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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.


  1. 'Tis true. Money is one thing you might need to make a film, but it is not what completely makes a film. You can tell when something is made with heart, and when it is not.

    People are attracted to positive energy. When you maintain that energy for a creative endeavor, others will continue to reflect that same enthusiasm. Don't give up!

  2. With the utmost respect, kid, an artist can't make a masterpiece until he can afford and buy all his paint, brushes, and canvas.

    It might be worth it to hold off on your film and fundraise so you can get people to commit. Passion only gets you so far until people start dropping out to take paying work to feed their families, and then you turn your passion into anger at them for leaving your project.

    I completely respect what you do, as I have many friends here in LA who get together to create art on small budgets, but it is widely known that you must pay your crew, you must pay your actors, and if you can't do that, you get people who have to work elsewhere. It's not about a lack of passion for a project. It's about being a savvy business person and wanting to pay your employees to make sure they finish the job you hired them for.

    Pay a creative what they're worth and they'll stay.

    Passion for a project doesn't pay rent.

  3. "Passion for a project doesn't pay rent." Yes it does. It does a lot more than that, too.

    Thanks for your perspective -- even though I get the feeling my article has left you with the impression that I'm into enslaving people and leaving their kids hungry. I mostly don't like doing that, but it depends how friendly their kids are.

  4. I don't for a second think you're enslaving people. I really am one of the few people who completely understand what you're trying to do and how limited your resources are. I produced a feature myself. I know how hard it is.

    I think, however, that it might be a little difficult for you to understand that no one else is going to have as much passion for your project as you do because it's just that, YOUR passion project; not theirs.

    Passion does not pay the rent. It doesn't. I feel like you constantly only see things from your perspective, no matter how many times others will try to help you.

    Help prove me wrong on that:

    If you'll take a second to humor me...

    Let's say you came up with a brilliant idea for a movie. You know it's going to make millions and millions of pounds, it's that good. It's not just commercial, it's artistic. But you're in the UK with no LA Connections and very limited resources. So you think, what can you do to get this movie made?

    Well, you realize that in order to get people to help finance your film, you need to show them SOMETHING. So you say, hey! I'm going to show them the comic book of the movie. They can see the entire movie in a comic book, which I can then also sell as part of the merchandising deal.

    It's a great idea.

    How do you find and keep your artist? The comic book will take 3 months for him to draw and color, and another 1 month for your revisions.

    Where do you go from here?

    Again, Kid, I have the utmost respect for you and am looking forward to your answer.

  5. "I feel like you constantly only see things from your perspective, no matter how many times others will try to help you.

    Help prove me wrong on that:"

    Why would you feel this? I mostly blog about things I feel and share ideas about creativity-- the gist of which, mostly, it not coming from a place of certainty but a place of hope and encouragement. I don't have a fixed perspective on much of anything, I'm constantly learning. I'm not sure why you are moved to write something like that which is so judgemental.

    So as for humoring you and proving I am something, that's not something I'm drawn to do. Especially as, your example talks about merchandising deals and comics and things I have absolutely no knowledge of. They're not my thing. 'Where do you go from here?' -- I'd have no idea. I write screenplays, I direct films, outside of that I'm pretty clueless.

    "I think, however, that it might be a little difficult for you to understand that no one else is going to have as much passion for your project as you do because it's just that, YOUR passion project; not theirs."

    I do know that. That's what my article was about. And how, once every four years or something you meet someone who totally gets it and you do everything you can to bring each others visions to the screen.

    You seem to have reacted very strongly to my article, or to me, and whilst I respect your points, I'm not totally sure I comprehend why you are coming across like this -- or maybe I'm just having a bad day, some guy was snapping at me on my 'FRIENDS' post too (before editing his comments somewhat). So I'm aware that a big part of it is me, something in my tone in recent articles (or given your generalization about my narrow perspectives, it's all the time) -- but I don't know-- I'm confused as to why you're coming across so strongly on these comments today.

  6. Fair enough.

    I used to read every blog. But I came across more and more that showed you didn't understand the artistic process from other people you wanted to work for you, and you would berate them and their sensibilities.

    One post in particular, about an actress who had dropped out of your project last minute, if I remember correctly, made me so angry that I couldn't calm down. (You should take pride in how effective a writer you are!) I thought I was taking it too personally and invited a digital artist, production designer, film maker, and another actor to read it, and they all felt the same way I did, and for all the same reasons.

    I had to stop following your blog because no matter how I tried to show you the other side, or how things are done here by people at your level and beyond, you continued to tell me that I was wrong.

    Maybe I am wrong.

    But all I was trying to do was show a counterpoint I feel you refuse to take into consideration.

    We're two artists who strongly disagree and I wish that wasn't the case.

    I hope your project is amazing and that you continue to do what you love and inspire others, and I know you hope the same for me.

    Your blog has won awards for a reason. Don't change a thing.

  7. I just read the old actress thing you refer to. My first comment there was "I agree with everything you say." I agree with you a lot, I'm just not sure you see it.

    I get that you're an actor and you're probably fed up with people who don't pay or don't want to pay and I totally get that-- that sucks. I get why you stand up for money, and I AGREE.

    But we're talking on different levels. Most of what I blog about is being an advocate for getting-out-there-and-shooting. There are thousands of actors, DPs, directors etc, who sit on their asses, who don't do enough. My blogs are about inspiring them to realize they can do it, they can create the magic if they try!

    I think our angry-button-triggers are different. Mine gets activated when people aren't creative, yours is activated when people aren't paid. This is fine and they're both completely valid -- but I think we need to see we're having different arguments most of the time!

    Also, you work on in LA and it's so often about the money and the terms like 'merchandising deals' -- these things drive everyone crazy and turn it all into a big chase. I actively stay away from LA, because it doesn't suit my rhythm or my creative, and it's cut throat in a way that often, for me, kills creativity. Even when I interview filmmakers from LA, I mostly ask them about the creativity and the struggle to be artists, I don't ask them how to 'make it' --

    I don't disagree with you as much as you think. I just think something about what I do here pisses you off. But all I am doing is supporting people to make films; a lot of people out there don't have access to money to make films, especially outside of LA! I'm just trying to support them to not give up.