Let’s face it, there’s a million articles just like this one with the same general message; stop making excuses and start making your movie.
But, just like there’s a million articles like this, there are a million filmmakers out there that are making excuses. So instead of focusing on them, let’s focus on you; the filmmaker who is tired of making excuses.
How can we get your ideas out of your head and on a screen?
When I first started making short films and music videos, I borrowed cameras and watched YouTube videos to find affordable solutions for the types of equipment I needed to get the shots I wanted to get. I made camera stabilizers from PVC pipe, and dollies out of boards, doors, pallet jacks, and milk crates for hi-hats, the whole time saving money up to replace the equipment I wasn’t satisfied by with modest budget alternatives. Then I continued replacing those as time went on with even better equipment.
When I first started, I was always shooting. I was always doing tests and learning how to place lights, how to pull off gimmick shots I liked in other films, and editing all of the footage to music to get an idea of how to build a tone. Then I started to focus on learning how to talk to actors by filming rehearsals for films. I never sent these tests to anyone, but just showed them to close friends or crew to discuss what we were doing, or what I think we could do. I sent my more refined work to people who I valued the opinion of to get critical feedback on what I could do better.
During this time I worked on trying to learn to cut action, and dialogue. I kept the expense for what I was working low or free whenever possible, and the ambition just a little higher than what I felt like I could accomplish to challenge myself. I also worked on building a team of filmmakers that were growing with each project along with me. No matter how big a filmmaker’s ego may be, they should recognize that they couldn’t do a good film on their own.
I spent years with my team making various short films, music videos, commercials, and in some cases, projects that you couldn’t really label as being one specific thing. We experimented and learned as much as we could on our own and with various articles just like this, putting the work and time in to learn to become better filmmakers. We worked on our own work and freelanced on commissioned projects. The first time you’re paid to make a film, you’re a professional filmmaker. It’s that simple.
All of these lessons came to great use when the time came to make my first feature film, Bad People. Tired of waiting for a shot to direct a feature and failed starts to bigger projects, I looked at the resources I had on tap. I also looked at what I could get that was just out of reach and preceded to write a feature length script around these things. Two years passed putting the time in and trying to solve the logistical problems that came up until myself and a great crew of people managed to get the film going. All of this work was before a single frame was shot, and from there more problems occurred throughout shooting.
My mantra through the shoot was simple: Things will go wrong.
This may sound negative, but it wasn’t, what this did was adjust my frame of mind to be ready for when a problem arose. To always be in the mode to solve a problem with literally no money to throw at it. This approach was the major key to making it through the shooting of Bad People without losing my mind. This crew and myself have taken baby steps for years to get to the point where we knew what solution we needed for many of the problems we encountered, and to give us the gravity to solve problems we have never had before. We would have never gotten to this point sitting around making excuses for why we can’t make our movie.