So in my last post about the thing I do, I pretty much came off as a cranky control-freak who hates people.
That’s pretty true, admittedly. But I snarked all the way through my last one, so this one will hopefully be a little more collaborative friendly and positive.
I also didn’t express cheap filmmaking enough. In this generation of Facebook-using, YouTube-uploading social media consumers, it’s never been easier to throw something up on display and get even a teeny, tiny audience. Perhaps I got lucky because I went to film school and I had thousands of dollars to play with. But, like anyone else, I’ve made my fair share of el’ cheapo works as well that I’m still proud of.
1) Make your first film on the cheap.
Are you familiar with Robert Rodriguez? Allow me to acquaint you.
Rodriguez made El Mariachi, a film about the titular Mariachi who gets tangled in a whole bloody mess with a drug-lord and a guitar-case-full-of-weapons-carrying criminal named Azul. El Mariachi was shot for incredibly cheap. To the tune of US$7000. The film itself -as rough as it is, looks like something pumped out for a few hundred thousand at least. Rodriguez’s “Mariachi-style” philosophy can be summarized as “creativity over money”. That is, if you use creativity rather than your bank balance, you can solve problems effectively and cheaply. Stu Maschwitz also coined the “Robert Rodriguez list”, which is basically, making a list of things you own or have access to, then writing your screenplay based on that. El Mariachi, for instance, involved a turtle, a town, and a guitar case -all of this was readily available.
I’ll go a step further: If you REALLY want to make a cheap first movie, don’t go out and buy the best gear you can. Beg, borrow, steal, or hire if possible, and if you have to absolutely buy some equipment, grab a consumer-grade camcorder, microphone and cheap lights. Hell, use a smartphone. If your film is good enough, you can get away with murder. My webseries, Hell is Other People still got a fair share of good feedback and it largely looks like a mess.
2) Make friends with musicians
A good film -arguably, also benefits from a good score. Where do you go to for a good score? Some might suggest you trawl StarNow for some pimply-faced hipster who spent his HECS debt at AFTRS or what have you.
How about -and I’m talking crazy talk here, trawling your local music venues? Befriend a few bands, buy ’em a beer and say you’re making a movie. If you’re not a complete dick, chances are, you’ll get your hands on some decent quality music for your flick. Be warned though, musicians are a precious bunch -and rightfully so. As much as they need to respect your vision for your own movie, you have to respect their vision for the music they write and -let’s face it, they’re probably doing you a favour and nary a cent pass through your hands.
That’s not to say you lose creative control. You’re still calling the shots, but don’t immediately think that you have every right to make outrageous demands from your newfound muso-BFF’s. You have a movie to make? They have an album to write. Their time is as precious as yours. All I’m saying is, remember Wheaton’s Law:
3) Don’t Skimp.
Remember how I said you can get away with murder if your film is good enough? I kinda bent the truth there. Getting away with murder doesn’t mean you can shoot any old piece of shit and expect people to like it. Originally, this subheading was “Don’t skimp on good audio and video”, but that’s only a small part of the larger process of filmmaking. My advice to you is don’t skimp on anything. Make sure your script is good. Make sure you’re prepared. Make sure you take the time to get the best quality audio and video your equipment can muster, make sure you edit wisely, make sure you rehearse and communicate with your actors and crew. You don’t have to be a genius or know exactly what you’re doing. Just get your shit together enough so your film is the best it can be.
4) Your attitude can define the fate of your film
So the actors are late, the AD is hopeless, the sound guy can’t hold the boom properly (if you have a boom at all) and the whole production is a mess. You probably feel like giving up and you just don’t fucking care about your stupid project anymore. Guess what? People’s attitudes and behaviours are infectious as the horrid offspring of Tuberculosis and Herpes. If you stop giving a shit, everyone else on the set will as well. What happens after that? Your production will very much indeed be a mess.
5) If in doubt? Get permission (or just guerilla-shoot)!
I’ll level with you, fellow filmmaker. Locations hate us. Pubs hate us, newsagencies hate us, airports hate us, cities hate us, train stations hate us, convenience stores hate us. Guerilla-shooting is always an option. Turn up, shoot your scenes and hope they turn out as security turns up and asks you to get the hell out. But if you’re the type to err on the side of not having your face beaten in by a man-ape with roid-rage, get permission. Locations will hate you a lot less if you ask nicely. Also it means that you don’t have to run with a few hundred dollars worth of camera gear. It might not even cost money, just let people know what you’re doing.
If you’re a thrillseeker with more of a death-wish than I, then know your rights. Know where you can publicly shoot without hassles from owners/security/law enforcement, and again, follow Wheaton’s Law.
6) Don’t fucking kill anyone
If you leave with any information gained from this, then this should be it: Don’t endanger your crew or cast. Is someone else’s livelihood worth the 30-foot jump over a tank of tiger sharks whilst being shot at from Libyan terrorists? Cause uh, if you’re writing that sorta movie, then there’s a lot more to worry about than pointing your camera at the set and calling “Action”.
Hire a stuntman. If you don’t have the money, find a guy who knows a thing or two about stunts. If you think you can handle it yourself, be prepared for the worst and be as anal-retentive as possible. No Kung-Fu action flick is worth breaking the face of your leading guy/gal. The key to stunts is less face-punching and more snappy editing and good camera-work.
Also, don’t use real weapons. You fuckin’ psycho.
Till next time.