Car accidents, a dead dog, crack heads: a lot happened while making WELCOME TO PINE HILL. Every filmmaker has their share of war stories, but in the case of PINE HILL these battle wounds often healed into the most rewarding moments of filmmaking, both on screen and off. But, I think the beautiful chaos of filmmaking is essential for any success.
We shot most of WELCOME TO PINE HILL in the summer and fall of 2010, and a year and a half later, we’re now about to premiere in competition at next month’s Slamdance Film Festival. If you want to learn a bit more about the project, check out the 3-minute video on our Kickstarter campaign. We’re raising finishing funds to get this film and its star to Park City, and whether or not you back the project, it’s a good place to learn more about our film.
While I’m pretty sure my list of Do’s and Don’t’s is not an ideal place to start taking notes for your budding career, I’ll try to sum up the highlights of what I’ve learned:
1. You Can’t Do It: When I first tried to make a feature film five years ago, all the friends who went to film school smiled and said, “Good luck with that.” They knew I would never do it, and if I did, it would suck. Most of them had jobs in the industry making History Channel segments and Nissan commercials and had long since given up on the feature film dream that pushed them to film school in the first place. They were pissed that some knucklehead like me was going to try it.
2. Yes You Can: The only filmmakers who were really enthusiastic about my trying to make a movie were the only really successful filmmakers I spoke to. One, a DP whose movies you’ve seen and liked if you’re reading this, said, “Awesome! You are going to have so much fun. It’s gonna be great.” Another, a director with four or five features, made it seem like he was jealous: your first feature!
3. 1 & 2 Are Both Correct: The film school skeptics and the filmmaker optimists were both right. The first “feature” ended up 33 minutes and lived a short but tragic life. The second attempt became WELCOME TO PINE HILL. The only difference was timing.
4. Community Matters: Everything I know I learned by doing it or screwing it up. But a feature film is a beast and it helps to have a network of supportive friends and fellow filmmakers to help. I’m lucky that my fellow members of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective happen to be an amazingly talented, generous and super fun group to work and party with. Most everyone has a few friends, and often filmmakers have filmmaking friends, and a big part of being a producer or a director is getting those people to jump on board your DIY movie version of the Titanic (the boat not the movie).
5. Filmmaking Is A Marriage: So you need to trust two things — yourself and the people you work with. You decide the order. For example, my producer (the amazing ELISABETH HOLM!) and I don’t always agree. She’s nuts. (Sorry, Liz). But I know I trust her and like her eye, her brain and her heart. When she says something, I listen. I don’t necessarily do it, but I listen. The same goes with every person you work with. If you don’t trust them, why are you working with them?
6. For Love or Money: Be sure you know why you’re making your movie. If it’s money, that’s cool. But then, give up on trying to do make the heartfelt movie you need to make and make it rich. Some people do both, but breaking your ass to try to convince the world that your story matters and is worth $5 million seems like a cake-having-cake-eating situation that doesn’t come often.
7. If It Doesn’t Matter, Then Who Cares?: At the end of the day, shooting on a RED or an Alexa or 35mm is great, but the real thing is the story, the performances, and your vision. The whole filmmaking process is really too difficult, too time consuming, and too expensive (at any budget) to make something that is not completely urgent for you. If all turns out well, the time you spend telling and sharing your story will last a whole lot longer than you thought, so you’d better love it.
8. Don’t Quit Your Day Job: I mean this literally. Remember what I said in that “For Love or Money” section? If you need a job to pay your bills, DON’T QUIT. Making movies is the best way to spend a lot of time and more money than you thought without getting any of it back. Unless you are really lucky. (So far I’m not. But that’s ok. Because I didn’t quit my day job!
9. If You Do Quit Your Day Job, Make Horror or Porn: Really. From what I can tell, that’s where the money is. Both have a lot of body fluids and cash flow. Also if you can make a comedy that makes anyone laugh, you should. Funny is good. Though even then, it should probably be a horror porn comedy.
10. It’s Bad Out There: When anyone who has been in the business for any time at all talks, get ready: it’s bad out there. The waterfall of money stopped a while ago and it’s not coming to you. I mean, that’s what they keep telling me. But! As seriously independent filmmakers, do not go into this business for the money. And note: it’s the people WITH money who will be the first to tell you that. But!
It’s Also Awesome Out There: Working with a talented crew to put together a scene, whether it’s the art director’s sudden epiphany, or the DP’s ability to follow the chaos (watch Pine Hill, you’ll see!), it’s amazing. Watching a great performance happen live in front of the camera is magic. Knowing people besides you care about your work right alongside you is totally moving. If you don’t love it, why do it? Money helps, of course, but we didn’t have any, and we did it. You can do it. You don’t need money, you need boundless drive, energy, and vision — oh and at least a camera. Just start. And have fun.
Keith Miller (Director, Writer, Editor) is a filmmaker and painter. A member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, he made his first short film in 2004, and his films have shown in festivals in the US and abroad. Welcome to Pine Hill is his first feature. His paintings have shown in galleries around the world. A professor at NYU’s Gallatin School, Keith is also the Curator of the Gallatin Galleries.