indie filmmaking

INDIE MARTIAL ARTS FLICK ‘DOG’ GETS TWO NEW TRAILERS

Good friend and fellow director Robin Schmidt aka EL SKID has been banging on about short film distribution over on NoFilmschool this week. In the piece he talks about his short film DOG, 40 mins of mayhem and destruction and he’s finally seen fit to actually release some trailers so we can see wtf he was actually talking about.

So, enjoy the mayhem: BRUTAL and TENDER.

DOG official Trailer ‘BRUTAL’ from SUPER MASSIVE on Vimeo.

DOG official Trailer ‘TENDER’ from SUPER MASSIVE on Vimeo.

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indie filmmaking

THE FEAR

After last week’s pointedly inflammatory ‘rant’, (when measured but pointed jabs count as rants what do we call true invective these days? Fuck knows.), here’s something closer to home.

THE FEAR.

What is the fear exactly?

It happens when you reach set for the first time on a big job. It happens when you first turnover. It happens when you call wrap.

It is the gaping chasm between knowing what you wanted to deliver and what you now believe is the likely end result. It’s the gaping chasm between the architectural wonder your mind sketched miraculously into your imagination and the fragile house of cards production’s real world engineering predicts must fail.

Here lurks the fear.

Robert McKee, he of STORY fame, barks relentlessly about the gap between expectation and result in his three day seminar. It is the fundamental tension at the heart of the dramatic experience. It is also the fundamental tension at the heart of the filmmaking experience.

If you have never experienced the fear then you are not a good filmmaker. Filmmaking demands knowledge, demands understanding, demands intellect. It is impossible to free yourself from the fear if you have developed these.

Some directors like to plan everything in advance, storyboard relentlessly, tie down every unknown, every variable, to a glittering tapestry. I would argue that their work can sometimes feel stale and unspontaneous. But that is a matter of taste. Personally I like to feel as if I’ve built a vast high dive platform. It takes a lot of effort to get up there but once up there you have to take a leap. How artfully and creatively you return to the ground is about your ability to manage the Fear.

This year, and only this year, I’ve learned to truly embrace it. To know that the Fear is my friend. The Fear is where my best work is to be found. Staring down problems and using them as creative spurs. I like the Fear because when I feel it I know I’m taking risks, I’m doing things where there is no best practice, there is no easy answer and that means I can make it entirely mine.

All I see on Vimeo is copycat filmmaking these days. Somewhere in oversupplying tutorials, reviews, blogs and how-tos we’ve ripped away the dangerous, hideous, self-destructive furnace of unknowing that resides in the Fear. It’s just too easy to get an identikit parrot ready supply of just-like him/her. Switch it off. Switch it all fucking off.

Take away the Fear and we take away originality, honesty and quality.

Embrace that chill-fingered wraith for he is your friend and when you dance the tango of first cuts, audience screenings and intransigent cast, remember that if you really are as good as you think you are, those moments will drive you to greater exploits than you have ever known.

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indie filmmaking, short film

SHORT FILMS ARE FUCKED

What, I hear you say? How can that possibly be? So many of us are making them now, it’s a thriving art form, just look at Vimeo!

Right. Name one great short film. Go on.

Got one?

Okay, name another one.

See?

For me personally, my favourite is by the Diamond Dogs, amazing music video directors who won VM Shorts a long while back with the Black Hole. Stunningly simple, but perfect. That was when I thought that VM Shorts was a great comp. Subsequent winners have tempered my appreciation of it however. Since then, I could possibly name Mustapha Kseibati’s Painkiller as one to watch. I liked the winner of the Sci-fi London 48 hour film challenge a year back.  Pitch Black Heist is another one that’s definitely worth seeing.

There is no real meaningful platform for short fiction content. Vimeo is great but it’s not heavily curated. There’s also this overwhelming sense that shorts are just a rite of passage, a quickly forgotten calling card exercise on the way to feature films. No-one really gives a shit.

Let me make this clear. I don’t hate shorts. Not at all. I’ve made plenty. They’re invaluable for learning filmmaking in a relatively risk free environment. There’s a vast amount about making features that you simply can’t learn from doing them but there’s not much to be done about that. And most won’t ever get there. What should they do then, just give up?

My gripe is that shorts are basically worthless. There’s no value attached to them. This is made worse by the instant access, always on, digital culture of online distribution. Sure, go and watch it whenever you want. Admittedly this is better than the situation where, if you missed a film at a festival, you didn’t see at all.

What we need is a rethink about the way we value our work. Shorts are important. They should be treasured. They should not be available at all hours to all people whenever. And they should be valued not by themselves but in the context of a filmmakers entire oeuvre. No-one does this.

So, fuckwit, do something about it then, I hear you say.

Well, I have. I’ve written a proposal for an entirely different way of thinking about our work, the audience that watches it, how they watch it and how valuable it is. It will be published soon on a popular blog.

Till then, consider this – why bother making shorts at all? If a funding scheme will grant you at best £5k, why not crowdfund £10k more and just shoot a feature. Should we even care about shorts?

My feeling is absolutely. We short change ourselves by making them so often and to such a mediocre standard, flooding the web with our crap.

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Director of photography

MISREPRESENTATION: THE ART OF BULLSHIT

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that an industry built on the manipulation of truth and perception should be so utterly infested with bullshit artists.

And yet.

It never fails to amaze me how often and how badly so many misrepresent themselves.

It starts with little things like:

We’re looking for someone to establish a long-term relationship with

Which of course is code for:

We don’t have any contacts yet

But it ends with the bald-faced lies of such phrases as ‘Director of Photography’ and the fantasy world of showreels.

Let’s take that penultimate one, Director of Photography.

If you have bought a DSLR in the last few years, with the express intention of using it to shoot video, then no doubt it’s occurred to you to wonder what your correct job description should be. Hmm, you do what it appears that Directors of Photography like Deakins, Cronenweth et al do. You understand depth of field. You feel important and DOP sounds like an important role. One you want. Bad.

But why?

Because nowhere breeds a more impatient entitlement snatching horde of savagely talentless bullshitters than showbiz. You want to be the main event from the get go. X did it early so why can’t you?

Trade crafts have traditionally been taught through apprenticeships. You serve your time at the bootscrape end of the scullery before earning your stripes. Along the way you learn respect. You learn best practice. You learn what the job actually entails. Apprenticeships are good. There is nothing demeaning or wrong in serving one.

Some people get this, most don’t. The best people I’ve ever worked with were deeply aware of how far they still needed to go. I don’t give a shit about humility. You can be as arrogant as you like around me as long as you have the chops to back it up. I’ve been around the block many times now and you will not pull the wool over my eyes. So don’t try.

And yet, they always do.

The wonderful thing is, we do not need to police this. The ‘DOP’ who turns up and delivers unuseable shit in the edit will never be rehired. Referrals are the make all and break all of this industry and you will not be referred. Are you a DOP or are you in fact a lighting cameraman? What’s the difference I hear you ask. The fact you need to ask just proves my point.

The point is this.

Bullshit will get you nowhere in the long run. In the fierce heat of proper production there really is nowhere to hide. You will be found out and you will be sacked.

So stop kidding yourself, spend a good five or six years being a nobody, being a junior, being rubbish. There’s no dishonour in that. This shit is hard and it takes time.

And stop calling yourself a DOP because, I guarantee, you probably aren’t anything of the sort. If the supermarket sold you a can of beans and inside it was fish guts that spilled all over your carpet and ruined it, what would you do? Sue those fuckers?

Exactly.

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indie filmmaking

ARE WE MAKING FILMMAKING TOO EASY?

Been wrestling with something for a long time now. Why do I hate camera blog and vimeo culture so much? It’s not Vimeo’s fault, nor is it the poor blogger’s fault. Communities huddle round the cosy warmth provided by certainties, rules and public forums. Film communities are no different. And yet, all of this sits painfully at odds with my own experiences of late.

My life consists of putting bread on the table as a freelancer, primarily in post at the moment (straightest line between two points) while I wrestle with the intricacies of two very large drama projects on the side. The drama projects are sucking everything I’ve got which is why it’s good my bread and butter work requires so very little of my brain power.

What’s more important to me?

Obviously the drama.

But why?

Because, after years of educating myself, of trying stuff, of belligerently devoting far too much good energy to projects that don’t deserve it, I just can’t be bothered anymore. Drama is the only production work where I can go hell for leather, leave nothing in the ring, and feel good about it. If I give that level of effort to anything else I just feel like a prostitute. Drama is worth it, it pays you back, and fuck me is it hard.

So, why does everyone insist on shouting to the rooftops how easy it all is?

It’s never been easier to self-distribute, to find an audience, to shoot good-looking footage, to do everything. It’s fucking easy, yeah!

The sad thing is, in so many ways, that’s right.

If you grew up shooting on a PD150 before youtube existed when Final Cut was version 1 in MacOS9 then life was a bitch. But now it’s not. Want to know how to do something, google it, nab a tutorial, buy a DSLR. Boom. Done. You’re a filmmaker.

I just worry that we’ve made it all too fucking easy now. Where’s the endeavour, where’s the struggle? How many of you reading this can honestly say you leave it all in the ring?

Of course, making films automatically makes you a filmmaker, of course it does… does it fuck…. As I’ve got older, I’ve developed an increasingly healthy respect for the craft. Reaching up to the lofty heights where work is breathtakingly good requires the same commitment and ethic displayed by today’s tennis players. Watching Murray win Wimbledon or Nadal protect his knees by simply demolishing opponents in double quick time you understand that what they do is supremely difficult and they’ve earned the right to be there.

By laying all the secrets out in the open, by blogging about everything, by making everything cheaper, we’ve made the task of becoming really good valueless. And that’s sad. Because in the rareified world of features there’s nowhere to hide and you will get eaten alive. Very few of us make the step up into feature films. I have done and it’s everything I wanted it to be and much much more. But if you’re thinking that you can just go out there and shoot a feature film because filmmaking’s just so damn easy then you do a massive disservice to all those who have put the time in, who’s mastered what they do and continue to learn.

So, buy some books, be humble, step away from the blogs for a week or two and just figure stuff out on your own for a change.

That fucking weird idea that sits like a harpie at the edge of your consciousness. That’s the one you should explore. Not some lame ass shots of Skywalker Ranch.

You know who I’m talking about.

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indie filmmaking

DIRECTOR? THEN BE THE MUTHERF*&ING BOSS.

So, yesterday we wrapped on a monstrous action short I wrote, directed and co-produced with the lead actor. Somehow in the middle of the afternoon shit went south without me realising. We were shooting fights and these are brutal, difficult, slow and hard to manage because you’re not just dealing with telling a story you also have to consider exactly how believable your impacts are.

Cue: conflict.

We’re all mates and it was really just a little bit of handbags but I walked off set pissed off. Communication broke down somewhere along the line but that’s because we never set up a chain of command for how instructions and feedback were delivered.

That’s besides the point.

The point is this. When you’re the director of a film, the success of the film rests on your shoulders, squarely, unfairly perhaps, but it’s all on you. If you’ve done your homework then you have all the pieces in your head, in diagrams, on your iPad. Your strategies are flexible enough to deal with the inevitable challenges production always throws at you.

You, and you alone, have done the homework. You, and you alone, squat at the top of an enormous heaving pile of egos and corner-cutters clutching tight to the bigger picture. That’s a fucking lonely place to be. And those beneath you attack relentlessly.  Everyone sees their piece of the puzzle in isolation and they fight, rightly for what they think is right. And they fight hard. But, none of them have the bigger picture. Nor will they ever have the bigger picture, even after the film is finished.

You can tell them everything but they won’t remember and they won’t care enough to keep it all there. This is why directing films is so insanely hard. Everyone is constantly doing their best to support you while what they’re actually doing is inadvertently trying to undermine you.

It requires a lot of bullheadedness. There is only one expert in your film and you’d better fucking make sure it’s you or you’re dead.

Forget about being friends. Who gives a fuck? When you’re sitting in the edit suite tearing your hair out because your lead actor talked you out of that extra take because they were sure they got it and you were good mates. Then. You’ll retreat into a small space of dreadful awful regret. Remember, it’s all on you.

You’re not there to be popular. I don’t give a shit about being friends with people anymore. I enjoy working with the people I work with, but the work is the thing now. We shoot, we challenge ourselves and we suffer a little, we suffer a lot. And we push for the best.

So. You have to be a fucking leader. You have to set the pace. You have to be the expert and you have to repel all those who want to rip that away from you.

So, when my stunt guy tells me what shot I’m actually going to use and that what I’m shooting is going to look shit. Well, he can fuck off. Because he’s not making the film. I am. If it’s shit, then that’s on me. But, after 5 days already shot, hundreds of hours spent in the company of the material and a cut that has been universally applauded, I think I’ve earned the right to dig my heels in.

I know what I’m doing. Do you?

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indie filmmaking

5 Mistakes Young Directors Make

Back when I was a fresh tutti frutti blogarista I used to scour the numbers religiously. Add a numeral to your title and witness a spike in your page views. It’s why Eliot Grove runs such a successful site at Raindance. He knows. He actually also writes really short concise excellent pithy posts and is a mildly unsung champion of UK independent film, but he understands. Yes. He does. Salute.

So, here’s me juicing my blog. Fuck it.

1. Social Media success is no marker for directing ability. 

Many’s the fool who blindly follows the Blooms and Laforets, tirelessly tweaking the social media sphere. Cosying up to those with the numbers, generating interest, only to follow up with a gusset ruining ejective fricative mess. Really good directors are so obsessed with the product that they simply avoid all that shit. What do they know? That good will out. That when something is genuinely great it will rise to the top. So, beware that shouting voice in the social mediasphere that wants all to know how hard it’s worked, how many people it’s pulled in. No. Beware the quiet ones that don’t shout. They’ll be winning awards while you wonder where it all went wrong. You just want the fame that comes with being good at something. Fuck off and be a publicist.

2. You don’t know shit about writing.

You are a director. Wow. Yeah, amazing! Maybe you know someone with a 5D? Now they’re a cinematographer and you’re going to rule the world together. Who’s going to write the story you’re going to rule with? Um… Yeah, you’ll do it! Wow, you turned a 10 page script out in a couple of hours. Let’s go shoot! Everyone and his dog faced shit partner bleat about story being everything but they have no idea what story actually is. When you’re young you don’t know shit about writing unless you’re incredibly talented. That shit is about lines on your soul, it’s about experience. A script on the page is just words and means nothing till it’s shot, till it’s edited, till it’s re-edited, rediscovered, then reworked to create the final piece. Young directors think they can just write shit and it’s the directing they’re really focussing on. Bollocks. You do not know anything about writing. And you won’t till you have shot a ton of shit and seen the worthless mirages of your dreams dissolve into nothing upon the sands of real production.

3. You won an award? Who cares?

It would appear that every filmmaker these days is an award-winning filmmaker. It’s like electric windows in cars. It used to mean something but now you’d be deeply disappointed if even the very bottom of the range didn’t come with it. BAFTA, OSCAR, Clermont Ferrand, Venice, Berlin, Cannes, and a few others. That’s what anyone cares about. The Norfolk farmers filmmaking 60 second iPhone single shot camel birthing award you won. Get fucking real. One glance at your reel and anyone worth their salt will see you for the fraud that you are. Get real.

4. Moving around a lot is not directing

Many’s the young director that believes moving around and being really visible makes them a director. We’re talking about shoots of course. Actually, so much of your work is done before and after your shoot that the shoot itself should be both the end and the beginning of two stages of discovery. In that moment your energy is best disposed of by thinking. Wear yourself out by acting like a producer, being everywhere, being the life and soul of the party and you’ll fuck it up. You don’t have to be popular, you don’t have to be everyone’s friend, you don’t have to be the grip’s best friend and keeping the set on a high. No. You have to make decisions. And the right ones. Stop trying to be popular, because directors are rarely the most popular people. If you want to be popular be a runner. Everyone loves them.

5. Don’t be in such a fucking hurry

A while back I read an article about the quarter life crisis. Twenty year olds, perplexed and intimidated by the early rampant success of their peers such as Justin Timberlake, question their own meagre achievements in their early twenties and conclude they must be horribly deficient. Fuck me. Filmmaking is a trade craft like any other. You must serve an apprenticeship. You must put some miles on the clock. If success comes early to directors it is in fact incredibly rare for them to go on to prolonged careers. A slow steady progression is much more the norm. Paul Thomas Anderson is a notable exception but then he is notably exceptional. Similarly Wes Anderson. Why be in such a hurry to shoot a feature? Spend time building relationships with young production designers, cinematographers, actors, writers and others who all want to work like you do. Take those relationships with you and you will flourish. But don’t kid yourself that at 25 you’re going to make an amazing feature film. You most likely won’t. And that’s okay too. Take your time. For God’s sake.

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