We had the world premiere of my latest film “Red Hand,” which I wrote and directed, at the Orpheum Theatre in Wichita on Nov. 4. It was a fantastic night – the vibe was energetic and the crowd enthusiastic. It was a thrill to be able to show my crew’s hard work – we had been working on the film for more than a year (which is pretty typical).
Tallgrass Film Festival programmer Nick Pope led a lively Q&A after the film. One of the questions was “what advice do I have for aspiring filmmakers trying to get their films made?”
There is no easy answer. But “Red Hand” is my fourth feature made right here in Wichita with an all-local cast and crew, so I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here is what I can share:
1. Surround yourself with great people who work hard. Filmmaking is a team sport, and it takes a lot of bodies to get it done. A lot of people offer to help out on set, then discover that it’s actually a lot of work and disappear faster than you can say “Cut!”
I am lucky enough to have a stellar, hardcore crew willing to jump off a bridge with me time and again. There are others out there. Find them. But it’s important to surround yourself with positive energy and no prima donnas.
2. Be in love with your story. It all has to start with a rock-solid script and story that you are totally committed to.
But know your limitations. I usually try to write my script knowing what locations, actors and props I can have access to. For instance, my movies aren’t set in space and there are no car explosions (at least, intentionally).
But whatever story you’re telling, you have to whole-heartedly believe in it. Because if you don’t, no one else will.
3. Keep it cheap. My movies also don’t have elaborate Hollywood-sized budgets – or any budget, really. But we do a lot with very little. My movies certainly look bigger than they are, but that comes with some frugality and planning.
The biggest expense on my films is craft service, feeding the cast and crew. Some producers will tell you tricks to pull so you don’t have to do that (like being “creative” with your call times), but I want to feed my crew. Everyone is pulling triple duty on 18-hour days. They’re there because they believe in me and my movie. So, yes, I want to nourish them.
I’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. I’ve pulled moonlighting shifts bartending. I know some who have donated plasma. I basically make movies instead of driving nice cars. That’s my artistic choice.
If yours it to make a movie, then you’ll figure out a way. But don’t wait for someone to drop a large bag of money in your lap, because it’s not going to happen. But don’t let that stop you.
4. Get experience. Start with short films. Shoot them with your phone. Watch movies, read scripts. Get used to running a set.
And form a solid crew. Most importantly, pay attention to audio. A dedicated, knowledgeable audio person on your film is just as important as the cinematographer. Even big Hollywood productions struggle with audio, because no place is ever quiet enough.
We had audio problems and are still addressing them. But many people regard sound as an after-thought and it absolutely is not.
5. Do it. Set a date, work backwards from there. No one is ever, ever “ready.” Even big Hollywood productions scramble at the last minute. But this is the biggest piece of advice I can offer: Just do it.
But be flexible, because whatever can go wrong, will. It won’t be easy, but when it’s all over, you’ll have a movie to show for all your hard work.
Like one of my director heroes, Robert Rodriguez, said at the end of his book “Rebel Without a Crew”: “You make the movie. I’ll bring the popcorn.”