Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Filmmaking is Problem Solving

So, 2010 was a year of complete and total change for me. I started working on my MFA in 2008, and I quit my full time job to focus on filmmaking in 2009. So it only stands to reason that 2010 would be the year where that effort started really coming to fruition.

I learned a LOT about filmmaking and screenwriting last year. But looking back, the main thing that I learned was the way to deal with it when everything comes crashing down around your ears.

Filmmaking is problem solving. Like most things in life, filmmaking is always rife with setbacks and issues. I have never been on a set that runs smoothly. There's rain, actors stuck in traffic, equipment breaking, people getting sick, etc. etc. I knew this, and I've been repeating this mantra for two years now. But I don't that I really came to understand it until this year. As my good friend Colin said, "It's not about having problems, every set has problems. It's about how you handle the problems." And it really was.

On our webseries, "Stage Fright," we had a number of set backs. First, Snowmageddon threw a wrench into our writing process. There were other problems, one on top of another, until we started to think our little series about a haunted production was also cursed.

But frequently, the results of our problem solving created an even better series. A particular snafu with the wardrobe was solved with more appropriate costumes, which improved the final episodes of the show. When a crew member's car was towed with all of our camera equipment inside, we lost three hours but still managed to make our day without cutting a single scene because we spent those three hours carefully planning what we would do and we all came together to make it happen.

Speaking of Snowmageddon, my short film Extraction was a casualty of the same storm. I had already cancelled the film the year before because of a lack of available crew. But once I had everything lined up, a metric ton of snow dropped on D.C. I ended up having to shelve the entire film until the summer.

Looking back at both of those projects, there were moments that we thought about throwing in the towel. On Stage Fright, I remember one evening when we realized we wouldn't be able to start shooting on time because of another setback, someone mentioned that perhaps we wanted to only shoot half the series and then see if we could get the other half together at another time. There was talk of just shooting the pilot instead. Jason, the 1st A.D., and I were on the same page on that decision: we wanted to have a finished product. We had all worked so hard, and put in so many hours, that the idea of only having half of it done and possibly never getting to the other half was completely heartbreaking. We agreed that we'd rather work harder, and put in extra hours so that we could finish.

With Extraction, I had a small breakdown after I had to cancel the shoot a second time. I was convinced this project was doomed for failure and that maybe I needed to give it up. I thought that maybe this was one of those films that would go down in my memory as a good idea that just never made it. My lead actress was moving, and my crew were dispersing to the winds, I just didn't think it was going to work.

But while I was working on Stage Fright I ended up casting Maya Jackson and Katie Foster in a live reading for Catching Up. Somewhere in there I realized they would be great as the two girls in the story. I took a chance and emailed one of my favorite DPs and asked if he was busy in June, and he wasn't. We were a small crew, and a non-existent budget. But we made the movie, and it turned so well that I've submitted it to several festivals (I'm still waiting to hear back).

In the end, the most vital thing was to persevere and FINISH. Just get it on paper, get it on film, get it done. Just keep going.

That's the biggest lesson I learned last year. And now that I'm in my last semester of my MFA, I think it's going to come in handy.