Rebel Without a Crew & Clerks….

The thing that crystalized me into making my own feature was reading the book “Rebel without a Crew” by Robert Rodriquez and the release of “Clerks” directed by Kevin Smith.  I had been trying to get a film together for some time, but I ran into resistance, and non-compliance by some.  So I decided that I had to go my own way and do my own thing.  Others were certainly doing it, and reading Rodriquez’s book was inspiring, and it set my soul on fire.  You would think that after reading so many books on filmmaking I would get inspired.  Rick Schmidt’s books certainly did that, but I wanted to make films of a different nature.  I was always drawn to B movies and I thought I could write something along those lines.  My favorite author was and still is Jim Thompson.  Thompson is the author of such novels as “The Killer inside me“, The Grifters“, “A Hell of a Women” and “The Getaway”.  These are all novels that were turned into films.  Some were successful, but to me it never came close to the true essence of a Thompson novel.  The closest was “The Getaway” with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw not the remake with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger.  Not that I totally disliked the film, but the original was a lot closer to the novel, and it was directed by Sam Peckinpah who got it right.  So I figured I try and write something like that, and it was no surprise that I loved the film “Blood Simple” by the Coen Brothers.  I looked for articles, and interviews when the film “Blood Simple” came out. It was the Coen Brothers I was trying to emulate, yet I did not have the budget they had, so of course my attention was drawn both to Rodriguez and Smith two creators I felt I had something in common with, and that was no money.

Can I say that I saw “Clerks” a total of three times in the theater.  I thought it was brilliant, and I reveled in seeing someone make a Black & white comedy.  Eat your heart out Woody Allen I thought.  I read everything there was on the making of “Clerks”.  I can thank “Moviemaker” magazine for their coverage of the film.  They even printed a budget for the film which again I looked at and studied.  What both movies had was that they were made by people with a passion for moviemaking, and a desire to get it done without any excuses.  It was then that I set off to write, plan and execute my own film.

With the knowledge I acquired I made my film “Deadly Obsessions“.  I started in 1997.  Shot it in 1998, and finished it in 2003.  Took 6 years approximately to finish the film while at the same time I worked at my day job.  When I finished I tried landing it somewhere at a festival, and I had no success.  I can cry “its not what you know, it’s who you know”, but I tried all the  festivals I could think of to no success.  Even got a book about film festivals.  I put it on “without a box” website, and still nothing.  I was a film lost in the wilderness of other films.  By now digital video had exploded and the internet was awash with DV clips, and shorts. Digital video changed the landscape of independent film.  Now there was a avalanche of films that were being submitted to festivals.  I was being lost in the shuffle, and I’m not making any excuses here.  My wife and I did our best to try and get it seen, but it became too expensive after awhile, and other priorities came first.  Number one being my family.

I still am very proud of the film and would like to release it someday online.  The film was available for a short while at Film Baby which closed awhile back.  I would need now to convert it to HD, which is possible, but costly.   I still have hopes that the film will be seen someday as it was meant to be seen, and I even have desires to do more.  What I learned in making my film was tremendous.  The people I met and the people I worked with will be forever etched in my mind.  I so want to use some of them again.  When you work with talented people you want to do it again.  I even believe that I could make a feature for even less then I original made “Deadly Obsessions” for.  But in order to do another feature it would have to be something that would be close to my heart.

All I can say is that if you’re going to go down this road make a movie you can live with for awhile because you’ll be working on it for sometime.  I’m sure you’ll do it on digital video since it’s easier and it looks fantastic, but you’ll still need to have a life, and the bills don’t stop coming so you’ll have the day job.  But pace yourself my friend, and get i done.  However it takes.  Francis Ford Coppola said once to an audience that:

To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, and some… just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form. That’s my opinion.

Francis Ford Coppola

I’ve always loved that quote, and it has fired up my very existence.  I see it in the young boys and girls I teach sometimes, or even in my own children.  There is so much more vision out there.  You are all better then Hollywood because you all have real stories to tell.  With todays technology all things are possible.  That neat little sci-fi epic you have in mind can be done.  I still have dreams and I’m much older now, but still the dreamer with a realist vision.  There is inspiration everywhere, and we all need to break down the walls that separate us and start building bridges.

What I want to do now is make more films.  Hopefully I will be able to.  In the meantime I’ll write, and keep yelling into the wind with the hope that someone else will hear.  Do you’re on thing and keep plugging away.  Enjoy your life, and meet others.  A rich life is a life with many friends and family.  Don’t let Hollywood dictate to you what a success is.  Find inspiration where you can, and don’t let the creative spark fade.


Low Budget filmmaking…


So what made me want to do a feature film?  Why would I want to go down that rabbit hole and what possessed me into thinking I could pull it off?  I guess it’s something I always wanted to do since studying film production at Brooklyn College.  I interned on several films, and I was familiar with working on a film set, so why put myself through that torture and invest my own money in such a risky endeavor?  The simple answer is that I thought I could do it faster, simpler, and cheaper then all the rest.  Plus I liked working with actors.  Seeing a page from a script come alive in front of you is a pretty cool feeling, and one that is immensely satisfying.  But before I go through the process I wanted to know all that there was about feature film making.  I read whatever books I could get my hands on, and I read every article I could read about the process.  I searched for interviews of filmmakers who had already done it, and I scanned each article for the how-to’s of filmmaking.  Equipment, editing platforms, crew compliment, and even production software and hardware were all information that I tried to learn about.   In this post I’ll try and go through some of the books I read and which ones gave me the best information on how to make my film.

I have to start with Rick Schmidt’s book “Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices“.   If you notice in the picture the book is an older version of the book that is out now.  I do have that one as well because it has some newer information about digital video, and right now that is the way you want to go, but for me it was this book that inspired me and made me think that I could make a film cheaply.  I received the book at a workshop that was taught by Rick Schmidt over at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington Long Island NY.   It was a workshop that was billed as creating a movie in 2-days.  Of course that was not the case, and to be fair to Mr. Schmidt it still was an eye opener, and I’m glad I participated in.  What we came out of that workshop with was several ideas for a film, and they all came from us in the workshop.  Mr. Schmidt videotaped our stories, and he put them together creating a sort of feature film featuring our groups stories staring us.  What I took away from the workshop was that their are stories everywhere, and that when creating a feature film try using a collaborative agreement.  That way all the participants have a stake in the film and you learn more from the group then just by yourself.   I just recently finished Schmidt’s autobiography entitled ” Twelve Dead Frogs & Other Stories“, and came away with a better understanding of his philosophy, and methods.   Schmidt actually spells it out on how you can make your own feature at a low cost in his book.  My film costed a bit more then the $10,000 or less, but it is Schmidt’s philosophy that I followed.  I saved a lot of $$$ doing my own editing, and finishing on film.  Since then I don’t think you need to shoot on film.  Everyone has access to video cameras, and there is no reason why you can’t make your own feature with them.  Just know what you need, and Schmidt’s latest book “Extreme DV at Used-Car Prices: How to Write, Direct, Shoot, Edit, and Produce a Digital Video Feature for LessThan $3,000“, and his “Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices: Second Revised Edition” are books that are worth reading.  Inspiring and useful info for the serious filmmaker who wants to make a film instead of just talking about making one.

The other book which I’ve read from cover to cover and several times as well was “Persistence of Vision: An impractical Guide to producing a feature film for under $30,000” by John Gaspard & Dale Newton.  This gets into the business end of filmmaking as well as the technical, but not as much as Schmidt’s book did.  It also does not cover video, so the book is a bit out of date, yet it has thoughts and ideas on how to be practical in low budget filmmaking.    Why is this book relevant now?  It’s because the people who wrote it are also feature filmmakers.  John Gaspard and Dale Newton created “Resident Alien“, and “Beyond Bob” two ultra-low-budget features each produced under 30K.  That was useful to me since I knew I had to get into some uncomfortable territory that was called “the film business”.  Things like incorporation, contracts, scheduling, and insurance were things I needed to get familiar with.  I wanted to use SAG and AFTRA actors so I needed to read up on the requirements on different low-budget agreements.  The book made it not as complicated as I thought.  It also has examples on how to be frugal on a low budget film.  Every dollar you save will be a dollar that you can put back into your film.  This book convinced me that I needed to go 16mm at the time because it was the professional way to do it.  

Of course Robert Rodriguez book “Rebel without a Crew” was a big influence, and is not one of the books in the photo above.  The book was a gift from my girlfriend of the time who is now my wife.  I’ll go into that particular book in another posting.  That book set me on fire.  Rodriguez made it simple, and he had some great advice for people like myself.  There is too much to cover in that book, so I’ll be writing about my reactions, and how it changed my idea’s about filmmaking and how it got my ass in gear later.   I will also be talking about the other books that helped me and fuel my desire to make a feature film.  More to come for sure.  Till then stay creative, and keep on creating.

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