Enough Talk! Jump in the Van! David Gordon Green's Approach to Making 'Prince Avalanche'

Prince AvalancheHere's a challenging question: How many months or years have you been sitting on your film project without making any significant headway? For some of us, myself included, the answer is "too many." We tend to do a whole lot of talking about making movies instead of actually making them, widening the chasm between conceiving a great idea and bringing that idea to fruition. In an interview for The Playlist, director of indie film Prince Avalanche, David Gordon Green, talks about how his "jump in the van and just do it" method helped him and his small crew begin shooting his "secret" film after less than 2 months of sitting on it.

Being the prolific and eclectic filmmaker that he is, Green has directed and produced many films from a wide range of genres, from comedies like Pineapple Express to dramas like The ComedyHe's no stranger to big budget films, but his latest film, Prince Avalanche, is seen as his return to his indie roots.

The Playlist posted an interview that they conducted back in January about his latest directing venture, in which Green talks a lot about the no-fuss process of making the film, starting with his simplistic approach to filmmaking:

I made this Chrysler commercial last year that had Clint Eastwood in it and it played during the Super Bowl and it ended up being this kind of big, spectacle. But the process of making it was very minimal, intimate and with a small crew -- the fact that we had a huge movie star come in it was the cool part. We were shooting for weeks doing this, traveling around doing this thing and I was thinking, “Why don't I make movies like this?” Just a little band in a van, jump out and shoot a movie and I bet a movie star would like to do something like that.

After a friend recommended watching Icelandic film Either Way because of its "lo-fi" process, Green decided that he was going to remake it. So, what kind of turn-around does a guy like this have?  He says, "I slept on it for a couple of days and I just got up and started writing my version of it." This may be more typical for most of us -- you get an idea in your head that you can't shake, you sit down a day or two later (maybe even instantly) and start fleshing it out.

But what happens after the honeymoon, so to speak? Passions grow cold, fingers grip a little tighter to money, and the chasm, again, widens. But why? Why don't we take the dive and make the films we, at least at some point, are so excited about?

When I decide, "Hey, I want a sandwich," I get super excited. I think, "I'm going all out! Where's the deli turkey, romaine, Dijon, and avocado? Oh -- damn, maybe some bacon, too." Now, I don't always have turkey, romaine, Dijon, avocado, and bacon. If I wanted that glorious sandwich, I'd have to complicate everything by putting on pants, driving to the store, and spending tons of dough to make one sandwich. I guarantee you my passions would be doused before my foot made it all the way through the leg of my jeans.

However, does that stop me from making a delicious sandwich? No -- I reach for the peanut butter and jelly, because I always have it on hand. It's simpler, delicious, and completely satisfying. A film can be great whether or not you have a huge crew, big budget, and months to work on it. Scaling back is not a bad thing -- in fact, Green voluntarily did it:

[I] really took all of what I love about the process and capitalized on that and then vacuumed the stuff that's kind of logistic heavy and paperwork and legality and negotiation which was like -- we already know we're not getting paid and if you want to jump in the van and hang out and work with us, let's do it.

I say this to myself constantly, "If I just had more --" More what? Money? Time? Resources? "V, shut up." Those things don't make movies -- filmmakers make movies. Money, time, and resources can definitely help you construct your vision on-screen, but they can also potentially hinder you by over-complicating the process. Green says:

Those [bigger budget movies] just take a real long time and there's a lot of taking about making movies. I mean both [types of filmmaking are] amazing. I love both of them but like there's something to the momentum of low-budget movies that you're in total financial control over.

Prince Avalanche Emile Hirsch

So, enough talk. Ask yourself, "What's holding me back?" Is it money? Is it your day job? Are you struggling to find a reliable cast/crew? Try to schedule time every day to work on your project, even if it's deciding on one single location to shoot at. Make decisions. Get hands-on. Activate yourself! Jump in a van for Pete's sake!

Green puts it simply, "I didn't want to talk about movie making, I just wanted to make movies." I'll admit, I'm probably the guiltiest one here: I have 28 unfinished screenplays, 3 finished ones with no plans to move into production, and 4 projects waiting to be edited. I'm a mess.

Who, like me, wants to try David Gordon Green's approach and just "jump in a van" and make a movie? What approach to filmmaking do you find is most successful for you? Let us know in the comments?

Link: Interview: David Gordon Green On The Free-Spirited 'Prince Avalanche,' Working With Nicolas Cage & 'Suspiria' -- The Playlist

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Your Comment


David Gordon Green directed The Comedy?

August 9, 2013 at 6:41PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


No, he was one of the producers.

"Being the prolific and eclectic filmmaker that he is, Green has directed and produced many films from a wide range of genres, from comedies like Pineapple Express to dramas like The Comedy."

August 9, 2013 at 8:38PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

V Renée
Content Manager at Coverfly

Ahh I see, that guy can do anything.

Thanks for the post btw, it was really something.

August 9, 2013 at 11:25PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I've made movies like that. It works as long as you have a good grasp on story and are happy with a film where only about 70% of it will work.
In the UK/Australasia its essentially how EVERY indie film is made. Make a bit of commercial cash - run out and shoot a movie!
Also, sadly its not a great film. Its got some ok scenes, but even though he had an existing film to base it on it doesn't quite work. That's the hardest part about this kind of filmmaking - usually there's no money/time for reshoots, which feel like 'real' filmmaking after the rush that is run and gun. Also, COVERAGE. SOUND. :-)

August 9, 2013 at 6:54PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I think what needs to stressed is the van. How many can you get in a van? That is your cast and crew for the duration of the shoot. Those big rent-a-van things are what? 10-12 Max with gear and wardrobe.

August 10, 2013 at 1:59AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


You guys should check out the norwegian film "It's only make believe".
Crew members during shoot: 1
One guy directed and shot the entire film, the actors were wearing radio mics, and all the other sound stuff was done by same director and a friend later on. All natural lighting. Edited by the director. Looks beautiful and has a kind of raw energy to it that feels pretty special. Worth a watch.

August 10, 2013 at 2:58PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Great article, I thought it was really well written and inspiring. Also, I loved the sandwich analogy! :)
I can totally relate to getting that inspired feeling where you want to take on the world one day and the next finding it too daunting to move forward with that initial momentum. It's easy to get caught up with a day job, relationships, etc - seems like the whole world can hinder your project at times when really the biggest obstacle is yourself. I think its important to have encouragement from peers/family -whoever, to give you confidence but ultimately to actually finish something you really do need to grab your camera, jump in that van, and just do it.

August 10, 2013 at 8:23PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


1. Nobody takes risks anymore.
2. Everyone waits for the perfect situation when there is none.
3. Most people do not have a story worth telling and too much "camera" not worth showing.

But if you can find a guy/gal/actor who elicits interest and response from you and have a story worth telling, can MAKE the time, and use resources available to you the door opens much easier. Think how crappy your first feature effort will probably be. Why would you expect some investor to bankroll millions into it? Most filmmakers had three features before their first box office "Feature."

August 10, 2013 at 9:48PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



August 11, 2013 at 3:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM