The Wall of No Money

I was reading a very good summary of why indie movies are dying at Ted Hope’s blog which goes through the reasons films today cost what they do.  Interesting films right now are going to cost around 500K or less.  You can read about the business here.

Artistically, making a film like that, which I’m about to do, is definitely full of compromises.  There’s never enough money or enough time to make a film, which is part of what makes it exciting.  But more money comes with a different kind of compromise.  For example, it’s one thing to not be able to shoot film, as opposed to digital, because you can’t afford it, and another thing to not be able to shoot film because some idiot executive has decided that film is dead.  The lack of money becomes a sort of cold, unfeeling wall, but at least it’s not irrational or opinionated.  That wall never has a dumb idea: it’s just a wall.  You can complain about it all you want, it won’t take it personally.

We’ll see how making this film goes, and what we are doing is fairly ambitious considering how much money we have; ie. there’s a lot of locations, we have some stars, our overtime is non-existant.  On the other side, we have an incredibly talented cast and crew – and no one is in this for the paycheck.  I wish we could pay everyone more, or what they deserve, which would be even more than that, but we can’t.  The wall says no.

The wall isn’t a cheap bastard.  It’s not going to rob you, or lie to you.  It’s not going to take away your final cut.  It’s not going to try to fuck your star.  It’s not going to scream at your agent, or sue you.  It sets the parameters, and you have to work within them.  It tells you what you have and gives you virtually nothing more.  I have to say, while it’s heartbreaking to lose an idea to the wall, it’s not as soul destroying as losing an idea to a bad decision, or someone with more power who has a different idea that clashes with yours.  It’s just a wall.  It’s a fact of life.  We’re lucky to have the space we’ve been given.  It’s not such a bad space inside the wall, and, when you used every inch of it, there’s actually more room for ideas than you thought.


Haircuts and directing films

I think I’m like a lot of guys: I don’t like getting my haircut. I got one the other day and it occurred to me that the reason I don’t like getting haircuts is because, even though I have a general idea of what I want, I’m not sure how it’s going to look when it’s done. And the other thing is that it is difficult for me to communicate what I want.

As I director, those are probably the two most important things you need to do: have a vision of what you want and then be able to communicate it to the people helping you make that vision.

But the part about the haircut that always gets me is when it starts to look promising as it’s going along, and then I say something to the barber, who gives me a sort of noncommittal response, and does what I say.  And it screws the whole thing up.

At first, I give him some general idea of where we are going: short, maybe a little longer on the top.  We reach an agreement on how short: above the ears, a number 3 razor.

A haircut, like a film, may change as it happens because it might not be looking quite like you thought it did.  So, my barber starts with the edges, shearing it off with the number 3, and very suddenly I look very different than I thought I was going to.  But it’s not finished yet.  Should I change course, make an adjustment, or should I continue along my original path and hope for the best?

I have to remember that the barber is an artist too.  Like a DP or a Production Designer, we had a discussion and we agreed on a vision.  If I start to alter that, I not only have to worry about what our next plan of attack is going to be, I also will be suggesting that this artist, this barber, is not doing a very good job.  He may take this personally.  Remember, he only wants me to be happy.  He’s going to do what I say.  It’s not his fault that he’s confused now.  Where is this ship headed now?  The hair is cut.  He can’t put it back.

Experience has taught me that when getting my haircut, I have to keep my mouth shut.  Once the plan is agreed on, I have to stick to it.  Every time I’ve tried to fix something that may or may not have been going wrong with my haircut, I get the worst haircut.  Anytime I say something like, “shouldn’t it be a little shorter there”? the barber does what I say and then spends the rest of the haircut working around the disaster that just happened because I couldn’t keep my stupid mouth shut.

I have to trust in the artistry of the barber.  He knows what he’s doing.  He’s cut more hair, he’s been to barber schoool.  If I wasn’t going to trust him, I shouldn’t have sat in his chair.

Your job as a customer in a barber shop is to give the barber some direction.  You give him a good idea of what you want, and he may suggest his own ideas, and together you come up with a plan.  And then you have to step aside and let the professional do his job.  What makes this tricky is that you are looking at the results as they happen, so you are always open to second guessing yourself.

Isn’t this what a director should do?  It’s not his job to light the actors.  It’s not his job to dress the set.  I’ve seen it happen with actors when they didn’t give a director exactly what he was expecting and he tried to fix something and it just got worse and worse.  I’ve seen far too many films ruined in the editing room by directors  losing faith in their visions and trying to make a different film out the same material.  That never works.

A director’s job is to give direction to a group of talented people who know how to do their jobs really well.  You have to trust in the people who you hire, get out of their way, and let them do their jobs.  And when you think it might not be turning out like you thought it would, remember all the bad haircuts you got and keep your mouth shut.  The tough decisions have already been made.