Notes from Movieland: Okay, So I Made a Mistake…


Greetings once again oh hallowed readers and moviemakers!

I’ve collected some kooky stories I hope you’ll enjoy. A number of independent moviemakers—some friends, others complete strangers—shared some of their most painful or amusing (or both) moviemaking experiences with me. I was so stoked (does anybody use that word anymore or am I lagging a decade or two?) by the response that I got that I’ve decided to turn this into an ongoing series over the next month!

I asked these three questions of the moviemakers:

1) What was the most painful and/or amusing mistake you made during the making of your film and what did you learn from it?
2) What will you do differently on your next production?
3) What advice would you give your fellow moviemakers?

I made my own lengthy confession in my last blog, “How NOT to make a Movie,” copping to 17 of my most heinous movie sins.

The first moviemaker’s story, about an alcoholic vampire, almost slaughtered me. See below. My stomach muscles still hurt.

Enjoy!!!

(I invite anybody out there to PLEASE send me your own embarrassing or frustrating or absurd moviemaking moment and I’ll try to include it in the series. Answer the three questions listed above, your name and the film title as well as any promotional links to the film you’d like to share with our audience. Good luck!!! Send it to .)

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Danny Draven
(Danny Draven) is an award-winning director, producer and writer of horror films. From slashers to robots to vampires to beds that kill, each one has a unique story behind it. He started out working with genre notables like Full Moon Entertainment’s owner Charles Band (Puppetmaster, Blood Dolls), as well as producing and directing Deathbed for “Master of Horror,” Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). Draven’s production company, Darkworld Pictures, recently finished a 35mm feature called Ghost Month, a supernatural-thriller which he produced, wrote and directed. The film won the Best Director and Best Cinematography award at the Chicago Horror Film Festival and will be released on June 9, 2009 on DVD and Blu-ray in North America.

Draven is also the owner of a post-production company, Darkworld Post), through which he recently edited the Sci Fi Channel original movie, Ice Spiders. Here he recounts a story from the filming of Cryptz.

What was the most painful and/or amusing mistake you made during the making of your film and what did you learn from it?

Danny Draven (DD): It was the last few hours of a long day. We were shooting at a new location in the morning and we needed to finish the last scene at the current location, no matter what. The scene was scripted as a complicated ritual with magic potions, blood and mayhem. The actress, who spent hours in the makeup chair getting prosthetics, contact lenses and vampire teeth applied, decided to get drunk before the scene. I don’t know why and I had no idea at the time. A few minutes before shooting, I went over the blocking with the actress and noticed she was somewhat comatose. Here I was with hours left at this location and I have a half-naked, drunk vampire staring at me. Her speech was slurred, balance off-kilter and I knew she hadn’t been drinking blood, but gin and juice. We were screwed.

I told everyone to take 10. And then I threw away the script and my plans. I sat there and asked myself: What do drunks like to do? After a few moments, and remembering my Uncle Bob, it hit me: They like to fight! I quickly called everyone back and improvised the entire ending of the movie as a fight scene. We got it all and wrapped on time. I’ll never forget that story, so cheers to drunk vampires everywhere… this Bud’s for you!

Moral? If there’s a will, there’s a way. No matter how bizarre.

What advice would you give your fellow moviemakers?

DD: Check for blood-alcohol content level at the auditions.

What advice would you give your fellow moviemakers?

DD: Go make your movie!

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Antero Alli
I’ve profiled Antero once before in the blog entitled “Notes from the Underground: Tarkovsky, Alli, Maddin and Me.”

I’m tangentially related to Antero, a fellow Finnish American: He’s my cousin’s half-brother. This obsessive genius/artist has been churning out films for over a decade. His work is confounding to most people, but for his true fans, he’s a conceptual god. I love the hallucinatory quality of his storytelling and now count myself a fan. Where else am I going to get surreal films performed by mad theater performers (Antero’s ParaTheatrical ReSearch troupe) woven with the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the philosophy of French Surrealist Antonin Artaud and the musings of Rainer Maria Rilke?

One of his latest, Invisible Forest (www.verticalpool.com/invisibleforest.html) is a strange concoction of Shakespearean fantasy gone awry, psychoanalysis and cryptic mythical storytelling. Antero shows his work at local Berkeley art houses. Antero doesn’t rely on outside funding so he is free to cull the always evocative corners of his mind ad infinitum without anybody else’s agenda interfering. This is the courage to create. This is the courage not to worry about next month’s rent.

What was the most painful and/or amusing mistake you made during the making of your film and what did you learn from it?

Antero Alli (AA): Whatever wisdom I have earned throughout my 15 years of film production has come from making mistakes and correcting myself afterwards. Mistakes are not a problem; repeating the same mistakes are the problem. Since each production carries its own unique set of problems, hopefully I will be making new mistakes as I go.

As for the most painful and/or amusing mistake I have made, well that is easy: An earlier feature of mine, Tragos (2000) was shot on Mini-DV and after a grueling all night shoot of the final scene of the movie, we packed up the gear and left the set to go home and sleep.

Several months after production ended, I couldn’t find the tapes we shot that night. I looked everywhere and no tapes were found. I did have tapes for the rest of the movie. But the all-important final scene was missing! That was the painful part. There was nothing left for me to do except to start making calls and e-mails with the desperate hope that the set, crew, gear and actors were all still available.

As luck would have it, everybody and everything were still available. On set, I realized that I needed to shoot a different ending than the one I had originally scripted and so, on a break, I furiously wrote it out and then handed copies to the crew and actors. We shot the new final scene in half the takes of the first attempt! The amusing part was how much better the new ending served the entire film than the one I had originally shot.

The super amusing part was going home and finding the lost tape on my bathroom floor behind the toilet where it had, evidently, fallen out of my pants pocket while sitting on the crapper.

What will you do differently on your next production?

AA: One of the only reasons for me to attempt “the next production” is to approach at least something differently than the last one. I shudder at the mere thought of repeating myself. And so each of my completed eight feature fictions differs from the last. After 15 years, I am at the tail end of a 15-month break from film production in order to get a new perspective on the next project. Since most of my films have fairly large casts—six or more principals—what I would do differently next is explore a story with fewer characters, like say maybe two or three or four maximum. I would like to do an investigation—a character study—of a truly heinous criminal and a murder mystery. Something I’ve never attempted. Though I have worked with unscripted, improvised character dialogue in three films (based on strong story and character profiles), I love the excitement and uncertainty of working without a script or storyboards.

What advice would you give your fellow moviemakers?

AA: If at all possible, stay true to your vision and don’t compromise your values. This means you must first know what that vision is and what your values are. What is it that makes your life worth living? If you don’t have a handle on these anchors of vision and value, you will be more easily swayed by the distorted ideals of the “Hollywood Dream Machine” and its in-house industry standards.

Do not create work for any target audience; create the work that most truthfully expresses or reflects your vision and your values. Do not work with any crew, actor or actress—no matter how talented they are—that you experience no personal rapport with. Pre-production and on-set communication between actors, crew and director is paramount to successful filmmaking. An on-set climate of relaxation, honesty and compassion supports the creative process far more than any amount of screaming, pushing and resentment. Filmmaking is very difficult and communication breakdowns between actor and director can destroy your chances of completing on schedule and on budget, not to mention adding more stress to an already very stressful process.

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Courage for the Journey!
Anne

P.S. And don’t forget to send me your own story!

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