July 17, 2012

SCA Family Stories: Bart Fisher

The Writer of How To Fall in Love sits with SCA

By Valerie Turpin & Ryan Dee Gilmour

With the rate of technology expanding faster than ever, Internet media content can now literally fit in the palm of your hand. For many filmmakers, part of their success has been their ability to adapt to the ins and outs of a new, Internet-based society while still meeting the timeless need for captivating storytelling.

MFA Production alum Bart Fisher recently sat down with SCA to discuss his new project with Hallmark Channel, How to Fall in Love, premiering on July 21 at 9pm ET/PT, 8C on Hallmark Channel, as well as the ways in which he has adjusted to the ever-evolving digital age.

Let’s get your name, year of graduation and your degree.

Bart Fisher '01

My name is Bart Fisher, and I graduated in 2001 with my Masters in Fine Arts and Film Production.

Tell me about your recent project with Hallmark Channel, How to Fall in Love. How did it come about?

I had a relationship with Barbara Fisher, who at that time was the Senior VP of Original Programming at Hallmark, and I had a story idea that I had been working on that I thought was a perfect project for Hallmark. I brought it to Barbara and we discussed it, and it was something that she felt was a perfect fit, too.

The movie is about an introverted guy who never got over his harsh teenage years. When he was in high school, his teenage years were not kind to him, and he’s very unsuccessful in terms of relationships and dating. Later on in life, he befriends the girl he had a crush on in high school and hires her to become his dating coach. Through that, he begins opening up, and she starts to discover that he’s this wonderful guy that she never paid attention to, and he learns how to really start believing in yourself and having self-confidence and learning to put your best foot forward in life. And to their surprise, they end up falling for each other.

Is this a step out for you in terms of genre?

I think it’s definitely part of the kind of material that I have started producing and developing since being in school and coming out of it.  I really am drawn to character pieces and relationship stories, and this is the first romantic-comedy that I’ve worked on, so it’s definitely a little different of a genre than some of the more dramatic things that I’ve worked on.

More than anything else, I love character humor mixed in with dramatic elements, and again relationship and friendship stories, so this still is part of that. I think in terms of just genre, yes, I am stepping out a little bit and doing something a little different, but it still stays true to my signature style as a writer.

From your generation at USC, there seem to be a lot of people who are succeeding in avenues that didn’t exist beforehand. Do you find that this entrepreneurial spirit is alive with your generation to find whatever projects are out there?

I think that in film school, we were trained in a very traditional environment, learning that there are feature films, there’s television. The first wave of short films on the Internet had fallen flat and wasn’t a huge pool yet. So I think we’re still aiming ourselves toward feature films or television, but now, in the time that I’ve come out of school, now we’ve got Internet episodes, we’ve got VOD possibilities; those are just mushrooming up all over the place.

The whole Internet as a way of accessing media content and story content has changed everything, and I think that, as a class, we’ve had to adapt to a whole new landscape and start learning new technology as fast as we possibly can, because that was just sort of coming into being while we were in school. So on one hand, I think it’s been a necessity to survive, and on the other, it’s opened up all kinds of exciting opportunities that I wouldn’t have thought of when I was in school.

I never would have thought about making an original movie for the Hallmark Channel; it was not on my radar whatsoever. I thought of independent films, I thought of feature films, I thought of traditional television, but that whole landscape is changing in a really exciting way.

So you weren’t one of the DIY kids when you were in school?

Bart Fisher with the lead actors of How to Fall in Love

I was a little bit, in terms of having to do that as a student filmmaker. You had to make all the pieces fit together in any way you could, no matter what your budget size was. You were always calling in favors with friends, colleagues and fellow classmates and all of that, so there was a do-it-yourself to it about the whole process of making movies while in school. But I think we were all still looking at the film and television world in a very traditional structure, and that has been changed radically.

What was one of your most disastrous 507/508 films while at SCA?

For 507, I did something different for each of my five projects.  I wanted to that so I could stretch my comfort zone a little bit. I don’t think there was anything too disastrous, but of course any time I see my own work, it’s really difficult. No matter if it’s a student film or a film now, I want to cringe and leave the theater. I have a hard time watching my own work, no matter when I made it, because you just see the flaws and say, ‘ah, I wish I would have done this, if I could just go back and change this’ and so on.

But in all honesty, I don’t think there would be anything I’d be so embarrassed by to hide it or trash it since they were all part of my natural evolution. If you think of it in those terms, there is a stylistic progression, and you see growth, and that’s what it should be. It’s almost like those movies are little snapshots in time, and if you look at it as a photo album of you growing in life and where you’re going, then it’s not so hard to look at anymore.

Were then any old movies or SCA courses you took that had a major effect on you as an artist?

Script analysis was one. I had a wonderful, wonderful writing teacher named James Nathan who I had for my first screenwriting class my first semester, and everything he taught us I use every single day, like story, structure, who the characters are, what the shape of the story is, where the act breaks are, plot versus character development, outlining, where your high points are, where your low points are.

All of those things I use on a daily basis with everything I do, and I think that those two classes come to mind because I’m writing a lot and use these ideas every day, though I’ve taken something from each class I’ve had at SCA.

What advice do you have for current SCA students?

That if you want to make your own films and become a good writer, you really need to be able to make material that you can direct. I had stories and ideas that I really wanted to tell, and the best way I felt to get all of those ideas on paper was to really learn how to write. I don’t see myself as a stand-alone writer; I am a practicing director, but this Hallmark project was the first time I wrote something and sold it and gave it over to somebody else to produce.

That was terribly difficult for me; there were some changes that the director wanted to make, which was very tough for me, but luckily I had the agreement with Hallmark Channel that the film had to stay true to what we had developed together, so those things went back to the way we had all approved and I had Hallmark on my side.

It was kind of like the opposite story from what you normally hear about Hollywood, where people just massacre something you’ve written and you want to run for cover. I actually had the opposite experience where I had the support of Hallmark Channel to stay true to the script.

Key art for How to Fall in Love

It seems to be more common that the writer is respected more when it comes to smaller media. Do you feel this is true?

In this particular instance, yes, and now that there are so many different outlets and avenues for different movies, I do think that’s true.  I had read an L.A. Times article that spoke of how things are much more experimental in series now because people are so used to the conventions of television series, and how writers have the obstacle of staying true to their vision without relying on formulaic plot ideas.

There’s becoming critically-acclaimed and wonderful shows to watch, and that’s exciting because I think there’s a desire for great material with more respect toward what a writer is creating while trying to do different things that are on the page provided by the writer.

What piece of advice would you give to newly admitted Production students that you wish you had heard when you first started?

To learn the business. I think there’s more of a focus in school as far as developing as an artist and that talent, but I feel it’s up to the individual as a student to really learn the business and learn how to navigate it. Do those internships during the summer, do those jobs even if they’re unpaid, get into the system. Start building relationships with people in the industry. Those are things that are really important from a practical standpoint while you’re working on developing your voice as an artist.

For more information on How to Fall in Love, visit Hallmark Channel’s Facebook Fan Page at www.Facebook.com/hallmarkchannel. Prior to the July 21st screening, the program will host a live, one-hour Q&A with The Rules Girls - Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider.  The Q&A will be on Hallmark Channel’s Facebook Fan Page and leads into the How to Fall in Love premiere at 8pm CT (9 PM PT/ET) on Hallmark Channel.  www.therulesbook.com