indie filmmaking


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.

indie filmmaking


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.


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.

indie filmmaking, short film


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.


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.

Director of photography


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?