How Does an Aspiring Filmmaker Get Hired?

Many an aspiring filmmaker has spent months, if not years, in Craigslist job-board hell, working for shady productions, at unthinkable day rates, worrying about rent, and wondering, "Why exactly did I go to film school again?" Gone are the days of the studio system, healthy unions, and living wages, while only the long hours and hard work remain. Far too many so-called producers these days believe it is perfectly reasonable to hire a DP with a RED Epic for $200 per day, and fill out the rest of their crew on promises of deferred pay, copy, and the ever-useful IMDB credit (plenty of sarcasm intended). The falling prices of professional video equipment, coupled with the explosion of film schools and film school graduates have made it possible for an entire class of amateur enthusiasts, who have no business being on a film set let alone running one, to create a "production company" out of thin air and attempt to make movies for next to nothing.

 

In many ways, however, these same changes in technology and media consumption have been a huge boon to many filmmakers, and have inspired an entire aesthetic of filmmaking.  Despite my somewhat pessimistic opening, I have truly mixed feelings about the state of the Industry today, and still believe in the possibilities that new technologies, media outlets, and audiences provide. It is the Wild West, where old systems are crumbling and the establishment is struggling to keep up with the new.  I find that simultaneously very exciting and incredibly terrifying.  So here are a few things that have helped me navigate the dark and stormy waters of an aspiring video production professional.

1. Don't wait for someone else to do it for you.

It doesn't matter if your film has the perfect dolly move or is shot on an Alexa that costs more that your monthly rent.  It doesn't even matter that you films are good.  What matters is that you shoot them, finish them, and show them to people.  Use your $600 DSLR and your friends in your mom's basement if you have to, but just do it, and eventually your films will get good, and when they do they will get noticed.  Which brings us to our next point.

2. You can't do it alone.

Make friends, join groups, be social.  Filmmaking requires help, and no matter how much equipment you buy, you can never make a goof film without good actors and a few good crew.  Go to plays, act yourself, anything that gets you out of your house and meeting other aspiring artists. You never know who will bring you your next job, so be respectful and maintain your professional relationships.


3. Find a mentor.

This is probably the most important advice I could give to anyone looking to pay the bills in the Entertainment Industry. While many things have changed, one thing remains constant: training in the Industry doesn't happen in school, it happens on set. If you want to be a DP, find a working DP to apprentice under.  If you want to be a Gaffer, find a Gaffer to grip for.  If you want to be an AD or UPM, get a PA or scripty job and try to work your want up to 2nd AD.  At the end of the day, the secret to the next job is who you know, so when you find someone who has skills, break down their door to get them to teach you what they know.

4. Play the Craigslist lottery

Craigslist and other job-boards are not a consistent source of quality work.  For every 100 gigs there is usually 2 or 3 that are good, and the competition is usually intense.  Try not to get discouraged.  While most jobs will be terrible, I have met some really great people, even a mentor or two, from jobs on Craigslist.  Some of them have even led to regular work at a decent rate.


This is just my experience.  What has worked for you? Post in the comments below!


The Art of the Long Take

In film school, the Long Take was always discussed with a rarified, mystical air, as if it's mastery alone were enough to catapult a director to the exalted category of "Auteur."  There have been many lists of the greatest examples, with directors often competing to out-do one another in length, complexity, and so on.  

The Player (1992) by Robert Altman is one of my favorite examples of the Long Take.

The Long Take is exceptionally technically difficult, requiring precise blocking of actors, expensive dollies, steady cams, cranes, lenses, lighting, you get the point.  Every film student on the planet dreams of their first stab at the mighty Long Take.  But you know what? Some directors don't get their due for their use of the Long Take, as Tony Zhou expertly shows us in the video below:

One overlooked aspect of Spielberg is that he's actually a stealth master of the long take. From Duel to Tintin, for forty years, he has sneakily filmed many scenes in a single continuous shot. Eight long examples: https://vimeo.com/tonyzhou/spielberg-eight Twelve short examples: https://vimeo.com/tonyzhou/spielberg-twelve For educational purposes only. English & Portuguese subtitles by Akemi Mitsueda.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tonyszhou Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/everyframeapainting

If you ask me Spielberg is one of the greatest, and most overlooked, directors of all time. What do you think?

Can Television EP's Create a Satisfying Ending?

Over at American Reader they have an interesting article deconstructing long-form television story arcs, and asking, "can television EP's create a satisfying ending?" While the article mostly examines how shows fall short, and categorizes their failures, it does raise a good point.

Personally, I have been mildly dissatisfied, to pulling-my-hair-out enraged, at how even some of my favorite shows have ended. Battlestar GalacticaX-FilesCarnivale, and even Breaking Bad, in a I-don't-know-what-I-wanted-but-that-wasn't-quite-it kinda way, ended badly. Yet I still look back at those shows with fond memories and generally make excuses for their viewer-abusive endings like I have Stockholm Syndrome. Is there a solution to this torturous, co-dependant relationship I seem to have with television?

I want to believe that it is possible, that somewhere out there lies some yet-undiscovered, rare, and reclusive Golden-Goose-of-a-narrative that will perfectly complete me. How utterly co-dependant. Ok, so maybe not. There are so many uncontrollable variables to navigate: ratings, networks, cast members leaving, show runners leaving, etc. And considering the fact that the more complicated the narrative, the more satisfying it is for many viewers, it seems virtually impossible for EPs not to write themselves into a black hole of complicated sub-plots, whose gravity is impossible to escape.

I think the conclusion that Reader draws, that bad ending equals bad show, is untrue. While there may be some ontologically pure, perfect narrative out there (seems unlikely), I think what is more important is the journey shows take, their narrative twists and turns, and in the end, if their dismount is less than perfect, it may lower the judges score, but it certainly doesn't negate the beauty of the routine, to overuse an Olympics metaphor.

Besides television isn't real Art, anyway...  Is it?

Risky Film Set Practices: Not Worth It

Many of us have been there before.  All you need is one last difficult shot and your opus will be complete. You haven't slept more than 3 hours at a time in two months, and your diet consists of Cliff Bars and lattes. The temptation is always there to just hurry up and get the shot and pray nothing happens. I'm not proud of it, but I have made that decision in the past, and luckily for me all went well. However, after following the case surrounding the accidental death of Sarah Jones, can safely say that I will never make that mistake again.

The director of the biopic on Gregg Allmann of the Allmann Brothers, Midnight Rider, resulted in the death of camera assistant Jones, when the crew was filming on a trellis bridge and were unable to get the mattress off of the train tracks before a train came past.  When the train hit the mattress the mattress hit Jones and dragged her onto the tracks.  A tragic and horrible accident, for sure, but not unavoidable.  They didn't have clearance to film, and they didn't place spotters with a radio a mile down either end of the track to give adequate warning.  The result is a 10 year manslaughter conviction for the director, and several of the key producers were also given probation and huge fines.  I am sure that lawsuits will be following soon.

So next time you're on the second to last day of filming your indie masterpiece and you've got to choose between getting that hero shot you've been salivating over for the past two years, and the safety of your talent and crew, choose safety every time, or you'll be wishing you had every time you drop that soap...

5 Must-Sees for Emerging Film Nerds

Anyone with half a brain in their body can sense that the prevailing winds of media consumption have changed.  For most of us, content is delivered to us constantly via Twitter feeds, Podcast subscriptions, and those hate-to-love clickbait posts on Facebook.  If I want to know more about something I can get 15 daily reminders about it on my phone.  Without going into the morality of this new paradigm, the near-constant bombardment of bite-sized bits of "Oooh, pretty!" can be overwhelming.  So, here are 5 of the best sources of nerd-gasmic content for those of you film nerds out there.

1. Film Riot (YouTube Channel)

If you are interested in making films professionally, or just like knowing how to recreate your favorite Hollywood tricks and techniques. Their videos are hilarious, informative, and strangely addictive.  Be prepared to forget your to-do list and waste half a day binge-watching.

2. Directors Notes (Blog and Podcast)

This is one of my go-to sources for cool new indy movies to watch! Their reviews are thoughtful and well-written, and their podcast has some great interviews with independent filmmakers.

3. WTF with Marc Maron (Podcast)

If you haven't heard about WTF yet, you're missing out!  The host, Marc Maron, is a stand-up comic and the creator and star of Maron on IFC. The show's interviews range from comics and actors, to directors, musicians, authors and more.  Marc Maron is a thoughtful and introspective interviewer with a kick for getting your favorite stars to really open up about their personal and professional struggles, thoughts on their work, and other deep stuff that you always wanted to know but no one ever asked them.  This show is the antidote to all the "Who are you wearing?" bullshit Hollywood interviews that fill your social media feeds.

WTF on iTunes

4. Nerd Reactor (Blog)

No nerd list would be complete without Nerd Reactor.  The best source of Nerd Culture  and Entertainment news out there.  If it goes to ComicCon, involves Marvel or Joss Whedon, then it's on Nerd Reactor.  

 

5. Strictly Film School

This last one is for serious cinema nerds.  All articles are written by Acquarello (aka Pascual Espiritu), a cinephile, who has written concise articles about hundreds of classic films.  Organized by director, the site is a great way to find your next Criterion Collection rental.