In my efforts over the past few weeks to promote my upcoming No Budget Film School class, “The Art & Science of No-Budget Filmmaking,” I received a terse and somewhat disturbing email saying, “thanks for doing your part to destroy the film industry.” Now, I am not a revolutionary or an anarchist, no matter what anyone thinks (and even considering some of the heretical things I recommend in my classes and in my writing). If I was, I suppose I would revel in that kind of comment. Yes! Burn it! Burn it to the ground so we can rebuild it the way it should have always been! While I might have ideas of an idyllic film community and industry, I guess I’m too old to be idealistic and I’m not nearly as na?ve as I used to be. And frankly, I wasn’t even sure what this guy meant. I replied to his email, but he never responded. Now, if you asked me what was destroying the film industry, a class that’s held less than once a year for 100 or so hopeful filmmakers, where I do everything I can to prevent them from throwing away their money or going into crippling debt, would have to be way down on my list of what’s destroying the industry. I mean, there’s piracy, for one. Then I guess there’s big corporations who now own studios and run them more for shareholder returns than for creating the best kinds of cinema. There’s MBA’s trying to figure out what the next remake or sequel should be. There’s asshole producers, agents, and executives. Yeah, I think No Budget Film School is somewhere down there near the bottom.
Now, if I had to imagine what he meant, my guess is that he doesn’t like me telling people not to pay their crew, as if, folks walking into my class had a million dollars to pump up the industry and I convinced them to hold on to their money and not pay for anything. As you might expect, that is simply not the case. Most of the people who take my class want to be filmmakers, or are already filmmakers who want to continue to practice their craft, but have NO money to do that. So, the choice is either to not make a movie at all, or do something irresponsible and borrow money from their Friends and Relatives, (who, someone once said, ultimately become your Former Friends and your Now Distant Relatives, once you’ve lost all their money), or worse, put thousands on a credit card and ultimately ruin their financial health. I provide an alternative to not making a film and making a film irresponsibly, and hopefully along the way, show them how to make a better film than they would’ve before and have a more gratifying time doing it.
And as far as hiring people for no money, I’m assuming that everyone who is asked to work for free has the free will to say no if they want to. I never forced anyone to work for free on one of my films. In fact, in just about every case, those people were thrilled to get the job. For whatever their reasons were—lack of experience, new to the position, new to LA—they gladly joined the team, worked their butts off, made a lot of valuable connections, and then got paid on the next gig. They were also treated with respect, fed well, and rarely, if ever, worked beyond a 12 hour day. I recently ran into a guy who was an art intern on my last film, Pig. He had just moved to LA when we hired him (for free) and he did such an amazing job, we gave him an Art Director credit. When I ran into him he was working on Entourage making a whole hell of a lot more money than I ever did producing a film, (now to be honest, since I mostly make self-financed micro-budget features, that’s not saying anything, but the point is he was getting paid a lot now). If you asked him what he thought of his experience on Pig he would probably tell you how much he appreciated the opportunity. That’s certainly how it was when I worked for free all those years ago first as a PA, then as a 2nd AD, then as a 1st AD. I was learning the ropes and was happy someone trusted me enough to give me that shot.
And then let’s look at the economic benefit that many former no-budget filmmakers have provided to the industry. I have a slide in my class that lists several filmmakers that I either worked with at Next Wave Films or met at that time; the no-budget films they made initially; and then the studio films they’d made since. Most people don’t realize that filmmakers like Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace), Justin Lin (Fast Five), and Tim Story (Fantastic Four) started their careers directing no-budget films. I personally worked with Christopher Nolan on his first feature, the $12,000 gem, Following, (Next Wave gave Following finishing funds). He certainly didn’t pay anyone on that film. NO ONE. Now, what’s been the economic benefit for the industry since then with Mr. Nolan? The combined budgets of his films since Following total $1,011,000,000 (including the upcoming Superman and Dark Knight Rises). That’s a lot of film professionals put to work, earning a good salary, paying their mortgage, putting their kids through school, helping benefit the overall economy. And that’s not even talking about the gross revenues those films have made, supporting a whole other part of the film industry. So, good for the industry, good for the US economy. But where would those folks be if Chris had never made that first film on his own dimes? If he hadn’t been able to prove himself on that first film, who would have given him any money to make the challenging Memento, and then any of the other films he’s made? So, I guess if I wanted to, I could say that no-budget filmmaking, far from destroying the industry, is constantly reinvigorating it. All Hail No Budget Film School! The industry’s savior! (Pirates and assholes be damned!)
Ok, so if you want to take my class, here’s your chance. My popular “The Art & Science of No-Budget Filmmaking” is August 20-21, 2011, followed up by Tom Provost’s terrific “Cinema Language: The Art of Storytelling,” on August 27-28. For more information on what we’ll cover and my awesome guest speakers, and to register, please visit:
And, for being a loyal FilmRadar Blog reader, I’m offering a 20% discount to all of you. Just enter the discount code: FILMRADAR Register before Aug. 6th and take advantage of the Early Bird discount. And students with a valid ID save even more.
See you in August!