It’s a Marathon
Making an independent feature film is a marathon that takes not weeks, not months, but years and sometimes even decades to complete. It’s not a journey for those who suffer from A.D.D. and short-term thinking. Making a movie is a mammoth undertaking that makes the Ironman Triathlon look like a jog through the parking lot at Disneyland®. The following article is a Cliff Notes® training guide to help the aspiring filmmaker prepare to run the movie-making marathon.
PLEASE NOTE: No animals were hurt in the process of writing this article.
Stepping Up to the Starting Line: Writing Your Script
So you have an idea for the next Oscar®-winning, Avatar-grossing, movie event of the century. That’s great, you’ve taken your first step on the road to making your movie. Now before you break into a full sprint, make sure you love your script idea. No – let me rephrase that: Make sure you passionately, “I can’t live without you” LOVE your script idea. Because if you don’t, you have just started running the movie-making marathon wearing ten-inch heels with a fifty pound weight around your neck.
When I started writing the script for my feature “The Steamroom”, I believed the idea was tantamount to finding the cure for cancer, ending world hunger and solving global warming all at the same time. Frankly, if I didn’t have that much passion and faith in the idea, the film would have never gotten done, because every day, every week, every month and now every year it has taken to finish the film has tested my love for that original idea.
You’re Off and Running: Financing Your Film
You’ve completed the screenplay for your life-altering epic and now you are ready to go and raise the money to make your film.
PLEASE NOTE: If you are a prince from an oil-rich Persian Gulf state and you can self-finance your film, good for you and please feel free to call me if you want to invest in my next feature film. In the meantime, you can skip this section and proceed to the pre-production portion of this article.
For the rest of us, finding money for our cinematic dreams is often the most difficult and ultimately the least fulfilling part of the filmmaking process. There is absolutely nothing fun about it. And unless you have dirty pictures of Bill Gates with a fifty-dollar hooker and no morals about blackmail, it is never quick or simple. It requires approaching potential investors with a well-thought-out business plan, a nicely typed personal resume, and enough humble pie to choke a T-Rex on Weight Watchers®.
Finding money to make a film is hard. Even the most successful filmmakers have difficulty finding financing. Dreamworks Pictures®, headed by no less than Steven Spielberg, struggled to put together financing during the recent economic collapse. Don’t feel bad if the first hundred or so people tell you “piss off!” when you ask them for cash for your film.
The good news, (and there is very little of that in film finance), money is available to those who are willing to do their homework and hit the pavement. For “The Steamroom” I created a network of friends, family and colleagues via email, Facebook®, Twitter®, snail mail, text messages and actual face-to-face contact that ultimately led us to an investor group that financed the film. A cup of coffee and a conversation is a great way to introduce people to your film. If you believe in your project down to the sub-molecular level of your being, that passion will become infectious. People want you to succeed if you are genuine, honest and realistic about the goals of your film.
Film financing is ultimately about relationships, because filmmaking is not like investing in a 7-Eleven® or a McDonalds®. It is much more intangible, and ultimately dependent on your investors believing in you and your team. Luckily for “The Steamroom”, the investors have never wavered in their belief in the project. That kind of support is priceless considering the countless obstacles that every film must face on the road to financial success.
And the marathon continues…
The First Hill: Pre-Production
Being a solid C student, I learned early on to sit next to the smart kid in class. I believe in surrounding myself with people who are way smarter than me. They make me look good and keep me out of trouble. And through the miracle of osmosis, they even make me a little less dumb.
Pre-production is where you should ask as many questions as possible. It’s OK to look stupid at this point in the process. Looking stupid and being stupid are two different things. Do your homework and make sure you have the best and brightest around you, whenever possible.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell who actually knows what they are talking about in Hollywood. This is where a good BS detector is invaluable (you can get them at Target® in the fertilizer aisle if you need one). A healthy dose of cynicism is a good thing when you are hiring a crew and doing pre-production. Also having a few trusted friends watching your back is always a plus.
Rushing pre-production can sometimes lead to incompetents slipping through and getting onboard your film. A producer who likes to use the show’s credit card for their own personal use or a sound man who gets high at lunch are just two scenarios that can play out if you aren’t vigilant. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, I can attribute most of the mistakes I’ve made on film projects to rushed decisions made during pre-production.
One of the great things about doing “The Steamroom” was the amount of rehearsal time we had before we went anywhere near a soundstage. Working with the actors, sorting out blocking, and workshopping the scenes made the script I wrote even better. It also made filming it a relatively straight-forward proposition. It is always amazing how many low-budget films have producers or a director who decide to forgo rehearsals. “We just don’t have the money in our budget for rehearsals” is the often-repeated refrain. Do you have money to have your entire crew sitting around with their fingers up their keisters while your actors figure out their lines? Rehearsals are a good thing.
The marathon is just getting started…
Runner’s High: Shooting Your Film
So you have your script, your money, your cast and crew, and you are ready to shoot. Now the fun begins. Make sure you enjoy the moment because it’s a rare privilege that few people ever get. Take pictures, because it happens so fast it’ll be over before you know it.
Pure joy – that is the only way to describe the days I spent shooting “The Steamroom.” I don’t know what it is like for other writer/directors, but walking on set every day and seeing and hearing my words brought to life by a great group of actors and a talented crew was thrilling. I highly recommend the experience.
On “The Steamroom” we had a very tight budget and only fourteen days to shoot out the entire film. It was an impossible schedule. To quote Walt Disney, “It’s fun to do the impossible!” Our crew, lead by a kickass line producer, Christina Mauro, coupled with a well-prepared cast (see the bit above about rehearsals) made it happen. We actually ended up shooting out the entire film in thirteen days. Additionally we only had one day where we worked over eight hours, thus avoiding the additional cost of overtime. Again, I can’t emphasize how much rehearsing beforehand saved time, saved money, and most importantly allowed everyone to go home after an intense day and come back the next well-rested and ready to rock.
The Longest Leg: Post-Production
One of the major misconceptions about making a film is the importance of production verses post-production. Shooting the film is a blast, but it really is just a small part of the process. In actual man-hours the production phase takes the least amount of time. Post-production is where the action is. It really is where a film is made, with 70 to 80 percent of the work on a film being done during this phase.
Unfortunately, many new filmmakers put so much emphasis and budget into the production phase of their films that they shortchange post. Horror stories of filmmakers running out of money during post and being unable to complete their films are, unfortunately, not that rare. There are countless half-million-dollar paperweights littering Hollywood – films that ran out of cash during post and had to be abandoned like a 1978 Chevy Chevette at the side of the road. Don’t make this mistake. Plan ahead and lock away your post budget and don’t let anyone or anything let you touch it during production. You will thank me later.
For “The Steamroom” our post period was long because we were working on a tight budget. Thus, favors needed to be asked and people’s schedules became a lot more fluid. Picture edit, sound design, sound edit, ADR, color correction, graphics, credits, special effects etc… The list of elements that have to be dealt with during post is seemingly endless. Days turn into weeks and soon a year has gone by and you’re still running around making sure everything is coming together. It’s a fun, frustrating and long process. Make sure you have people you like and trust around you during this phase. This is when you will find out who the real marathon runners are. Control your breathing and stay hydrated.
The Final Stretch: Premiering Your Film
Countless hours of work, years of struggle and determination have finally paid off. You’ve finished your film. Congratulations! Now you actually have to show your film to an audience. It’s a vomit-inducing experience. I suggest copious amounts of vodka as a way to get through it.
Once you have completed your masterpiece you have to create a plan to show it to the world. There are countless options for premiering your movie. Film festivals, private screenings, four-walling it in a theater, sending it directly to distributors, a world premier at Mann’s Chinese Theater, or projecting it on the side of your garage to your friends and family. Every film is different and each one needs to be premiered in its own special way.
For “The Steamroom” we have done a few special screenings. We had a cast-and-crew screening and a big party afterwards with the Hooter’s Girls to celebrate. We also premiered the film at the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii. Yes, it was tough to go to Hawaii for a week and stay at a four-star resort, but somebody had to do it. Finally, we had a premiere at Bally’s® Las Vegas to celebrate the film’s release on FlixFling.com and iTunes®.
The Finish Line: Facing the Critics
There will be critics and a lot of people who will view your film and tell you what you should have done in that particular scene, during that particular moment, with that particular actor, to make it particularly brilliant. My advice is to smile and just remember that the person talking has most likely never made a film and that they have no idea what it takes to actually make one. I have found my biggest supporters are other filmmakers. They rarely tell you what you should have done, because they know what a miracle it is that a film is ever completed. My response to critics, “Make a movie and then let’s chat.”
“The Steamroom” is finally rolling out over the next year on various digital channels and theater outlets. As we start the PR phase of the release, I’m finally getting a chance to look back at this filmmaking marathon and how far we’ve travelled. It’s been a long run and I need some new shoes.
Making a movie is like riding the scariest rollercoaster ever. It has ups and downs, loops and turns, thrills and chills, and it will make you want to blow chunks more than once. Now that I’ve survived the ride, I can’t wait to get back in line and do it again.
I have a new idea for a film that I love…
The Cast of “The Steamroom”
I’d like to introduce you to some of the marathoners who made my movie possible. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Colin Follenweider is fearless. The guy will jump off a cliff on fire while juggling chainsaws if the job requires it. And he’ll make it look easy. He’s a ridiculously talented bastard that makes every day he’s on set a joy.
David Mattey is a genius. I’m not saying this to kiss his Hollywood butt. He really is a genius and he has the MENSA membership card to prove it. He’s also a Shakespearean-trained actor who kicks ass. All you casting directors out there need to put him on your short list.
Brian Collins is my hero. Movie star good looks with a sly wit and the ability to be quietly powerful on screen. He also was the first guy to take a risk on me as a writer and director, believing in and endorsing my dream. For this I will be eternally grateful.
Morgan Fairchild is not a dumb blonde. Yes I said it! Underestimate her at your own risk. Morgan is one of the smartest people I have ever met. Her brain is clicking over so fast, it makes you elevate your thought process and bring your “A” game every day. A great star that will only get brighter.
Muse Watson is the ultimate character actor. With a credit list that reads like an encyclopedia of hit show and movies, he brings a level of experience that you just can’t put a value on. I’m lucky he entered my universe.
Watch “The Steamroom” Now
You can download and watch “The Steamroom” at: http://flixfling.co/movie/steamroom-2048.html.
Flixfling.com is a new digital download service for films and a great platform for independent filmmakers. Enjoy the film!
Please feel free to email me with any thoughts or questions. And if you have million or so lying around and want to invest in a movie, please feel free to drop me a line.
All the best,
About Donald Flaherty
Donald Flaherty has written and directed over one hundred shows and live events. Donald’s film, The Death of Batman, produced with a budget of just five-thousand dollars, has been downloaded by over four million movie fans worldwide making it one of the most successful online films in history. The film has been called “visionary,” “controversial,” and “stunningly unique.”
Donald is a graduate of Pepperdine University where he received both his Master and Doctoral degrees in Education. He is also the founding director of the Gold Drum & Bugle Corps, a non-profit music foundation that provides music education and performance opportunities to underprivileged kids and young adults in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.
Donald is currently in pre-production on his next two films: Brutal, a sci-fi mixed martial arts action drama, and The Taxi Bride, a romantic comedy, as well as Darcy, a new musical, episodic television show.