This is a time of shrinking resources. Even big Hollywood studio projects have to reach far and wide for the final funding on their hundred-million-dollar films.
So what can one struggling filmmaker do?
Make friends, lots of them.
There are aspiring actors, musicians and even producers all around you. Go out, meet people, find the ones you think you could imagine working with. Again and again. The hit debut is a pipe dream. The reason we read (and hear) so much about it when it happens is because it is so rare. If it was that commonplace the media wouldn’t care, and consequently neither would you and I.
Let everyone involved know that you are in this together.
If the people you’re working with believe in the project enough, they will work the extra hours, shoot that ninety-first take (but please do not shoot ninety-one takes of anything), and volunteer their own clothes or homes during a meltdown in wardrobe or the loss of a location at the last minute.
And if your project makes money, earns press inches, or wins an award: share the wealth. Acknowledge people’s contribution with words, gestures and cold hard cash. Motion pictures will always be a collaborative effort and the nicer you are to people at the bottom of the ladder, the greater the likelihood that you will remain a decent human being as you become more successful.
Fund it yourself.
Do not hit up friends, family or Kickstarter, to fund early film projects. No matter how much they love you, the sinking of real money into a not-immediately-obvious talent can strain the most powerful bonds. Other people have bills too. And mouths to feed.
Wait until you are confident enough in your craft, and your understanding of the business, to take money from others to fund your creative dreams. If you sink your own money into the early projects, you will learn what it takes to earn that money back. Once you’ve experienced that pain, the hope is that you will be less likely to approach your career self-indulgently.
Think about it: Would most working filmmakers choose their next project based solely on the possibility of hobnobbing with stars and dining in exotic locales if they were paying for it themselves?
Know your audience.
It is true that there is a potential audience for all forms of storytelling. It is also theoretically acceptable that, in an efficient market, the size of the audience would define the scale of the storytelling effort. But films are not made because enough people expressed an interest in watching a certain type of film. Most often, they are made when one person, with enough power, gives the go-ahead.
In India that person, in ascending order of importance is: a producer, a director and a movie star. Having a movie star on speed-dial (who is willing to take your phone calls) is unbeatable. Getting said movie star to agree to star in anything you write ‘because our sensibilities match’ is the equivalent of a blank cheque.
Failing that, your best chance of getting a movie made may be to do it yourself.
Own your equipment.
This isn’t essential, and it really depends upon where you land on the ‘rent vs. buy’ debate. Personally, I am of the opinion that if you think, or know, that you’re going to be working on several projects over a relatively short period (say two years) having your own camera and sound equipment will make way more economic sense than renting a kit every time you need to make something. Again, it’s not important to have the shiniest pieces of gear. Evaluate your needs and get the gear that is best suited for a variety of your needs.
Know when to quit.
This entire post was inspired by this article.
I have been incredibly attached to one of my earliest screenplays for a very long time (could easily be ten years by this point). It is called Three Stories, and I have completed seven major (and countless minor) rewrites of this film over the past years.
That script prompted a filmmaker friend to tell me, “If I had the money I would have funded this film.”
It converted a skeptical screenwriting analyst at a workshop I attended. When I pitched this screenplay in the first leg of the workshop she (and several participants) asked, “Who would want to watch this movie?” And when she read the script during the second leg of the workshop she asked me, “Do you know people with money in this business? Because I want to watch this movie.” I had a similar conversation with another screenwriting mentor in Berlin who asked how close I was to getting this film funded.
All this conversation happened five years ago.
The script was also my only effort ever to be ‘optioned’. It also helped me find a manager.
But most importantly, that script gave me the impetus to keep going.
I completed a rewrite of Three Stories this year; I also wrote three new screenplays. Plus several notes, treatments, outlines and pitch documents. I don’t yet have a produced feature film credit. But that doesn’t mean I don’t work.
So while the title of this post asks the question, “Should I quit?” In the real world there is an additional modifier that needs to be added to that line of self-questioning. So what you really need to ask is this:
Should I quit trying to get a break with mainstream cinema?
Should I quit flogging this screenplay, and write another one?
Should I quit waiting for funding, and make this film with whatever resources I already have?
Should I quit labouring in my comfort zone?
Exactly like in every era before this one, these are the best of times and these are the worst of times. People were making great films when cameras weighed as much as mid-sized animals and people have made compelling cinema with consumer cameras. It is not about the tools, the resources or the talent at your disposal. Neither is it about making the next Avatar (in terms of box office returns) or justifying your overly talky hipsterama by citing the continued critical success of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset.
So really, should you quit? No.
What you should do is act.
There is no substitute for ‘doing’. It serves as a silencer (of those who say it cannot be done), it serves as a booster (of morale and self-confidence at the very least, of the maker’s profile and social status in certain other cases) and as a reminder (that you chose to be a creator).
Besides, doing the thing you love really is its own reward.
It may be painful, it may be frustrating and it may feel like the most thankless endeavour in the world. But then again, why would you want anyone to thank you for wanting to make a film? Remember that old adage about the road to hell and how it is paved with good intentions?
I say it again, there is no substitute for ‘doing’. This has been the biggest lesson I have learnt this year.
Even my biggest failures have taught me something. Even my biggest successes (which are really not that big at all, you’ve probably never heard of any of them) are riddled with flaws. But that is okay. I can only get better by working at it.
Which is all I can do.
Which is all any of us can do.
[NOTE: The photograph atop this article was taken in Marin County: home to George Lucas’s legendary filmmaking facility and childhood home of David Fincher–two people who overcame many, many naysayers to eventually place their own distinctive stamps upon filmmaking itself.]