Since Film Courage is all about do-it-yourself filmmaking, I wanted to share my experience in pre-production for my first feature, “Bread and Butter.” We are currently raising funds via Kickstarter.
So all my recollections and advice are coming from someone who has not yet entered into the gauntlet, but creating our Kickstarter video was a feat in and of itself: the video is a puppet musical with a puppet tribute to The Deer Hunter. It’s something that’s better shown than described.
In general, I’d like to say we’ve made great strides only in the past few months, but, in truth, I started to write the script years ago in a screenwriting class at USC Film School. The first semester was draft one, and second semester was the polish. I put the script down for over a year and picked it back up after graduation feeling itchy to do what I had always wanted: to direct a feature.
In my director’s statement for “Bread and Butter,” I wrote about how I wanted to make the film for my 16-year-old self. I stand by that. I watched a lot of romantic comedies in high school and too many romantic comedies make people delusional. They convince an inexperienced viewer that love will come if you wait, and that all men are princes. They are not. Men are just as confused as women are, but in different ways. I learned that the hard way, not from watching movies but from dating. I want to make a movie that shows how awkward and uncomfortable first relationships can be. How they are not seamless, or magic. But just odd.
That’s what we’re doing with “Bread and Butter.”
What does this have to do with food, do you ask, other than the title? About six months ago I made the decision that it would be best for my overall health if I dropped some weight. I am short and was in my first serious relationship and hadn’t realized that being happy, for me, equated with 30 extra pounds. The stars aligned and I had a family member reach out to me who was also concerned with my health. They offered me a financial incentive to lose the weight. Once I lost 30 pounds, they would award me. Nothing huge, but an amount that inspired me to think that maybe having extra money, enough extra money, could lead me to doing what I really wanted to do, which was make a movie. I looked to both, making a movie and losing weight, as tasks that went hand in hand. As I exercised and dieted, I would also work on the film. They were linked – my growing smaller, the film growing larger.
So for the past six months, in addition to drafting and redrafting the script, approaching actors, compiling a crew list, working part time as an assistant as well as working part time as a film critic for www.justseenit.com, I’ve lost about 25 pounds (I have five more to go). What’s amusing is that I do on-camera work. So you can see my entire transformation from week to week. I went from this:
I was very lucky. Not many people have someone who can offer a monetary incentive. Though I guess when it comes down to it, life would be expensive eventually if I continued down the path I was headed. Losing the weight, and seeing a physical reflection of what I thought was impossible turn possible, only further pushed me to make a movie. When one thinks of directing their first film, it seems like it is impossible at times. But really, if you think about it, all you have to do is lose 30 pounds (and raise a hell of a lot more money).
To make our Kickstarter video I needed to compile a production team. I gathered together people I wanted to work with on the actual feature so that we could all get a preview of what it would be like to work together. As it turns out, my instincts were right and I really enjoyed the company of everyone I asked to come on board. I had never been less stressed out in making a short film. It all seems to come down to whether you enjoy spending time with a crew member or not. Throughout film school, I didn’t know this. Learning this was crucial. There are so many talented people in this town – you should always hire someone who doesn’t add to your stress. Making a movie is stressful enough.
That would be piece of advice #1: work with people who make you happy and who don’t drive you crazy. Regardless of how talented they are.
In creating our Kickstarter Video we knew we needed something that was different. Everyone is launching a Kickstarter campaign – how do we stand out? We figured out we wanted it to be a musical, we wanted puppets involved, and we wanted to be completely transparent about what we were doing. And so we wrote a song called “We Need Money.” I got my friend, Robert Hill, who is insanely talented as an editor and songwriter, to come on board. He wrote the song and lyrics and I found friends who were talented puppeteers. The tribute to The Deer Hunter was the idea of my collaborator, Sean Wright. We thought that we should insert the puppets into a completely depressing film in order to further support the absurdity of the situation. Luckily it worked. Or maybe it didn’t – let me know!
Piece of advice #2: Just Do It. When it comes down to it, I’m not even a first time filmmaker yet. But I’ve devoted my entire life to film. I took film classes at the local community college while in high school, I got my degree in film studies in college, I went to USC to get my MFA in film and TV production. I am teaching filmmaking this summer at CSU Fullerton (on site in Monterey Bay). I know all of you have devoted your hearts and souls to filmmaking. And if you are looking for a tiny bit of a push. This is it for you. Life is short. Life is too short for you not to make a movie. But also, filmmaking can be done (relatively) cheaply. And do not think that no one wants to help you. I’ve had people who I thought hated me donate to my Kickstarter campaign. It will shock you how many people want to support you. Strangers even. Always make a personal plea when asking for money. People want to hear WHY you want to make the movie. Where their money is going to. And they want to be entertained.
Final piece of advice: The best advice I can give as a literally starving filmmaker is to form committees, create as much bureaucracy as possible. This will sound like bad advice, but people trust official titles, people trust written letters and e-mails and groups and meetings and “reaching out” and “campaigns.” The second I decided to make my movie, it became real with each person I told. I was being held responsible. When we got our first actor attachment (as informal as it was), we were seen as legit in the eyes of others. When I sent out my script (despite its constant morphing status), people believed that we were going to do something. Convince others with paperwork. Convince others with meetings. Convince others by showing how busy you are. Fake it til you make it. Then after you have unnecessary meetings, the meetings become more and more necessary. And what was once an idea becomes a real thing. You are being held accountable, and that, as well as your own passion to make your project, will continue to spur you on. So, to put that piece of advice into action: as soon as you have an idea, have a production meeting. Create action items. Follow up on the action items. Hold everyone responsible. The more you assign yourself, the more you will get done.
We don’t know if our Kickstarter campaign will be successful or not. It’s pretty terrifying. Every morning I wake up with a jolt, check the scale and then check my Kickstarter numbers. But I assure you, it’s worth the risk. Because at the end of the day, what all of us really want is to make our movie. And just by doing a Kickstarter campaign we have announced to the void/to the world that that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve already told enough people that we’re going to have to make good, somehow. Cognitive Dissonance. So even if we don’t raise all our funds, it’ll just be an obstacle, not a failure. I tell myself every day that we will make this movie, no matter what.
I was born and raised in San Rafael, California, and was (and I still am) a huge dork. In high school I took film studies classes at the local community college (College of Marin) and decided I wanted to be a director at age 16 while watching Stolen Kisses in a class on Francois Truffaut. I went to Washington University in St Louis and graduated with my Bachelor’s in Film Studies and then went on to get my MFA in Film and TV Production at USC Film School. I’ve attempted to have my share of fancy internships, and I was lucky enough to be Adam Goodman’s (Paramount) only intern right before I graduated USC. Since graduation I have directed music videos (Jason Turbin, Beth Thornley) and I directed a promotional video for L.A. Models. I currently assist director Michael A. Simon in the development of several projects.