Saturday, November 15, 2008

The non-glamorous side of filmmaking.

Filmmaking is glamorous, fun, and exciting. At least that is the depiction. Filmmaking is so glamorized that the general viewing public thinks it's one of the easiest jobs in the world. Nothing can be further from the truth. When I talk to non-filmmaker people like my family members, some of my friends, and acquaintances, thoughts of celebrity and money enter their minds. They see a product everyone seems to enjoy that will make you rich and famous among your wildest dreams.

However, this is often not the case. Filmmakers know that making a film takes determination, a strong will, the ability to take rejection, doubt, quasi-ethical business practices (like my favorite: buying props at Walmart and returning them after the shoot), a poker face, long hours, and tons and tons of money.

In fact, more than 95% of all workers in the Industry never become famous outside of the field. So writing a script and imagining yourself pitching movie ideas to Spielberg over dinner probably won't happen. However, success does not equal celebrity. My film professors were very successful in the Industry. For example, Professor Howard Rosenberg, my televisional critic professor, is a retired film and television reviewer for the LA Times. Another one of my professors, Helene Head, directed several television shows and programs. Variety is filled with obituaries of dedicated movers and shakers that no one seems to know outside of the film industry. The general public probably does not know much about a celebrated art director or a dedicated UPM (Unit Production Manger).

Filmmaking probably won't make you rich either. You'll probably go broke. In fact, I don't know how many times I have heard people say, "if you are in it for the money, go to business school." Good thing I have ran into few people who actually get into film on the basis they will be rich. Most I know, including myself, just want to support themselves and their families doing what they love.

In this day and age, when a filmmaker wears many hats, filmmaking is getting easier, but less glamorous. Indie filmmakers often will have to take on roles in addition to the traditional "above-the-line" roles. Which means you might have to hold your own boom mike, pull focus, or cater in addition to the time-consuming duties of a director or a producer. You may be working a grand total of 60-80 hours a week, and that does not include the planning and preparation time needed if you are above-the-line.

Actual producers (not the Hollywood stereotypes driving around in convertibles with cell phones attached to their ears--now illegal in California--and hot models on their arms) put up with alot of crap. Being a producer kinda sucks. Orson Welles once said, "no one knows what a producer does, but the producer." What does that mean? Often, the producer in indie filmmaking does all the stuff no one else wants to do like hire and fire personnel, clean up a set, find the money for the film, arranging call times with the production team, shop the film to potential buyers and festivals, remind everyone to stay on budget and on schedule (also the AD's job), and directing traffic between shoots. It's a hard job.

Directing also sucks in its own way. Basically you have to dictate your vision to the actors and the rest of the crew, which takes a whole lot of negotiation. If you are a beginning director, you may find more experienced crew members doing what they want instead of how you directed them. This happens because 1. ) you are untested 2.) it creates a power struggle and 3.) you may suck at directing and the crew member believes his way is better. You may also find that the actors may seem lost if you do not give them good direction. Then when that happens, everyone's time is wasted getting the best shot, and it's YOUR fault.

Acting is probably the most glamorized film jobs out there because it creates the most celebrities. However, to give you an idea how actors may be treated, I'll quote the great Alfred Hitchcock: "Actors are cattle." Sure, they get pampered by the producer and director, but basically, actors do what they are told. That is what they are paid for. Actors who know this and can add their own input have better relationships with directors. Even though actors are done faster than other personnel, they have the most physically demanding job on set, and they have to look good doing it. Remember that 5 minute foot chase between our hero and the villain? Now imagine that took 7 hours to shoot. Worst of all, an actor who continuously forgets his lines becomes very unpopular on set with everyone.

The absolute worst thing about filmmaking is waiting for a position or opportunity. For some it may take days. Others, decades. It is an unstable profession usually dictated on how your last project did financially. So getting started is especially hard.

So why would anyone want to be a filmmaker when it means you will work in an unstable, high-stress, long hour, poor-pay job??? Because it's addictive and a labor of love. Filmmakers are passionate about their projects, and it is human nature to feel like you matter. So rejoice! You didn't become a doctor or engineer like your parents wanted!

Happy Filmmaking!

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