What To Do When Your Filmmaking Sucks

This filmmaking article is challenging to write. The reason for this is simple. It is tough to admit that a movie you made (that you once thought was brilliant) totally sucks.

Cringing at the sight of your old work is a good sign. The emotion means that you’re growing as an artist. But I don’t know. After having made a few feature films and prior to that, a whole bunch of shorts – I can tell you that many of my movies are embarrassing.

Don’t believe me? Check out this little gem I produced over a decade ago:

Watching this movie makes me queasy. Aside from the fact I once thought it was brilliant, poetic and profound… Full transparency here – I actually sent this out to people. Hollywood people. And worse, I was convinced that having such a great movie would assure my success in the movie industry.

As you can imagine, my big break did not come. Nobody wrote me back. Nobody cared about my movie. And I had to go back to my crappy day job with hope no-longer springing eternal. I was discouraged. I thought my career was over.

What To Do When Your Filmmaking Sucks

Luckily I had a group of filmmaker friends who encouraged me to keep going. So I kept making movies. Through the process, my friends reminded me not to worry if my filmmaking sucks. One friend even told me to make as many bad movies as possible – That way I could get all the stupid ideas out of my head.

Thankfully I kept going. Over time, I successfully produced my first feature. And after that, a few more. So in the event your filmmaking sucks, I want to share the following tips with you:

  1. Accept the fact that your first five movies are going to suck, no matter how brilliant you are. Make your first five movies so you can get past the suck.
  2. Surround yourself with a team of good people. You cannot attain filmmaking success alone. You will need the support, feedback and collaboration of other like-minded creatives to keep going.
  3. Realize that some sucky movies still make money. I include this tip to remind you that sucky movies get produced all the time. Many of these movies find an audience. Many of these movies make money.

Here are two examples of movies that should not have worked (but became successful!)

Birdemic: Often referred to as the worst movie ever made, the story reveals what happens when you screw with nature. This movie was so successful, they produced a Birdemic sequel.

The Room: I don’t know what to say about this movie. I have seen it and it frankly makes very sense. But it is remarkable. And special props to Tommy Wiseau – he now describes the movie as a “quirky black comedy” as well as “the best movie of the year.”

It is important to remember that every filmmaker starts somewhere. Maybe your first movie won’t win an Oscar. Maybe your third movie will have poor lighting. But sooner or later, if you keep working on your craft – you will learn from your mistakes. You’ll get better. You will achieve great things.

If you are interested in learning how to get your movie made, seen and sold, you might want to check out my professional filmmaking tools.

 

Lessons Learned as a Director

Over the past four years, Jenn Page has directed four Independent feature films. Having worked with some of Hollywood’s top talent, she stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share her lessons learned as a director.

As a director you are completely responsible for everything on your movie set, one way or another. Everything…

Of all that you deal with, the hardest part of being a director is not getting final cut of your baby. You have put in all the work to make the writer’s script the best it can be, you have hired the most talented cast possible (or even more likely you’ve been handed a cast that you didn’t pick and have had to work hard to make them brilliant), you’ve dealt with numerous fires on set and managed to get through without anyone dying.

Unless you are funding the movie, music video, TV show or web series yourself – Or if you have Ron Howard status, you are not getting final cut. Even if the paper says you are getting final cut, you are not.

Directing Lesson 1 – Know What You Want

Only shoot exactly what you want to be edited in to the movie. Don’t get the ‘just in-case’ shot or ‘since we have it here’ shot. Know exactly how you want the scene to be edited and only shoot that. And if you don’t know how to edit the scene, it is time to learn because you need to be editing on set, in your head.

That takes confidence in your work and decisions, but as a director you should be confident (even when you are wrong). If you have any say in the matter, surround yourself with talent (cast & crew) and listen to their advice, needs and opinions. But in the end it is YOUR name on the project so you have to take responsibility from minute one (and minute one is choosing the right script) and never stop taking responsibility.

Jenn Page Camera

Directing Lesson 2 – Be Diplomatic On Set

It is harsh when you can’t choose your team and you get an argumentative personality on set. It really halts production to have to constantly explain your reasoning to your DP or Producers. It also kills your morale and passion for the film. As soon as you start trying to please the producer (or DP) to keep the peace, you get stuck with a mishmash of ideas that are half yours and half someone else’s and not strong in any voice.

You will always end up with a boring movie if there is no clear point of view.

Directing Lesson 3 – Radiate Optimism

Maybe you’ve hit day 12 with 6 more days to go, and you would rather tell the producer to stick the camera where the sun doesn’t shine while you go find the jelly donuts than continue to feel disrespected. You are not the first director to decide that you want to quit now and show them how much they needed you. However, the one steady truth remains: your name will be on the film or tarnished by giving up, so you can’t. You have to be the one person on set who stays positive, motivated, and keeps marching through no matter how ridiculous the set becomes.

In future articles I will dig deeper into the director/producer and director/DP relationships, but the bottom line is no matter what is happening on set, you need to be the one making the choices. So even when your DP insists on a closeup but you know you don’t want one in that moment then you have to trust your gut and move on. If you film that closeup to make him happy, I guarantee the producers will want to use that shot when it’s time to edit. Don’t even give them the opportunity.

Directing Lesson 4 – Go Easy On Coverage

When we are first starting out as directors we often think coverage means shooting anything and everything we can in a scene. Master, medium, medium closeup, closeup, extreme close up, try from this angle, maybe put the camera over here and shoot from this angle… The list could go on and on. You don’t need all that. Stop wasting precious time on set. When you mentally edit the film as you are going you know exactly what you need to make the scene be impactful.

Many of you think that you have done this in advance with your storyboards, but even if you have had the rare luxury of a storyboard artist on your film you will rarely have the luxury of time to shoot everything as you planned it. Until you are making big studio films where you get to work on one scene all day, you are in the land of independent features where your storyboards, shot lists, and any thoughts of how the day will go are thrown out the window.

Jenn Page - Blocking The Shot

There is never enough time. Never. Being able to edit while you shoot will actually give you much lost time back.

Directing Lesson 5 – Get The Performance

The digital age has created an “It’s not film” mentality. However, we should always shoot like we are shooting film. Make specific choices and don’t waste resources shooting too much. Okay, okay, I am the first person to say “just keep rolling” when on set, but not because I am not sure about what I want, quite the opposite. I keep rolling so my actors can keep working without the break in momentum. When an actor is in the zone, calling cut can actually be detrimental.

Letting the camera roll long enough to get the performance is still editing. You know you are close to getting the performance you need from them so you keep letting them move through it until the scene is nailed. Now that you have the performance and angle you need, you can move on. There’s no need to get anything else, no matter how much the DP might really want another take for himself. You got what you need, move on.

Directing Lesson 6 – Remember Good Collaborators

I have worked with some of the most giving, talented, open-minded, collaborative, hard-working people on the planet. Producers, DP’s, writers, gaffers, grips, sound mixers, actors, and beyond. I have people that I just adore and will take with me to the top of the mountain. Those are the people you want to have around you on every set, even if you can only get one in, having that person there to back your decisions or just be a lunch buddy, will help make you a better (more relaxed) director.

Jenn Page with Corey Feldman

If you are lucky enough to find a DP that you work well with and they are also an editor, then you are really in for a treat! The two of you will move through shots like they are warm butter. I rarely have to deal with anyone who isn’t a team player, but it does happen. It will happen to you at some point, and when anything is wrong or off in the finished film, I promise all eyes, fingers, and toes are pointed at you.

– – –
Jenn Page has been lucky enough to direct 4 Independent feature films in the past two years, working with some of Hollywood’s top talent. The mission of her production company Luminave Films, is to create great projects for women to star in, produce, direct, and even crew on. Since it’s inception she has directed, written, and or produced nearly a 100 projects including web series, music videos, and award-winning profit-generating short films for, by, and starring women. Click here to find out more about Jenn Page.

Jason Faller Makes Movies

I am always impressed by filmmakers who wake up, take action and get their movies made outside of Hollywood, without asking permission. Jason Faller is one such filmmaker.

With his company Arrowstorm Entertainment, he produces, markets and sells his own movies.

Jason Faller stopped by Filmmaking Stuff to share some tips on how to become a successful, entrepreneurial filmmaker.

Filmmaking Stuff
Hi Jason. You’ve been doing some interesting stuff. Can you tell our readers a little more about you?

Jason Faller
My name is Jason Faller, I’ve been producing feature films for about 10 years. I grew up in Eastern Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. That’s the capital of Canada. I went to film school in Utah, and put together a crew and ended up staying.

Filmmaking Stuff
So would you consider yourself more of a producer?

Jason Faller
I do a lot of screenwriting. But more particularly I am a producer. I do a lot more producing than I do writing.

Filmmaking Stuff
What is a history of your company?

Jason Faller
My current company is Arrowstorm Entertainment, which has exclusively produced “genre films”, all of them action films in one way or another.

Filmmaking Stuff
Like what? Horror? Zombies? Kung Fu?

Jason Faller
Fantasy is our most prolific genre, we have focused on fantasy themes for most of our films lately. Medieval fantasy, high fantasy, Earth-hybrid fantasy.

Filmmaking Stuff
How many movies have you made?

Jason Faller
In one way or another I have produced ten films in those ten years. Only two have had theatrical releases, but all except one have been profitable.

Filmmaking Stuff
That’s an amazing track record. What was your release schedule?

Jason Faller
I started out making about one every two years, but every since we started Arrowstorm, I’ve been much more productive. We made two in 2011 (principal photography, anyway), three in 2012, and I expect we’ll do five this year.

Filmmaking Stuff
What is your business model?

Jason Faller
We stick to a small crew, limited to 12-15 crew on set, but professional high quality department heads.

Filmmaking Stuff
You guys also use a lot of VFX too.

Jason Faller
Yeah. VFX is a big part of our success. All our films have VFX. Additionally, star power is good when we can afford it, but we also have found that sometimes star power is “Dragon”, rather than, let’s say, “Steve Zahn.”

Filmmaking Stuff
And how do you decided on which movies get made?

Jason Faller
We tell stories that we are excited about, but which are commercially driven. I like the movie “Pi” (about a mathematician on the verge of unraveling the mathematical essence of the universe, which is fairly unmarketable as a concept) but I also like The Empire Strikes Back.

Filmmaking Stuff
Does potential for return on investment play into this decision?

Jason Faller
I choose to make something inspired by Empire rather than Pi, because then I can make money. I don’t believe that filmmakers have to make commercial failures to be artists. They just need to think about the films they love that are commercially viable as concepts.

Filmmaking Stuff
How do you find investors for your project?

Jason Faller
We raised private equity from local business owners and film enthusiasts. We pay them dividends on their investment, but now all our capital comes from the revenue our past films have generated.

Filmmaking Stuff
This is what I mean about modern moviemaking. You guys really are a mini studio.

Jason Faller
As long as our films continue to be profitable, we can keep making more movies with the profits.

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Here is an example of a Jason Faller Film


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Filmmaking Stuff
What are your distribution strategies?

Jason Faller
We sell to foreign territories through international sales agents at all the major film markets including Cannes, MIPCOM, MIPTV, AFM, and Berlin. Then we sell to the domestic market, mostly TV rights sales.

Filmmaking Stuff
Is there still a market for DVD?

Jason Faller
DVD used to be more than half of our revenue, but these days DVD is dropping off, and it’s more about TV rights. We talk with distributors and sales agents BEFORE greenlighting a concept. This provides us with insight about what they’d like to see us produce. This is based on what buyers are looking for for their channels.

Filmmaking Stuff
What marketing strategies have you used to sell your movies?

Jason Faller
Trailer and Key Art. That’s pretty much it. Our sales agents take it from there in terms of advertising at the markets. Buyers who are looking to license rights can usually make a decision based on the trailer and the key art.

Filmmaking Stuff
So oftentimes, it’s not necessary for them to even watch the movie?

Jason Faller
The actual film is less important in a sense. But having a great film to deliver in the end is what builds reputation, which is also crucial. Crowdfunding is great for raising extra capital for finishing funds in post production. We do some minor social network marketing for that.

Filmmaking Stuff
What about festivals? Is that part of your strategy?

Jason Faller
We don’t do film festivals, for the most part.

Filmmaking Stuff
How have changes in the movie industry affected your business?

Jason Faller
Because DVD is disappearing, hard R rated material isn’t as profitable now. TV doesn’t pay much for trashy horror films or smutty indies. In addition, the decline of DVD worldwide means that the Key Art is becoming less important, because TV buyers need a film that will hold an audience through commercial changes. Having a strong first half of the film is essential for TV, because if the audience makes it through the one-hour commercial break, they will likely finish the film, which is everything to TV…

Filmmaking Stuff
Any closing thoughts?

Jason Faller
Digital cameras, advances in VFX, and crowdfunding have made it a lot easier to make the stories we want to tell, and to make a quality product without huge budgets.

Filmmaking Stuff
Thank you for stopping by.

Jason Faller
Thank you for having me.

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?
By, Screenwriter Jurgen Wolff

Because I’ve written a few books about screenwriting I sometimes get questions from people just starting out on their careers. One query that has started coming up more often recently is whether it’s better to chase the Hollywood dream or get involved with indie films, including ones made for the web.

Well, as Socrates once said, “That depends.”

Hollywood is hard to crack. At any given time, people tend to say it has never been harder, but maybe that’s actually true as far as mainstream feature films are concerned these days. It won’t have escaped your attention that the trend is toward movies with huge budgets. Knowing that a picture is going to cost $200 million or more makes decision makers prefer to go with writers and directors with a track record.

Sometimes they do gamble. For instance, they got a guy who’d never directed live action to direct “John Carter.” The outcome of that one probably set back the cause of risk-taking for a few years. On the other hand, maybe that was offset by the success of “The Artist.”

Of course hiring a name director is no guarantee of success, but it gives the decision makers more of an excuse: “His last three were big hits, how could I know this one wouldn’t be?”

The upside of screenwriting for Hollywood

If you do break into that small circle of (mainly) guys who are tapped to write the big summer action pictures, the financial rewards are considerable. The smaller the pool of A-list writers, the more they get paid. It also gives you power. If you write a couple of hits and want to direct, you’ll get the chance. If you want to make a small picture that nobody think will make any money, if they want you badly enough for a big script assignment, you’ll get that, too.

You will also find entities like HBO and Showtime will be interested in hearing your ideas, if you decide at some point you’d like to do a series.

The downside of Hollywood

The power I referred to lasts only as long as your projects are a success. There can be a lot of reasons for a movie to fail other than a bad script. The first time it happens they’ll cut you some slack. If it happens again, the phone calls will slow down. Three strikes and you’ll wonder if your cell phone is broken.

Also, your power doesn’t extend to having final say on what happens with the script. Even the hot writers get rewritten. How’s your tolerance for seeing other people make those decisions without you? Once you’ve turned in your draft, generally they don’t want to have you around any more. As a courtesy (actually, to satisfy the Writers Guild agreements) you’ll get a copy of the script after everybody else has finished messing around with it. A few of those experiences and you may get into the habit of pouring yourself a stiff drink before you turn to page one.

The upside of indie films

The definition of independent cinema has always been a bit vague, and now that people are starting to make films directly for distribution on the web and having success with documentaries and a variety of harder to categorize formats it’s getting even more blurred. For the sake of this discussion, though, let’s assume that we’re talking about anything from no- to micro- to-low budget, and distribution via DVD (not for much longer), or Netflix, or other means via the web.

The upside is that you can write a story that doesn’t have to bring out the teen audience in massive numbers on opening weekend. The breadth of the subjects you can deal with, the pacing options, the opportunity to experiment are all huge advantages.

You’re much more likely to remain involved in the later stages of production, too. Generally indie producers and directors are happy to have the writer around to make adjustments that may be needed during the shoot. It’s much more likely to end up being the story you wanted to tell.

When it comes time to promote the film you’ll probably be asked to help with that, too, because there’s no big star involved who sucks up all the media attention.

There’s also a new model emerging of raising finance through crowdfunding, which Jason has written about on this site a number of times. The idea that you don’t need to convince a banker or manager of an investment fund of the viability of your story, that you can pitch it to your final customers, is exciting and this method of financing is only going to grow.

The downside of indie films

Money, lack of. Starving for your art can be romantic for a while, but eventually you do want to eat something other than peanut butter sandwiches. You may want to start a family, buy a place of your own, take a nice vacation once in a while. All the stuff that sounds hopelessly middle-class when you’re 20 seems a lot more attractive when you hit 35. Of course some indie films break out and make a lot of money, but it’s far from the norm.

The low budget can also impact the quality of the final product. Even if nobody changes your words, the limitations in terms of the cast, the sets, the number of shooting days, and so on can mean the film isn’t as polished as you’d like.

Above I mentioned that you’ll be more involved all the way along, from raising the money to helping to market the film, and I classed those as positives. It’s actually a mixed bag because all that takes time. It can eat up a lot of time you could be spending writing.

What’s the bottom line?

I think it comes down to what you value and your temperament. If you’re a good team player and can separate your ego from the process, and you are excited by the lifestyle that comes with earning a lot of money, then Hollywood may be your best bet. That’s especially true if you like the kinds of films they’re making.  If you think they’re crap, don’t kid yourself that you can fake it. Never works.

Even though you’ll have to be able to put your ego aside, you’d better have a strong one to start with. Confidence is a prerequisite. Even arrogance is rewarded in Hollywood more often than it’s punished—assuming you have the writing chops to back it up.

If your primary drive is to tell stories and your values are not heavily weighted toward material things, the indie route is more your thing. There are a number of indie filmmakers whose definition of success is that they make enough money on their last film to be able to make the next one.

If I were starting out today, I’d go for the indie route.  But, hey, maybe that’s because I love peanut butter.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com

Filmmaking Tips You Can Use Today To Prosper

Nestor Studios, the first film studio in Holly...

Filmmaking has come a long way since this picture. But one thing hasn't changed - Filmmakers Need To Make Movies to prosper. Image via Wikipedia

If you’re filmmaker seeking practical filmmaking tips you can use TODAY, I’d like to share some thoughts with you.

The world of filmmaking is changing. Producing content is getting cheaper. And distribution outlets are becoming increasingly accessible. While these changes have not fully hit mainstream Hollywood, you can rest assured that it’s only a matter of time until the ripple effect has a leveling impact.

And when these changes hit, will you be ready?

Here are my 5 filmmaking tips on how to prepare for these changes.

  1. Filmmaking Tip #1 – Build Your Fan Club. Like any business, in order to prosper, you need to create, build and keep customers. For filmmakers, this means building an audience of people who like your work. (If you like this website, you can sign up for my fan club by going here: http://www.FreeFilmmakingBook.com)
  2. Filmmaking Tip #2 – Create content. If you’re serious about your filmmaking future, you need to have a YouTube page and you need to be making creative short movies at least every month. Why YouTube? Because I believe the site will become a hub for Video On Demand movies, they are owned by Google and YouTube allows you to create community around your work.
  3. Filmmaking Tip #3 – Create new products. Every business needs to sell a service or a product to survive. As an independent filmmaker, your primary product is feature films. To make this business viable for yourself, you need to fill your file cabinet with story ideas. Then you need to figure out how to turn those stories into feature films, ready for sale.
  4. Filmmaking Tip #4 – Surround Yourself With Talent. You can’t do everything yourself. Find a group of 10 other filmmakers who have complementary talents and an equal level of passion and enthusiasm. Then join forces and create some (movie) products!
  5. Filmmaking Action Tip #5 – Learn how to sell. You will need sales skills on two fronts. Firstly, you should know how to sell, so you can raise movie money. And secondly, you should know how to sell so that you can accelerate sales of your movies. Once you learn the basics – stop fetching coffee and take a sales job outside of the industry, selling something tough. If you can master sales skills, you will start cold calling heavy hitters with no hesitation. This make pitching your ideas or (independent movie) products a cinch.

Anyway, I hope these filmmaking tips are helpful.

As always, if you have thoughts or ideas or questions, feel free to comment or email.