Just Do It – Four Steps to Filmmaking

“Just Do It”. We all remember the Nike Ads.

That slogan, which became one of the most successful and most well-known ad campaigns in the world, is a pretty healthy attitude to take toward the film industry.

I got a piece of advice once. I’m not positive where it came from, but I believe it was from Michael Davis during the brief, awesome month when I worked for him as a personal assistant. He would take me to lunch every day and just download information about the industry into my young, impressionable mind. And I believe one of them was this:

Try these four things when you’re getting started in filmmaking:

1. Make a movie. Any movie. Whatever movie you can.

2. Make a better movie.

3. Make the best movie you’re capable of making after the experience of the last two.

4. Take that movie out and start trying to market yourself.

Anyone who works in a creative field will tell you: your first work will not be up to your own standards. I don’t care what field you’re in. An artist’s first painting is never good enough for him. A musician’s first song is always repetitive, too slow. A writer’s first short story or novel is boring.

For some reason, I have met people who think this doesn’t apply to film. They study and strive and work and sweat and think that their first film is going to be EPIC!

I don’t know of a single instance where that was the case. And because people can get so caught up in the fact that their first film was supposed to be so damn good, they take a loss when it’s not.

I’ve worked with people who have taken years to even submit their first short film to a festival – after shooting it! Some people I know never have. They never released it, never submitted it, never put it online. Nothing. It was such a disappointment to them, they didn’t even want to share it with the world.

That’s not entirely misguided. I’ve seem some first-time films that were absolute crap. I’m not surprised they never submitted them. But I am surprised they never made another one.

“First time films can be great!” some people will say. “Look at Reservoir Dogs! That was so amazing, it launched Tarantino’s career! And it was his first film!” (This is not a hypothetical, I’ve actually held this conversation).

A two-second search on iMDB reveals that was NOT Tarantino’s first film. It wasn’t even his first film as a director. No, Tarantino’s first Director credit was for a short film called “Love Birds in Bondage” in 1983.

Tarantino's first films

Tarantino’s first films – notice all the ones before Reservoir Dogs?

iMDB lists it as “unfinished.” He never even completed it. Why? Because it was his first work, and it wasn’t worth it.

His second credit as a writer/director was another short, “My Best Friend’s Birthday” in 1987. And it wasn’t for another five years and multiple other random credits in film and television that he wrote and directed Reservoir Dogs, the film that actually put him on the map.

Did Tarantino follow the four steps given above? Probably not exactly, but in spirit, yes. He wrote and directed several pieces that hardly anyone ever saw while he honed and perfected his craft. But he did something.

Let’s take another writer/director who most people seem to agree is pretty good: Kevin Smith. Unquestionably some of the best dialogue around, and if you don’t like his movies, you probably still respect them, and his career.

Kevin Smith (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

And his huge.

What’s his first movie everyone knows about? Clerks. Even his goddamn Wikipedia entry lists that as his first film. However, check iMDB, and it’s not so. First he did a mockumentary no one’s ever heard of called Mae Day: The Crumbling of a DocumentaryGranted, that was in film school, but so what? Hell, a lot of people could probably benefit from all of the equipment and other resources available to them in a film school.

Then there’s James Cameron. He did a short and multiple B movies before directing Terminator. Peter Jackson. A short, then nine years later a B movie, then two years before his first film gained him the attention he needed. It was another 7 years after that that he made a film that made any money.

My point is this: Just Do It. Do SOMETHING. Anything. In today’s world, it’s easier than ever. Even if you don’t know anyone who has equipment you can borrow, you can scrounge together $200 bucks, rent a 7D and a microphone and go make a film. And you’ll learn a lot more by doing that than you will learn by doing endless revisions of your “perfect” script that “someone will want to buy someday, damnit!”

I know, because I’ve been on both sides of the scenario. I’ve had a pretty badass film called Rebel Yell that I’ve been working on for a while. I’m sure it will be my first feature. One day. I’ve got another badass project called Quest (a TV series) that will do great. One day. And I’ve tried for years now to get one or another of these projects so perfect that it got off the ground all by itself. Guess where that got me?

So about three months ago, I said, “Damnit, I’m going to do something.” I knew actors, I had friends with equipment, there was no reason for me not to be making films.

My first director’s credit went up just a few days ago, for a 48 Hour Film Project called Prime Effect. It was actually a pretty badass little film, all the more so when you consider that it was made in 48 hours. I’ve got another short film in the can, a 26-page script I wrote called Overnight. That’s in post production right now, and it’s going to go on the festival circuit. Everyone who was in it and the few people who have seen the footage said it’s absolutely hilarious. Will it be the launching pad for my career? Maybe not. Will it be a start? Yes.

Since these two projects, I’ve been asked to direct two more shorts. The first one is tomorrow. If I do well, the producer might let me direct the feature version when he finishes raising funds for it. The second one is a little more down the road, but again, if the short gets us the funding we need, I’m directing the feature.

Both of these were referrals just based on the “strength” of the two tiny projects I’ve done so far. Where did three years of slaving over scripts get me? Nowhere. Where did two months of “let’s make shit happen!” get me? Two opportunities that might or might not lead to me getting my first feature. What will another year of this get me? I might or might not direct my own feature, or get my TV series produced and on the air.

That’s why I say: Just Do It. Anything that you’ve done is better than all the things you’re planning to do. Plus, if you really love film, you’re going to be enjoying yourself a lot more with all of the time you’ll be spending on set. And you’re going to be learning, having fun and eventually, finally, producing films that you will proudly and eagerly show to people because they’re just the shit.

Thanks, Nike. I should have been listening to you all along.

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One thought on “Just Do It – Four Steps to Filmmaking

  1. […] them for free. The problem with that is, usually you can only go to that well so many times. And as I’ve said previously, your first project probably won’t be what breaks you into the industry. So people with […]

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