Making Movies and the PB+J
Making a movie is easy. Pick up a camera, pick a subject, pick an angle, shoot and put it all together in one of the many inexpensive digital editing software packages available today. Then pick a format, tape, DVD, electronic file, and show off your masterpiece. It’s as easy as, well, making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Now you’re laughing. But a peanut butter and jelly sandwich isn’t as easy to make as it first appears. Have you ever tried to give someone directions to make a pb&j sandwich? You can’t spread the peanut butter until you’ve opened the jar, gotten a knife and taken out two pieces of bread. The minutia escape first glance. Making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich suddenly becomes more than it appears. Making my first short movie was much like learning to how to make a pb&j sandwich: it was really easy, until I was actually doing it myself.
This analogy isn’t completely accurate. Making a movie is even simpler than making a pb&j sandwich because, as you’ll see, there are only two real ingredients. There are, however, many more steps in making a movie. Independent moviemakers have even more steps to take than Hollywood moviemakers because they generally end up wearing most, if not all, the hats on their productions. Take me for instance. On my first short movie and master’s thesis, Drive Thru Love, I acted not only as producer and director, but writer, editor, location scout, prop master, driver and even director of photography at times. Everything that needs to be taken care of during the course of a production fell on my shoulders.
The recipe began in my second year of grad school at Emerson College. I had spent my first year preparing to make my movie. Now it was time. First, I had to come up with an idea. It all started in my head. I wanted to make a movie about the “fast food relationships” portrayed and pursued in our society. Easy. So I wrote a script about a guy, a bike messenger in Boston, who is searching for the perfect woman. He finds her, or so he thinks, while visiting his friend at a coffee shop. The rest of the movie is spent following Elijah as he chases his perfect woman all over the city. He finds out, of course, that she is not perfect and that all along he has been ignoring a solid relationship with his friend at the coffee shop. I wrote the script with locations and actors in mind, making sure it would be easy to produce and shoot. Right. Script. Done. Easy.
With the script done, I was ready to move into preproduction. Assembling a crew, the team that would accompany me through the best of times and the worst of times, who would either be there for me or leave me hanging, was the next order of business. I was lucky. I knew a wonderful DP and found the most amazing assistant director I could have ever asked for. These two women were my rock on this production. In general I received a lot of help from great friends and family, anything and everything they could do, they did. For the other positions, I placed ads for crewmembers on a great website, www.newenglandfilm.com. This site allows film and video makers from all areas of the business to post for cast, crew, equipment, etc. (Check to see if there is a site that services your area.) On this same site I posted audition dates and locations for my cast.
One of the most valuable things I learned while in grad school and through producing my first movie was that, if you do nothing else on a production, perform thorough pre-production. As a first time producer/director, it is impossible to know everything you will need to be prepared yourself for in the coming production. Even when you are an experienced producer/director, it is impossible to predict everything that may go wrong or need special attention or indeed what may go right during your production process. Movies are living, breathing entities from the page to the screen. They are malleable and ever changing, from the words on the page straight through to the interpretation of each audience member. That’s what makes them so special.
Needless to say, I made a lot of mistakes. Big ones, like forgetting to feed my crew and making sure there was a restroom at each location. Small ones, like forgetting to smile and have a good time. Production was an exercise in creative problem solving. It wasn’t about insuring there were no problems; it was knowing there were many problems and figuring out how to solve them. Most people who have made movies say this is one of the best things about making movies because the solutions usually make the movie better for the problem. I agree, but I still found it nerve-racking on my first movie trying to figure out how I was going to get the footage to finish a key scene when I had five pages and three camera positions to shoot and a half hour left at my location.
The final step of the production process is editing. Editing can make or break a movie or fix or destroy it. By the time you hit the editing process on most independent movies, you are working with the footage you have. There are rarely reshoots unless one has the money and resources. Therefore the whole process is making magic out of what is there. During this process the moviemakers may find elements in the movie they didn’t see in earlier parts of the process. Magic can be made when that scene you couldn’t cover because you ran out of time needs to be cut and the story moves along smoother than before. Editing is knowing what to keep and what to lose and having the wisdom to admit it all.
That’s it. I made a movie. I can’t lie, was relieved when it was over. It was harrowing and amazing and eye opening and surreal. While I could tell you about every step in my process and everything that went wrong and right, I don’t necessarily thing that’s what’s important. Every production is different and every moviemaker does it their own way.
But wait, here’s the payoff. This is how making a movie is easier than making a pb&j; where your two magic ingredients come into play. In fact, you can just about have only these ingredients and your movie will get made. Your ingredients: passion and dedication. Nothing more and nothing less will get your movie made. If you are passionate about your movie and create a passionate and dedicated cast and crew, your movie can’t help but get made. When you have true passion and dedication everything else will fall into place. The minutia will get overlooked and mistakes will still get made, but so will your movie. Now go make yourself a sandwich.