As I’ve said earlier in my posts I’ve read a lot of inspiring books on the subject of filmmaking. “The Unkindest Cut” by Joe Queenan is a book about how NOT to make a movie. The book made me think and gave me second thoughts about not doing a film then I would likely admit to. The book is about the making of the film “Twelve Steps to Death”. I have not seen the movie and cannot find it anywhere, but Queenan also includes the script to the film, and if the movie is anything like the script there may be good reason why Queenan never released it to the general public. Like myself Queenan was interested in the making a $7,000 film like Robert Rodriguez’s film “El Mariachi“. Yet I found the book inspiring as well. Is it even possible to get something out of a failed attempt of making a movie? I have to say yes, and in fact I kind of identify with Queenan’s journey into moviemaking. Queenan’s skill at writing and describing his adventures in making this film shows how maddening the process can be, and how sometimes so demoralizing it can get. To Queenan’s credit he finished the movie and it even won an award in a local film festival up in Tarrytown New York where the author resides. Queenan’s film shows us that it is an up hill battle for a filmmaker not only to get his or her film made, but to actually get it seen. I would eventually hit that brick wall as well, but unlike Queenan’s my film did not get seen by the general public because of lack of money for entries to film festivals, and lack of knowing influential people. It is the old adage “its’ not what you know, it’s who you know that get’s you seen.
The book even contains a budget for the film. On page 55 there is a summary of the budget of the film. Seeing the budget made it simple for me, but where Queenan goes wrong I figured I do my best to keep it professional. I didn’t use friends and acquaintances to be in my movie. After years of doing that in my super 8 backyard epics I hired professionals, and people with similar passions like myself. I used SAG and AFTRA actors, and some classmates from my alma mata (Brooklyn College). In order to show that I was serious about doing a film I wanted to pay people who would invest their time in making my movie. In essence it was put up or shut-up. If you know some professionals thats great, but offer them something. If you don’t you’re just exploiting them, and you’re setting yourself up for heartache when they have to leave your production for actual paid work. You would be surprised how cheap you can get people to work in your movie as long as you do it quick and fast. I had scheduled my film to be shot over 12 days, which turned out to be 11 days. I had to hit benchmarks each day, to make sure that I completed my film, and I did. The key piece of advice I have is once you start filming don’t stop. I had several hiccups which threatened my film. One was technical, which we resolved partly on-location, and partly in post. The other was getting in trouble with the some of the local residents. That in itself is a story for another day, but I can say I met the problem head on and succeeded. You cannot stop. If you stop you’ll have a harder time getting everyone together again and a project can fall apart easily. So don’t stop.
Queenan’s book is well written and humorous at times . He shows you the trails and tribulations one needs to go through in order to make a film. Warts and all. It showed me what NOT to do. Making a movie is not for the skittish, and there can be a lot of hills and valleys to cross, but if you have very little resources this is a good book to read. I learned to keep it professional in my case. It’s also a funny book and has some valuable tips on keeping it within budget. If you can find it I highly recommend the book.