The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Hero Makes a movie #4: The Road of Trials

 Here, you look at the overall plan, model the successes in your field (and if there is no one in your chosen field who has ever succeeded ethically, I kinda have to suspect you’re in the wrong field.  Hell, there’ve probably been ethical hit men and Mafia dons, you know?), and extract their behaviors, beliefs, and emotions.  What do I want?  A feature film.    Do people make their own features?  Yes.   Can shorts act as a stepping stone?   You bet.   What if I go the studio route eventually?  Well…we’ve tried that.   Had movies in development for years and years, made tons of money often with no ultimate result.  Could making a short help me here? 

The theory is…yes.  The microcosm of making and marketing a short film forces me out of my comfort zone, and will teach me every basic part of making a 200 million dollar movie, just as a short story teaches you every basic skill necessary to write a 200k novel.  So…where could I learn the basic pieces I needed?  Well…there’s a guy named Dov Simens who teaches what he calls the “Two-Day Film School” that a number of successful film makers swear by.   I’ve got his material, and studied it.  He seriously broke it down into bite-size component parts, maybe 20 of them.  Clearly, each of the 20 steps could be an entire semester, or even year of study.   But however lightly he touched upon them, they were the links in the chain necessary to take a film from an idea to a finished product (for instance, he covers screen writing in a half hour!)  But now I knew what I didn’t know.  And it suggested the path ahead.

Here is where I’ll take my VERY limited experience and make a recommendation: don’t invest more than 500 dollars of your own money, unless you don’t care about earning it back.   The truth is that you can make a film for that, if you carefully design your script as a one-act play, rehearse the actors thoroughly, and then use Hi-Def to tape it on an existing set.  If your script is powerful, and sucks people in, and your actors sell it, the audience will suspend their disbelief and enter the emotional world of your piece.   You will then be able to use this to stair-step your way to a bigger project…at no more than one order of magnitude per step.

If your idea is larger, then use crowdfunding of some kind to raise your capital.  If you cannot, it means that you either have no sales ability, or your idea is not salable.  Better to find this out NOW, than after you’ve mortgaged your house, yes?

One of the biggest mistakes I see is impatience.  People don’t write and SELL short stories before they go for novels.  They put everything they have into a single project that will bankrupt them if they fail.   Almost anyone can walk up a flight of stairs to a 10 foot landing.   There may be a handful of human beings on the planet who can  jump that high.  This is “talent”, the ability to take more component steps, absorb more lessons at greater speed.   But that’s the Hare approach.  The Tortoise works just fine.   Don’t rush.   You will learn so much at each stage, that there is simply no logical down-side to starting small and building up.

The road of trials.  Simply put, you study the lives of people who have accomplished what you want.    Preferably, three people, so that you can identify the “critical path” they took, and exclude as many idiosyncratic behaviors as possible.    Look at their belief systems (“I have the ability!  Art is important!”), their mental syntax (raise most of the money from the community you hope to serve.    Enroll others  in the project by appealing to their hopes and dreams.  Make honest assessment of your abilities, and find others who have the missing pieces.  Don’t bite off more than you can chew.   Budget 10% more time and money for EVERYTHING.) and use of physiology (get ready for 18-20 hour days if you want to direct. Apply butt to chair and get that script done.  Don’t have sugary foods on your set.  Have a masseuse on-set.    Have a stress-coping mechanism in place BEFORE the stress hits) and so forth.

Now…look honestly and without mercy at your current abilities.   Have you published?  Produced anything?  No?  Then start at the very lowest level and work your way up. Give yourself a chance to learn.  

Subtract your current skill and resource set from the skill and resource set necessary to accomplish your goal (as measured by the “critical path.”)   In other words, what skills do you need?  Do you have the positive beliefs necessary to power you past the “Dark Night of the Soul”?  Trust me: IT WILL COME.  There is no way around it.  This is when and where you will find out who you are.  Not when you are flush in the excitement of it all, dreaming in your living room, but on the set, at 1 in the morning, running out of time and money and your crew about to revolt.  THAT is when you will learn who you are. 

The road of trials.  The pre-production, production, and post-production.  Study those who have accomplished it.   I believe Dov Simens has his entire basic book on his web site, one chapter at a time, FOR FREE.  If you’ve never done this, and you don’t take the time to study what he’s saying…you are probably shooting yourself in the foot.

Get moving.   My VERY incomplete knowledge should be the barest of starting points.  Get out there and learn.   And then…divide the work to be done into chunks and handle those chunks a bit at a time.

How do you eat an elephant?  One forkful at a time.   Start eating.



Prof. Godel Fishbreath, Otter said...

I love puns.
So you are talking about making a movie, and use the phrase 'Shooting your self in the foot.' Brings to mind a badly aimed camera.
Ok my humor needs are light.

Anyway, thanks for this piece of the journey.

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