Wednesday, 12 January 2011
Low-Budget Directing -- Starting With Pre-Production
It's tough. Your mind is in a million places but it's also nowhere at all. You're making a movie and if it's going to happen, you have to pull in the favours. You already owe your friend Mary 16 favours and you still need to replace the lamp you broke when you shot a short film in her house, but still; you need her again. You need everyone a little more than you're comfortable with -- but it's the only way to make a feature film work when you have a tiny budget. And by tiny budget I mean somewhere between zero and the 'Clerks' shooting budget.
You have to be passionate all the time. Truly passionate. Everyone has a film, or a play, or a band that they're flogging -- and everyone is bored. You need to somehow capture their attention. You do that by being as excited by your idea as when it first entered your head. It sounds like fun------ but it's tough. In the last week, seventy well intentioned people have asked "how is your film going?" and you want to say "I'm tired! I still don't have the warehouse location and we don't have an actor to play the Doctor! And we need more money!" -- but instead you talk about how excited you are and how passionate you are because the only way people will be with you is if you are fulfilling a dream project or if you can guarantee them money. I can't guarantee them money, because I don't make horror films with big-breasted women running about. I make the films that could be masterpieces, could be complete borefests. It's a risk. You know it. I know it. But I've got to stay excited and positive because otherwise no-one is with me. If the leader of the pack is fed-up or exhausted or unsure, what effect will that have on the lead actor, or director of photography, or the friend who's printed your scripts out for free to be helpful? You have to know that you're making a masterpiece even though there's no proof of it.
You meet people about once every four years who get it. They get turned on by the same things you do (creatively). They post YouTube clips on your Facebook that they know you'll love. You email each other endlessly talking not just about films but about politics and about hamsters and about conspiracy theories--- because you know that you get each other and you know that it makes sense. But the problem is that these people often live across the world and you can't afford to get them involved in your project and they can't afford to help out for free. And this is where your directing of the film is tested right from the beginning. You have composers who want to compose for you and runners who want to make tea for you and sound guys who want to record the sound for you -- and once you pick one, that's it-- you're trusting them with your world. This film is going to take up two years of your life and if you pick a dud, or someone who isn't excited, you're fucked.
I was a producer on a movie a couple of years back-- we had no money but we had a lot of passion.... but, there were thirty people on that ship. Everyone wavers at different times. The CGI fell first, he lost all interest, and then so did the editor--- and this is what's so tricky, when you're doing something that is about art and not a paycheck. We all want to do the work, but we also have time limits on our enthusiasm. That never gets talked about. How do you know the people you bring on board to create the magic are going to last the pace? You don't. There's no way of knowing.
At times you wish you were just a cog in Hollywood, because sometimes the product doesn't matter so much, or there are eighty identical people to keep the wheel turning. But when you truly create something with vision, your own piece of art --- most people aren't making money doing it. Or they're going to be making money ten years from now. The Duplass brothers made a lot of films that nobody watched before they made 'The Puffy Chair' -- and then when they finally got to make 'Cyrus' - the studios made the trailer nothing like the film and before long they're struggling to stay completely valid as artists. These low-budget films that we make as we beg, borrow, and steal to bring them to fruition--- they are the best times we'll ever have, the most freeing---- it's just hard to know that when you're doing it, because you're caught up in a million dilemmas, decisions, and concerns.
But all will be fine -- just so long as people like the movie.