COLLEGE DROP-OUTS: MAKING A FILM WITHOUT FILM SCHOOL
We'd like to thank YouTube. And Kickstarter. And literally everyone else.
Just like acting techniques, no one way of filmmaking is going to work for everyone. For some, film school is the route to take. For others, they work their way up from their first PA gig to becoming a full-fledged feature film helmer. Some start with commercials and music videos first, and others take their short films through the festival circuits. However, it seems that lately more independent filmmakers are doing just that... making films independently. This was the route that we took while making the feature film Pinching Penny. And while it may not be the way for everyone, it has worked out pretty well so far for a handful of Midwestern college drop-outs who shot a movie in their backyards that wound up getting international distribution.
We've said this before, but I'm going to repeat it now. You don't need expensive equipment. You don't need a larger-than-life crew. You don't need millions of dollars. You don't need to be the hippest, most talented new filmmaker ever to grace the planet.
What you need is determination.
If you don't have the will to show up every single day, in less than savory conditions, and film until there isn't anything left to be filmed... then all the skill, money and equipment in the world ain't gonna help ya. We've worked with some amazing and talented people over the years, but through it all there has been a mainstay team of three: Steven Molony (actor), Timothy J. Meyer (writer) and myself, Dan Glaser (director/producer/editor). I've been lucky enough to be blessed with this amazing film family--one that we continue to add to every day. But of us three, none of us completed college. By choice.
Not to say that film school isn't the path that you should take. Many people do, and it works out very well for them. College is a place for young minds to bridge the gap between their teenage years and adulthood, and is a wonderful place to take the time to discover what it is you want to do with all of your potential. However, if you're at all like us, you're impatient. And if you're at all like us, you already know what you want to do with your lives. If this is the case, I would strongly recommend the path of getting your damn hands dirty.
Knowledge is important. By all means, arm yourself with as much knowledge--through classes, books, or even director's commentaries and DVD/Blu-ray special features--as you can before jumping into the trenches of feature filmmaking. But nothing is more important than application. It's what knowledge prepares us for, and without doing it, you're defeating the purpose of learning. And nothing will teach you better than hands-on experience; trying, failing and pushing through until you succeed.
For Pinching Penny, it started with just me and an idea. An idea that grew into a screenplay. But how to go about making that into a movie? The first and most important thing is to convince yourself that you're making a movie. You can scheme and plan for years, but until you set a date, it's just words on a page (or a thought in your head). So for Pinching Penny, I picked August 7th, 2009. And I made a Facebook group announcing the film. And I used the term "we" a lot. Before I knew it, there really was a "we," and we were already in casting, and then we were already doing costume fittings, and then we were already filming, and then we were already done. But nothing would have happened had I not simply picked a date. Such a little thing, but in the end it's the difference between making a movie or having a script gather dust in a desk. You have to decide, "Okay, I'm doing this, and I'm doing it now."
To fund the project I enrolled in a medical study, which covered the $4,000 we needed for production. Our crew and actors worked for free and we didn't pay for equipment or locations, which is helpful if you can swing it (shooting in Fargo, North Dakota helped too... never knock your hometown, cause they'll support the hell outta you). However, we had further funds to raise in order to secure music licensing, the MPAA rating, etc. We also really wanted to take the film out to LA to have the sound mixed professionally. This is where YouTube stepped in. I had cut an initial trailer for the film and thrown it up on everybody's favorite viral media broadcast site. We really lucked out here, as the company Stand Sound saw the teaser and approached us about partnering with them to provide the final sound mix. Through the resulting relationship, we were introduced to many new people, including our sales agent, who took an interest in us and got the film distributed internationally.
However, before we could take the film out to LA and get it mixed (not to mention taking care of all the other previously mentioned expenses), we were going to need a heck of a lot more money. This is where Kickstarter stepped in. I'm sure most everyone is familiar with online crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo by this point, and they really can work wonders for your project. We were able to raise an additional $20,000 for the film through the site (and through our extremely generous friends, fans and family member's contributions).
So, while this may not be the road for everyone--even for those who choose the independent route--these were a few guerilla tricks we utilized to take our little hometown movie with the shoestring budget to worldwide distribution. However, none of this would have been possible without determination. None of this was handed to us. In fact, it seemed like every step of the way missiles or something similarly stupid were gonna rain from the skies to kill the film, and our dreams in the process. But we were lucky in that we had each other, and the wonderful support of our friends, fans and families... which allowed us to claw our way to the end goal, even if our fingers got bloody along the way.
Not to say that everyone wanted us to succeed. There will always be people that hate you for trying, just as there will always be people that talk trash about your movie. It's a simple fact that you just can't please everybody. We had a strong handful of devoted "haters" who did everything in their power to squash the movie or try to make us feel like crap. To these people, I'd like to say from all of us, thank you. There is no better motivator for us than the person that tells us "no." Every time a negative remark surfaced, it only made us redouble our efforts. Push that much harder. It's important to grow a thick skin and not let that stuff get to you. So while others waste their efforts trying to bring you down, instead of using that same energy to make their own art, you're onto the next project. Learn to do that, and you're invincible.
Now we're gearing up on our second project, a psychological horror thriller called Stall that will shoot on a soundstage in Los Angeles, California. It revolves around a single mother who, during a sudden outbreak on a small college campus, finds herself trapped in a dormitory bathroom with one of the infected. We're excited to start shooting a second feature, so that we can utilize everything we learned from the wonderful hands-on film school that was Pinching Penny. We're also going to be working with a group of new and talented people, namely cinematographer Michael Alden Lloyd and producers Nathan Kelly, Janek Ambros and Scott McClure.
Also since our first feature together, both Steven Molony and Timothy J. Meyer have been working on their own indie projects. Steven is currently in production on the feature film Efficiency (which he wrote and is starring in) as well as reprising his role on the cult series The Joker Blogs for their second season. And on top of writing the screenplay for our upcoming feature film Stall, Timothy just self-published his debut novel, a spacepunk crime caper entitled Hull Damage. While making your own opportunities is certainly important in this do-it-yourself era, so is keeping busy and constantly pushing to put out new and interesting content. In the end, whatever you decide to do and however you decide to do it, just make sure you do what you love, make something you're proud of and remember who you were from the start. And surround yourself with a core team of people who are not just your co-workers and your friends, but your family.
So again, we'd like to thank YouTube. And Kickstarter. And literally everyone else.
DAN GLASER (director/producer/editor) - Dan Glaser has been working as an independent filmmaker since late 2008. His first feature-length film Pinching Penny received a multi-platform, international release and is currently available through such venues as iTunes, Amazon, Blockbuster Video and Blockbuster Online, Walmart.com and more. For more information, visit Pinching-Penny.com. His second feature Stall is currently in pre-production with a 2012 start date. You can find more information on future projects by following Dan Glaser on Facebook and Twitter.
This video is inspired by Brian Newman's article "The Most Disruptive Innovation in Filmmaking Today: DIY Audience Building" on NoFilmSchool.com.
While attending VidCon 2012 we interviewed a small collection of YouTubers to hear their perspectives on how mainstream media outlets, and their colleagues in the film world view their efforts and work on YouTube.
Also, check out Steve Moramarco's Film Courage article