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Strap a bra to your ass and put pants on your face.
by Christopher Bacher

You've seen the movies. You've seen the classified ads in the newspaper with the California area code. Maybe you even know some freelance crew people, or maybe a guy that made a film in art school. But breaking in is more a state of mind than a list of phone numbers. Let’s look at that.

My first mentor in the business told me something very important. The very first day I came to work for him, he said "Concentrate on what you like to do and do a good job at it. This is the Film Industry… there is plenty of money. Do a good job and the money will follow YOU." OK. Got the theory.

As you well know, making films is an art and a science. Walking out the door with a first draft script and a video camera is a hobby. I do encourage you to do it anyway, however. Walking out the door with a first draft script and a video camera every day for a year is a real product.

If you are serious about making movies for your whole life, this article is for you. No matter where you are, how old you are, or what you are doing, you can get started on the path right now.

What to Expect

Yes, there is a real business behind film. Hollywood Bitch Slap is a really cool part of it, if a volunteer gig. People not unlike you make indie films happen. The number of credits on this website is about the size of an average independent film crew. Yes, it is tremendously fun to be part of filmmaking. Just like slamming bad movies, the day to day struggle of making movies can be tremendously rewarding. No, you don't get to spend all day hanging out with movie stars. No, you don’t start out making a jillion dollars a year. No, your name won't be in lights in time to surprise your Mom for Mother's Day... but then again, in this business, one never knows.

Pretend for a moment that you have accomplished the task. You have written it, storyboarded it, rehearsed it, rented stuff, ran test shots, rewritten again, and shot it. Very impressive. Celebrate. And then what?

Transfer. Edit sessions. Soundtrack. Licensing nightmares. ADR, or "looping". Reshoots. FX. Titles. Layback. Sweetening. Dubs.

If you shot in film, count on twice as many things to do. For twice as long. At twice the price. Lab. Color correction. Telecine (or if you are very, very lucky, the Flame). A/B rolls. Optical fades. And so much more.

The point is that the whole process is difficult & costly if you want to make something worthy of real distribution.

Yankee Individualism

"Hey," sayeth the willful skeptic, "What about Clerks? Me and my video camera are about to prove you dead wrong."

Clerks and a few other low budget films were a wonderful step forward for the creative non-film person. John Q. Public and Jane Anytown could get together, write a script, shoot it and make a million bucks telling their story. This phenomenon shook some foundations. But there is fallout.

"What about the iMovie, AVID consumer products, and others?"

A great leap in technology now allows Jane Anytown to shoot John Q. Public with a camera she owns, edit it on a computer she owns, and distribute it at locally owned video stores or specialized distributors. All true. In 1997 the ability to do this required hardware that cost fifty thousand dollars at a minimum. Software costs could easily hit another ten thousand. The level of expertise required to operate this machinery required at least one technician. Despite the latest technology leap, this only underlines my aforementioned fallout.

"What about the new technology? Web streaming or Real Video, that sort of thing? Look at MP3."

Broadband internet connections won't stop growing. Advertisers will practically fund network construction themselves. The effort to complete the internet to every home, to gain the ability to track consumer profiles, costs pennies on the advertising dollar. Fortunately, wide connections are a boon to anyone desiring to self-distribute. Yet here again, this trend exacerbates the fallout.

A Secret Window

Look at the medical industry in this country. It is a grand institution filled with hospitals, clinics, HMO office buildings, schools, and ambulance companies. Ancillary industry is boundless and countless, if only partly involved with medicine. In medicine, there are hundreds of specialties requiring many years of training. There are thousands of general duty position required as little as the ability to read and write, or lift fifty pounds.

The film business is similar. Federal controls regulate how materials or services are provided and sold. Films are produced and distributed according to established antitrust law. Also, content is rated by the federal government. Contracts between companies fill in the blanks that law and regulation leave behind. Although the entertainment industry is considerably less regulated than medicine, film is still incredibly complicated.

A key similarity between the medical establishment and the entertainment juggernaut is the need for both to cooperate with several people or businesses at the same time. Communication and coordination are absolutely the lifeblood in both industries. Bad information (or worse, no information) can cause incredible, dire consequences in either industry.

Like in the medical field, building a highly-trained and experienced professional can take years. Yet the master of a particular job might work all day with someone that only knows how to get coffee. Specialized services provided to a film or part of the filmmaking process are generally conformist in nature. That is to say a new product for filmmaking conforms to a process and standards, just like a new product intended for use in medicine must comply with medical standards.

Once More, With Depth

Now imagine you have just decided to become a doctor. You want to help people. Your first step is to go to school for a long, long time. During that time, you will be required to work as an intern. You will do this work for very little or no money. Further, you will continue to pay to go to school. Tests will keep coming. The classroom learning will not stop.

Soon you will live and breath medicine and doctoring. When you get out, you will get a job or start a clinic. You will make a goodly sum of money. You will enjoy some really great perks. You will begin to pay off school. Becoming a regular practitioner will cost tens of thousands of dollars and about ten years of your life.

Doctor Public? That ain't you. You've decided to make movies. Might as well wear your pants on your head, you silly idiot. And now I shall relay my version of the filmmaker career track.


What To Do, What To Do

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originally posted: 05/05/00 15:26:15
last updated: 05/05/00 15:30:19
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