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.

How to Decide What to Make Next

daily-quotes

 

For the past few months, I have been working hard on a script for a new film I’d like to make. In recent weeks, I hit a bit of wall with it.

To sum the main issue(s) up simply — the concept and story represent quite the tall order, in terms of development. It’s not that I don’t feel up to the task, it’s that I don’t know if I’m up to the task right now.

Maybe I’m just learning something all filmmakers begin to learn, once the first feature is out of the way.

I have the general framework of the next re-write built. When I think about moving forward, though, I get tired. I don’t know that I have what I need in the tank, right now, or enough space in my brain from day to day, to tackle a project that’s a bit heady and which, as a scifi piece, is going to require quite a bit of ground-up creative detail.

This has upset me a bit. But I believe I am starting to accept the circumstance.

Nothing prevents me from proceeding with this project at my own pace. At the same time, it could just be that it’s not “next”, as I had imagined or hoped it might be. Is there a chance that might change? Of course. But, in the meantime, we must keep moving.

I started tossing around another idea, for what to make next. It didn’t seem to quite fit, but I let the general parameters behind it ride, from day to day. I kept them in the back of my brain.

And then it happened — I ended up starting in on a new script. It’s different than the original new idea. It feels, as the one before, like it might be next. Again — that could of course change.

What doesn’t change is that I can still take my time. Independent filmmakers hold few advantages. Time can be one of them. How might I be feeling now if large sums of money were already committed to the first script I brought up in this discussion? Might I have tried to force it to work?

Perhaps. Then again, also, when there is money there tends to be more room to do things fully and steadily. I look forward to that day.

On the other hand, a lack of deadlines or resources can quickly lead to making excuses. I don’t worry about such stasis nearly as often as I used to — and I tend to think it’s a useful concern, these days — but I do think that it’s important to keep making work and to keep getting it out there, especially in today’s artistic/economic climate.

I wanted to share all this because I think I would have been feeling much more anxious if I hadn’t attempted patience, and instead of forcing the issue — tried to listen and to let go. That’s what allowed a new possibility to bloom.

I have to constantly remind myself of this. My long history with this sort of existential/career tension came up in the most recent episode of Coffee With Creatives.

I am not the steward of any one story. I’m a storyteller.

This is part eighteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force