How My Seven Day Feature Fell Apart (And What I Did)

How My Seven Day Feature Fell Apart (And What I Did) – By Filmmaker Matthew Saxon

Making films is without doubt, one of the most rewarding and most frustrating professions any individual can choose (although some might say it is the profession that does the choosing!).

Regardless, if you are making your first film, I am going to share what I learned… The hard way…

The truth is, I have been acting and writing for over a decade. And after several small appearances in a some feature films, many shorts and a few stage plays, I decided I wanted to do something myself (before fate decides it is time for me to leave this world). And so, my mission began.

After appearing in a medieval zombie flick, I realized that between myself, and my close group of friends – We had accumulated enough set, costume and equipment over the years to make a fully fledged medieval feature film of our own.

Making Your First Feature 2

How My Seven Day Feature Fell Apart (And What I Did Next)

Originally we thought about making a Star Wars fan film, but we decided to change the story into a more of fantasy setting, with one or two small alterations (removal of Lightsabers and use of The Force to name a few!)

After a month of alterations and a two week re-write, the script was ready, and it wasn’t bad… I mean, it wasn’t Oscar winning material. But then again, we were aiming for the ‘leave your brain at the door and enjoy the ride’ crowd!

Once we had the script, we started calling all of our various friends in the industry who fancied doing a no budget feature. Since there was no budget, we sold the idea of “fun.” We all love working together and wanted to have a blast! So after a week of schedule juggling, we realized that we only had a seven day window in which to shoot.

This was a headache, but possible.

Intense planning went into the schedule. Every minute of every day was accounted for. And as the week approached, all was going well. We had three cameramen (two I knew and one on a recommendation), an experienced boom operator, actors, wardrobe, make-up and locations locked. . .

On the eve of the production, my phone rings. Then I start getting Facebook messages, followed by emails.

One by one, members of our crew and cast start dropping out. With each message my heart sank further and further until by 8pm (the evening before shooting started), I found myself in the seventh circle of emotional hell and still descending.

Have a Plan B (Not Kidding)

My friend Cindy, a woman who has the wonderful knack of putting things in perspective had a moment of clarity.

“Why don’t you cut the script down and turn it into a short?”

This was GENIUS!

An hour later I trimmed the script from a 120 minute behemoth to a 20 minute short. Many characters were cut completely. As for crew, all of my cameramen were gone, save for the guy who had a high recommendation. Our runner became the boom operator and he was given a crash course in audio recording. Our EOS5D’s never showed up, so we ended up filming on a 650D.

By far, this was not the grand project I had envisioned. But at least we were doing it!

At the end of the first days filming, I was happy with the work all the actors and crew had put in.

I wasn’t able to see any of the footage, due to a playback issue on our laptop. At the time, and because so much had gone wrong already, I figured the laptop would be a minor issue.  At least we were able to transfer the footage. The laptop was (of course) a major problem!

The laptop issue was not resolved until a few days later, when we were finally able to review the footage.

I can remember how my heart started racing with excitement as the first few scenes popped up! Finally I could see the fruits of my labor. The project was moving ahead!

Then we started to notice things.

As we looked through the footage my stomach churned and my migraine became a pneumatic drill in my temples. We had stuff in the background (that should be there) shaky camera work, even though he used a steady cam and a bunch of useless footage – And that was just the start!

Out of the four days filming, we had only two scenes that could be used…  And maybe two more if I was very clever in post.

With on three days left, I didn’t know what to do.

Should I re-hash the script again? Maybe go from 20 minutes to 5 minutes? Maybe just make a promo for the eventual feature?

I went to bed exhausted, rolling in bed with a pounding headache.

I still had hope we would find a plan to salvage the movie.

Surround Yourself With Friends and Family

When my eyes opened at 6AM, I looked out the window and was greeted with a sight I had not expected...

Snow!

The project was finished.

I rang the actress who was scheduled to shoot and left a message. I didn’t want her to drive all the way into the middle of nowhere for nothing. Then my phone rang…

It was our actress, in tears.

She had suffered a car accident in the snow. Even though she was okay, she was shaken up quite bad and her car was badly damaged.

I tried to console her as best one can from the end of a phone line, but she had already hung up.

I was numb, in shock and defeated.

This film had been fighting me from the start, and it appeared it had won. My movie did not want to get made.

At this point, I sent the remaining cast and crew home… And I followed.

As I got into my house, my wife was waiting. I didn’t say a word. I just broke down and cried. My wife and my boys hugged me for what seemed like an eternity… It was a big family hug, which in equal measure, felt like the worst and best moment of my life.

I had failed, but at least my family still loved me.

Challenge Is NOT Failure

I carried on my regular job for months after my attempt at filmmaking. The truth is, I thought about the experience every day, sometimes for hours on end. What could I have done different? What could I have done to make it work? What if I had brought some others in to help?

It was question after question, followed by doubt after doubt…

After two months, I decided to look at the footage once more and edit what I could. And it was during this time I discovered something shocking. In spite of the camera work. . . And in spite of everything that had gone wrong – The chemistry, the atmosphere and the feel of the film was right on!

We had been onto something. This film worked!

Do Not Give Up On Filmmaking

After a few days of brainstorming, it was decided that we would go ahead with a second attempt at the film.

After reaching out to other members of the crew, it was decided that I would step down as director (this was my suggestion. The first attempt was too much. And I was too obsessed with the project to get a clear picture of what was needed.) We also completed another re-write of the script. And as a result, we had something better than originally envisioned.

We then spoke to another friend – A professional director who was looking to try something like new.

At the date of writing this, we have completed three days of the shoot. We have spread filming over the course of the year and all is going well. The footage thus far looks brilliant! And we even have a distributor ready to look at the finished film!

What is the lesson to learn from my experience?

There are a few lessons.

If you do not treat your film with respect, it will bite you, and it will hurt! I thought I could do this film justice in a seven day shoot…The film said NO! This was a painful lesson.

Secondly, no matter how bad your situation, no matter how badly things are going – Do not give up! Just because your film (or attempt at a film) does not work, that does not mean that it is a complete failure.

And finally, you can always salvage something. By not giving up – You are proving to yourself (and everybody around you) that your film is worth it and that you believe in it.

– –
Matthew Saxon has been involved in stage and screen both in front and behind the camera for 10 years. He is currently involved in several film projects and can currently be seen on a UK tour in William Shakespeare’s ‘The Winters tale’ with Anvil Productions, which will also be in the ‘Ophelia Theatre’, London in late June for a five day stretch.

Who Else Wants To Make A Movie?

Whenever I give talks on modern moviemaking, there is invariably someone in the audience who asks if I would personally produce his or her brilliant idea into a movie. In answering this question, I have to ask why the person wants to make movies?

“Because I want to be famous.”

At this point my jaw drops to the floor. People like this will rarely succeed as filmmakers.

Who Else Wants To Make A Movie?

Here is the secret to making a movie…

Your ability to get a movie made, seen and sold relies solely on YOUR persistence. Your goal is to keep going when things get tough. You must do everything in your power to prove to the universe that you want a career making movies, bad. You owe the world your vision, but it is YOU who must to bring your vision to life.

Desire and ambition is not enough. You have to take action! Nobody will do it for you.

Stop asking permission to make your movie!

After making several short films I had established a pretty good network of creative collaborators. Every time we won a film festival, we would send out various query letters to agents and managers and producers… Some responded with a kind word or two. Most ignored us. None of them signed us.

Then we asked the most important question: Given the resources that we have right now, what is the movie we can make this year?

This changed everything. We made our first feature, a silly zombie movie. The movie garnered buzz and got us into the feature club. And because I knew how to market on the internet, we successfully self-distributed. Our writer scored an agent. Several of the cast and crew went on to do cool stuff, including me.

In the years since, I’ve realized that successful filmmakers live by this mantra: “If it is meant to be, it is up to me.” And you to must take on this belief system if you are ever to become successful. Do not be lazy. Lazy people are not successful. Do not make movies for the money. There are easier ways to make money. But if you want to succeed as a filmmaker, do it because nothing else excites you.

If you want more information on how to take action and get your movie made this year, I encourage you to check out my make your movie now, system. There are three modules – screewriting, film finance and film distribution. (And for the record, it is NOT  the old, outdated stuff you’ve seen a gazillion times.)

 

Film Fundraising: 5 Crowdfunding Mistakes to Avoid

In this guest filmmaking article, filmmaker Brad Kageno shares what he learned with his crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter and provides you with 5 Crowdfunding mistakes to avoid…

Film Fundraising: 5 Crowdfunding Mistakes to Avoid

As I type this, I am halfway through my Kickstarter campaign for my feature I Hate You.  We’re about one-third of the way toward our goal, and we now have $10,000 to raise in about 30 days.  It’s definitely possible, yet even though I can’t declare victory or defeat (who knows what’ll happen?), there’s already a list of things I’ve learned from our campaign:

1.  Do not put off today what you can do today.

Here’s a downer: 55% of Kickstarter campaigns fail.  Keep that in mind as you embark on yours.  Depending on your goal, and the amount of connections you have, expect to be working non-stop on your campaign.  Don’t get lazy, even if there’s a lull in pledges.  Every effort you make to promote your campaign, the better the odds of someone contributing to it.

For I Hate You, we’ve posted weekly videos and have reached out to all sorts of sites and organizations everyday.  And, as you can tell, we’ve also been writing a few blogs to spread the word.  As I tell my team, “It’s not over ’til it’s over,” so prepare to rest only until your campaign is done.  (And even then, you won’t be resting long.)

2.  Do not ignore the power of (free) social media tools you can use to promote.

Don’t wait until you start your campaign to begin creating an audience for yourself.  Start posting videos on YouTube, gain subscribers.  Start tweeting and gain followers.  And if by some chance you aren’t on Facebook yet, get on it and friend everybody who tolerates you.  If you have a blog, great!  If you don’t, either start one or start participating on others.  Get on message boards and post comments.  So what if you’re antisocial?  Here’s a way to gain potential pledgers without having to spend a dime or step out of your abode.

Remember, you cannot succeed at crowdfunding without a crowd!  Even if you find social media pointless, take advantage of it!  Personally, I wish I had been more active in social media before beginning my Kickstarter campaign.  Even though our YouTube videos have gained modest views, they’d be even better had we started posting videos months, even years in advance.

3.  Do not be afraid to bug everybody you know.  And I mean e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y.

As your Kickstarter campaign progresses, you may be surprised by the amount of people from your past that pledge.  So far, I’ve had my elementary school teachers and even preschool friends pledge!  It got me thinking that maybe I should contact as many of them as I could, and to my luck, many have supported I Hate You.  So, be prepared to reconnect with faces you never thought you’d see again.  Of course, there’s always family, friends, co-workers, and the usual bunch you must reach out to.  Do not hesitate to ask them for their help.  The worst they can do is say “no.”

Oh, don’t forget to thank them after they pledge.  Gratitude and crowdfunding go hand-in-hand.

4.  Do not put all your chickens into one basket.

Have a Plan B, C, D, E, and F when you run your Kickstarter campaign.  Don’t put all your time and effort into just YouTube or just Twitter or just e-mails to contacts.  Take the time to strategize in case one outlet doesn’t prove as effective as others.

Initially, we thought we’d get most fundraising support from certain organizations, but as it turns out, Facebook and YouTube have given our campaign more traffic and money, so we’ve refocused our efforts towards those two sources.  With so many still suffering from the recession, it seems the odds are overwhelmingly against funding a creative endeavor, but surprisingly, even unemployed pledgers have voiced their support!  That said, always prepare for changes, and be ready to switch gears as you track your project.

5.  Do not give up.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but expect lulls every now and then, and don’t get discouraged by them.  If you are seeking a huge amount, you may not be able to afford too many lulls, so set goals to raise a certain amount a week.  Re-strategize when necessary, but remain persistent throughout.Being a narrative film, our I Hate You campaign has been unpredictable to say the least.  And even though there are a few naysayers who are skeptical, I keep reminding myself of the 89 people who believe in my team and in myself to make a damn good movie.  I have no intention of letting them down.

If you are about to launch a Kickstarter project, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope my tips help!

BIO: Brad Kageno was born and raised in Hawaii, and studied filmmaking at Chapman University under the guidance of directors John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, WarGames) and William Friedkin (The Exorcist, The French Connection). In 2003, he directed Boyz’ Day, a musical-comedy short prominently featured at the San Diego Asian Film Festival and other showcases. He then directed a dramatic short, Cup of Joe, the following year. Out of college, Brad took film assistant gigs and random day jobs to pay the bills, but quickly realized that the only way he was going to make a movie in Hollywood was to do it himself. So that’s what he’s doing now with his upcoming project, I Hate You.

Make A Movie

If you want to make a movie, you need to stop making mental lists of all the reasons why your movie won’t work. You need to stop pretending that you need more money. You need to stop letting life pass you by…

This is the problem with most filmmakers. They get paralysis of analysis. They make excuses. And then another year passes without a feature.

I know why. You’re afraid of failure. You’re afraid that if you make a movie, everybody will know how bad you suck as a filmmaker.

I get it. But here is the deal. A large percentage of the population is going to hate you anyway. So you may as well accept this and make a movie.

How?

Instead of asking yourself what you need to make a movie, ask yourself this question: “Given the resources that I have right now, what is the movie that I can make this year?”