5 First Steps To Take Before Making Your Film

Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.
Here I am, eleven years ago, with no idea what I have gotten myself into.

A question came up during yesterday’s (wonderful) Live Chat for The Videoblogs, that I thought I would re-address in a bit more detail here.

The gist of it — how to get started making your first film?

There are plenty of good ways to answer this question. There are many great resources out there outlining the basics of any one facet of this noble, unwieldy endeavor.

Knowing this, and also knowing that it matters more to me to tell a good story than craft a perfect picture, I focused my answer on an attempt to pre-hack the biggest challenges that are likely to come up in pursuing the coveted first film.

As such, my recommendations tend towards sustainability and focus, rather than process or technique.

Process and technique can be filled in beforehand with research and experimentation. Or you’ll learn by failing and re-starting at certain points in your journey.

But these are the top five pieces of advice I might have, at present, for anyone starting their first film today.

1. Understand the situation you’re getting yourself into

PA Puppy can't get a Grip.
PA Puppy can’t get a Grip.

The planning and execution of a film is a very large undertaking. Even if you’re starting small — issues or challenges or requirements are going to come up that you never expected. You will be tested.

I don’t think that filmmaking is for everyone. There are a lot of people out there working to write and/or direct their own films…who don’t seem happy. There could be several reasons for this, but chief among them could be that the idea of filmmaking is a lot more glamorous that its reality.

I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but the reason I bring this fact up first is because I really do think that the best way to handle the difficulties of the task is to first acknowledge and accept that it’s going to be difficult. If we’re fighting ourselves at the same time that we’re fighting to get the film made…both self and film will suffer.

There are other ways to engage your sadistic side than deciding to commit years of your life to the foolish endeavor of bottling and reshaping a slice of space-time using magical machines.

If you still can’t help yourself…

2. Have a system of self-care in place

Once or twice a year, I go to the woods.
Once or twice a year, I go to the woods and find a big stick.

I have written much about this already. I will keep writing about it. Again — making a film is very hard work. Often, when we’re starting, we’re working within constraints of time, money and all the rest that comes with the responsibility of everyday living.

I’m still working on this part.

The fact is, you could sacrifice everything for your film and emerge very pleased with the end product.

Doing this, however, might leave you at the same time irrevocably embittered by the process you just went through — or dealing with an poisonous buildup of entitlement.

Because you poured it all into the work and then had nothing left to sustain your actual life, your relationships, your next project.

It’s the live to work or work to live dilemma.

Because it’s so beautiful and fulfilling, art-making can muddy up our perspective of the pursuit — but the fact remains that making a film or writing a book or whatever…it’s still work.

We’re not built to labor around the clock. Inevitably, when we try, breakdowns commence.

It will be hard.

Those who find their way towards filmmaking tend to overwhelmingly be high-functioning perfectionists, often with reserves of (not unhelpful) arrogance to call upon for that extra juice (“I can bottle space-time!”).

But knowing or learning or carefully exploring our limits, with an eye on longterm personal and career health, will make the journey and the film that much better for you and everyone else involved.

3. Have a reason

For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.
For The Videoblogs, our reason was getting out and talking about mental health in America.

This piece of advice is only third because I’m supposing that most people reading this, and/or taking my words seriously, already have a compelling reason for pursuing filmmaking (or any one film).

But, if you don’t, think long and hard about whether you can find a reason, or whether the one you think you have is strong enough to sustain you when chaos or despair descends on your production and your life, despite all of the warnings and precautions outlined above and below.

In my experience, you need this reason. On some days, it will prove the only thing capable of keeping you going when you want to quit. Why this film, and now?

4. Have a plan

I held at least six separate positions during production of The Videoblogs. Why? Because it had to be done to keep things moving.
There’s a reason this image serves at the backdrop for the Coffee with Creatives logo.

Hang with me here, for a second.

Obviously, if you’re intending to make a film — you’ll need a plan. There’s no way it comes off without one. Even if your plan is to keep things loose, there’s a lot of preparation that you need to do to allow that possibility on set.

Still, I’m not really talking about the how. That’s all up to you. It’s just hard work.

What’s just as important, however, is that you have a plan for: 1) Fitting the giant disruption that is the making of a film into your daily life, and 2) Ensuring that the giant disruption leads to worthy results.

To address the first, I’d recommend doing some serious, honest work to prioritize what needs prioritization, with an eye on what’s realistic. Assume everything will take twice as long, and be twice as difficult, than you might expect.

Ensuring worthy results, to be clearer, means having a distribution plan. Ideally, a few of them.

At minimum, know how to get the film to your core audience, no matter how small or local. These are your first champions.

You will need them. Respect this relationship enough to put the work into it. Think about how your film can serve your core audience, and how to make it convenient for them to participate in its distribution when the time comes to push your project out into the world.

5. Be willing to be patient

It will take years -- but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.
It will take years — but the hard work and the waiting are usually worth it.

This last suggestion is as much for me as anyone else. The reality of filmmaking is that it takes an enormous amount of time. If we do our job well, this enormity ends up hidden to general audiences.

The way most people experience entertainment is to consume it, quickly and ruthlessly.

Behind all that quickness and ruthlessness, on the side of the consumption of content, there’s slowness and a methodical attention to detail that is required on the part of the content creator.

If and when we cheat, to get things done faster or to “just get them done”, we endanger the sanctity of this relationship between creator and audience, as manifested by the creation.

If we are lazy at any point, or give in to bitterness or despair and shortchange any one part of the completion of a film, we risk dooming the entire endeavor.

On the flip side, we can obsess too much, and risk burning out in the vocation, or on any one project. It’s a delicate balance, that really only begins to make sense over time.

Conclusion

Filmmaking is a beautiful, noble, privileged pursuit. It’s brought great purpose, joy, and meaning to my life. Pain and disappointment have also entered the equation at points.

If and when we can find a real reason to move forward truthfully with a project, and so proceed with it while taking care of ourselves and respecting our audience — then we can enjoy and thrive under the vocation.

Best of luck to anyone mad enough to give it a try.


profpic_squareMy name is Michael. I am a Writer and Filmmaker
of hopeful stories for complex people. Lately, I have been sharing some reflections and stories every morning. Once per month, I send a special note to those on my email list. They get exclusive stories and advanced (sometimes free) access to my work. You can join this exclusive group here. Thanks for reading.

Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

This is part ten of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

theres-no-excuse-for-rudeness

 

This is a story about principles and how they carry over from outside the realm of business.

I was at the physical therapist a few days ago, settling up with my co-pay after an appointment. I have to go to physical therapy now, after producing The Videoblogs on nights and weekends for almost three years. My shoulders, arms and elbows — among other things — are all messed up from overuse.

The elevator opened and someone appeared next to me. A man. Talking on the phone. He stared at the receptionist, with a look on his face that said: “I shouldn’t have to say anything.”

No greeting, no words — not even for the person on the other side of the phone. No — this man’s simmering little wrath was most important for the moment.

The receptionist, to his credit, didn’t completely take this shit. Not for the first time, I felt sympathy for the tired hordes of battle-weary medical administrative staff — the main buffer between a cold and exploitative major industry and the people constantly squeezed and tossed around by that industry.

“Name?”

The man said his name. His annoyed expression deepened.

“The name of the person you’re here to see?”

It’s a big office, with a few different sub-specialties practiced. Still, I’m not sure the receptionist needed to ask that. I think he asked out of vengeance.

I decided I liked the receptionist. The annoyed man gave the information requested. The act seemed to almost cost him his life.

The receptionist thanked the man — who resumed talking on the phone — and then indicated that he should wait in the reception area, to the side of us. The man went.

During all this, I was waiting patiently for an issue with the computer, that was preventing me from paying, to get resolved. But I was also amused by The Annoyed Man.

It wasn’t hard to listen in to his conversation as it continued — and that’s when things took a turn towards the personal, and became an example of something I decided I wanted to share, to the (hopeful) benefit of everyone.

This man continued to act rudely on the phone. By the snippets of the conversation I could pick up, since it was now The Annoyed Man’s world — that I was just living in — I soon realized that he works in the film industry.

There was talk of a Director. Of a Project. Of a Studio. Maybe it was typical talk, of a typical tone, for The Industry. But I like to think it’s not. To tell the truth, I don’t have many ways of yet knowing for sure.

What I do know is that I will always remember that man’s face. If I ever see him, in a meeting or at an event, in the future near or far — I’ll remember him.

You’re someone who is rude, and/or disrespectful to receptionists.

We’re never going to work together, if I can help it. 

I bring this up because I think it’s a good reminder, not only to do things for the right reasons — The Annoyed Man could, in fact, love film — but to comport yourself with at least some semblance of humility, no matter where you are, and what you’re doing or with whom.

Could The Annoyed Man have been having a bad day? Sure. But there’s a difference, I think, between getting snippy and being a snip. He was a snip.

Further, I don’t know that people who act like The Annoyed Man did, in this case, are going to be able to continue to conduct themselves in such a fashion so often in the near future. For better or worse, we’re becoming a culture who calls out bullshit — as I am doing now.

It’s very possible that he’ll be taken to task for how he is (or sometimes acts) at some point in his life, regardless of what I or anyone else might say on the internet. But the internet is always out there, watching — and remembering, like me — and behind it are more than a few people who won’t tolerate rudeness and disrespect.

We just don’t have time for it.

Perhaps that’s a separate conversation, because I tend to believe too many people are too quick to condemn and vilify online, and in general, these days. But it’s a separate thing to observe and to remember, and to protect yourself (and/or your work and efforts) accordingly.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 5: On The Future of Labor

Day 6: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 7: The Word for World is Earth

Day 8: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 9: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Laughing at Apocalypse: Kimberly Dilts

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I first heard about Actor/Writer/Producer (storyteller) Kimberly Dilts and her work when I stumbled upon a Film Specific interview with Kim and her husband about the Tugg tour for their film Angel’s Perch. We later connected on Twitter and struck up a fast (remote) friendship.

This interview gets personal — and quickly. Kim and I both open up about the struggles that sometimes come with creating, and/or being a creative. The physical toil. The mental. The spiritual. There is talk of only being able to move a toe while in the midst of a production (you’ll have to listen to find out whose toe).

Other topics we strike at in the conversation include:

  • The Vulnerability Wave
  • The difference between bootstrapping a project in your 30s, versus your 20s
  • How Kim fell into theatre, as a means of finding her tribe and following her broad curiosity
  • Turning to independent work as a result of frustration with the gatekeeper culture
  • Telling yourself yes
  • Learning through pain and running towards fear
  • And, appropriately, given the title of the episode — laughter as a means of coping with the world

Really enjoyed this talk. Check it out and be sure to let Kim and/or me know what you think on Twitter or right here. You can also follow Kim’s film Auld Lang Syne on Seed&Spark.

As reminders, you can also subscribe to Coffee with Creatives on iTunes and/or support the podcast on Patreon.

 

Indie Film is Dead: The Rise of Interdependent Film

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Perhaps you’re thinking: “Filmmaking has always been interdependent.”

Well, if you are, congrats. You’re smarter than me.

But I can’t speak for you. I can only speak for myself, and I — am excited.

Let me explain.

Independence Today: It’s Exhausting

I know it doesn’t work the same way for everyone, but I don’t think I am alone in having stumbled into independent film, first, because I love film, and second…because I’m (fiercely) independent. To a fault, sometimes.

Once, when I was in college, I was talking to a friend who I was trying to get to date me, who was smart enough to avoid that chore but kind enough to remain friends with me anyway. I remember, once, saying to her:

“Sometimes, I feel like my life is just a never-ending series of tiny rebellions.”

To which, she replied: “That sounds pretty accurate.”

I bring this up for a specific reason. The pattern is exhausting. Especially, now, in a world where true rebellion has been both quashed and yet at the same time mostly proven by history to be (arguably) less effective in result as it is in promise (there are, of course, major exceptions). It makes less sense to always be acting contrarily, from moment to moment, than it does to simply just turn around and walk in another direction. Or to do this subtly, quietly, over time.

That needs some unpacking, I know.

That Doesn’t Mean The Independent Voice Isn’t Still Necessary

Here’s my point — there always should be a challenge to the status quo. I hope we can all agree on this, even if we may differ in defining that status. I’m definitely not here to argue against rebellion and/or independence. But, as I have said here before, I do believe the time has come — for filmmakers, for artists, for people — to fight smarter, not harder.

So, instead of fighting alone, as I believe some smart and talented people are beginning to see — we need people to fight with us, and us with them.

I hone in on filmmaking as an example, now, because it has the convenience of being my primary vocation while at the same time providing a good embodying example as a result of its truly collaborative nature.

Why Indie/Interdependent Filmmakers Are Primed to Lead

I have been over this before. So have others. Here’s the gist, quickly:

Technology has been democratized.

I’m not going to summarize what this means. It should be clear by now. Basically, anyone can do anything they have a talent for, so long as they put in the work, over time, and are strategic about it. I’m living proof. My career studying film, in official terms, lasted six hours. I made my first film by studying a bit and diving in. It wasn’t perfect but it lit the flame and taught me a lot about the craft and myself. Oh, and I had a lot of help.

Knowledge has been democratized.

By the way, help protect net neutrality. It’s important. Here’s why.

Like I said, I got into this by studying and diving in. Most of what I learned, I learned on the internet. Countless others have done the same. This is important, in terms of independent spirit, in my opinion, for one primary reason. Film school — filmmaking in general — is often for the wealthier among our population.

Again, there are exceptions. But there used to be far more of them. This is mostly a product of our increasingly unequal, increasingly bifurcated society (the “Haves” and “Those Getting By”).

I won’t go into what’s happened to what used to be the lower class, because this is meant to be a hopeful essay. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and that we are artists in particular don’t owe the less fortunate a greater chance to exercise their voice. Even free access to democratized knowledge can’t help someone who spends every waking moment treading water. Anyway. End digression. Another story for another day.

The benefit of democratized knowledge is that those of us who are able and willing to rebel, to be truly independent (and it’s not easy, by a stretch) are at least able to try to make art. Though, increasingly, even to do this we have to do it together.

Need fulfillment is becoming “localized”

When I say that indie film is dead, obviously I’m exaggerating a little. In certain ways, actually, it’s never been easier to be an auteur (speaking purely on a technical basis) . However.

It’s also never been easier to convince oneself that this is easy, and to get in over the head only to realize it too late.

We’re getting too many mediocre films.

But there seems to be a trend emerging, that’s to me appears a match of circumstance to need. People are, slowly, working together — more often.

Mediocrity breeds boredom and cynicism that causes audiences to understandably jump ship. Even bold material that people argue over, in terms of its innate quality, is better than a lot of what we were getting up until recently.

But film collaboratives. Teams of filmmakers swapping roles and supporting each other across the years. Startups extending an hand from the tech sphere to ours, to the mutual benefit of each party. Locally made films, for and by locals, within neighborhoods and states. Niche documentaries supported via crowdfunding by those whose story spurred their genesis. We’re starting to take more risks in terms of trusting others. Those risks are starting to pay off.

Conclusion

This does not seem, to me, a replacement of indie film as we have known it. It seems an evolution of it, a birth of a new thing that’s like the old thing, and which may even exist in parallel to it for a long time to come, but is also necessarily a little more solid. Again, it’s more solid because we need it to be, to help us navigate a still consistently confusing time. Interdependent filmmaking is about rising to the moment.

It hasn’t been an easy transition for me. I used to be, and still often am, a loner. But I’m learning. I’ve started taking those risks. Asking for help. Offering it. It needs to be done.

If we’re going to survive, if we’re going to try to leave a mark on the world to make it even just a little more our own — we have to depend on one another. At least a little.

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