I've been thinking on my past movie-making experiences lately and thought I'd share. Maybe some of you out there that are embarking on making a feature or short can think about some of this stuff. To some of you out there, this may be all old news.
But if you can take away something from reading this, maybe it'll prevent you from wasting your time & money (equivalent to being fucked with a sandpaper condom). Or at least help you waste your time and money bettter.
I've made 3.5 features from my own scripts. Directed and produced them all. And 4 shorts. Some of them have their moments, but overall, I don't have much to show. Why? Low, pitiful budgets mainly. There are other reasons.......
1. Actors. Cast well, this seems obvious. But it can be hard. In my situations, everyone was working deferred, so I'm only providing food, a credit, and a copy of the film. Thus, you won't get the best actors in the world (there are some gems out there though if you look).
My problem on past productions was settling. One of the biggest things I've directed (budget $8,000) was almost a complete failure because of (well, the budget for one) and my cast. Now, I had some good actors in there, but there are others that I KNOW I should have re-cast. But I didn't and the movie suffered for it. Read a review of it. It's called Better Days.
2. Crew. Same as casting sort-of. Got a bunch of local PA's, etc for deferred payment. For the most part I've been happy with my crews, except for the occassional nutjob. But take care of them, and they'll take care of you.
3. Location, Location, Location. I've gotten a ton of locations for free, either restaurants, houses, etc. Been pretty lucky with this. Except for one time, when I did not scout a location ahead of time. My fault, yes. But all I needed was a backyard for a bbq scene, didn't care what the house looked like. A mother of one of my actors had a friend who said we can use their house for the shoot. Great! She described it, the yard, I was ready to roll, baby! (I lived an hour away from this location, if it was closer I would have had the time to scope it out).
Had the cast and crew meet early in the morning for the shoot. Then I got there. She didn't mention that the backyard backed-up to Route 1, which if you're from the Philly area, or even if not, you can imagine what the SOUND would be like near a place called ROUTE FUCKING ONE. I was beside myself with stupidity and a lack of planning. I canceled the shoot for that day, drove home, curled into a fetal position, and pissed all over myself.
4. $. Get some money. My problem with many of my attempts was a lack of budget. And it shows. But unless you have some novel idea (you don't) you simply can not make a movie on a shoe-string budget and expect it to go anywhere. Sure, you'll have a screening for it, and your family and friends will show up and congratulate you. But they won't distribute it.
5. REHEARSE YOUR ACTORS. We rehearsed. But not nearly enough. If I ever made a movie again, and for me to do so would take a large does of crank, I'd spend months rehearsing. Again, it's obvious, but sometimes with people's schedules, budgets, time, etc, it's not possible. Make it possible. Make it work.
I cast this kid in a movie I directed called West River Drive. Gave a good audition, and I thought he had a good look. You're hired! Probl;em was, when we started shooting, he would NOT STOP LOOKING AT THE CAMERA. Everytime we shot with him, I wanted to kill myself. And since he was practically the lead, suicide was often on my mind. I've made plenty of bad decisions, that was one of my worst.
Movies I've done and why they failed:
STAIN (feature) - Movie about a hustler on the streets of Philly. Budget killed us on this, 90% of the cast was great. Low-point was trying to pull of a dying man (he was shot off-screen). Just didn't work. We hired a terrific actress (Charis Michelson) to play a hooker. She had a small speaking role in Bringing Out The Dead. She was amazing, should have made the movie about her character. Also, the movie should have been edgier. I didn't push the envelope.
BETTER DAYS (feature) - Read the review above for the plot. The critic is right. Budget and piss-poor acting killed us, plus the script needed another draft before going into production.
WEST RIVER DRIVE (feature) - Budget and a lack of proper planning sank us. Considering, it's not a bad movie, it has some good shots and a few decent scenes. We held a screening a few years ago at Mike Lemon Casting and it (surprisingly) got a great response. Even for the kid that I was complaining about earlier. Editing saved his ass.
The DISINTEGRATION OF A BOY BAND - I liked this short. It was about 32 mins long. But by the time we got it edited and it came out, people were already making fun of boy bands, and it looked like we were the last ones on the bandwagon. Still a decent short (it ends with a record exec telling them their band is being dismantled because grunge is coming back in style). Then we see "where they are now" - One is a lunatic in a forest, one is picking up trash from the streets, , one is a crackhead, etc. You get the picture. It ws funny. But too late.
The Family Dog - Shot on Super 16mm. And a success, sort of. Cost about 3 grand to make. We made about 4 grand back (it was on ifilm.com and hypnotic.com (Hypnotic would pay money to the top-viewed shorts and The Family Dog was on top for a few months)). It was about a guy who went to meet a girl's parents and her dysfunctional family. Right, so you can see why I couldn't do much with it - Meet The Parents arrived, although we made ours in 1999. Not like they ripped us off, but there was a toilet-backing-up scene, a pissed off sibling, a nervous guy about to meet the parents......Hmmm.
WAIT A MINUTE - the last thing I worked on, 2 years ago. Was going to be a feature, I stopped it. It was going to go nowhere. The shoot was kicking ass, the actors were great, rehearsed, etc. The script was good. And we had some killer scenes. Still no budget. Which is why I killed it (I'm actually (finally) getting my trailer presentation for it in the next week; I'll give them out to the cast). I may use it to show around and try to get some cash to start production again and do it all right.
I'm not bitter. Making these movies were some of the best times I've had.
*But TAKE YOUR TIME. I've always rushed and never will again. Don't rush.
*Get a budget, please.
*Sometimes, it's a better idea to just make a brilliant trailer. Then shop it around, screen it, have presentations with free food & drink, and maybe you can raise some real money.
*Also, HAVE A PLAN, for after production. I thought I did. But the plans were never good enough. Screen the shit out of it. Hit the festivals, competitions, etc.
*CAST it like your life depended on it. Why? Because it does. If your actor isn't working, REPLACE THEM. And rehearse them. A lot. Afraid you'll burn them out? Burn them out. At least they'll know their fucking lines.
*Re-write your script. You think it's ready? It's not.
That's about it in a nutshell. I'll make another movie. Loved doing it too much not to. But I will not repeat those mistakes. Well, I'll try not to. I make no promises.
On the bright side, if I ever am offered the chance to direct with some kind of million dollar budget, I'd like to say my rookie mistakes are behind me.
Oh, and I almost forgot one of the most important things to remember when you're making your flick - You're doing it because you love it and you can't live without doing it. So, do it. Just, do it right.