7. Be organized.
Before the first minute of filmmaking, you should have the entire shoot laid out in your head, every detail planned, every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed. You should have run this through a hundred times in your mind, looking for anything and everything that could go wrong. Because, and I promise you this, no matter how organized you are, within the first hour of the first day, there will be major fuck-up.
Fuck-ups are inevitable. But if everything else is under control, you can handle a problem or two or three. But if you have nothing really planned out, and the problems start. You’re screwed. Time for the job at Starbucks.
Christine Vachon in her brilliant book SHOOTING TO KILL (a must-read for anyone thinking about making a film) put it best when she said “An independent film is a disaster waiting to happen.” And you will have that disaster on an almost daily basis. But that’s okay. After a while they’ll roll off your shoulders. Freaking out solves nothing. You are the commander in chief. You need to show calm through the stormiest seas. Take a deep breath, and solve the problem. As a director that’s your most important job.
I’ve lost locations seconds before we were supposed to shoot because the person with the key who was letting us into the location overslept. What do you do? You figure out if you can live without the scene, and put the information contained in the scene somewhere else. Or you find a backup location pronto. Remember you have at least 8 or so people waiting around for you. Look brilliant by solving the problem. This is one of the things I know I do best. But you MUST stay calm. If you freak out, you in turn freak out everyone around you. Not a good way to start the day.
But back to planning. Think EVERYTHING through. As an example. On a film a few years back, I knew two of the leads had great sexual chemistry. But I also knew that it wouldn’t last, that soon their personalities would clash. So how did I handle that to make sure it looked as if they were madly in love on screen. I shot all of their love/sex scenes first. Day one they were making out, slamming each other against a wall, rolling around on a bed. It worked in every sense of the word. And good thing, because by the end of the shoot they were barely speaking to one another.
As director you need to think ALL of these things through. Your line producer/production manager/first AD/second AD/UPM/script supervisor person might tell you it makes more sense to shoot the script in this order, but you’ve been there since the start, you know these actors (through all those rehearsals), you know the script (you probably wrote it) and what you want from it. It’s your movie, you make the rules. If people don’t want to follow them, there’s the door.
That’s another point: if you want something done one way, and a certain crew member refuses, or keeps doing it their way instead. Show them the door. They obviously want to direct. Let them go direct their own film, instead of fucking up yours. I still to this day regret not firing my DP (or perhaps doing something worse) and most of his crew on YOU ARE ALONE. Thankfully we had a B-camera running most of the time, and B-cam operators who were listening to what I wanted, otherwise we would have been screwed. But I learned my lesson. Never again.
I also want to point out that there are times you need to loose it on set. One example: on one particular film the production design team kept fucking up some of the details. So, we were five minutes from lunch this last time it happened. And knew we’d still be shooting the scene after lunch. So…I…just…fucking…lost…it. Literally went off he deep end, stormed off the set, and went to my office. My co-producer and my DP came running in after me not understanding what just went on. They found me laughing. I explained I did it strictly to put certain crew members in their place, even told all of the actors so during lunch. (Most of them already knew.) But it worked. Suddenly the details were right. We went on filming. All was well.
But also make sure to listen to your cast and crew. I now work with great people now who all bring amazing talent and ideas to the table. But it took a while to assemble this crew. And there are certainly times when they see things in a way I don’t or can’t. And when they’re right, I’m the first to admit it, and give them credit for a great idea. And when I prefer to keep on track with what I had planned, they show no attitude, or go sulking in a corner. (Read my Billy Zane post from years back on how someone working on a film should never behave.) They understand I am the film’s director, and ultimately their job is to make my vision a reality.
Finding crew members you trust is a great feeling. After the crew debacle that was YOU ARE ALONE (you can hear the details on my director’s commentary, but in short how that film turned out so well is a testament to a very few great crew people and two very talented actors), I found a great DP in Adrian Correia. He knows film. He speaks film. A few amazing co-producers, Jan Radder and Dean Falcone, whom both go back years in my life, Jan to PSYCHOS IN LOVE and Dean to when our bands played together in 1980. Sarah Hajtol, who was my right arm during the making of COLOR ME OBSESSED, and who’s camera work on WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? is mind-blowingly perfect for the film, and whose posters and websites so rock. Taryn Welker who is quickly learning every aspect of what to do behind the scenes, from sound to running B-cam to script supervision. Plus there’s Jodi Baldwin, who’s done costumes for me twice and will again. Frank Loftus, who always has my back (and stopped me at least twice from killing someone on the You Are Alone set). Katie Dickey who is so great at research, and pretty much any job I toss her way. Cory Maffucci and Andrew Ross who are great PAs, ready to take on any job I hand them, and never complain. And of course, actress Lynn Mancinelli, who seemingly can read my mind, and make my thoughts better than they originally were. These are people I trust not only with my back, but with my film, which is akin to my life.
Find these people in your life. They will keep you sane AND organized. Work together for that common goal: getting your vision up on the screen.
Next up: The gear you need…and don’t need.