GOING GLOBAL

I grew up in a small Kansas town, and when I returned home from film school it seemed the most logical place to begin making films.  Of course, people on the coasts thought I was nuts, but where else can you close down an entire street without having to worry about the police or any passers-by bothering you?

My first three features were filmed in Kansas.  It was only when I traveled to Macon, Georgia, for a film festival there, that I felt so comfortable in the town, I could see how easily it would be to make a film there.  So I did.  It felt like I’d graduated to the next level somehow.

After shooting in Macon, I decided to venture even further from the roost and shoot something in Palm Springs.  It was an exhilarating shoot.  Partly because it’s allegedly against the law to film anything inside Palm Springs city limits without having permission from the Powers That Be, permits, insurance, and all that.  So we just didn’t tell anyone, and made our movie anyway.

The next year, when we were headed to the Raindance Film Festival in London, I thought, well, if we’re all going to be there we might as well make a movie at the same time.  It was an absolute thrill.  Much like with the California shoot, London is beyond strict when it comes to permits, insurance, and permission from the Powers That Be, and so forth.  And, like our prior escapade, I decided to do it stealth and not say a word to anyone.  We got away with it.

I don’t do drugs.  And the rush that came with filming guerrilla style, essentially illegally, became so addictive I couldn’t stop!  After stealing London and Paris (for a quick scene at the Eiffel Tower), I set my sights on Hong Kong.  We filmed a week in LA and then flew to Hong Kong where we filmed an additional three weeks.  Hong Kong was more relaxed, and filmmaker-friendly than all the other cities, but it was still under-the-radar and more than once we filmed someplace we weren’t supposed to be.

How does one accomplish these things?  Well, it’s pretty easy, actually.  Google Earth and Google Maps makes it possible to “walk around” the streets and find locations, restaurants to eat in for lunch, alleyways to hold a staging area, and directions for subway travel times and so forth.  We didn’t need to hire any location scout or send someone to take pictures.  Google had already done all that for us!

It was pretty easy to post casting calls in both the UK and in Hong Kong, and all auditions were held via Skype, or on password protected YouTube or Vimeo pages.

In both places I had great help “on the ground” from the actors who would appear in the film.  We took advantage of shooting in areas they knew about, or perhaps places they lived.  In Hong Kong, our local producer even arranged for us to film the climactic fight sequence in a penthouse with terraces and more!

It might seem daunting at first to go to a far flung destination and shoot a movie without ever having been there before, but I’m here to say it can be done.  And, it is highly recommended.  The pure joy you’ll have coming home, knowing you made a movie in a foreign land… It’s something you can treasure forever.

TAKE THAT HAT OFF

To exist in The Industry where specialists reign, one must be the best they can be at one thing.  This is how it is in Hollywood, or at least major cities across the globe.  If you want to be a DP, or script supervisor, or line producer, or gaffer, and live in a major city, chances are the only way you’ll be able to do it for a living is by being a specialist.  This means that as you work and learn, you become very good at the one thing you know everything about.  And because of this, you’ll have no idea about anything else.

To exist in the rest of the world, to be an independent filmmaker, one must wear multiple hats and be many different things.  One day the line producer is also the gaffer, and maybe the next day the script supervisor is a camera assistant.  By having your crew wear multiple hats, it can save a lot of time and money.  Unless you’re making a studio movie, no one needs 30 people on their crew.  I don’t see any reason to have more than 10.  I prefer to keep that number under five, but on occasion I can see where eight or nine might be nice.

The trouble happens when you bring a specialist into a project designed for people to wear multiple hats.  The specialist will struggle with this, and the majority of the time will either be horrible to work with, or cause friction on the set.

Of course some specialists out there can do different things, but my advice is to make sure these things are talked about before you start filming.  Once I had a guy from Los Angeles on my crew who refused to do anything except the activities in his job title.  There could be a sudden downpour, people rushing to get the equipment covered or inside, and he’d just stand around and watch everybody.  Why didn’t he help out?  Well, he’d say, I’m a focus puller.  That’s not my job.

Yes, sometimes specialists can come off being total jerks.  Which is why I prefer to hire aspiring filmmakers who have little to no experience.

Aspiring filmmakers or interns tend to work harder and have more passion.  They are also moldable, agreeable, and excited about all the aspects of movie making.  When someone is excited about learning, and thrilled to experience different things, the environment is always enjoyable.

If you do end up hiring an intern or aspiring filmmaker with little experience, be sure to show them how to do different things.  Teach them.  One day they can work in the art department, another day they can work with the camera, and the next day in production sound.  This way, they will leave your shoot a bit more knowledgeable about filmmaking.  It’s also possible they’ll learn more on your shoot than they would have spending thousands of dollars on tuition at a film school.  They may not understand the value of their experience right then, but later on they’ll be very thankful.

Creating a movie’s opening or closing credit sequence is the only bad part about having a small crew that wears multiple hats.  It’s nearly impossible to do traditional rolling credits unless you list each of the jobs and assign names to them.  Problem is, with just a few people on your crew, you’ll end up seeing the same person’s name a dozen times.  And that’s a bit exhausting.  Be proud of your work, but do people really need to see that you directed it and edited it, art directed it, organized costumes, wrote it, produced it, choreographed it, DP-ed it, sketched the storyboards, etc.?  No, they just need to know you directed it.  So keep that in mind.