Filmmakers, from my experience, like to talk about their achievements. Pop down to your average networking social and amongst the impassioned discussions of the craft, the rehearsed chant of a cohorts upcoming agenda and the usual suspects (What camera did you use? How much was your budget!?), you will find people wishing to share their achievements and what they are capable of. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this. We are, after all, embarking on a lifetime of championing our talent and ambitions. Considering how honest and forthright the majority of those socializing are, you rarely hear stories of misadventure or mistakes. I know it’s a pedantic point to think anyone would ever turn up to a networking event to happily discuss the time they smashed a prime lens or the fact their cherished project has been rejected multiple times by financiers. But in the carefully sculpted world of creative career management, you would think we appeared from nowhere with a wiki full of positive experience.
Disclosing and engaging people over a pint about mistakes you have made can be therapeutic and helpful (or detrimental, kind of depends on how empty or full your pint is). I have decided to come clean with a filmmaking mishap I have had recently. I feel like it’s something I need to discuss as it encapsulates a lot of problems young filmmakers may (and probably will) encounter.
In a bid to add another rung to my filmmaking ladder I considered going back into education. I enrolled onto an MSc in Digital Feature Film Production…if you just heard a noise after reading that sentence; it was just every film purist tutting at the oxymoronic course title. Jokes aside, it’s just what I wanted – an affordable course where I would be able to make a feature film (there’s my obligatory plug). The following year has & will consist of pre-production for the aforementioned project. I was looking forward to having access to film equipment whilst on the course, so I could apply it towards my own personal work; Namely, the London Sci-fi film festival in April. I had the means, the resources and the story. What could go wrong?
I have always seen myself as ambitious with a hint of sensibility. I believe ambition drives innovation and courts other likeminded people to help make it all a reality. So there I was, raring to go with a project. It’s only a 5-minute short; I’d be able to manage that. It’s got to be done over one weekend, but that’s no problem. The rough story had ambitious notions to help it stand out, but with enough time this could be achieved. I’d be able to find time whilst doing my MSc work…and producing a feature…and working part-time…and doing other film work…and organizing a wedding. Mm. My diary was barely accommodating toilet breaks by this point.
So why didn’t I ask for help? Filmmaking is, after all, a collaborative process. I’m not omitting the help I received as many people did help me in the Pre-production stage. Whether this was with acquiring crew, organizing props or drawing up paperwork, I had hands at the ready. There were two reasons this didn’t ultimately work to the shorts advantage.
Firstly, we are all young filmmakers who are trying to scrape by each month and have our own university/personal work to consider. I was just about finding the time to produce this short and it was a lot to ask others to dedicate their time on a non-paid passion project with so many deadlines or paid gigs coming up. Sure, on the whole people did what needed to be done but this could be one, two, or even three weeks+ from the initial request. Considering the film had to made on one specific weekend that was drawing ever closer, this did not help with stress levels. I have no shadow of a doubt that I can pick this project back up with the same talented individuals but the timing of the competition weekend was askew with people’s studies and precious time.
Secondly, some collaborative relationships I had established couldn’t help this time round due to prior commitments. This is normally expected but not to this extent, where I would say just under half of my normal network were busy. A good example is that three sound operators I have worked with & trust were all otherwise engaged that very weekend. It can’t be helped and through networking, I managed to accommodate the roles that needed filling. Although remedied, these setbacks only deducted time from an already stretched schedule. There was also an issue with an equipment booking that was resolved but again this only ate up Pre-production time.
So now we have established everyone’s limited time to the project. To me this is just a hindrance, an obstacle to overcome with careful planning. As long as nothing goes wrong…famous last words, as they say. A week before filming multiple locations fell through which were vital to the story. I had university work that needed attention before the competition weekend. Where would I find the time to amend this? Normally, I would have a back up plan or people aiding me. But yet again, strong majorities of the crew were busy and through lack of time, I was riding on a smooth transition regarding the locations
I started considering whether I should adapt the story to what I had/could get hold of, thus making something that I had not originally envisioned, or starting from scratch with a new idea. To add fuel to the fire, my lead actress was offered paid work the weekend of filming. She had already turned it down once but she couldn’t, in good faith, turn it down if the original idea wasn’t being pursued. I was in complete support of her professional decision and knew where she was coming from. But this now left me with a film with no cinematic locations, no lead actress and no time to produce something out of nothing. Annoying for sure but not impossible to remedy. So what else happened to finally put a spanner in the works?