camera, the girl and her Mom and my friend Mary, a local teacher who had helped me set it up. But this girl became Elena, the girl in my story.

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 My script is about undocumented migrants on the US/Mexican border and many of the people I interviewed could not go on the record.  Immigration is a hot topic in the States right now – but beneath the political posturing and TV sound bites showing polarised factions, the reality is hugely complex and moving.

All the people I met spoke from personal experience of living on the border and all expressed feelings I could relate to, from the recently deported migrant to the rancher whose land they had crossed – supposedly enemies but both bound by the same reality – that a once more relaxed border is now a war zone, controlled by the cartels and policed with difficulty.

Jim, whose ranch is on  the Mexican border, has thousands of migrants smuggled across his land every year, alongside numerous drug runs.

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Slippers left behind by crossing migrants

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The soles are lined with carpet to avoid leaving tracks

What united the Arizonians I spoke to was a feeling they were misunderstood by the rest of the country and abandoned by central government.  As one local immigration judge put it to an East Coast liberal , who questioned ‘Operation Streamline’, the new fast track legal process for detention and deportation – ‘Where are you from? If you don’t have a border, you don’t have a problem.’  The sheer scale of the problem and the dominance of the cartels in drug and people smuggling make for tough decision making, torn loyalties and fear along the border.

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The most inspiring place we visited was the soup kitchen run by the charity Kino Border Initiative  for recent deportees on the Mexican side of border town Nogales, a common crossing point.

KINO Soup Kitchen at Nogales

People are often deported from the States in the middle of the night with no money and far from their original homes in Mexico or Central America.  KINO gives them a hot meal, clothing, a phone call to their relatives, basic medical care, and someone to talk to.  This tiny makeshift building is full of positive energy and served almost 50,000 migrants last year.

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KINO and a few other humanitarian groups along the border provide some of the only aid available to migrants.  Although admirably non-partisan, they were clearly disappointed by the huge increase in deportations under the Obama administration.

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The most moving encounter I had was with a recently deported Mexican woman.

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Fourteen years ago, she had crossed the desert to come to America. It had taken her a week, carrying her three year old.   She had worked in the US for fourteen years and raised three children there. One day she was stopped while riding her bicycle, her papers were checked, she was found to be undocumented and deported. Her three children are with a friend in Arizona  while she is trapped on the Mexican side with no way back.  Her only option now is to return to Mexico and then try and bring her US raised children back to the impoverished town she came from.

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There are no easy answers but nothing about this deportation seemed right.

It has been a privilege to meet the people of Arizona whose stories I am trying to tell. I only hope I can do them justice as I move forward into the script, writing and rewriting my story to reflect the responsibility and affection I feel towards everyone I have met along the way.

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Thank you to everyone we met on this trip. You took us into your homes and showed us great generosity.  We will let you know how the movie develops!

To help migrants by supporting the work of the Kino Border Initiative click here .

You can read more about my trip and my US indy feature ‘Anchor Baby’ in the forthcoming March issue of Digital Filmmaker Magazine.

Additional photography by Doris Zajer and Jack Dalleywater, many thanks.

Get in touch here or find me at @emlin32 and info@emmalindley.net   Happy Travels, and may the story you’re looking for find you.

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The Deal with Development

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Almost a year to the day since I began writing my feature script, I have found a great producer who likes the project and has agreed to help me develop it further.

And my recce trip to Arizona is happening in the New Year – the reward for a year spent writing and rewriting the script.

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This is of course not the end but the beginning of the next phase  – getting the story ready to film.  There’s still a long way to go.  But I am excited!

I started the year wishing for a development deal for my script.  I realise now I already made a development deal back in January 2013 – with myself to write this story.

Only you can write your script. But it’s hard to do it alone and get it right.  I owe a huge debt to all the creative and talented friends who have read my story and taken the time to give me feedback and ideas to get it to this point.  Thank you!

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To all of you out there writing – and rewriting – your scripts – hang in there, ask for help when you need it – and well done!

Here’s to a successful and fulfilling 2014 for all of us… I look forward to hearing your stories and updating you with mine.

Best of luck!

Emma 

CREATE ENERGY AROUND YOUR SCRIPT

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CREATING ENERGY

How do you create energy around your feature film script? Forward momentum is essential, not just to keep you motivated as you write but to cut through all the other projects being pushed equally hard by everyone else out there.

TAKE ACTION.

I’ve just decided to go to Arizona to research my feature script, ‘Anchor Baby’, and recce locations. It was already a goal for this spring but setting the date and checking out flights has created a huge swell of energy and excitement. I feel like I’m in production already.

DON’T WAIT FOR PERMISSION

Features are so expensive and take so long to develop and make that you can often die of old age while the deals are being done – and undone – and done again.  As a first or even second time director you are under a lot of scrutiny – can you carry a multi-million dollar movie? A lot of money is at stake so it’s a fair question but if you wait for someone to say yes, it’s OK, you could be waiting a  long time. The popularity of Kickstarter and Indiegogo is testament to film makers who don’t want to wait for permission anymore.  The digital revolution and the internet mean you now have the option to take some or even all of the movie making process into your own hands.

ACT LIKE IT’S TELEVISION.

The long development period on features can get you down. Working on TV shows I’ve learned that things happen fast. You are given a deadline and you have to stick to it. And with a lot of prep and hard work, everything can happen on schedule, on time and turn out pretty damn good too. Instead of looking forward into an uncertain future, be your own commissioning editor and give your project the green light – and a delivery date.

THINK LIKE A DIRECTOR

Go to the location that inspired your script – and take some shots, even shoot a trailer, visualise the scenes you’ve written.  Make mood boards of inspiring images – costumes for characters, colours for sets. They could become part of your development package and, even if they don’t, they’ll help you be more specific in your writing as you’ll know what your world looks like.

JUMP BEFORE YOU’RE READY

If the script isn’t there yet, write it while you’re looking at the locations. Rewrite it while you’re casting, finesse it in rehearsals. The script has to be strong, but if sitting behind a desk is getting you down, start planning the movie and use that pressure to work harder and faster.

All these ideas come down to one thing and one thing only. Don’t let your movie exist only in your head… MAKE IT REAL.

If you’re not sure how to do this, brainstorm ideas with friends.  How do you create energy around your projects?  Leave a comment here or tweet me @emlin32 on Twitter.