Someone said to me once that when she heard the song “The Authority Song” by John Mellencamp she thought of me. Back then I grinned thinking it a bit of a compliment, but if you listen to the lyrics its about someone fighting authority and losing. Not a favorable image to think of, but in my youth maybe that’s what I radiated. The rebel, and the guy who didn’t listen. I was only interested in film, and filmmaking.
So what the hell does this have to do with filmmaking? After all isn’t this a blog about filmmaking? I was thinking the other day that after I did my film I was the guy giving the orders and it was I that willed “Deadly Obsessions” into existence for better or for worse. Directing as well as producing are seats of authority, but in order to make a film worth watching you need to straddle a fine line between dictatorial directing and creating an ensemble film with the cooperation of you’re crew and cast.
If you’re a low budget film then you better start finding people who believe in your project as you do. I’ve worked on a number of low budget films while in school and then after graduation. The pay was always low, but the enthusiasm was high, and it was that enthusiasm that made the difference. When it came time to make my own film I decided to go with SAG and AFTRA actors because I wanted professionals. I paid for their services, though it was modest, and I believe this made a difference. When people see you making an effort to put in you’re own money into a project it makes a huge difference in crew and cast unity.
So what does this post have to do with filmmaking? In todays environment one can make his or her own film much easier now. Back in the stone age it was much harder. Equipment was bulky and heavy, and it took a small army to produce content. Digital cameras, NLE’s, and software programs such as Adobe’s After Effects and DaVinci Resolve make that possible. A director / producer can do a lot by themselves. Its possible now to actual spend you’re own hard earned money and get it on-screen, and see it instead of wasting it on what I call “the bureaucracy of filmmaking”. Bureaucracy of filmmaking? What is that, and is that even a term?
Long ago, but not so long ago filmmaking took a team of artisans to create a single film. I still don’t recommend you do everything yourself on your film. I did, and because I was extremely busy while shooting the film, and directing it, some things got away from me. I knew what I needed to complete the film, but details were lost. I did recover them by doing post shooting after the actors went home, but had I an extra producer, or a bigger camera crew I would have saved myself some headaches. The more you know how a film is put together the better off you are, and the smarter you’ll work. Through my experiences I actually learned from others and it certainly helped a lot.
One of those learning moments was how to direct actors. I’ve worked a number of lowly crew positions in my career and I saw first hand that if you had a dictatorial way of doing things you got sub-par performances. I realized that time and money was a constant enemy to filmmakers throughout the world, but what separates a “good” film from the “bad” film is how a director talks to his or her actors. I’ve always subscribed that the script is a blueprint of the film. It is not etched in stone. I’ve read scripts that were so-so, and when I saw the film it was nothing like the script I read. It’s because of the “happy accident” syndrome that happens a lot in filmmaking. When on set sometimes “happy little accidents” happen that propel the film a bit further, and make it work better. The actors, and the crew become involved, and you get better scenes, and a a far superior product. Of course the authority is “you” when you are the director of a film. All eyes are on you, and you will be asked a thousand questions from an assortment of people, but like a blade of grass you must bend at the whim of the production trade winds. It is the most intoxicating thing to happen when ideas come together and make a better product. That only happens when you have a team that you respect and are paying. I cannot stress enough the need for a collaborative work place. You will thank yourself long after the production has wrapped.
Now what of this bureaucracy of filmmaking? That’s when you’re cast and crew become too big. I sometimes laugh when I see a big Hollywood production come into a neighborhood with their vans, and winnebago’s. I understand when it is a action adventure film, and their are “movie stars” in the film, but in the independent world the bigger the crew the more money it will cost. I am not a BIG time filmmaker. I did my film with limited means, and limited time. If I could do it again I’d ask for more time, but I was cognitive on not wasting my actors time because they had other projects that would pay them more. So when it came down to creating a schedule I factored in locations and who was in the scene or scenes. I got it done in 11 days which was way too fast. Everything was a blur and I just wanted to finish the film. Not the best way to make your film.
If you know the process of filmmaking you’re a step ahead. My main concern was to get it in the can. An old filmmaking phrase when shooting on film. Nowadays you need to make sure you got it on disk, and that you backup your footage. Bigger crews waste time sometimes, and the one thing I saw the most that wasted time was looking at playback with cast & crew. Ultimately it is the director who says we’re moving on, and that’s where people need to defer to his or her authority. But caring about your actors goes a long way. You both need to be arbiter, therapist, counselor, and fellow artist to be a good director. Being dictatorial doesn’t work, and I have never seen it ever work on a film set. It causes animosity on the set, and the lack of respect for people can create friction between departments and individuals. Be open, be firm. You are the visionary of you’re film, and expressing that and showing everyone you’re plan may create the enthusiasm you need.
And if I may. Please pencil in some pre-production gathering with cast and crew . It will save you time on the set and squelch ideas that are not useful to the film. You can explain why the idea is not valid or maybe they can persuade you into a better idea, but talking about it on set is a waste of time and counter-productive. I had only an evening to confer with my cast at one of the locations we were filming in (our house). It went well, and I answered some of the questions the cast had on character, plot, and blocking. I should have had one more day of that, but the clock was ticking and when the actors arrived it started a financial countdown for me.
So authority goes so far. The other is just listening. If you find the right people for your project you’ll want to do the best work that you can. The best part of the filmmaking experience is the collaborative feeling you get when things present themselves unexpectedly and the scene or film gets better then the the script. That is creatively exhilarating and the film will benefit from that.