Filmmaking Isn’t a Solitary Pursuit

The one curse afflicting many filmmakers with the proliferation of cheap film production tools is the ability to do it all yourself. But you can’t do it all yourself. You shouldn’t even try.

It’s a lot of work

The idea of making even a short film is seductive. You have a great idea, You’ve seen a beautiful location, you have a stunning costume in mind, you just met a talented actor… If only it were that easy. We’ve all seen movies that sound great but don’t really pay off. From the script to the cinematography to the sound to the editing, even the most basic short film requires tons of expertise, and if you’re one of those experts at everything, maybe you can pull it off, but that is a rare breed.

People will tell you, ‘lighting is story telling,’ “the screen writer writes the script first, then the director then the editor,” “80 percent of filmmaking is casting” and all of these things are correct. And experts are able to take material that is lacking and make it better (but rarely great.) The studio system has an army of filmmakers on set for a reason: the more people you have on set dedicated to specific tasks, the better/ easier/ faster the film will be made.

But alas, hiring an army isn’t cheap. So many Indie filmmakers go the cut rate route and try to do it all themselves. And this ‘one man army’ approach looks less like Rambo and more like a train wreck. Get some help for gosh sake, even if you have to push a few weeks to earn / find some money to pay some folks.

Filmmaking is the sum of it’s parts

I remember the first time I spoke to a director about the editor he worked with, he said, “Sometimes, that first cut isn’t what I wanted at all, and we need to talk some more. But other times, it’s a level of brilliance that I never imagined.” This seemed at the time to be a situation where people were communicating very poorly. But that was before I started talking to editors and realizing, they are just as creative as directors when it comes to story.

Directors will revise scripts add and subtract scenes. Actors will show up to set with new ideas for the script. Cinematographers will come up with new ideas for locations and outright veto others. Make-up people will give a project a level of nuance that can work for or against character type. And these are just intentional contributions.

But consider how an extra few eyes can help with continuity? Someone can offer a better line, an extra shot perspective, or even the idea of, ‘doing a clean version’ for certain distributors and film festivals. No one will think of everything, and everyone can contribute something. There’s a difference between chaos on set while the director is trying to get a time sensitive shot and offering advice when it’s welcome. But No man is an island, and everyone has something to offer.

You need to have broad appeal

Filmmaking today has become more ‘crowdsourced’ than ever.  Networks look at ‘ratings’ to determine what shows will continue, and what shows to cancel. Netflix looked at viewer data before putting pen to page on “House of Cards.” Reviewers are no longer the only people with a voice to comment on your work. Post something on Facebook, Youtube or Reddit and you will get tons of feedback from folks who know what they’re talking about and folks who don’t. And where everyone has an opinion, if you’re making a film for the common folks in the public, their opinion counts for a lot. If everyone on Youtube says your film sucks and you get an award at a film festival… you might have been the best of a bad batch. Like wise if everyone on Youtube loves your film and passes it around but the ‘Professional critics’ tear you a new one, you might have a bright career on the horizon. At the end of the day you have a real opportunity with feedback: apply it to your next project.

Now, if you’ll take the opinions of strangers who take the time to write you online, why not the opinions of those you voluntary go into the trenches with? The idea of the Auteur director is why many people want to direct (The Auteur director comes from the French New Wave idea that a film is 100 the director’s vision. This is rarely ever true.) A lot of people want to be the boss… so they decide that means they want to be the director. But everyone knows that a good manager is one who can get the most productivity out of their team. Take Henry Ford for example who as the richest man in the world said, “I am not the smartest, but I surround myself with competent people.” If you don’t trust your people’s judgment… find new people.

You need people to make films. A second, third and fourth set of eyes. Sounding boards to bounce ideas off of. Collaborators. Co-Conspirators. Don’t turn away willing help. Politely communicate when an idea doesn’t work, but show gratitude when the input of others actually ads value to a project. It’s one of the qualities that’ll help you raise a crew for future projects.

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