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How My Movie Fell Apart: A Story With a Happy Ending

Guest blog: A torturous Italian saga led to my skateboarding film, ”The Motivation,“ out Tuesday on-demand

Making a movie is like building a house on a fault line. You amass a team, do your best and hope to God the earth doesn’t quake.

“This isn’t happening,” I said to myself as the radio blasted bad Top 40 hits en route to my daughter’s preschool. “My movie is not self-destructing. I am going to will it into existence, whatever it takes.”

We were a mere three weeks out from our first day of shooting, and given that the movie was set in Italy and my ass was in a Prius in L.A. running errands for my pregnant wife, things were already looking bleak. But I focused only on the positives. We had my dear friend and one of this generation’s finest actors in the lead role – names are not disclosed to protect the not-so-innocent but litigious.

Opposite him was a brilliant indie star, as raw and real as an actress can get.  Also starring in a male lead role was the Italian face of Dolce & Gabbana and the star of Giuseppe Tornatore’s latest masterpiece.  And our executive producer? My idol and hero, and a really big deal.  It was a dream come true.

Our star hit me up on Skype from Rome. “Do we have a start date yet? I don’t want to pressure you, Adam, but I have lots of offers.” And he wasn’t the only one who needed to know. My wife was six months pregnant — and she was curious. “What is happening?  You need to shoot this thing now if you want to be present for the birth.” Believe me, honey, I want to shoot this thing yesterday.

A rehearsal with our leads in an apartment below Chateau Marmont ended in our lead actress confessing last-minute nerves due to excessive nudity the script presented (our Italian investors had just ordered three additional sex scenes to an already sex-laden script).  She broke down into tears, hugging us while we broke down into tears knowing she was gone for good.  And, with her, our financing.

I flew to NYC and met with a really hot actress. She was down, she loved the project and she dove right in with tons of character ideas.  The money people loved her, and I loved her. My daughter even loved her — she had a horse with long blonde hair and was a veritable Disney princess come to life.  She drove a ’69 Ford Mustang and spoke perfect Spanish. She was our girl, but she needed a new script, so we had to act fast.

Annoyed, the writer set to work on yet another unpaid new draft.  I felt we had everything under control except one thing — Italian vacationers. We were warned: Our location, a beautiful and picturesque island would be overrun by tourists from July to the end of August. There was no way we could bring a crew there; every single room, suite, house, shack and beach chair was booked for two months. We had to shoot now.

Our actors were getting other offers, schedules were shifting, my wife’s belly was getting bigger, and my head was exploding with stress and pressure from all sides. And then it really all fell apart.

Our new actress read the new draft and came back with notes. Long, verbose, complex notes, the kind a writer absolutely hates to get. My heart beat double-time.  This is going to sink the project. I sent our writer the notes and was met with a hearty “f— this s—” response. This film was not going to be shot this summer.

The Italian investors were still hopeful.  “Is OK, you find someone else to write and shoot in September.”

“But my baby’s coming in September.” I told them. They laughed at me. As if wanting to be there for the birth of my first-born son was the wussiest thing I could have said. Their response: “You can see him be born on Skype.”  And they weren’t kidding.

But the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. A mere week later after stalking around my house, vexed, fuming, I got a call from my old friend Steve Berra — pro skateboarding legend and film producer. “I got you a meeting with Rob Dyrdek to pitch him your documentary idea.”

Me, Steve and Steve’s assistant Tim had been developing “The Motivation,” a feature doc around the eight finalists of Rob Dyrdek’s Street League championship, essentially eight of the best pro-skaters in the world, coming together in NYC to compete for 200K and the title of Street League Champion.

And here I was pulling up to the legendary Fantasy Factory to pitch the idea to Dyrdek, owner and founder of Street League, butterflies in my stomach.

What I thought would be a formal pitch session ended up a typical Dyrdek experience. As we stood in the lobby he came running out, beaming about a film I’d make back in 2009: “I love The Carter‘! Great movie! What happened, why did Lil’ Wayne hate it so much?” He then asked me what I needed and I said, “Full access.” Amazingly, he agreed and disappeared as fast as he arrived. We hadn’t even left the lobby and the film was greenlit.

Three weeks later we were financed and shooting “The Motivation,” which comes out Tuesday, on-demand, iTunes, XBox 360 and Playstation.  It just fell in to place like it was meant to be, and these major skaters I was shooting were beyond humble and welcoming. It had seriously been less than a month since the other film fell apart. Sometime the pieces fall into place. And sometimes, no matter what, they just don’t.

Making a movie is a gamble like no other. I gambled three years of my life on a project that I never even shot. If I were a novelist who spent three years writing a book — even if that book tanked I’d still have something to show. But with giant gambles come huge payoffs, allowing you to roll the dice once again. So, on to the next one… 


Adam Bhala Lough is an American film director, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker from Virginia. His films include "Bomb the System" (nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, "Weapons" (nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, "The Upsetter: The Life & Music of Lee Scratchd Perry (narrated by Benicio Del Toro) and "The Carter," a controversial documentary about Lil Wayne that premiered at Sundance. His latest film, "The Motivation," documents eight of the best pro-skateboarders in the world.