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What To Do, What To Do... put your pants on
by Christopher Bacher

Start off by quitting film school (well, unless you attend U.S.C. and won’t be able to get back in after a hiatus). The amount you will learn in one year of freelancing will make school worth actually going back to.

Go to your state film commission. It’s listed in the blue pages. Going to the film commission is sort of painful like enrolling in a medical school, only less paperwork. Buy a production guide for about thirty-five bucks. Ask if the commission maintains a database of freelance interns, PA's (production assistants) or other film personnel. Get listed.

Scour the guide an see if there is anyone that you know. If you don't know anybody, don't sweat it. Make up a resume and fax it to production coordinators. If there aren't that many coordinators, fax it to production managers as well. Include a cover letter that says that you have a drivers’ license, a beeper or cell phone, and the days and hours you are available.

If you aren't available, it will be tough unless you have a specific skill the production needs (like a commercial drivers’ license and a flatbed truck). If you don't have a beeper, at least get an answering machine, or voicemail. If you don't have a drivers’ license, make sure you push your office skills on your resume and cover letter. Otherwise, tell them that you'll work as a set PA or in the grip, electric or art department for free.

Free is the most responded to word in all of advertising. The bummer about working for free is that you are working for free. The good news is there is no faster way to get put on the call sheet.


Something to Think About

Clerks is a wonderful example of what can be created. Strange dialogue, clean performances and genuine character development drove the film. The cost of the film versus the revenue generated was impossible by the known standards of the film's day. Several careers have been made because of the film. On your first project, the dialogue, performances and character development may not run so deep. Take your time. Breath.

There aren’t any rules, always remember that. Never ever ever ignore the obvious in the business. Try not to piss people off too much. You will need favors or help from every person you work with. Da Biz is like a great big house that everyone lives in. It is likely that you will all end up in bed with each other at some point or another.

Once you start freelancing, begin planning your thesis (or other) project right then. Start immediately. Read some books on writing. Try to get that project down on paper. Keep locations in mind that are commonly used for filming. Keep making friends. Shoot parts of your idea on a video camera during this time.

If you meet some actors, invite them over to your house. Bring some friends to function as an impromptu audience. Ask the actors to read your script for everyone, like a sophisticated party gag.

After a year of working in the biz, try to go back to film school. It will be tough, but go back to whatever you did for work, and go back to school. By that time you will have plenty of people to call that will work on your film for free. You will know professional equipment rental companies. You’ll be itching like a mangy hound to make your first picture.

People will help you as much as you have helped them. Pull in a bunch of your favors and the project will look like you spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on it. Motion picture pros generally take a great deal of pride in the performance of their work. Once you talk the Director of Photography into actually doing your project, he’ll bend over forwards to make it the best work. Be prepared to get people what they need to make your script look good.

If school isn't your thing, that's OK too. If you haven't made money in the business yet, you will very soon. The more you stay out there, the more you learn (and earn), and the closer you will get to making your own projects. Work, write, shoot. Keep at it. Read Film Threat. Join IFP. Figure out what you want to say. Do what it takes to say it, school or not.


Personal Responsibility & The Fallout Theory

When you do get your film ideas (although, this applies at any phase of the filmmaking process), revisit the doctor metaphor again. Remember that excellent, qualified, intelligent people the world over screw stuff up everyday. The annals of history are littered with bad ideas gone bad and better ideas gone worse. Filmmakers, unlike doctors, cannot be sued for malpractice. This is unfortunate if you paid to see "Air Force One," for instance. Remember that it is your responsibility as a filmmaker to do the best you can.

A doctor oversees patient care. You guard your vision. For a doctor to make good decisions, tests are performed. Various medical people and machines survey the patient battlefield. Results are studied and the best course is chosen.

Likewise, you as a filmmaker must test your vision, your patient. Films need to be shared at some point, right? You need to share your stuff with people, people that will tell you the truth… before your premier. Share script, actor choices, edits, music, everything. Listen, consider, and then decide yes or no. And for Pete’s sake, listen to your editor.

If you don’t trust anyone enough to share your stuff, become a professional writer or something else solitary, or just get over it. The world’s worst low budget films all have something in common. Three to five out of five are the same person: writer, director, producer, editor, and star. They always get made, and they almost invariably suck raw helmet.

The biggest danger you face is not digging deep enough. Herein lies The Fallout Theory. Right now today, any idiot can go out and shoot a movie and edit it for about sixty grand. What’s going to set you apart? Dig. Be better.


I, Filmmaker

You know what? You CAN do it. You might even like it. What's most important, though, is that you can do it right where you stand.

Start by doing some of the jobs listed in the guide. Do, as soon as possible. No need to wait until you move to LA. If you start out doing lights and you hate light, switch to production. If you hate that, try writing. If you hate all typing and computers, get into the camera department. Get a production guide and use it, right there in Anytown. You'll use everything you learn the very first day you are on set directing, I promise you.

Break a leg.


suggested library:
Film Sound
Elisabeth Weis and John Belton

Reel Power
Mark Litwack

The Grip Book
Sorry, don’t know the author

The Filmmaker's Handbook
Edward Pincus and Steven Ascher


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=205
originally posted: 05/06/00 15:13:03
last updated: 05/06/00 15:26:22
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