Five Ways to Navigate the Shoulds & Supposed-Tos of Moviemaking
by Tara Samuel


Have you read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art?

If you have, spread the word. If you haven’t yet, here’s the gist of it: The world will be saved when we all make what we are supposed to be making.

There is an idea in your head that fills you with joy. This idea is tapping on your shoulder daily, telling you to open that restaurant, sing that aria, build that sculpture, write that screenplay-novel-play-poem, shoot that film, or dance that tango. This joy inside you is what will save the world. And don’t you want to save the world? I know I do. If you do, the sure-fire way is to follow your heart and make what The Muse is telling you to make. JUST DO IT.

But what about the rules and regulations?! They are keeping you from making your thing, right?

Today we’ll discuss ways for you to start ignoring the guidelines in your head, and we’ll use the example of—say—the making of a movie.

permits2

Somebody somewhere once said, “If you’re gonna make a movie, you’d better have permits for your locations, or else.” Someone else somewhere said, “If you’re gonna make a real movie and be taken seriously, you’d better hire union actors or else.” And yet another so-called soothsayer proclaimed, “If you are going to use union actors, you’d better declare your shoot a UNION SHOOT or else!” Renting equipment? Better buy insurance or YOU’RE GOING TO DIE. Filming in the City of Such-and-such? Better notify the COMMISSION OF THE THING, or YOUR WHOLE FAMILY WILL EXPLODE!

There are a lot of very serious people in the world who are enforcing some extremely serious rules. Got it. If we want to work with them, we will absolutely adhere to their uncompromisable regulations.

If we choose to make our art our OWN WAY, however, within our own delightful system that we ourselves have invented that is ITSELF part of our art, then we may not get around to meeting you, dear official rule maker, but all the best!

For those of us who are making movies in our own unique and innovative way, here are five useful approaches to handling common situations that arise in our well-meaning, law-revering moviemaking culture:

1. Location Permits

Let’s say you need a hotel room for your movie, but you don’t necessarily have briefcases full of greenbacks designated for a hotel manager or owner. A couple creative alternatives for you come to mind here:

  • Depending on your shot list, you may not ever need to show the exterior of your hotel. Empty your own bedroom of its personal touches and BAM: mysterious motel room. No permit needed!
  • Cruise remote suburban areas where films are not often shot and genially approach 20 to 30 hotel proprietors until you find the one who loves movies and can’t wait to host you for some ridiculously low fee.  No permit needed. This was the case for us. We are forever in love with Saeed Farzam at Pavillions Motel, Santa Monica.

When you’re not so keen to go the route of location permits, be open-minded, tenacious, persistent, and filled with faith. Seriously. Believe that you will find or invent the location that you need, and you will.

2. Burning Fires Openly

To some, this is a questionable act. For others, this is necessary preparation for a scene about a house that just burned down. How can you film charred remains with no charred remains, I ask you?  Still, let it be said, dear filmmaker of good intentions, in this scenario you have to have permission from somebody. You may not have a permit from the city; you may not have consulted with ALL interested legal parties; you MUST however, be sure the ground you are about to singe is on property that is legally your own – or on that of a friend or family member who has given you the thumbs up. You will also want to have on hand every manner of garden hose, fire extinguisher and buckets of water aplenty. Kind of essential, really. The peace of mind that comes with such measures is an added plus. Among other things, we toasted a mattress, some old 2 x 4s and a broken screen door in the field behind a generous and thoughtful friend’s home, making for a cozy campfire among neighbors!

Long story short: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3. Auditions in a public park

During pre-production of our first feature film, our pockets were not necessarily lined with dosh for the rental of an audition space. And the little kid who we wanted to see for the role agreed to meet us after his drama class, which was right around the corner from a park. What could be more convenient. The moviemaking gods were clearly handing us a free space to hold auditions. We met him and his parents near the jungle gym. Lovely family. Turned on our video camera; asked Mom & Dad if they minded; went ahead with our small leading man’s on-camera interview. Later, when the City Parks representative kindly asked us to cease and desist, we did. Said thank you to our family and left the premises. But we had our winning audition on tape.

Better to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission!

4. Gun Permits

This one is a bit of a dice roll, but why not roll ’em. Life is short. Make hay while the sun shines. We filmed our gang-member-shoots-pistol-in-air scene (complete with 12 volunteer ex-gang-members) with a completely rubber, bullet-free, total prop gun in an outdoor city scene at night with no permit.  I was having a bit of a heart attack I must admit. What if someone misinterpreted what was going on? What if someone dangerous strolled past our little staged scene and decided to get involved? What if the cops showed up and fined us $10,000?

My advice for you: Pray.

Naive? Perhaps stupid is more apt? Some might say so, but in the absence of any other measures taken, I prayed all week leading up to our scheduled ‘gun fight day’. I prayed hundreds of times in advance of that shoot that everyone would be safe and protected, and that we would all be completely okay. We also cut all yelling, swearing, and, well, talking  from the scene. The whole thing was shot in silence.

But yes: Pray. Pray to whatever god, person, saint, animal, mineral, other being or universe you love that gives you hope and comfort, while you film your brave and excellent independent film. PRAY.

In the case of our ‘gun fight day’, night fell, the ex-gang-members acted out their thing, and the cops showed up. Our director jogged over to their car.

Now I know that our director is good with people – charming and all that – but this went above and beyond. As unexplainable as a UFO-sighting, our uniformed friends chatted with the director for about five minutes and then quietly drove away.  “Just finish up quickly” is what they instructed.

Some police people out there are pretty cool, dear fellow filmmakers. (Thank you moviemaking angels.)

5. Family Home Videos

The police also found us on a different day: a charming sunny afternoon when we were filming in the quaint hills of Highland Park in Los Angeles. They calmly asked us what we were doing. It’s these kinds of days when you are rewarded for bringing aboard that clever and trusted producer-extraordinaire.

Our producer Andrew Ahn warmly greeted our friendly neighborhood patrolmen, then happily told them about our family video. We were proudly documenting our Korean, Mexican, and Irish-Welsh roots for our next addition to our collective family home video library.

When you have no permits, you are always making a family home video.

filmmaking

In conclusion, it’s not so much that rules are made to be broken; it’s more that rules crave to be creatively circumvented. The entire history of humanity teems with examples of rules that have been innovatively re-envisioned. Rules must never be allowed to stop you and your art, dear talented friend. Rules are simply another way that life inspires you to be more creative. Never allow them to slow you down to the point of inaction! Allow rules to fuel you into inspired action! You MUST MAKE what you are called to make. Heed your heart! Do it’s bidding! Make your thing! Save the world!

 

Tara Samuel is a script consultant and editor on fire about sharpening your screenplay. She is your script kicker. In close collaboration with you the client, Samuel zeroes in on the specificity of your characters, hones your story rhythm and maximizes your audience engagement helping you to create a perfect story-ride www.scriptkicker.com. Tara Samuel is an award-winning producer-actor from Toronto, most recently for her role in Ruby Booby. Her writing and directing has been celebrated on the festival circuit, and she has published filmmaking articles in a number of publications, including MovieMaker Magazine. Samuel teaches a six-week screenwriting course in Los Angles with co-instructor John Sandel at The Script Kitchen. More information:  scriptkitchen@gmail.com

photo of film permit courtesy of filmthis.net
photo of film crew courtesy of vexithmedia.com

 

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