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INDIE FILM HUSTLE: Case Study - 'This is Meg': How to Write an Indie Film on a Budget

Comedienne Jill-Michele Meleán takes us on the journey of writing 'This is Meg," a film based on her own experiences.

Jill-Michele Meleán started her career on stage, on camera and now behind the camera. She continues to perform nationally as a headlining stand-up comedienne and is still acting on Film & Television. However, she expanded her joke writing to short films and now feature films, aka Jilly laughs “even if I’m writing a drama, comedy always creeps in because, let’s face it…life is funny.” Telling stories is what makes her feel alive and watching audiences escape from reality is her biggest joy. Her voice is a platform for the modern day woman and her goal is to open up more doors for female leads. Twitter: @jillyonline

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This journey to creating This is Meg started with a phone call from the director Alex Ferrari (Yes, that’s his real last name, and he’s not a car). I’ve known this man for almost seven years, and we’ve worked together a few times in the past. He always felt like family because he’s Cuban, from Miami, and I grew up there.

Sometimes, I just love to hear him talk because his accent takes me right home so when he called me up and said something along the lines of, “Hey, I got the crew and post production. You got the writing chops and actor friends. Let’s make a movie,” I melted.

The timing was perfect because I was coming out of this thing in Hollywood called “pilot season.” I was out auditioning almost every day for months and up for the lead in a bunch of new shows for the television networks.

After getting so close on multiple projects, my frustration was at an all time high. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to create something that would allow me to be on set. Set is where I thrive. Set is where my heart beats with excitement, and I feel like I’m accomplishing something.

The journey began.

INDIE FILM HUSTLE: Case Study - 'This is Meg': How to Write an Indie Film on a Budget

Alex Ferrari and Jill-Michele Meleán

My first question was

“What do I write?”

Alex simply said,

“Write about you. Write what you know.”

For years, I had fought against this philosophy because I thought no one would want to know my truth. I had told myself that a false world is so much more interesting. But, as a comedienne, I realized that my best jokes were derived from a true story, true circumstance, or true observation. From that, I could spin it into my own viewpoint and make it as cartoony as I wanted without losing the base of reality.

Script EXTRA: Should you only write what you know?

So when writing This is Meg, I actually saw the screenplay in my head because it’s my story, my life. I contacted a few key friends who I consider family in the entertainment business and asked, “If I write a character for you in a feature, would you do it?”

They all said yes.

So I grabbed my computer, locked myself away, and started writing my characters. After, I linked the characters to the lead, Meg, I started the outline, then the summary, then the screenplay.

This screenplay was a unique situation because these are my friends. They’re incredible improvisers. I knew I didn’t want to trap them with too much dialogue. I wanted to give them the freedom to shine and play.

I had been exposed to a similar format when I worked on Comedy Central’s Reno 911. That structure was a beautiful seed planted inside me that I adored. And, when I passed it over to my friends, they used it to grow and create.

I feel like the best gift you can give an actor, especially an improviser, is to give them positive reinforcement because their performance will get better and better with each take. Of course there are solid beats, necessary in each scene in order to move the story along, and it’s important to hit those.

But, once we got what we needed, it was playtime. I think that playfulness shows on screen in this film and it makes me so proud.

I hope everyone enjoys peaking into the life of a female actress/comedienne’s relationships and her daily struggle living in LaLaLand in my film This is Meg.

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