From The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide Part One: Making The Extreme No Budget Film
I am the poster boy for bad decision making in the Independent Film world!
I have made eight short films, three features and a couple of documentaries, along with a ton of corporate videos, and commercials. I have whored myself on other people’s movies for the last 20+ years. There are certain truths I have learned, and certain things and people I shouldn’t have listened to. I have messed up my life financially, emotionally, and probably physically and it’s all been for my love of movies. My movies.
A lot of people ask me why I’m angry. I am the Angry Filmmaker after all. What makes me angry is the state of INDEPENDENT films. The independent film industry is no longer even remotely independent. It’s been mainstreamed by Hollywood and is now simply another over-hyped product. Like commercial radio, pop music and Starbucks coffee, the industry has become a homogenized mess of conglomerates owned by a handful of extremely powerful corporations. It begs the question: Independent from what?
We need to take the word “Independent” back!
Indie has become a marketing phrase. I have a tough time sitting through a ten million dollar “indie” movie. I want people to recognize that “indie” doesn’t mean stars and all of that other crap. WE are Independent Filmmakers” and WE make movies whether WE have a deal or not. I want to see more theaters and media art centers providing places for us to show our work, instead of just giving us lip service about how they support independent film. I am fed up with these “independent” film festivals that show all these movies with big names in them. I think Sundance and any other film festival that calls themselves independent shouldn’t take films with budgets of more than $100,000. That ought to weed out the phonies…
For me, filmmaking is all about the work. All about the movie. If making a movie is just one of those things you think would be cool to do, then don’t do anything. There are already enough posers and bad movies out there. We don’t need anymore.
But if you are like me, if making your movie is the most important thing, then keep moving forward. I always tell people that making a movie is a lot harder than you think. And if making a movie was so easy, there would be a lot more movies out there. But making a movie is hard! Making a good movie is even harder!
I make my films because I have to! I have stories I have to tell and I won’t be satisfied until my movie is done, and out.
I love movies. I always have. When I was a kid I used to watch just about anything. In fact one of my guilty pleasures is still running across Dirty Dancing on cable late at night. I’ve probably seen it fifty times. I have always wanted to meet Jennifer Grey, even though I understand that she was just playing a role and she’s had surgery on her nose and all of that stuff. She was fantastic (and really hot!) in that movie. She means more to me than Carrie Fisher with the bagels strapped on her head in Star Wars! Jennifer, are you out there?
When I first went to USC’s Film School, I really wanted to make movies like the ones that I grew up watching. I still remember going to the movie theater and seeing movies like, Grand Prix, Easy Rider, any Clint Eastwood Western, Bullitt, How The West Was Won. They were amazing. I remember being mesmerized in those old theaters.
My first day in Film School the instructors went around the room asking us what kind of films we wanted to make. I was a poor kid from Oregon who was feeling like I didn’t belong there. Everyone in my class talked about all of these great art films, and foreign Directors, and how they wanted to make these personal statements. They were all “Artists” and scaring the hell out of me. When it was my turn, I said that I wanted to make movies to entertain. I had no great mission, no great statement.
The Instructors totally wrote me off as some one with nothing to say and my films were not taken seriously for the first year. Then it happened…
After studying the films of Fritz Lang, Orson Wells, Howard Hawks, Sergio Leone, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, the list goes on and on. I realized that film was so much more than I thought. It wasn’t just a way to tell a story (which is still important); it was a way to truly communicate with an audience. To use film as a way of saying things. To protest, to educate, to enlighten. I realized that some of the films about the Korean War were really about Vietnam, just set in a different context. So many of these great directors had things to say. It’s a pity that so many of today’s directors don’t.
I know that I was naive and intimidated in film school, but the joke is that these people that were in my class, the ones who wanted to be “Artists”, and had so many things to say, went into the industry (those who survived film school), and worked on all sorts of bad movies. Low budget crap that in many instances went straight to video.
Where was the “Art”? I wondered. Was this my first lesson in filmmaking? Were all of those people in my class there for the same reason I was? To learn to make entertaining films? Did they just say that “art shit” to BS the instructors and get better grades? I’ll probably never know.
I fled LA after I graduated. I had this belief that true “independent” filmmaking was what I wanted to do. I spent years learning my craft, working on other people’s movies, and soaking up everything I could. I started making short films first, then graduated to features.
I have been to film festivals, financing conferences, and the Independent Feature Film Market, three times! So many of the films I saw were financed by the people who made them. Many of them had glossy production values, but no stories. They looked like so much of the crap coming out of Hollywood.
After panel discussions that would feature employees from the so called “Indie” Distributors, (Fine Line, Miramax, Fox Searchlight, etc), I witnessed the audience attack these people like piranha! Everyone was desperate to talk to a real distribution executive and to pitch their projects. I saw the panelists being polite, but they weren’t interested. Unless you had William Macy and Parker Posey and had spent ten million dollars they weren’t going to look at your movie.
Many of the filmmakers had a look of desperation on their faces. They had spent way too much money! Their own money!
Too many people finance their films on credit cards, and they go broke! Their films end up not getting a distributor and they’re left paying 30% interest on a film that no one wants. Heed the words of noted financial consultant and former NBA player, Charles Barkley, “Credit cards exist to keep poor people poor.”
DON’T USE YOUR DAMN CREDIT CARDS FOR ANYTHING!!!
Does that mean I’ve never funded something with credit cards? I have! And I have lived to regret it. Not the eventual movies, but the financial shape it left me in. I sold my home of twenty years to get the IRS off my back, all because I listened to the wrong people. People who said they would help me. I was gullible because making movies is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I am now debt free, and homeless. So please, don’t do what I did. The stress isn’t worth it.
The Angry Filmmaker’s Survival Guide seeks to restore order to this once venerable filmmaking arena by providing young, new and even old-hand, jaded and bitter filmmakers with a practical guide to independent filmmaking. In that I qualify as an “expert” by any acceptable or measurable standard, my book offers not only practical, step-by-step, easily accessible information about the craft, but it offers plenty of attitude about the state of the world of Independent Film.
I make the films I want to make at a cost that doesn’t break the bank!
When no one else wanted to distribute my films I started doing it myself. I found that the best way for me to get my films out was to tour. The touring lifestyle can be a lot of fun, and it can be brutal.
It is like being a punk band on the road, with no punks and no music. Just the road… There are times when I wake up and have no idea where I am. And sometimes late at night on dark highways you mind plays tricks on you. But you know what? I wouldn’t trade any of this for anything.
What I have learned is that if you do something, you need to go all the way. Go big, or go home!
So, read this book, and if you have the guts, you too can become a true “Independent” filmmaker and show your films all over the world. Or you can be a sell out and go to Hollywood and make Police Academy 54. It makes no difference to me.
If you truly want to go the independent route, hang on. It’s going to be a very scary ride…
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