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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indie filmmaking

A FIELD IN ENGLAND: DID IT WORK?

So, big news, a bold English director who shoots the films he wants to, on his own terms, released another film last week.

Ben Wheatley is an interesting guy. He’s worked bastard hard to carve out a position for himself where he can shoot without prejudice, backed by actors who get it.

His films are not exactly mainstream but so what?

It all boils down to the notion of success.

For a director, the next job is the definition of success. Sure, win a few awards and that’s nice, but when the dust settles what truly defines success is the pickup, it’s the speed with which you launch into your next project.

Many’s the director who’s announced themselves with a bang only to falter on their sophomore effort.

Ben Wheatley is not one of these. He’s bounded confidently from one mad film to the next completely confident in his method and completely confident that his films will be taken seriously, on their own merit because they are so uniquely wrapped around his own peculiar vision.

He doesn’t have much money but, perversely, that gives him total control.

In many ways it’s reminiscent of Roger Corman in the sixties. He completely rewrote the rulebook on successful filmmaking. Shoot fast, shoot cheap, minimise risk and jump quickly onto the next project.

With A Field In England Wheatley launched the film simultaneously in cinemas, on Film 4 and on VOD. This has been heavily covered already in national press so Google it if you must.

This strategy was called ‘risky’. Bollocks. It wasn’t risky at all. Smart. Yes. Risky. Not at all.

A Field in England is not a mainstream film. It’s not going to woo the Fast and Furious demographic. It has limited commercial appeal and would have been destined to be one of those strange directors’ passion pieces that you pick up for £2 on amazon because you feel you ought to watch it. Let’s be honest.

By going ballsy on distribution he ensured people were talking about it. He ensured there was a crucial opportunity to tip people from ‘probably won’t’ to ‘why not’ in their decision over whether to watch it.

So, did it work?

Well, I wouldn’t go and see it in the cinema. I probably wouldn’t have paid £2 for it on Amazon. I have a young family and my options to commit to a film are soooooo limited these days I just can’t stomache anything avant garde when I do carve out 90 mins spare. I did, however, watch A Field In England on Film4 on Friday night.

So, yes, it did work. They managed to persuade a knackered, jaded, filmmaker father to sit down and watch it.

I just felt I’d regret it if I didn’t.

It doesn’t matter what I thought of the film. What matters is that the filmmaker won. The filmmaker can still win.

And that’s great fucking news.

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indie filmmaking

DRAMA IS THE PREMIER LEAGUE

There’s a lot of fucking filmmakers around these days. Yeah, I’ve got a DSLR, I’m a filmmaker.

Wank.

Most people don’t make films at all. They make videos and that’s no slight at all. I shot music videos for a long old time. I never called them films. That makes you sound like a knob. Similarly, commercials. No-one calls them films. That doesn’t mean there’s no craft in them, far from it. It’s just respectful to the genre of actual film.

Now, you might just think this is a question of semantics, but if you throw that at me I’ll turn around and walk away. I won’t even bother to argue.

Why? Because anyone who uses the word ‘semantics’ in an argument about film can fuck off.

Film implies drama. Drama isn’t a genre, it’s the name for the conflict that defines the very heart of storytelling. I’ve heard people say “No, I’m not shooting a drama, I’m shooting an action film.”

Then you have no understanding of story and your film will be shit.

Drama is the premier league of production. It’s where the best talent is to be found. It’s by far the hardest type of production to master and excel at and, for me, it is by far the most rewarding.

Shoot long form drama (could be TV, could be a feature, could be a half hour short) and I will gladly call you a filmmaker, no matter how crap your film is.

Anyone who steps into the breach, puts their balls on the line and shoots long form drama is worthy of respect because it’s fucking hard.

I’ll cover in a future post why it’s so hard. But, I can turn up to most jobs with my eyes closed and do a better job than the majority of DSLR ‘filmmakers’ out there in a fraction of the time because what they’re producing is facile.

You are not a filmmaker because you film shit. You can call yourself that if you want but no-one’s going to take you seriously.

I don’t call myself a filmmaker. I’m a director. That’s enough.

Stop devaluing the craft of real filmmaking. Stop churning out mediocre, piss poor, empty works of digital blandness and look further. A £1k 50mm 1.2 doesn’t give you the right to shoot shit.

PS You may wonder where I stand on documentaries. Feature docs can be absolutely incredible. Compelling beyond most fiction. It’s a different beast and the burden falls much more squarely on the shoulders of the director. Are those guys filmmakers. You bet your ass they are. Have I contradicted myself? Not really.

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