When I talk about my film 6 Month Rule, the first thing people ask is: “What’s the six month rule?” (Answer: It’s the main character’s theory that you can—and will—get over any girl in six months… He’s got a lot of rules like this). The second thing they ask is: “How do you direct and act at the same time… and why would you want to?” Legitimate questions, both. Seems like there are a lot of us writer/director/actor types out there right now, and I’m sure each one works differently and has their own strengths and weaknesses. Mine are specific to the road I took to get here.
I came to Los Angeles as an actor. Not just any actor, but he worst kind: A teenage actor. I did my penance at the Oakwood and hung out at Jerry’s Famous Deli with the other teen actors. Spiderman educated me on veganism and that dude from Titanic stole some of my curly fries. I started writing because I wanted better roles, and I started directing because I didn’t like this one director telling me what to do. Then I discovered that I like the control, pressure and artistic freedom that wearing all three hats gives me.
There are, however, certain guidelines to pulling off this trifecta successfully, and because I’m here plugging 6 Month Rule (which is not coincidentally premiering at the Austin Film Festival this month) allow me to present my rules for directing, writing and acting in an indie film. Get it? It’s a play on Rules. Clever, right?
The “Don’t Listen To Them” Rule
Any time you embark on making a film, you’ll encounter a lot of naysayers, but rarely more than in this situation. Both my writing and acting agents discouraged me from directing my first feature, because they thought it was a terrible, ego-driven idea. Then, when the movie turned out well, they told me I was a born director and should stop acting. Whatever. It’s art. As long as you’re willing to stand by the final product, you can do what you want. Actually, this rule applies to pretty much everything.
The “You Can’t Do This Alone” Rule
You need a team of people who you trust and who share your vision for the film. My first feature as a director, Outside Sales, was super-low budget with a cast of friends from my theater company. They were there because I respected their talent and welcomed their input. I remember my lead actor saying to me at one point, “The improv you’re doing is pretty funny, but the lines you wrote are better”. Good note. If you’re going to act and direct, you need people who will say that kind of thing to you. On 6 Month Rule, the production team was my support. My DP, editor, script supervisor and producers were all part of the brain trust. We have a shared artistic sensibility, and I knew their motivation was simply to make the best film possible.
The “Don’t Be a Wussy Mr. Sensitive Actor” Rule
You don’t get to be Mr. Sensitive in this particular situation. Occasionally the folks you trust are going to—brace yourself—actually criticize you. You have to listen to them. That’s what they’re there for. You don’t have to take their advice, but you have to listen to it. And don’t go all “weird actor” and get insecure. Nobody asked you to direct and star in the film… well, nobody asked me. Somebody probably asked George Clooney. But, whatever, the point is that if you can’t take criticism, you shouldn’t be doing this in the first place.
The “…But Don’t Be a Doormat” Rule
There’s a line. You’re the director. There needs to be a level of respect and a chain of command. When a production assistant starts telling you that you should have been funnier in that last scene, you need to draw that line. Sometimes even the brain trust will cross it by yelling out suggestions like “Do it faster!” to you, the director, in front of other cast members. If you have an open and communicative set, it’s going to happen. Boundaries get blurred. Stop it quickly and, if necessary, loudly. Directors get to have their freak-outs. Just make sure it’s a director freak out, not an actor one.
The “Stand-In” Rule
Oh, yeah. Have a stand-in. They don’t even have to look like you. Mine was Rebecca, a blonde who was a good five inches shorter than me. She was always standing by with an apple box, ready to jump in when I wanted to look at the shot. She also helped keep my head together as an actor and would write down blocking or run lines. This is stuff you can forget to do when you’re wearing several hats.
The “Playback” Rule
Watch the video playback. Just do it.
The “Don’t Forget the Talent” Rule
As a director, one of my strong qualities is working with actors. I listen, I speak the language and I know when they may need encouragement, guidance or just a chat. When you’re acting in a scene opposite them, though, things can get complicated, not because you don’t see and feel what’s happening, but because it’s not your first instinct to direct them as soon as you cut. This is a huge mistake. Always show the actors that you’re paying attention to them. The worst thing you can do is let them believe that all you care about is your own performance. Nobody likes that. They are there because they believe in you and the project that you are making together.
The “Don’t Be a Credit Hog” Rule
They say that money is what makes people crazy. This is true. But in the independent film world, the thing that really drives people teeth-baring-freak-out-movie-wrecking-crazy is the credit. People will kill for credit. “I thought of this blocking,” “I changed that line,” “I saved this movie.” Fine, but who cares? In your film, for which you are the actor, writer and director, it takes a fucking village. Own that. There’s room for all of it. You’ve got enough credits already.
The “The Movie Is the Thing” Rule
Everything besides the movie is inconsequential. Your ego, insecurity and pride mean nothing. The final product is the prize you must keep your eye on. Don’t get in your own way; let everything that doesn’t make the movie better go.
Blayne Weaver (@BlayneWeaver) is the writer, director and star of 6 Month Rule, which begins its limited theatrical run tomorrow, June 1st. For more information on the film and to find out if it’s coming to your city, visit 6MonthRuleMovie.com.