Tuesday, January 16, 2007

WANTED: Lazy Unambitious Daydreamer

A sort of off-topic blog this week as I'm finishing the script breakdown, working on securing locations, and getting stuff for and from my Art Director and Director of Photography. Rest assured that plenty of work is being done on Women's Studies. It's just kind of boring to talk about.

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I belong to roughly twelve million filmmaking list-servs, online groups, and message boards. I find them useful for trading tips, networking, and most importantly, learning from the experience of others. Recently, I've run across a lot of postings from independent filmmakers in which the lack of common sense blows my mind. These kind of clueless posts have always been there, but they seem to be in an abundance of late. Below is a recreation that incorporates ideas from many of them.

"Hey, I just finished my first full-length script and it's awesome! I just know it'll be a huge hit and is totally worth investing in. I think I know the answer to this already, but are there any organizations or groups that finance independent filmmakers, or do you have to go through private investors? Anyway, if there's anybody out there who wants to invest in a low budget film, hit me up with an email.

"Also, though I know a lot about how to cast, shoot, and edit a film, I know nothing about PRODUCING a film! Really, I know how to do all the fun shit in the filmmaking process. Yet when it comes to the tedious, frustrating, nuts and bolts production work necessary to actually get a film production off the ground, I just don't know how to do it. So, I'm looking for an experienced producer to help get the project up and running."

Now, I don't want to sound like an elitist here (though I'm probably going to), but unless the author of this kind of post is fifteen years old, they need to be taken out to a vacant lot and beaten severely. Actually, even if they're fifteen, they still need a good swift kick in the ass. Maybe my strong reaction is because I'm smack-dab in the middle of the real production work that goes into making a film happen. However, the lack of patience, knowledge of the industry, and work ethic being exuded by these would-be filmmakers makes me want to reach through my computer screen and throttle them.

I certainly don't think I'm any sort of filmmaking genius or guru. Far from it. I've only produced two short films and worked on a half dozen others in various capacities. At the same time, I've learned to cultivate the three traits which I believe are necessary in order to produce and complete a feature film. Notice I don't say "secure distribution" or "garner accolades and awards." That's because work as hard as I do, shit like that is out of my hands.

1) Patience . . . In my experience, nothing great happens overnight. I've been writing scripts for twelve years. (Twelve years!?! Damn, I'm getting old!) While I'm no William Goldman, I'm confident enough in my knowledge of story values and character building and my ability to translate that to the page to know whether on not what I've written is at least decent. I'm not saying Johnny Filmmaker's first script is horrifyingly bad. However, he should go through a solid revision and drafting process as well as take some time to step away from it to know for sure.

Now, should he do like I did and wait ten years to try and make his first film? Of course not. While I spent much of that time writing scripts, working on theatre and film projects, and learning more about the craft of making movies, there was also just a lot of getting wasted and saying, "Man, someday, I'm going to make a fucking movie and it'll RAWK!" There's a fine line between taking the time to do it right and simply fucking off. The key is knowing (or finding) where that line is.

Also, take the time to learn the ins and outs of filmmaking and the industry built up around it. Which leads me to:

2) Knowledge of the Film Industry . . . There actually are organizations and institutions, including the federal government that give grants and funding for filmmakers to make certain types of films. However, there are a lot of rules to receiving these grants and the type of film Johnny Filmmaker is making may or may not fit their criteria. What Johnny needs to do is take the time to research these grants and see if his super-awesome action script is eligible for any of them. If not, then he needs to turn his attention to the commercial film market and research the various ways these films can be funded, produced, and made. He should research the distribution system and decide what form of distribution suits the type of film he's making, it's budget, and it's target audience. Then he should research companies that fund, produce, and distribute these types of film. OR he can decide to do it all independently, and should then research the various methods in which this can be done. Did I mention there are about a thousand other things Johnny should try to learn about?

Learn about the movie business. I know I said I've learned patience, but when it comes to wannabe filmmakers who haven't taken the time to learn about the industry, I simply have none. There's absolutely no excuse, especially if the sentence "All I want to do is make movies" ever comes out of their mouth. There's literally hundreds of books written on the subject. The internet is strewn with articles and websites devoted to independent filmmaking. Work on other filmmaker's films. Hands on experience is ten times better than any book. Also, go to film screenings and network with other filmmakers. Ask questions. Trade war stories. NEVER think you know it all. You don't. There's always more to learn. Be the eternal student, never content with your current level of knowledge.

3) Work Ethic . . . So, let me get this straight, Johnny Filmmaker. You've learned how to shoot, direct, and edit a film, and in all that experience, you didn't learn anything about producing a film? I find that a little hard to believe you self-centered, unmotivated, lazy shitheel. It seems that you want all the fun and glory and none of the hard labor. Now, while I think I'm a semi-talented guy who has had a few lucky breaks, I've also simply worked my ass off to accomplish what I have so far.

I know that studio films employ a variety of producers who do all the work in the trenches necessary to getting a film made; negotiating contracts, fielding resumes, hiring crew and cast, location hunting, budgeting, script analysis, storyboarding. However, they have the money to pay those people to do it. In the independent world, all that production work falls on the filmmaker.

I myself can't understand how anybody would want to do all the production work themselves and then let somebody else direct the film. To me, that's like spending money on an expensive date, taking the time to dance and romance her, then taking her back to your place and letting your roommate fuck her. If your roommate isn't willing to do the hard work, he doesn't deserve to get laid.

Also, when you do the production work yourself, you learn. I've had people approach me and ask, "Hey, can I use your business plan/budget/script breakdown as a template?" Yet, if I let you just copy what I've done are you really going to understand what it means? Things in my plans may not work for your film. Research itself is time-consuming and can be hard work, but ultimately it'll make you a better filmmaker. You may not think it when you're in the thick of a morass of jargon you don't understand, but trust me. The work is worth it.

I've been working on Women's Studies for fifteen months now. If I wanted to, I could ditch the project and simply make half-a-dozen short films without breaking a sweat, and when the going is tough (as it is now) it's tempting. But there's a fourth trait that I believe is key to making a successful filmmaker, and that's perseverance. Besides, if it's worth doing, it shouldn't be easy.

You hearing me, Johnny?

1 comment:

Atin said...

Sure I know what you're saying. I live in Bombay, India and these kind of posts come up regularly all the time on film posts across various sites and the unbelievable naivete that these sort of wannabe film artists display baffles me tremendously! What kind of world do these people live in? Do these people think that some rich moneybags independent financier is going to call them and bankroll their projects on the basis of a post on some site? Doesn't common sense dictate that it is the other way round? We are talking about the most popular art form known to mankind and there are millions out there trying to write or make a film. That must be remembered by these people before they venture out in all their innocence into this profession.