So around 2010 I woke up stupid one day and decided “you know what? I want to make films for a living”.
….That’s about it. No big story or anything. I woke up, decided that whoring myself out on the internet via youtube, blogs, webcomics and a DeviantArt account I never used wasn’t enough and wanted to make me some goddamn moving pictures (coincidentally, this is also the point where every dyed-in-the-wool “I was born to do this” filmmaker I meet give me an uncomfortable polite smile and leave to talk to someone who actually has a story to tell).
In 2011 I finished off my webseries and went to film school to learn the ropes and hopefully make a career out of it because frankly, you can read, listen to and watch all the “behind the scenes” stuff you like and I figured that was only a smidgen of the process. Turns out I was right.
1) The Paperwork Involved
If there is any industry responsible for the Final Solution-esque killing of trees, it’s the film industry. “Think Green! Read from the screen!” only means so much when you’re printing out reams upon reams of paper for each production (admittedly, it also doesn’t help that reading off of a computer screen is like staring into the sun).
On average, your typical student short film involves the following:
-First Draft Script
-Second Draft Script
-Third Draft Script
-Final Draft Script
-Budget Application Forms
-Actor Release Forms
-Location Release Forms
-Callsheets for every day of shooting
-Budget Reconciliation Forms
Ontop of this, a few of these (scripts especially) are printed out en masse to give to actors, lecturers, crew etc and all are required to ensure a smooth production. While a lot can be sent via email, hardcopies are usually made to have them on hand and easily referred to without having to fumble through your smartphone and reading it in squint-o-vision.
2) You’re Going to Work With Jerks (Unless You’re Lucky)
Watch any behind the scenes footage of your favourite DVD. Chances are, everyone’s all cheery and joking around on set, deliberately screwing up takes to get stuff for the blooper reels and what have you. What you don’t see, are the arguments, impatient crew members and directors, set walk-offs, temper tantrums and the list goes on and on. While ultimately, you’ll meet some amazing people, there’s going to be one or two productions you’re involved in where it all falls apart.
More to the point, this eats up time like a World of Warcraft addiction. Wasting time means more work to be finished by the end of the day or -if it comes down to it, having to put it off until another day to ensure it gets done.
There’s also the problem of shooting outside. As a Cinematographer, you have to contend with a big-ass fireball in the sky which moves as the day goes on and can cause a shitload of continuity errors. Have fun with that.
3) Not All the Jobs are Awesome (Unless You’re Lucky)
Don’t get me wrong, dear reader. Filmmaking is tons of fun. However like any other job, you’re probably going to end up in a bottom-rung position sooner or later. Welcome to the job of being a runner
Being a runner has it’s perks, as you get to network with people, help out on set and so on. It’s also one of the most frustrating positions to be given unless there’s tons of work to do. More often than not, you’re sent to the break-room to make sandwiches for people.
What’s worse is, you’re only as good as the time you spend on set. Pissing off for a smoke break means there’s one less person to do your job if the need arises and chances are, if you’re not going to be around when needed, you will easily be replaced by other people who are on set.
Worser still, being as runner is like the entry-level grunt roles in any job. Unless you have the experience, you will ultimately land this role while you’re still inexperienced.
3) You need to be both technical and creative (unless you’re lucky).
Being able to write a script is one thing. Granted, it’s a very good thing because -in my experience? Not many people are good at it. How about being able to turn that script into a finished product? Alternatively, how about being able to use all your technical know-how and make your own movie? Cause in my world? You get to do both.
Sometimes you don’t get to sit in a cushy chair and order people around. Sometimes you have to arrange lights, direct, use the camera, data wrangle and then edit the damn thing. If you’re lucky? you’ll even get to sleep.
Sure, it’s impressive getting your name mentioned 60 times in the credits, but is it worth the headache? Make a few contacts before you venture out into this big scary world, eh?
4) Goddamn Murphy’s Law
So what’s the worst that can happen at your average job? Shit takes too long to get done, the manager shouts at you for some shit you did/didn’t do, and chances are you fail so badly you’re given a one-way ticket to Firedtown, just up the road from Reundantville.
Yeah well, it’s kinda the same in filmmaking except, you know, people can fucking die
Thankfully, Murphy only rears his ugly head to make sure nobody charged the camera battery or didn’t backup footage/sound half the time. Maybe a light -the only light without a spare bulb will die on the same day that the lead actor is stuck in traffic and catering is hours behind schedule. Really unless you’re doing some pretty hardcore stunts, you won’t have to deal with a lawsuit on your hands. Still best to expect Murphy. Sitting, waiting to strike. Kinda like a fucking annoying and costly Batman.
It doesn’t get any easier on smaller shoots, either. Chances are, you’re already well into the red and the actors/crew are working for free, so you’re not going to be able to throw money at any problems, either.
5) Outside interference
So I’ve already covered the sun thing, right? What about the goddamn public?
I get it. Seeing a bunch of important-looking people huddling around a bunch of lights and a camera makes for an interesting water-cooler story. Hell, I remember rubbernecking at a shoot for a Muhammad Ali film during a trip to LA. It’s something you simply don’t see often. So it’s understandable that you lot want to whip out your phones and Instagram that shit.
But no, we’re not looking for extras, or crew, or someone who “could like, totally nail all the lines in one take!”. Sure, we’ll wax lyrical for a few seconds and tell you what we’re doing, but after that? Take your picture, update your Facebook and move on.
And that’s just the general public milling around and hey, to their credit you guys are mostly alright. Unfortunately, in Sydney we get all sorts.
There’s always going to be that one drunk or drugged-out guy who just won’t leave. Or keeps making noise, or wants to help out so much that he shouts out ideas from the sideline in between having a heated debate with a nearby streetlight and pissing on himself.
6) Nobody likes filmmakers. Especially businesses.
Go into any business and say “Hey, so I’m shooting a film. Can I pay you money to have a bunch of people stand in your store and play make-believe for six hours?” Bonus points if you live in a small town and it’s your first time directing.
The ideal situation would be they say yes. In which case you and your producer (read: your best friend who you suckered into producing because he knows a thing or two about film) high five, share a beer and start writing up a release form.
The more likely scenario? They’re either going to say no, want more money or they have to “talk to the manager first” (read: They’ll share a joke or two about it and never get back to you).
If I had a dollar for every email that went unreplied to, every manager who said they can’t accommodate us and every store owner who wanted more cash, I’m pretty sure I could open my own store and film in it. It’d be like a clubhouse for anyone who’s working on that perfect script (in other words, Starbucks). Don’t even get me started on airports. If they’re willing to gouge you out of $18 for a meatball sub, they’ll probably ask for your bodily organs for a few seconds worth of screen-time.
Everyone requires a release form and an administration fee. Everywhere treats you like an inconvenience. If this is your first time starting out, hope to fuck you can pull some strings.
Oh, you think your friends are going to help you out? Well… yeah. They do. But unless they can cut you some pretty awesome breaks, expect to shoot your first venture in an apartment, a house, or a different kind of apartment.
Location-scouting is one of those situations you’ll encounter where it’s great to have “a guy who knows a guy”. Incidentally, this is why you’ll see a lot of films with the same backdrop because take it from me, once we find a place that’s 100% film-friendly? We jump on that shit.
At the end of the day, though.
If you’ve made it this far without thinking “maybe I should go into accounting instead”. This is for you: It is all completely worth it.
Everything I’ve listed is such a small part of a much larger and more enjoyable picture. From sitting in your underwear typing up that first draft to finally seeing the finished product, it’s a hell of a slog each and every time, but let me put it this way: Would you rather be able to say: “Oh yeah, I closed the McSurly account this week. Thank god that’s over”? Or “We filmed a gunfight in an alley that smelled of piss for six hours. Thank God that’s over”?
Even if I spend the next ten years only screening my films to my ex-girlfriend’s dog, I’m gonna take Piss Alley, each and every time.