What Mistakes Did You Make On Your First Film?

A week ago, I asked this question on Twitter, feeling that it would be good advice for everyone to have. I started things out by sharing that I thought everyone would be professional and want to get along.

My first production was called TIGER WARSAW.  I was 23 years old I believe.  I found the script, developed it, did all the initial budgeting & scheduling, cast it, did the cast deals, hired the key crew, did those deals, designed some of the shot lists, over saw the production, and got credited as the "Assistant To The Producer".  There was very little trust or good behavior on the show, but there was a fair amount of drug abuse.  Lots of threats of different sorts.  Many separate agendas.  When it was done I quit the business to become a drug counselor (but didn't get very far with that...).The mistakes I and others made, including false assumptions, definitely informed me going forward.

I suspected I would get more response from the Twittersphere than I did.  But what I got was good.  Here are 8 responses.  Next time I will remember the #hashtag...

 

@TedHope Using whatever music I wanted in rough cut and then falling in love with it before truly grasping that it was never gonna happen.

@TedHope Tweet 1 of 2: Needed a barn built, made downpayment with contractor, then didn't check until due date - behold, we were robbed!

@TedHope 2/ 2: But our barn was built by a better contractor, just to be burnt to the ground, GLORIOUS #worththepainhttps://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=268595943167910&set=pb.167615299932642.-2207520000.1354633057&type=3&theater …

@TedHope I thought I knew what I was doing!

@TedHope By contract I had to pay my SAG actors for rehearsals, so we skipped them and hit the ground running. Not next time.

 

@TedHope Thinking if I made a good movie, with good actors 4 less than studios then should make profit. Need 2 compete in a different space

 

@TedHope Flip answer is "making my first film," but, jokes aside, not having a long-range strategy all the way through post to distribution.

 

@TedHope Showing a rough, rough, cut to buyers.

But Facebook was astounding, I got over 100 replies.  Here are some:

But then I found out that Facebook is much better to source this sort of thing and close to 100 comments:

  • Edward Crawford made the mistake tinking that the little details did not matter..and sound was horrible. i recieved many rejection letters from Film Fests stating they really enjoyed story but....
  • Kevin Sonnichsen I've been exceptionally lucky to not have had this particular problem. However, rain, tidal schedules, shooting permits, a futon factory unexpectedly working on their day off in the warehouse next to where we were scheduled to shoot... All other matters entirely.
  • Alix Whittaker mine was that I was just so excited to produce a film - any film - that I ended up spending a huge amount of time, energy, money, and love on a project that ultimately would have been worth it...if only we'd spent another little while on developing the script so that it wasn't total bollocks!!! Script Development is the most important part of the process for me now!
  • Michelle Dee this post smacks of bitterness and vitriol....my mistake was simply getting a surname wrong in the credits. Oh and leaving something on the edit timeline so you got a secret image minutes after the last frame (if you waited long enough)
  • Enzo Tedeschi I learned that moving forward on anything that I wasn't 110% confident in would ALWAYS come back to bite me. Trust your instincts!!!
  • Mel Thompson Lack of preparation, reshoots, rehearsals and coverage.
  • Lindy Boustedt I've learned from similar mistakes. Having one "bad apple" especially on a small budget/small staff indie set can be the death of a production. I also learned how important it is to have proper contracts protecting both sides - and pay for a lawyer to look them over before signing.
  • Tommy Stovall Way too many to list!! And be very careful who you trust.
  • Ellen Pickering THANK YOU FOR THIS POST TED HOPE! You just saved me thousands of $$ and hours in therapy.
  • Laura Lex Great thread!
  • Ben Gonyo That I knew what I was doing.
  • Ryan Colucci That everything wasn't in a contract before production began.
  • Ryan Colucci Also being afraid to let people go. One miserable person is a cancer and sometimes you need to be the unpopular guy.
  • GB Hajim Rushing into distribution. Take a year or more to build interest. Get the good reviews and awards then get a distributor. I have theatrical distributors interested now, but it is too late- my movie comes to VOD in two months.
  • Nick Rossi Be very, very, very choosy in casting. It's not worth making the movie until the cast is right.
    23 hours ago via mobile · Like · 2
  • Anna Wise Thanks
  • Marcus Kent Hamson The first film I shot was a guerilla style shoot. It was January, cold and miserable. Everything went okay on the shoot. My biggest mistake was in the editing. I did not have a full understanding of wave form and vectorscope. The finished film was so dark that it was almost not visible when we screened it.
  • Cathy Stadtfeld Am sharing all these great tips with my fellow movie makers. Thanks y'all.
  • David Fussell Yes I think finding the right people too work with is the hardest thing at any level of film making, even a tea boy can damage your production if his heart is not fully behind your film and anyone wanting to destroy your film can do so much damage before you know whats happen. Sorry if I have put anyone off film making.
  • Joseph White counting on the wrong people is a BIG ONE! I was talking to someone the other day who was billing 2 jobs for rigging while on a commercial with me, sadly, its just a job to most people and to others its an ego game
  • Mike Nichols So here's a fun story: On a film where the producer allegedly had the money (i.e.: me), Money stopped coming in from my source after week 1. So I spent the better part of a weekend soliciting bank loans at ridiculous percentages, family loans and personal savings to ensure...wait, why am I sharing this? Nope, none of that ever happened. We made the movie on time, under budget and recouped 500%
  • Samia Shoaib What a fun question Ted Hope! Btw Tom Luddy said you were a welcome addition to the SF scene. Of course
  • Mitch Klebanoff Fun story, before mentioned, unnamed but extremely lovable producer, thrust a stack of cash into my 23 year old hands and said pay off the crew 50 cents on the dollar - as he sped away in a car. Sorry Ted, this is getting off track.
  • JB Bruno Assuming that anything was actually "free". My mentor, Stan Bickman, used to call it the "High Cost of Free"
  • Katherine Dieckmann Not fully realizing what guys in trench coats from Queens fully signified when they popped up at lunch in an extremely remote holler in of western North Carolina. That, and crying on set.
  • Samia Shoaib James Schamus - when teaching "No-Budget Producing" at Columbia, taught me many tricks (all stolen from Ted Hope no doubt). Did shots with the owner of a strip club in Wall St. to get him to let me tie-in when my generator conked.
  • Jennifer Lyne Oh, and when I called Magno Sound and they said they "lost the mix." Forever.
  • JB Bruno Samia, that goes with one of the other things I learned - cash speaks. People can walk away from a deal memo or a promise - take cash out of your pocket that they can have now but not if you walk away - priceless
  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt agreeing to a heavily-publicized, public work-in-progress screening before having anything resembling a decent cut. followed shortly by: believing that 3 hour assembly should be shown to anyone outside your immediate team. the screening was packed with people who might have helped finish it i'd made an appropriate 'presentation'...but as it was it took years to get those same people to watch anything of mine again. still haven't fully learned this lesson with my own directing work, but as a producer for others, it's much easier to know when to wait...
  • Christine Haebler believing the director had all the answers....
  • Scott Macaulay You executive produced mine! I would say not relying on or getting enough advice from a professional locations person so that we realized that a condo location contract had to be approved by not only the condo owner but the condo's board. A potentially disastrous mistake that we were fortunately able to correct.
  • Samia Shoaib Crying like a baby in the lobby of SoundOne when I got my bill and having a zero knocked off by Alishan (?) Granted - that was NOT a mistake
  • Jim Fall Believing that when you showed a rough cut to informed creative people that they could see pass the "rough" part to what I saw as the finished film...rarely happens.
  • Samia Shoaib JB Bruno - "Free" never cost me anything. Just a little appreciation and getting people emotionally invested. Lesson from James.
  • Christine Haebler Yes that one too Jim! Oh and...believing that LA agents were telling the truth.
  • Mark Lipson oh fuck, where do i start....
  • Jennifer Roth Learning that 3 sets of script revisions/day was normal and that new pages needed the time as well as the date.
  • Jennifer Roth PS: Sleeping with the boom operator on my first movie was the BEST decision I've ever made.
  • Antonio L. Arroyo Phillip - I couldn't disagree more. Most people in the film are actually very bright and very professional. Yes, professionalism may be lacking at the very low level, where some kid with no experience decides that he is a director,granma gives him some money, and the crew is a bunch of kids just out of school who think that film making might be fun and bottom-feeders who rent beat-up equipment to said kids. But in the real business, almost everyone is dedicated to doing the best job that they can. It reflects on them, their reputation and their career. They may not care about the actual project due to a bad script and/or bad acting and/or a hack director, or maybe disrespectful higher-ups, but they still want to do their job as best they can. AC's want everything to be in proper focus, wardrobe wants everyone to dress as they should, make-up wants actors to look beautiful (or horrible), sound wants everything to sound clean and clear. Even the folks in the lower ranks want to do everything quickly, safely and well, in order to get their boss to call them for the next job and recommend them to others.
  • Samia Shoaib Skimping on craft services - BIG mistake, not to mention irretrievably short sighted.
  • Jesse Ozeri If the key grip is a vegan, have vegetables on the crafty table. Nothing is scarier then an irate vegan refusing to work because he hasn't had celery in a week.
  • Lee Friedlander Thinking that people with more experience knew more and placating ignorant investors..
  • Antonio L. Arroyo As to Ted's original question - my biggest mistake was being more interested in how films are made rather than how the real industry functioned. I also should have been more aggressive and careful about finding mentors.
  • Larry D. Eudene I remember that! Geez, I think that was shortly after I did Metropolitan and found out if you didn't have a cut in the film, you need to get paid decently no matter what. Long time ago.
  • Samia Shoaib Touché. Finding mentors was the best bit of film school. (The fab Bette Gordon and Terry Southern in my case.)
  • Samia Shoaib Thinking that the teamster I had hijack HMIs from the "Quiz Show" set wouldn't expect me to sleep with him eventually.
  • Antonio L. Arroyo Actually, Metropolitan was one of my best early experiences. I was thinking of all of the time and money I wasted trying to raise money for mediocre scripts with senior partners that knew less about the business than I did. And as a sound mixer, starting out as a mixer and trying to reinvent the wheel rather than taking a stepping back and assisting people who really knew what they were doing.
  • Samia Shoaib As Spielberg said "Good directing is asking qualified people for help". (And getting your tits out in the process if necessary).
  • Larry D. Eudene Thanks, Antonio! I remember you well!
  • Larry D. Eudene Hey Mitch. I sent you a response to your blink tank email. I hope you get it.
  • Jack Mulcahy My first film was PORKY'S, and the mistake I made was thinking the 1st AD was my pal.
  • Larry D. Eudene Hey Jack! Happy Holidays! You're the funniest! Did you at least have fun on The Reunion?
  • Al Magliochetti Letting the film fall out of the camera was kind of a problem . .
  • Al Magliochetti Biggest mistake on my first feature - not quitting when the idiot producers budgeted 1/10th of what was required to complete the visual effects, against my vehement objections.
  • Jack Mulcahy I did, Larry. Had high hopes for it.
  • Larry D. Eudene Me too! You did an amazing job in the Lead! Too bad Paul ran out of money!
  • Larry D. Eudene It's funny that some of my favorite people are on here! Thanks, Ted for starting this thread! Happy Holidays to you!
  • Jack Mulcahy And I, like you Ted, learned from that mistake.
  • Martha Coleman My passion for the characters made me blind to story weaknesses.
  • Stavros Georgiadis The chain is only as good as its weakest link.
  • Terry Green I learned that by the time you get to your fourth film, nothing replaces the romance of that first one. You only get to make the first one one time, and there's a certain poetry in that.
  • Icarus Arts Assuming that if we made a good film and got it into a major festival, the rest of my career would fall into place. We worked for almost 3 years to get that film out.
  • Cornelia E. Burnham I actually had a blast - entire company stayed most of the shooting at my folks in CT - and Charles gave me an A+ / Boris....on the other hand, noticed one shot had Baby Legs in the middle NONE of us noticed it. Ha!
  • Sasha Santiago I learn to let go of complete control and trust your collaborators as often as possible. Maybe more often than possible. The bond becomes stronger, the results of the day more fulfilling and the willingness to push higher and for longer... oh yeah, we're cooking now. "They" say you should approach every movie as if it's your last, maybe it's better to approach every film as if it's your first?
  • Mamta Trivedi I assumed I had to work with lousy, awful & inept dolts just because the industry was small & exclusive.
  • Martha Coleman I learned that if you hire all the right people you can kinda let the movie make itself.
  • Rich Martini Not fighting like a banshee when the studio decided to cut ten minutes of comedy, despite an 86 rating. I found out years later, if u can believe it, the distribution guy hated the producer and deliberately torpedoed the release (his asst apologized to me years later when I ran into him). Leave no stone unturned until its completely out of your hands.
    18 hours ago via mobile · Edited · Like
  • Isen Robbins 1 Showing films to distributors in large numbers before getting accepted to a major festival. 2 using atm to hand cash to crews and not keeping records. 3 Passing on famous actors because we want audiences to identify with just the character... or what ever that is. 4 Shooting in one's own apartment (neighbors organized and signed a eviction petition when we got turned around and shot night for day, for a week) 5 work with friends. 6 having a weak non film lawyer. 7... and so on...
  • Neda Disney dated one colleague, then another. it was a three month project which felt like years to a young girl in the city. silly.
  • Jake Abraham Thinking I could trust the director to stop cutting and give us enough time to prep for Sundance without almost having a heart attack
  • JB Bruno Isen , but other than those little things everything went ok , right?
  • JB Bruno Neda, I learned that one in theater when I was stage managing and dated my ASM during rehearsals. We were out of town. We broke up right before opening and I had to sit next to her EVERY day through the rest of the run. We both hated it. Didn't make that mistake again in film - until years later. Not much better. Sometimes, we need to RELEARN.

 

They Want To Fund Your First Feature (& Take You To Venice, Italy)

Launched this year by the Biennale di Venezia in partnership with Gucci, the Biennale College - Cinema is an initiative to support teams of directors and producer to make their first audio-visual work. A community of selected filmmakers from around the world will work alongside an invited team of international experts and tutors to explore the aesthetics of micro-budget filmmaking and the new integrated models of production, which engage with an audience from the outset.

After a first 10-day workshop in Venice for 15 selected projects in January 2013, up to 3 teams will be invited to a second 15-day workshop between February and March and supported with 150.000 Euros in order to produce and screen the projects at the 2013 Venice International Film Festival. The Call for Applications is open from the 30th of August 2012 to the 22nd of October 2012 only to teams of directors at their first or second feature and producers with variable degrees of expertise who must have produced at least 3 short films distributed and/or presented at Festivals.

For more information go here, or email college-cinema@labiennale.org

Can Only Indies Make Truly Romantic Movies?

This past Wednesday I screened Andrew Haigh's WEEKEND for my HopeForFilm/Goldcrest Screening Series. It is a truly romantic film. It may be a gay love story, but in it's tale of a one night stand that could become something more, Haigh's has tapped into a longing and hope that I never feel in any corporate filmmaking and is entirely universal. It makes me wonder if when creators are forced to think first about the market, if their work will be deprived of love and romance.

When I select films for my screening series, I write a letter to everyone on my invite list trying to explain why I selected the film. This is that letter and why I think you should go see WEEKEND this very weekend.

Dear film fans,

What is romance really? Where does life differ from what the movies offer us? Can romance ever be depicted honestly on screen? If the screenwriter or director's hand is too obvious we see the mechanics of the film and it can't be trusted. Hollywood has relied for a century on the beauty and notoriety of its stars for audiences to make the leap. In the indie world, we rely often on the dialogue, the ideas, the wit to seduce us along with the characters. Sometimes I think it never is honest, but then sometimes a movie comes along and convinces me otherwise.

And what about sex? You can't really have honest romance in a contemporary film without also having sex portrayed on screen; it is part of the equation after all. How can sex be positioned in an honest way so that we don't feel taken out of the fiction we are following, and then start wondering what the filmmakers are really trying to say with the way they are portraying it. Representation and signification take away much of the immediacy, and thus the pleasure. I have given up hope that sex and cinema can truthfully collaborate more than once, but fortunately a film occasionally graces us and that proves it can be done.

At the end of the day, what I am talking about is the challenge of portraying emotional truth through physical action and the challenges of story construction on screen. And let me tell you, I know firsthand: it ain't easy.

It is so refreshing when a filmmaker seems to come out of nowhere, deprived of funding, working truly out of the system and off the grid, challenging themselves, the audience, even the entire system as it is currently structured and delivers something, that despite all the limits and challenges they faced, soars beyond what the corporate or government-supported industry is able to produce. Andrew Haigh has done that with his film WEEKEND. Don't be fooled, he may make it look easy, he may make it look simple, but this is not that at all. It is a work where everyone is working at their peak, sharing the vision, reaching and striving -- and hitting the mark.

Folks often say that a great deal of directing is casting (I don't fully agree with that) but clearly Andrew has benefited by his choices. The two leads are as natural in their roles as Haigh is in how he uses the camera. All throughout the movie,I forever believed I was watching life as it is led . I don't think this phenomenon is due just to the high level of acting or the precise casting. It comes from trust, and a three way trust at that: the director with his actors, the actors with their director, and the actors with each other. Whether it is a lack of judgement, or a clear-hearted love, an openness or an understanding, there is an incredible honesty happening between all up on the screen. When one recognizes it, one also recognizes how incredibly rare it is.

WEEKEND is the story of a one night stand that might grow into something more. It happens to also be a gay story, and one that doesn't shy away or try to play it straight. In doing so, not being shy about the people, the world, and what they do, Haigh aslo captures the depth of its story in a way everyone should be able to relate to. If life is often the challenge of reducing the space between who you want to be and who you are right now -- the gulf often between thought and expression -- then in choosing to have one character still not fully accepting who he really is, Haigh has tapped into the universality of the specific world he has chosen.

WEEKEND is nothing less than both challenging and refreshing cinema, and it is also a whole lot more.