Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Filmmaking 105: What Filmmaker Are You?

What kind of filmmaker are you?

Are you Joe-Hollywood-in-Waiting? You know the guy or gal I'm talking about. You're in love with the IDEA of being a director. You're in love with the imagined fame. You're looking more forward to being on Entertainment Tonight than sitting down and rewriting your shitty script.

Or maybe you want to be a filmmaker because you want the money Spielberg and Cameron make. If that's the case, pick another occupation, because Spielberg and Cameron didn't get into the business to make money. They got into it because they had a burning, insane desire to make films. Original films.

Only a small percentage of filmmakers make big bucks. The rest survive and fight on.

Maybe you want to be an Original. Originality takes balls. It's hard being original. It's so hard that most people give up and become Unoriginal instead. The temptation to do that is strong.

I say make whatever the hell you want to make. Don't try to guess the market. Don't jump on the next big thing, which is probably a pile of crap, anyway, and will have the life expectancy of an embryo in an abortion clinic.

Don't kid yourself that you can make people in suits and ties like your stuff. Don't even waste time trying to please these people. Most of them don't even like movies. Especially not original ones. They got into the business to make money from suckers like you who they are paid to say "No" to.

If, however, you like the idea of trying to convince a Harvard Grad with a business degree that your script is going to wow the masses, good luck. You'll be sitting by the phone until the cows come home and starve to death while waiting for you to feed them.

Get decent equipment, write a script that is personal to you, and make it. Cast actors who can act, not friends who agree to "act". Audition everybody. Put them through their paces. Don't compromise (ever) on casting. Your worst actor will set the benchmark for everybody else, especially for the audience. Cast every role like it's the lead role. Don't promise roles to people you're sleeping with. Sleep with them after the film's shot (you'll need plenty of sleep then); but during the shoot you don't need the messy bullshit that sexual penetration can create between humans; if you're not careful, foolish choices based on sexual currency will sabotage your shot at the title.

Resist secretly remaking or imitating something you like. You like it because it's good, right? Don't be arrogant enough to think you can better it. Create something that hasn't been done before. Let the hacks try bettering you.

You're an individual. As much as the education system and the media will attempt to beat that fact out of you, it's true. Your point of view is original. Focus hard on how you feel about the subject. Fuck! what anybody else thinks if their thinking is totally out of step with you. They're not making your movie. You are.

Work with people who will support and help you. Don't work with people who see your project as a chance for them to tell their stories, to make their stand, while pretending to support your endeavors. There's a thin line between collaboration and domination. Find that line when you are interviewing. Interview hard.

Be suspicious of reels. Ask people to explain exactly what they did to contribute to what you're seeing or hearing. It's easy to build a bullshit reel. Speak to producers who have worked with them before. Get the lowdown on their working habits.

Whatever film you make, make it personal. Throwing huge chunks of money at a script doesn't personalize it. A strict adherence to your point of view on the material is what audiences will respond to. It's what makes your film unique to you. During production, you will have to fight to get that point of view up on the screen. Many of those around you will attempt to bump you off your path. Bump back gently and keep moving forward.

Treat actors and crew with respect. Explain things clearly. Don't be a stoic cunt. Nobody likes a stoic cunt who thinks its beneath him to explain his vision. Being silent or obtuse does not make you a genius, contrary to popular opinion. Actors operate at different levels and use different techniques. Some will need a lot of explaining and hand-holding. Some will not. Learn to adapt yourself to each actor.

Very importantly, create a working environment in which the actors feel comfortable to try new things and push themselves.

The great and decent Jean Rollin directs

When your film is done, do everything you can to get it seen. Nothing is forbidden. Film festivals are political. Most films get into them because of connections. Some get in on their own merits. Not many, though.

People who run small festivals finance their lives with the fees people like us pay to enter their festival. The majority of films, as you well know, don't get accepted. These festival organizers, however, keep your money, thank you very much, and use it to buy dope, travel the world, dine out, and reward hookers for turning a blind eye to their disgusting selves. Don't spend too much of your hard-earned money financing these peoples' lives. They wouldn't spend a cent on yours.

The internet is fast becoming the best way to get your film seen and sold. If a company wants to distribute your film, make sure they pay an advance. It's a token of confidence. If they won't pay an advance, they should be told (politely) to fuck off. Folks who pay no advances are equally likely to pay you no residuals. Avoid them, and avoid their car salesman bullshit.

Don't give your hard work away to these strangers. What have they done to deserve it? Nothing.

You don't have to use expensive SAG actors when you're starting out, or even when you're established. There are plenty of good, non-SAG actors who will act in your film for a more affordable fee. As a result of acting in your film, they may get a ticket to SAG, so everybody wins.

Just make sure you've got an idea that hasn't been done to death. The market is saturated with clones of popular hits that nobody is buying.

If you really do believe that you have talent, don't get depressed when somebody tells you that you don't. This shred of advice is especially aimed at the ladies. Women are much more likely to take negative criticism to heart than guys are (with exceptions, of course). It's part of the way they're raised. Parents are at fault for conditioning these princesses.

You will know that belief in yourself is authentic when criticism becomes water off a duck's back. If you find yourself still being beaten down by it, get into therapy, eat fatty foods, or give Dr. Laura a call.

If you really have no belief in yourself at all, get out of the arts -- you'll be contemplating suicide before the year's out.

Horror, Action, Drama, Porn, Surrealism, Comedy and a hundred variations thereof. It's all legit if it's done to perfection.

If you let the barbs and criticisms of others get you down, you are allowing them to own your life.

Any adult who allows another to own his or her life is a fucking idiot and a miserable, pathetic retard of the highest order.

With apologies to Timmy

As a filmmaker, you are your own industry.

It's destructive to measure your success in terms of dollars and cents. Measure it in terms of personal satisfaction. Is your film working on an emotional and a gut level? Avoid comparing your "success" to the the successes of others. That's a losing, one way street of depression. We're all on different paths. Acknowledge that often.

Find a subject that fires you up and attack it with pit bull-like ferocity.

It takes pit bull ferocity to make movies. Original pit bull ferocity.


  1. Great post. I know way too many people with great ambitions but they haven't actually done anything yet. They just love the idea of being called creative.

    "If you really have no belief in yourself at all, get out of the arts -- you'll be contemplating suicide before the year's out." Best advice ever.

  2. Inspiring stuff! Great post. Thanks :-)

  3. Shon -- Yes, the IDEA is the thing, not the work and persistence.


    PJ -- You're welcome. I wish you well with your current film projects.

  4. All good advice; a bitter pill indeed, phantom, but a necessary one.

    On the suicide note, I have to say I wouldn't recommend suicidal ideation or contemplation to any young starter- it is no lazy sunday afternoon, believe me, and things have become desperate indeed to even contemplate it- but maybe a little desperation doesn't hurt. I would say the best movies I have ever seen- certainly my own favourites- are those by artists who have stared the reaper in his black face. Don't make me mention 'Apocalypse Now' again, because I will; but there are a good number of others. Herzog is one film maker who springs to mind that is on record as having considered leaving early, but I have also heard his inclination leans more toward the homicidal than the suicidal.

    My problem with most cinema today is that the personnel have NOT been close enough to the abyss. Or is that too indulgent of me?

    Perhaps I should stick to literature; Camus famously said one must bleed into the page to get anything decent, and I for one suspect he might be right...

    Well done Phantom.

  5. mandingo -- you're very free to detour beyond literature, my friend.

    Having stared the Reaper in the face (or eye teeth) is certainly helpful, I feel, but so is research and a rich imagination. Bleeding into the page can become messy.

    I wouldn't recommend suicide, either.


    Miss De'Ath -- welcome to the blog! See you on the silver screen soon!

  6. A fair amount of truth there, if spoken, in typical Savage style, rather bluntly.

    I believe that it's all about the work that you put into your product. A lot of people I know are "ambitious" and have huge, wondrous plans, but when push comes to shove and they have to actually do the work, they bail.

    I think being a master filmmaker is like being an Olympic athlete, it requires a massive amount of endurance and disciple, only mental and emotional rather than physical. It is hardcore and equals lots of sleep deprivation and indefinite working hours, but if one really loves film, they will endure it. You must give of yourself to your art.

    The ones who truly "make it" both artistically and financially, are the ones who can put up with the stress and strain of making a movie to the end of the film's completion and then, if it doesn't do well and nobody likes it, repeat. If one follows that idea and doesn't stray from it (which sadly the vast majority of aspiring filmmakers), you will reach success. But once you reach success, I believe, it will only be the end of one and beginning of another stage of the filmmaker's journey.