We’re a married filmmaking duo. Since 2007, we’ve worked on six shorts (as writers, directors, editors or producers) and two features (as writers/directors).
And yes, we’re still married. If we were to distill the lessons we’ve learned between shooting our first short and post-production on our second feature – between squandering time with two long creative gaps and almost giving up – it’s this seemingly contradictory triad: STASIS IS DEADLY. FAILURE IS CONSTANT. AND THAT’S BEAUTIFUL. After the completion of our first short in July 2007, we knew we wanted to make a feature but had no idea how to get there. Without a plan, without ideas, being paralyzed by fears of the infinite, of failure, and of public humiliation, we did nothing. We wasted nearly a year.
Then, during the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival, we had an epiphany: we realized that the only thing stopping us from making a feature… was ourselves. We challenged each other: whoever came up with a fully realized treatment first, that’s the film we would set out to make. Lindy won. And so it was, in August 2009 we directed our first self-funded feature, PERFECT 10. It wouldn’t be until May 2011, 22 months later, that we would be on set directing again.
LESSON #1: STASIS IS DEADLY
It’s not that we spent that entire time twiddling our thumbs. In the first year, we edited the film, traveled with it to festivals across the globe, and were (slowly) writing. But we could have been working harder, we could have been pushing ourselves, we could have been creating much more. We just… didn’t. Fortunately, in the second year we focused on producing and editing, working on three shorts – including two shot on 35mm film – all of which were incredibly fulfilling.
But we will always look back at the 11 months following our first short and the first year following PERFECT 10 as missed opportunities.
On set, time is money; off set, time is potential. To waste either is a sin.
In a recent interview with Film Comment, Steven Soderbergh discussed his production slate – at the time of publication, he was working on five projects simultaneously. To us that’s the perfect model: continuously in motion, perpetually in some phase of production on at least one project.
The act of creation begets creativity; the more work we do, the more good work we’ll do. Like the Great White Shark, we believe that in order to survive, we must always be swimming. But of course, the further out you swim, the more likely you are to drown; the more films you try to make, the more failure will slap you in the face.
“With great risk comes great reward.” It’s a lovely thought, an aphorism we take to heart every day; but there’s also a dark, horrifying reality. By definition, as risk increases, the probability of cataclysmic failure approaches 1. And it was in these murky waters that we tried to mount our second feature, THE LAST VACATION.
LESSON #2: FAILURE IS CONSTANT
We dreamt big. We wrote a script with tremendous scope and a kaleidoscope of characters… all which required a larger-than-micro budget. We got advice to cast the film, hire a crew and set a date while simultaneously pursuing investors – to create a sense of urgency in an effort to entice financiers to the project.
So we cast both locally (Seattle) and from Los Angeles. We learned valuable lessons about dealing with agents and managers. We miraculously convinced some of the most talented, hard-working crewmembers in the area to join us. We had people networking with production companies, sales agents and distributors. We hired an attorney, who drafted our contracts, deal memos and a PPM. We put together a financing plan to utilize state and federal incentives.
While meeting with potential investors, large and small, individually and in groups, we discovered a very interesting cycle: distributors aren’t interested in talking to you without a sales agent; sales agents aren’t interested in talking to you without seeing the film; and most serious film investors aren’t interested in talking to you without a distributor. Honestly, it made perfect sense (it’s reasonable risk mitigation), but it was certainly deflating.
Undeterred (at least on the outside), we marched forward. We had crew meetings. We locked locations. We flew our main actor up from LA for rehearsals. We were hemorrhaging money, but nothing bad has ever happened when you believed in yourself, right?
We were about to collide head first into our production calendar without money in the bank. We had people “interested” but until a check is signed (and clears), it doesn’t matter. We foolishly – in a last-ditch, desperate attempt – looked into production loans. Sure enough, there isn’t a bank on the planet that would give us $250,000. And, small detail: there’s also no way we could ever pay back that kind of principal.
So, with more regret than we could ever fully communicate, we canceled the film. This wasn’t a cavalier decision; this was physically painful. We had dozens of people counting on us to make this film happen and we failed all of them. It was a “small” budget, sure, but our actors’ and crew’s paychecks were on the line. We had promised them work and here we were saying… what? Sorry? Sorry doesn’t even begin to cut it. But that’s all we had: an ugly, stupid, inadequate “sorry”.
This was the end. “Clearly we suck. And clearly our reputation in Seattle is ruined. We should just give up.”
We cried. We yelled at each other. There was blame, there was anger, there was enough self-loathing to power an aircraft carrier. We walked around like somnambulists, wondering what we could possibly do with our lives now that filmmaking was nothing more than the dusty bones of a broken dream.
Then one day – for some unknown reason, wine may have been involved – we said to that vile, malignant critic within us, to the little bits of our souls that love nothing more than to wallow in self-pity:
“Shut. The f*ck. Up.”
LESSON #3: AND THAT’S BEAUTIFUL
During the rehearsal process, actress Wonder Russell – who we had cast as one of the 6 principals – came to the table with an incredible vignette from her back-story. “Wow,” we said. “That would make a great short film!” A couple of weeks after THE LAST VACATION was canceled, she phoned: “So, that thing we were talking about? I have a script.”
The script was a short – THE SUMMER HOME. It was dark, it was bold, we’re pretty sure it will be divisive – but above all, it was good and it was challenging. Three weeks after reading it we were back in the saddle, on set directing the film.
It was incredibly rejuvenating. Aesthetically, we tried things we’d never done before. Creatively, we meet and collaborated with new and wonderful people. Logistically, we went back to a small production – a combined cast and crew of 10.
And that lesson from 2008 kept echoing in our ears: the only thing stopping us from making another feature is… ourselves.
Money, however, was still a hurdle. We couldn’t make THE LAST VACATION (or, at least, we couldn’t make it the way we wanted), without a lot of it. So we decided to do a massive re-write. We cut over 20 pages and restructured the film. We made it a movie we could produce for 1/10th the budget. And, as a result, we wrote a better script. It was focused, precise; it wasn’t trying to be big, it was just trying to tell its story. We love to say, when watching other films, “find universality through specificity”; well, we finally adhered to our own theory.
THIS IS OURS was born.
Now, 1/10th the budget of THE LAST VACATION was still $25,000. And that was just for production. We make films and work in higher education… we don’t have that kind of cash floating around under the couch cushions. What we did have, though, was good credit. We’ve always lived responsibly and within our means and we’ve never paid a day of interest on our credit cards. Time to be reckless.
We held some fundraisers, secured some loans (thank you Mom and Dad!), applied for 0% APR credit cards. Some people we’ve talked to think we’re ruining our lives; others think it’s brave and determined. We have no idea. Only time will tell. But he who dies with the most debt wins, right?
Here’s what we figured: most people would probably react similarly to the way we initially did – just flail, weep and give up. If we were to somehow blast through that, then we’d be ahead of the game. After all, stasis is deadly. And since failure will be a permanent part of our lives, we might as well figure out a way to embrace it; figure out a way to transform the negative energy of defeat into the positive energy of invention.
It’s been said that creativity is born from limitation. What better limitation is there than the unstoppable urge to keep pushing against the brick wall of inevitable disappointment; to keep creating despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles; to continually have to improve one’s craft and skills to adapt to changing circumstances?
We are now in post-production on THIS IS OURS and couldn’t be happier, more fulfilled or excited for the future.
We must keep swimming. We must always get back on that horse.
Stasis is deadly. Failure is constant. And that’s beautiful. Roll camera.
Kris & Lindy Boustedt Bio:
Kris & Lindy are a married filmmaking duo living and working in Seattle, WA. They have written, directed, edited or produced eight films – including two features – and their work has played at dozens of festivals, won numerous awards and been broadcast internationally.
When not making films or dealing with their cranky geriatric cat, they both work in higher education: Kris teaches film at Shoreline Community College and Bellevue College and Lindy works for Seattle University. They’re currently fundraising through Kickstarter for post-production on THIS IS OURS.
Filmmakers Kris and Lindy Boustedt tell us about the supportive tight-knit filmmaking community in Seattle and the resources they have available to them.
Filmmakers Kris and Lindy Boustedt tell us what they believe is on the horizon after their Dances With Films World Premiere of their film This Is Ours. A question that comes to their minds is will they be able to get people to see the film even though it doesn’t have a “name” like Ryan Gosling or Nicole Kidman attached.
Check out more great videos from Kris and Lindy here.