This past weekend, I got together with about 16 people and shot a short film. I had written the script last March with no real intention of making it, but over the summer I made the mistake of having a beer with Kyle Glenn (@kyleglenn) and he talked me into shooting it. I don’t know how. For a quiet guy with a sensitive stomach, he can be very persuasive.
One of the main reasons I’ve been cooling off on film production is that it requires so many people to make it happen. After making FORGE last year, I told myself that if I produced another film, there would have to be enough money to pay everyone properly (including myself). I’m talking $150,000 instead of $7500. Micro-budget filmmaking can be very rewarding, but even on a single day project, I can’t shake that feeling that everyone is doing me a huge favor. They put in their time and energy and I’m hopelessly aware of that every minute during production. Frankly, it’s distracting. So since October 2010, I’ve focused on generating ideas instead of actually making them. Then Kyle Glenn and his stupid beer happened.
Ok! I’m not blaming. He made a very good case, and I didn’t need much arm-twisting. In fact, I think the conversation went something like this: Kyle: “You should make another movie.” Co: “Sure! How about Robot Sentry? We can shoot on September 30th!” Nevertheless, I regretted it as soon as I got home. I had a book to finish, I was saving money for… something cool that was as-of-yet unidentified, and I was trying to learn how to relax. Most of all, when I made FORGE, I had no other obligations. This time around I had a day job to contend with. Let me tell you, the two weeks leading up to the shoot were crazy. It was like the whole world needed my immediate attention. If it weren’t for Justin Koleszar and his help with casting, and Kyle and Amber and their regular support check-ins, I would have called the whole thing off. But once the shooting started, I was in my element. I expressed ideas and made decisions for three days straight. I worked with people I liked and respected. I remembered why I loved filmmaking. When people had input, it was useful and constructive and made the project better. There’s nothing more fulfilling than true collaboration. Overall, fantastic experience.
The catch is that even when you’re done shooting, you still have a responsibility to all those people who helped you on the shoot. You finish your film. Allow me to add something to the beginning of that thought… If you’re not a thoughtless slack bastard, you finish your film. So many projects get shot and end up on a hard drive in a closet somewhere. If people are putting in their time and energy for no money, you have to at least honor their efforts with a finished project. The good news is that editing picture and sound is a lot like writing. I start with a blank timeline, frame in the general structure, then refine and refine until it makes sense. And I can work alone. I don’t have to schedule with anyone and nobody is waiting for me. (quick aside: absolutely everyone on Robo was on time every day. It was amazing.) I can get up early or stay up late. Now that I’ve been working in post for a week, I remember why I was getting out of production: working alone is way less stressful.
So I’m thinking I have it figured out and I’ve decided that I like solo work better. For now. But if that’s true, why am I always texting, emailing, im-ing and calling people? Maybe it’s because I’m a naturally social person, but I get too stressed when I have to rely on people or, as is often the case, when they have to rely on me. It’s hard to enjoy it anymore. I guess I’m talking in circles on this one. I just said I loved it, and now I’m saying I don’t love it. My point is that I’ve changed over the years. My youthful, thick-headed optimism has finally given way to that grinding tension that comes from experience. Specifically, the experience of actually experiencing all the things that can go wrong on a group film project. Each time we pull off a movie with no deaths or other serious setbacks, I feel like I’m using up my life’s supply of luck. Sure, good planning goes a long way, but so many things can go wrong that I’m always waiting for that one thing that will bring a production to its knees. Again, money can fix almost any problem. Maybe that’s at the root of the stress, this shoestring method of operation. In summary, I love it when it’s going well, but I can feel the specter of doom just around the corner.
It also begs the question, how much can go wrong when writing a book? Weather, cast, crew, equipment, money… none of that is needed if I write a book. Nobody is waiting for it. Nobody will talk smack about me later if I don’t finish it right away. Nobody got up at 6am to help me write it. But maybe it’s the Kyles and Justins of the world who push me to finish movies and nobody is pushing me to finish this book. Maybe the stress is what generates a finished product. Lots of “maybes” in this post.
If someone came forward with a couple hundred grand (or million) and asked me to make a movie, I’d totally do it. Money changes everything. Paying people what they’re worth would alleviate a lot of that stress. On the other hand, then I would have the stress of pleasing an investor instead of the cast and crew. Man. Tough one. Maybe somebody will pay big for my ideas. Then I can collaborate with people on where we’re going for happy hour and keep the stress levels a lot lower.