As I enter the 8th month of production on Arizona Nevada, I have been doing much soul searching and reflection. I have grown immensely as a filmmaker and as an artist these past few months. The most important lesson learned is that as director of the project, I must renew my excitement and commitment to seeing the vision fulfilled every day. We have faced many obstacles to seeing the project completed, including key actors stepping out of the project, lack of money, illnesses, deaths of loved ones and other professional opportunities presenting themselves. Actors and crew members look to the director for inspiration when they feel weary and tired. Despite these roadblocks, the Arizona Nevada family has stuck together and we have filmed a total of 22 scenes. The footage we have is beautiful and dynamic. As I plan how to finish the remaining 9 scenes that need to be produced, I took the time to write out 6 lessons that I have learned. By doing this, I hope to help other filmmakers who are working on their own projects. Also, I hope to apply this wisdom to our production as work on the final scenes.
1. EVERYTHING will be more money and time that I could ever predict. It is amazing how much the little things end up costing so much money. Extension cords, clothespins, touch up paint, brushes, light bulbs, tape, first aid supplies…it all adds up. I did not expect that catering and refreshments would take up so much of the film’s budget! Cast and crew are so much happier when they are not hungry!!!! I failed to provide food on a shoot that was expected to take no longer than two hours. Every military and commercial jet decided to fly over our set that night. It ended up taking 5 hours to film. By the end of the night everyone on the set was starving (some of us were quite cranky). I learned from previous film projects that I would never again tear down a set or close a shoot if I was not completely happy with what we had in the camera. This makes for longer and longer shoots. You only get one opportunity to get your vision actualized.
2. LIFE EVENTS will happen. Two months into production I became ill. The illness took about 3 months to overcome. This disrupted our production schedule of course. We had to rework our calendars and work around cast and crew who had gone onto other projects. The illness and the fact that I could not be productive caused me a great deal of stress and frustration. I was also very humbled when I saw that the film team never gave up on me or the project.
3. ONLINE CROWD RAISING is a full time job in itself. I naively attempted to begin production and coordinated an online fundraising campaign at the same time. In order for the online campaign to have been effective, I needed to dedicate all my energy and time to keep it exciting and dynamic each of the 30 days it lasted. I did not have the time or energy to work my full time day job, work on the film in the evening and update the online campaign every day. I started the campaign before shooting any footage thinking that our excitement and concept would be enough to move people to financially support the film. The nature of our surrealist/experimental film confused many who did not understand whether the film was a horror flick, thriller or drama. I should have waited to have a trailer of the film before attempting to do any crowd-raising. I will be forever grateful to the supporters who took a chance and did give us money and allowed us to shoot the first half of the film.
4. PRIDE, SHYNESS AND DIGNITY need to be put aside. I have tons of experience asking people to support causes and organizations that I believe in. Asking for financial support and favors of friends and family is very different. I have asked for so much to the point of embarrassment. And yet, I still have so much more to ask for (;)). There is no way this film (or any other film) can be made without the support of family, friends, groups and organizations. Supporters have written checks (I will always remember the time my barber gave me a free haircut so that I could put the cash towards the film), lent us their homes (some for days at a time), hosted parties, carried equipment and so much more! Whether it’s asking for a large amount of cash or for someone to lend their truck to move a set, an independent low budget filmmaker must ask, request, borrow, beg and cry to see their vision fulfilled.
5. PLANNING IS EVERYTHING. I have been on sets where I planned every minute detail and the shoot was fantastic. I have been on sets where I failed to make a shot list, storyboard or attempted to gather crew and props at the last minute and it made for a difficult shoot. It is easier to get help when you give people plenty of notice. It is not always possible (sometimes actors and locations became available at the last minute, for example) but when it is, making exhaustive lists, plans and sketches helps a great deal.
6. TELL EVERYONE! I cannot count the times when I have talked about the project and locations, sets, actors, props and even cash materialize! Having an online presence is helpful. People tell others about the project when they feel your excitement and commitment to the vision.