30 Apr 2016

20 Facts I Have Learned in Filmmaking

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20 Important experiences that can be very useful in micro/low-budget underground filmmaking:

1_Never wait for permission from others to make films.

2_Never waste your time waiting on grants, funding or any type of financial support to initiate a project. Always begin even with zero means; bursaries and funding will eventually happen down the line. If you have nothing to show, nothing will happen.

3_Rely on absolutely nobody but yourself, do as much as you can on your own.

4_Never under any circumstances ask for feedback, advice or aesthetic help while making a film. Only trust your own instinct.

5_Try to master techniques and educate yourself on the equipment available to you. Also try to perform most of the technical duties yourself, through this you can work on your own terms.

6_The screenplay is only information gathered on pages for organisational purposes. This is very helpful for funding and other bureaucratic applications but it has nothing to do with the craft of filmmaking.

7_Everything in the film festival circuit, distribution system, public screening arena, and other such networks are based primarily on contacts and connections. Submitting work without these connections and hoping to be accepted is utterly senseless.

8_The term ‘independent filmmaking’ has no meaning anymore and being a filmmaker is no longer unique or special in any way. These days ANYONE can be a filmmaker and everything is independent. Your audience is limited to your network of contacts and friends that form a small circle around you.

9_Film schools are nothing but a complete waste of time. The best teacher is cinema and the films themselves. Watch as much as possible. Watch constantly and non-stop. Engage with the history of cinema all the time.

10_Unfortunately many people, for some extremely strange and absurd reason, do not want you to be active and progressing. These people will never support or help you even in the slightest way. DO NOT TRUST anyone beyond your own work and a handful of trustworthy collaborators who you have engaged with over a noteworthy period of time. In the end it is this fruitful engagement that makes everything worthwhile. Keep on making films, and screen them publicly without paying attention to all the negative energy.  You will SEE the difference!

11_ONLY work with a person who you are fully synchronized with, one who you can 100% trust and believe in.

12_Under no circumstances ask actors/actresses (amateur or professional) to perform in your films for free. Avoid this pitfall and pay everyone who performs in front of your lens. While it may save money (and sometimes the performer could demand nothing or very little in terms of payment, insisting that the job was a favour etc) it will create hassles and potentially deeper problems down the line. I have learned some quite painful lessons in this way, even when performers refuse payment upfront, there should be some mechanism in place to reimburse them for their time. Every performer should be compensated for their time and energy somehow, payment for skills/services is the most basic, professional gesture in the creative arts and should be maintained as the baseline even for the lowest budget productions.

13_Always make sure that the actors/actresses sign a performance/talent release form. Even in your wildest dreams you cannot imagine the dangers and potentially horrific situations that await you if such contracts are not signed.

14_Never wait or depend on other parties/agencies to complete a project; it will be a noose around your neck. Promises and pledges are so easy to give and are extremely hard to keep, it is a zero currency. A project can be irreparably damaged after suffering a lengthy delay or a series of postponements, and it is all the worse if these deferrals are made simply because you are awaiting someone else’s creative input. If you feel things are taking up more than the allocated time simply terminate the situation and do the job by yourself. Through doing this you will discover even more creative processes and methods; your sights will widen and intensify. The whole process of filmmaking (at any level) is being a constant student. There is no mastery.

15_To have the ability to decline/reject a project, collaboration or screening if the situation is not compatible or complimentary. Having the courage to say “NO” can actually improve and enhance you as a filmmaker.

16_Everything in cinema (and indeed the art world) is about money. This is an unfortunate and horrible fact. You can never change this but you can find your own way around it to healthily shape your practice over time.

17_When collaborating with old and very close friends always proceed with extreme caution; there must be a professional distance. It really is like the church and the state; a mixture of these components will prove to be quite poisonous. It is best not to engage in any collaborative projects with your very close friends but if it is unavoidable a professional distance will benefit both parties and it will ultimately save/maintain the friendship after the project. If one is operating under these conditions then all participants MUST be officially hired, paid and treated in a professional manner, like any other member of the crew.

18_AVOID the current trends in art and cinema; these are simple fashions that will change like the seasons. Always proceed as an individual with your own ideas and personalised subjects with themes/notions that you believe in and have deeply experienced. For example the current pressure is for artists to attempt to provide a direct mirror or commentary on society, and in doing so the work itself becomes a component that functions directly within this socio-political structure. Why cage yourself within these reductive strategies? Dragging films to this pathetic level of sloganism removes all of the truly thought provoking, formally challenging and imaginative aspects of cinema. However, if you wish to turn your film into a horrific piece of activist zilch, by all means go ahead! It is not so hard to take a deep breath, relax and take a step back from the horrors of cheap information. All moving images relate back to the scientific and anthropological roots of cinema. When you make a film it is just the same as when Jean Rouch, Maya Deren, Marguerite Duras, Fritz Lang, Sokurov, Ozu, Brakhage, Tarkovsky, Méliès or Lumière brothers when they made a film- your film is an event in the history of cinema too; therefore the onus is on you, the filmmaker, to take responsibility for the history of cinema and to care for it. Never discard or take it for granted. And so seeking to convey cheap information for attention and appreciation reduces the entire history of filmmaking. I have written further on this matter HERE (http://goo.gl/a0snnK) and I intend to further expand on these ideas in the near future. In the meantime this quote by my friend Daniel Fawcett is truly agreeable:

“Personally I think that art is at its least interesting when it is used as a vehicle for political messages and statements. There is of course always a socio-political dimension to every work of art but I don’t believe this is the purpose of art.

People seem to forget that art is the arena for the imagination to play and run wild. If art’s main function becomes primarily to comment on what is going on in the world around us, where is left for the imagination to play? And it is important to cultivate a place to imagine because this is how we can unearth new ways of thinking and new ways of being. Imagination at its best is beyond logic, beyond morals, beyond physical reality, it is not restrained by the limits of society and current events. Art must be the place where the irrational can manifest and this is important, especially in a society such as ours which is so overtly rational, which is all about categorising, analysing and controlling everything. We need somewhere left where we are free to imagine. Free to make contact with as yet unrealised possibilities (and impossibilities). The greatest works of art come from the freest, wildest imaginations. To imagine is to be free.”

19_There are no universal rules. Each filmmaker has her/his own set of rules.

20_”If you’re worrying about how to finance and distribute your movies than you shouldn’t bother making movies. You make movies because you need to make movies. Everything else is unimportant. If you wait to get the money to make a movie then you shouldn’t make the movie. If you need distribution in place before you have the courage to make a movie then it’s not a movie worth making. There are many other ways to make money than making movies. If you need to make money, please find some other way to do it. You make movies to lose your money. That is the purpose of making a movie—to put your life into something—not get something out of it.” 

“You must be willing to risk everything to really express it all.” John Cassavetes

Rouzbeh Rashidi

Thanks to Dean Kavanagh