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Wednesday 27 May 2009

Watching as your baby drifts violently away. The Soul-Destroying Job of a Low-Budget Film Director.

"That's why I think you should turn, go back, and be a lawyer or something. But I can tell from your face that you won't." -
Lester Bangs, in 'Almost Famous'

It's a day before the shoot on your zero-budget short film, or the feature you've strung together for about four dollars and a pizza. You've managed to get this far despite ten or fifteen or thirty years of people saying 'but what do you really want to do with your life?' and 'film director, right. yeah. that's nice.' - and 'have you got your big break yet?'

Here you are, it's the night before the shoot. And you realise that directing a film with no money isn't really directing. It's managing and it's sprinting and it's negotiating and it's compromising and it's being in thirteen places in one day. You realise there are things you wanted to do that you can't afford. There are people you wanted involved who couldn't be there -- and the conditions of your shoot are ever changing and will continue to do so until you say 'That's a wrap'.

And when a non-industry office worker friend says to you "when are you going to get a real job?" you want to smack them in the face. In a 'real' office job, you might work hard - but you work hard for somebody who doesn't care about you. And you might technically, day-to-day, work harder than the film director, I agree.. but you have never felt the pain that comes with being a Director the night before the shoot, knowing that things you had planned and things you had dreamed of are not going to come to fruition in quite the way you had planned.

We don't direct for the glamour. Fuck, there is no glamour. We don't do it for the money, even though we do want to earn lots of it. We do it because we have to do it, we were born to do it. And when problems amount and lights break and daylight fades -- you are left feeling your baby drifting away from you. The film that was meant to show everybody your HEART and TALENT and CREATIVITY instead is just a battle to do something adequate- you are fighting to do something that will at least be able to not totally suck.

And you battle. You really battle. You fight with yourself constantly. You work out how to do things. You work out how to wrap at 4am and transfer the footage at 5am and return the equipment to the rental company at 8am when you haven't slept in forever. And meanwhile, an actor says to you 'why are their no tea bags left? do you not even have tea?' and some production helper apologises profusely for accidentally making a huge hole in the wall of the location you borrowed from someone who was scary enough to begin with -- and you bump into someone you know just moments after wrapping -- and they say "but what if you don't make it? what if you don't get discovered?".

You bite your tongue and you say "I don't know. I'm just trying to make a good film." But what you meant to say was "Go fuck yourself. I don't want to 'get discovered' I just want to keep making movies. I want to find a way to get what's in my heart and put it on the page and then put it on the screen. That's it. That's what I'm doing and that's what I'll always do. I could just go get a real job but then why would I want it so easy?."

The way your heart breaks the night before a shoot; the way you come close to a mental break-down when an actor loses faith in you and looks to the AD for what to do in a scene, the way you want to smash up your home when you realise your final edit is not fit for viewing-- these are experiences that are more painful to your spirit, to your soul -- than anything anyone in a 'real job' ever experiences.

And the dumb thing about us filmmakers is that despite driving ourselves to the brink of insanity - we'll come back around a few months from now and do it all again. Meanwhile we'll smile politely when somebody judges us, our work and ambitions. Because the sad truth is -- there is no way of anyone but yourself ever truly understanding the pure pain of creative underachievement.


  1. This is my favorite post.

    "Because the sad truth is -- there is no way of anyone but yourself ever truly understanding the pure pain of creative underachievement."

    That...all of it really...that's how I feel about writing.

  2. You're doing what you're passionate about. You're living the way you choose, without following anyone else. You're in the lead, and that makes you remarkable.

  3. Really great piece of writing, Kid ... I feel an urge to give you a hug

    I liked OWO's comment too

  4. haha - a brilliant post, you have completly summed up what it is to be a film director with no buget! It's the same with acting the amount of people who just say your not gonna make it big and you know it's almost definatly true but that's not why you do it it's jsut because it's the thing you love most...

  5. Hi! I just wanted to say I totally agree with whatever you wrote under your blog name. I love movies which make me think and make me see a reflection of myself. There's no point watching a movie which doesn't stir something in you:) Some of my favourites are cinema paradiso, amelie and benjamin button.

  6. A great insight!

  7. your films are much more than adequate