#$%^$ Zoloft – Make Indie Film!
Life is stressful – I don’t need to tell you that. Being a self-proclaimed auteur is damn hard work and it just doesn’t get easier. But instead of spending gazillions on pills and therapy, do what I did and harness all that frustration, loneliness and despair into an indie movie!
In 2008, like most of us, I was depressed. The housing and stock market misery hit me in the pocketbook, and on the personal front, a long-term relationship had ended. Creatively, I was a mess – totally uninspired and unmotivated. I began a slow downward spiral into madness – disrupted sleep, anxiety attacks, negative thought patterns. The Demon Beast of Depression had grabbed me by the jugular and would not let go.
I was placed on every anti-depressant on the market, had cognitive therapy sessions, accupuncture and devoured a steady stream of self-help books. But you know what ended up saving me? My own creativity.
Taking advice from a friend, I enrolled in something called The Pro Series at ScreenwritingU.com. This is a great little website/program that attempts to take you from concept to finished screenplay and pitch in a mere six months. It’s not cheap. But I found the structure of the email-based program rewarding and invigorating, forcing me to think about marketable screenplay concepts instead of my own miserable existence.
Or – as it turned out – turn said miserable existence into my first feature film! During the brainstorming process, several threads came together in my mind, which eventually became The Great Intervention: what if my parents had tried to get me on an intervention program, only to be turned away because I wasn’t “extreme” enough?
The more I turned the idea over in my head, the more I realized this would make a great indie film that would be relatively easy for me to make. I wouldn’t need any expensive sets – most of it could be filmed at my house or at friends’ houses and I wouldn’t need any bulky lighting equipment because I was shooting “documentary-style”.
I wouldn’t even need a script! Well, not a traditional script, anyway. At night as I dreamed away during those first few formative days, I envisioned the film almost completely in my head. Then I sat down and wrote a 48-point outline.
The whole film would be a riff on my own life. I would star as a slightly more-loserish version of myself, and I would tap my real father to play my father. Friends would be able to fill out most of the roles, but for the female lead who would play my romantic counterpart, I knew I needed someone special.
So I set out my search – contacting actress friends that might be appropriate for the role, but nothing clicked. One day, however, I typed “indie film los angeles” into Google and, like a vision, the picture of Karen Zumsteg and her stunning blue eyes appeared before me.
Karen was part of a collective called We Make Movies and had been in a 5-million-viewed YouTube video of a supposed UFO crash landing caught on tape by a couple hiking in the wilderness. When we met in person a few days after I contacted her and sent the outline, I knew that I wouldn’t even need her to do a proper audition – she was perfect.
I was able to round out the cast with professional SAG actors, thanks to the SAG Ultra Low Budget contract, designed for films made under $200,000. I would only have to pay them $100 a day – quite a bargain.
Speaking of budget, I had none. Well, I did some crude mental math, and imagined that $5000 would be enough to make it work. Hearing so much about “crowd funding,” I turned to the Kickstarter website.
Kickstarter allows filmmakers and other artists with a clear goal/project to recruit patrons to help fund it. The catch is you have to make your goal, or you receive nothing. This is actually a good thing, as long as the amount you are raising is not too unrealistic, because it adds to the drama that can work in your favor in the final hours of your campaign.
And so I began beating the fundraising drum so loudly and regularly on Facebook, I risked a rash of un-friending.
But it WORKED! One hundred and eight people came together and successfully funded my project. And while the majority of the people who donated were friends or friends-of-friends, Kickstarter was very useful in legitimizing my project and helping me collect the funds. Most of us hope our fundraising campaigns will go viral, but the reality is the majority of projects are funded by people you already know.
But that is not a bad thing at all! I was heartened and impressed by how many OLD friends came out of the woodwork to donate. Several people from my childhood days on Rainey St. in La Mesa who I had gotten reaquainted with through the miracle of Social Networking donated generous sums to make this project happen.
With money in the bank, I immediately began filming. Over the course of about two weeks in July 2010, I shot the bulk of the film using several cameras: a professional Sony HD camera, a “prosumer” Panasonic HD camera and this great little Kodak Zi-8, which is their version of the Flip, a tiny HD camera that retails for less than $200.
For my film crew, I focused on avail-ability rather than “ability”. Cleverly, I worked in to the film’s premise that the filmmakers my parents hired to document the intervention were found on Craigslist, so I could make it artfully bad.
For most of the filming, I just let the cameras run without doing a lot of stopping and starting or yelling “action” and “cut.” This helped keep the vérité feel I was going for. If I wasn’t getting what I wanted from my actors, I would merely chime in and redirect them, knowing I could chop out all my comments during the editing and jump cut through the sequence.
When I was finally done with principal photography, I had probably 20 hours of raw footage on my hard drive. But I was prepared. Years of editing wedding videos had trained me to work quickly and have a good eye for useable footage. Mentally, I broke down my film into Five Acts, just like a classical play. Act One would be the shortest – the first five minutes of the movie – but the rest of the Acts would play about 21minutes each.
With guidance from friends, and after a screening for cast and crew, I was able to whittle it down to 90 minutes – the perfect length, I feel, for any comedy. I am very proud of it.
After years of banging my head against the wall, trying to come up with some crazy off-the-wall screenplay idea, I finally took the old advice “write what you know” to heart – and it worked.
The Great Intervention is now making the festival rounds, but YOU can buy your very own copy of the film coming very soon. Stay tuned to this article for a future link.
Check out the trailer:
Want even more fun? Check out greatintervention.info – the meme related to the film!
Stephen Moramarco is a writer/actor/director/musician and now a filmmaker. He lives in Lincoln Heights, CA.
Also, check out Steve’s prior Film Courage posts:
Actor/Filmmaker/Musician Stephen Moramarco shares his tips on How To Make A Movie for $5000.