A Look at Detour, the Film
Dickerson's Detour: Hollywood seeks first and foremost to educate readers about the filmmaking craft. However, as a secondary effect, the book also encourages you to seek out and watch Dickerson's debut feature film, Detour.
Officially given a limited release in March 2013, Detour tells the story of an ad man named Jackson Alder who finds himself entombed in his own SUV after being caught in a California mudslide. Understandable comparisons have been made between the film and movies like 127 Hours, Castaway, and Buried, and Detour has similarities to all of them. For instance, as Alder, actor Neil Hopkins (previously seen on the television show Lost) has to command the screen by himself for the vast majority of the film's runtime. That's a challenging task for any actor, but Hopkins pulls it off, collaborating with Dickerson to create a taut and emotional cinematic experience.
Originally, Detour was supposed to be produced within the Hollywood system, with James Van Der Beek (Dawson's Creek) in the lead role and Brittany Murphy (Clueless, 8 Mile) as his wife. Van Der Beek flitted in and out of the project prior to the casting of Hopkins, while Murphy passed away tragically in 2009. Had Detour been made with either or both of these stars, it may have ended up as a wide-release hit; instead, Dickerson made it as a DIY project, for a minimal budget.
Still, Detour got noticed by more than a few high-profile publications. The film shows a 59% on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning it didn't work for all critics, but even the negative reviews noted as a promising debut filmmaker. CNN film critic Tom Charity called it "the best US film I've seen in 2013," while The Village Voice praised the unsettling horror of the situation portrayed onscreen. Numerous reviewers even compared the film favorably to 127 Hours, which was made with a much bigger budget, had a much bigger star (James Franco) in the lead role, and which earned a Best Picture Oscar nomination in 2010.
Visit www.detour-thefilm.com to learn more about the movie or to find a place to stream it online.
Indie Groundbreaking Book
Talented Author and Filmmaker Shares the Secrets of Successful Film Direction
In his new book, Detour: Hollywood: How to Direct a Microbudget Film (Or any film, for that matter), author and filmmaker William Dickerson defines the term "microbudget film" as "a movie made for less than one million dollars, but often for much less than that, and with no help from Hollywood." In other words, microbudget films are not the types of movies that most of us see on weekend trips to the local multiplex. Even the Oscars, which have just aired as I am writing this column, rarely award films made outside of Hollywood or without substantial monetary investment. (This year's Whiplash, starring J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller, is the closest of the big winners to fit Dickerson's microbudget definition, and it still cost $3.3 million to make.)
With all of that in mind, it would have been remarkably easy for William Dickerson to take on a certain level of snobbery with his new book. After all, there are plenty of film buffs out there (often calling themselves "cinephiles") who look down upon any films produced within the Hollywood system, and look to indie or microbudget cinema as the last bastion of quality and authenticity in the filmmaking craft. (Those individuals have a point, as evidenced by Hollywood's recent obsession with sequels, reboots, and superhero flicks, but that's a discussion for a different column.) The greatest thing about Detour: Hollywood, then, is that Dickerson never comes across as anything less than a consummate professional, a seasoned expert, and a helpful, passionate teacher.
If you've been reading Independent Publisher for a few years, then you might actually recognize Dickerson's name. That's because his book, the coming of age tale No Alternative, was reviewed here back in October 2012 as one of the best indie novels of the year. The book, set against the backdrop of Seattle's 1990s grunge scene, paired music history with adolescent frustration for a story that always felt utterly cinematic. As it turns out, that atmosphere wasn't an accident: Dickerson is a filmmaker first and an author second. He has a Master's in Directing from the American Film Institute Conservatory, and has worked extensively in the film industry. In 2013, his debut feature film, Detour,earned rave reviews—many of them from noted publications like The Village Voice and The New York Times.
Detour: Hollywood sees Dickerson pairing his writing talents with his expertise for cinema. The result is a from-the-ground-up guide for making a film—probably on the kind of shoestring budget referenced in the subtitle. And whether you're a cinema buff who wants to try his or her hand at making movies on evenings and weekends, a film school graduate without the first clue of how to break into the industry, or a student preparing for a life working in the movie business, Dickerson's considerable advice and perspective is valuable and unforgettable.
Unsurprisingly, Detour: Hollywood reads a bit like a film school lecture. We start with the basic definitions and key points: a director, for instance, is first and foremost a storyteller—something we all might forget in a world where Michael Bay is allowed to make movies. Dickerson formats his text helpfully, using headings, quick chapter breaks, summaries, and bolded text to help the reader find the most helpful information in the quickest fashion possible. Make no mistake, while Detour: Hollywood is perfectly engaging as a cover-to-cover read, it would work just as well as a guide that directors could skim and reference again and again throughout the filmmaking process.
Detour: Hollywood is far from just theoretical, academic definition work, though. Dickerson clearly knows film, and he proves as much by devoting significant portions of his book to analyzing the work of other filmmakers. He tackles David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver for crash courses in context and subtext, looks at The Godfather as a means of discussing point of view, and cuts up the filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson in a case study of directorial style. These discussions alone are illuminating in how they unlock the nuances of camera angles, colors, character perspectives, and other filmmaking techniques to determine what is really going on in a scene. However, even Dickerson's expert readings of some of the most acclaimed films of all time are not the core of Detour: Hollywood.
Rather, the defining segments of this book—and the ones that will provide the most insight that upstart filmmakers can use—are Dickerson's discussions of his own film. Detour (see the sidebar for more about the movie) may have been a microbudget project, but the process behind it still involved producer-mandated script rewrites, casting struggles with a well-known television star, the heartbreaking death of another potential star, a battle against product placement, a situation in which Dickerson was nearly removed as the director of his film, and the ultimate decision to make the film as a do-it-yourself project. Whether or not you've seen the film, reading about its creation is a rollercoaster of emotions that is sure to enthrall. For authors and publishers, it's also a refreshing little reminder that, even though it might not be easy to write a book and get it out into the world, it's still less stressful than making a movie.
Interested in checking out this fascinating excavation of the creative process? Detour: Hollywood: How to Direct a Microbudget Film (Or any film, for that matter) will be officially published on April 14th, and will be available for purchase on Amazon.
Craig Manning is currently studying English and Music at Western Michigan University. In addition to writing for IndependentPublisher.com, he maintains a pair of entertainment blogs, interns at the Traverse City Business News, and writes for Rockfreaks.net and his college newspaper. He welcomes comments or questions concerning his articles via email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.