Top 5 Lessons I Learned Making My First Film – Broad Strokes Edition


Top 5 Lessons I Learned Making My First Film – Broad Strokes Edition

If nothing else I hope these rambling encourage a budding filmmaker to go out there and actually make a film, while selfishly also encouraging me to keep making films despite setbacks and disappointments, so with that in mind I figure why not kick of 2017 with some lessons I learned along the way.

The first five are more general assuming I have the time and courage to keep posting along these lines I will get into more specifics later. As a disclosure I feel obligated to say that I am a firm believer in accepting complete responsibility and blame for anything that occurs in my life or projects and not for some pious reason but because the moment I accept blame and responsibility I have the power to do something about it. If you constantly shift blame to everyone else you become powerless, so take it all upon yourself, even though sometimes yes other people screw things up, but what could you have done differently to prevent that or address it? Second disclosure is I believe in stewing in my mistakes, that way in really gets deep into your bones and not only are you less likely to repeat them but also you will have a greater arsenal to address them when they try to creep up. So with that said here are my top five lessons:

  1. Just Go Make Something – I waited 20 years to make my first film, don’t do that. Realize your first film will most likely be more a learning experience for you than a massive cultural phenomena and just make something. Even if you have no budget grab a couple friends on the weekend and your Iphone and make something, edit it on your laptop and send it out there, hell send it to me I will watch it and admire the fact that you are one of the few who can actually get shit done rather than another one of the big talkers. Most importantly you will learn from it and become a better artist for every painful mistake you make because you learn from doing and most of the people you admire in this business will tell you they learned what you marvel over by trial and error so go out there and try and make some errors.
  2. Follow Your Gut – when it comes to hiring people (which I have done a good amount of) I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt and give them a break they haven’t gotten yet. Often that works out really well. I did have to replace a couple people on my first film, one was a simple scheduling matter no big deal wouldn’t stop me from considering casting that person again, another was a DP and I think that was just a personality clash, they may be good, but I don’t think they would ever be good working with me and then there is the one I should of replaced. I actually have my notes from our first meeting and I wrote “may be a pain in the ass, but performance might be worth it” I was half right, they were a pain in the ass. As for their performance they had so little interest in what I wanted and what the story and script called for and any concept of consistency that most of their scenes ended up on the editing room floor. There was a lot of passive aggressiveness and attempts at sabotage that luckily for me didn’t rub off on anyone else despite their best attempts. In fact I would say most of my cast and crew were not only amazingly professional but also amazingly understanding of what I was dealing with and that this was my first film and were incredibly supportive. So much so that I am writing roles on my new project which is a lot bigger in every sense, just for some of them. Just a side note if you are an actor or actress don’t be a problem for the filmmakers you work with, because you never know what they will be working on next and in reality the actual working filmmaking community is pretty small and filmmakers talk to each other.
  3. As It Is Written Shall it Be – I am a huge fan of mumblecore/mumblegore and Dogma 95 so I wanted something very in the moment, spontaneous and genuine so even though I wrote a full script I wanted my actors to stretch and improvise a lot. Some actors had the script memorized and stuck to it, no problem, some were great improvers that were also easy to direct no problem, others were neither, problem. All that falls on me, next time there will be a lot more rehearsing and improving should come out of those rehearsals and the script changed accordingly so we can deal better with my next point.
  4. Practice Everything – having lost my DP the night before a 10 hour drive to our Arizona shooting location I was underprepared (which is a massive understatement) to fill in, but since that was my only option and as a filmmaker often your job is to select the less of the evils when it comes to options I did. As a director I had my shot list and what I wanted but I was planning on being my own DP otherwise I would have practiced the shots, had shot diagrams, blocked ahead of time and hell even would have used different equipment that is a better match for my skill set. Needless to say I have bought that equipment and won’t make that mistake again, even if I have a DP I plan on being completely prepared to fill in if needed, cause I wasn’t expecting it to be needed this time and don’t plan on being surprised again.
  5. Find the Lessons in Every Mistake – mistakes are the most valuable things you can acquire in life, they are were the hidden secrets of the universe live and if you embrace them they will teach you more than anything else in a lot less time. So as you review your work, and if you are like me you will have one hand on your head the other wrapped around a glass of whiskey, look for what you can improve next time and identify the particular areas those problems are rooted in. So for instance when I look at my first film a few of the many issues I see is I need to write better dialogue at the script stage, I need to work on lighting and camera movement in the shooting stage and I need to work on the sound mix and color grading in the editing stage, now this is far from my comprehensive list (there is not enough space on the internet for me to publish that list) but gives you an idea. To address these things I have studied dialogue and spend a great deal of time focusing on it for my next project, bought much better lighting and began training with an expert in the field so I know what to do with it, and bought different camera equipment and gear to allow for better movement and which is much better suited for my skill set. These are just a few steps I made to address just a few issues I found on the way to becoming a better artist.

I hope some of this helps someone, and well helps me as well. Remember we are all always wanted to get better at our craft, it’s not about perfection it’s really about progress since this is a long game we are playing. If you ever get to the point where you see no room for growth you are either lying to yourself or should move on to something much more challenging for you, and come on we both know you would be lying to yourself. Good luck and hope to see you around the festival circuit and box offices!

Dan

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