A long time ago, while I was still in film school, I spent time working as a P.A. on different indie film sets. I wasn’t getting paid, which was fine but I was being treated poorly and I kept asking myself how is this going to help me make my own movie? I felt like I wasn’t learning enough about the process that justified the micro management or abuse. That is when I read Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez…
It was one of those moments when I was readjusted on my path towards making films. Up to that point, I had gotten caught up in what felt like a novelty in being on a professional film set and learning by what seemed like nothing more than unfocused osmosis. I inhaled that book and took everything applicable to heart. Most of all, a very simple, yet overwhelming Maxim: Everything I need to make a movie is right here inside of me. I don’t need to be in L.A. or NYC, I just need to take what I learned and find like minded people to fill in the gaps and start making a movie right here in White Plains, NY.
The realization is easier than the execution of course, and no matter how many people you find to rally behind you and help deliver your vision, at the end of the day no one is going to care as much as about your story as you do. Along with hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, there must be vigilance. You have to be the Outlier putting in his 10,000 hours.
As a matter of fact, as the Duplass Brothers like to preach: if you do not have investors, if you do not have a budget, if you’re latter day “Orson Welling” it (paying out of pocket as you go) then you need a flexible day job that will allow you drop what you are doing at a moment’s notice to go shoot or prep or whatever other infinite amount of movie related tasks you need to handle because you can’t afford to pay someone to do it for you. That is how I came to work at P.F. Chang’s. A indie filmmaker’s best friend is Hot Schedules
“Good, Fast, & Cheap – In the world of making any film, especially indie film, you can only have 2 out of 3.”
One of the biggest, and truest clichés of filmmaking has always been Murphy’s Law. Although to call it a cliché is an insult when in truth it is a force of nature, or perhaps a part of the natural laws of the filmmaking universe. If we have these laws then I would come to learn about another one of them: Good, Fast, & Cheap – In the world of making any film, especially indie film, you can only have two out of three. Understanding this law of the filmmaking universe was essential in my continuing education. You can always have two but never all three, unless you have a lot of money. In other words, if you want something fast and cheap it won’t be good. If you want something good and fast, it is not going to be cheap. And if you want something good and cheap like any respectable Micro-budget entrepreneur, then it is NOT going to be fast.
My first feature length narrative film Romeo’s Distress took 15 months to make. It damn well wasn’t supposed to, but it did. It took so long to make, I only ended up spending $2,553.00 for actual production out of pocket, which is really good. But I would also say that the film suffered in many areas because it took so long to finish. There were only 21 days of production, but I never would have been able to make the film with the resources I had or some of the snafus we would face if those 21 days were consecutive like any other normal production. There were things that need more preparation and that required the wearing of many hats. Could I have spent more money? Yes, I could’ve. But it would have been at the expense of my pregnant wife carrying our unborn child into an uncertain future which was a fiscally irresponsible risk I was not willing to take.
As I’ve heard from wise filmmakers, this is not the lottery. This is not the 90’s where you send your film out to some festivals on a prayer and get discovered, where the road to Hollywood is paved in good fortune and you get to make big studio films for the rest of your life. And although there was way more than just luck to those wonderful, inspiring, success fairy tales, it is best to remain right sized. To stay close to the ground.
Currently, as I mentioned above, my education revolves around learning how market the film after I finish making it. Because (again with the Duplass Bros) the “Calvary isn’t coming”. My success towards my pragmatically optimistic goal of simply earning a living from my art instead of slaving away at a soul crushing job that I hate is predicated on my ability to market what I make as well as be an entrepreneur. This is what the future of indie filmmaking holds: Owning and selling your product directly to an audience that you have painstakingly cultivated via social media. It is a long-term game and a full time job. And I spend my days waiting tables and counting registers as a supervising manager, continuing my never ending education by listening to podcasts like Kevin Smith’s Smodcast, Indie Film Hustle, Shockwaves, Killer POV, and Indie Film Academy. Reading about new Streaming sites, VOD platforms, and digital aggregators and all the business savvy one needs to learn to earn equity from the art one creates.