Filmmakers, Get Your Sh*t Together

Right now, I’m supposed to be in Tampa, Florida, working on a romantic comedy. Well, wait, that’s not completely true. Tampa was just the Plan B that came together after the family drama in Seattle fell apart. So, I’m supposed to be in Seattle right now.I’m not.

I’m once again in Pittsburgh, sleeping on the couches of friends and trying to plug the hole in the schedule.   Again.

I know, I know, my frustration is seeping through a little bit. But, we’re looking at 8 cancellations in the first 8 weeks of this project. Some of them are situations out of people’s control. And some of them are because the production is apparently being run by chaos. It takes all kinds, I guess.

Our discussions with one filmmaker (who I won’t name), was so nearly finalized, that I was simply waiting for him to confirm a pickup time so that I could purchase a plane ticket. The issue being what time they could spare a PA to grab me at the airport. That was the last I heard from that production. It’s probably for the best, because the last thing I need is to be stranded at the airport.

I actually don’t even know if they wrapped the project or what. Maybe they’re all being held hostage by the Tea Party, and then won’t I feel terrible? Eh, probably not.

Or when they aren’t canceling, filmmakers are contacting us with emails like this:

“Hey, we’re shooting this thing that sort of kind of sounds like a short tomorrow and would love to have you come by.”

Of course, we don’t really know where that is, or what time tomorrow. Is it 50 miles away? 500?

This strikes me as some pretty terrible planning, but “A Year Without Rent” is a pretty odd project, so maybe it’s just us. And then I started talking to various actor friends of mine. Turns out they get this all the time. They’ll audition for a role and not hear anything for a long time. Once they finally get cast, they get a vague sense of when filming might be, and then they hear nothing until the day before filming starts, at which point they’re expected to drop everything.

Seriously, people? You know the boss in OFFICE SPACE who asks you to work during the weekend on Friday afternoon? You’re that guy. You’re Bill Lumbergh.

I know it’s really great to be an artist and be able to sleep in and set your own schedule and be artistic, but if you’re making a film, you’re running a small business. Other people are relying on you to function in a somewhat responsible manner. These actors and crew members have lives. They’re trying to fit your project into their other projects. They have to line up day care, maybe, or go to the doctor or, you know, live their lives.

You owe it to them to, at minimum, operate with some modicum of a business world approach. Set your shooting dates. Stick to them whenever possible. Keep your people in the loop.

I’m finding that, almost without exception, these films that sort of kind of exist in the air around the director’s head have no Facebook page. Or, if they do, it has 15 fans. There’s no Twitter account, not even a director’s personal account. There’s no webpage. Nothing at all that would indicate this movie even exists.

Obviously, there’s no distribution plan beyond “get picked up by a distributor”.

Maybe I’m cramming two different posts together here, but it’s been pretty clear thus far that the more active the filmmaker is in social media, the more likely the film will happen and be a pleasant experience for everyone. I’m not really sure why that is. Maybe it’s because the social media savvy filmmakers have likely raised their money via Kickstarter and therefore don’t have to worry about an investor falling through? Is it because once you’ve announced to the filmmaking world that you’re making a film, there’s a lot more motivation to get it made? Or is it because you’d be a damned fool these days to be a filmmaker who isn’t actively on social media?

I get business cards all the time, and I generally keep them in my pocket long enough to find the person on Facebook or Twitter. And then I throw them away. I have enough crap to carry around.

Someone (I forget who) told me the other day that if a filmmaker isn’t easy to find on Twitter, they probably won’t return their call. There’s exceptions, of course, if the person has a pretty long list of credits on IMDb, but I can see where that comes from. If you can’t be bothered to find and engage your audience, how well are you going to interact with your cast and crew?

From what I’m seeing, not very well. Communication is communication, after all. If you suck at it on a keyboard, you probably suck at it in person.

And you can try and cover that up with “oh but I’m an artist” all you want, but a bad boss is a bad boss. It doesn’t matter if you live in a cubicle or on a film set. Being an artist doesn’t give you license to make other people deal with your chaos. Or, at least learn to manage it.

Get your sh*t together. And don’t even think about going into production until you do. Your film will be better for it.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.