Pro Tips for Aspiring Filmmakers from 'Cheap Thrills' Director E.L. Katz
Filmmaking is a lot like being in a serious relationship: it requires all of your time, focus, and love, it requires an insane amount of patience, and you'll probably spend most of your time pulling your hair out and crying. For those approaching their first films and are looking for a little guidance before jumping headlong into it all, the director of the black comedy Cheap Thrills, E.L. Katz, offers first-time filmmakers 12 pieces of advice in this great article from Indiewire. We've shared a few tips from the list, so continue on to check them out!
To get an idea of the project Katz references, check out the trailer for Cheap Thrills below:
Choose an aesthetic that matches your schedule
Everything takes longer than you think; that's a lesson I learn every time I work on a project. I spent weeks planning the aesthetic for a music video around using a Glidecam (which I was using for the first time), and quickly realized that I didn't have time to calibrate, shoot, and, of course, reshoot what I just shot, because I wasn't familiar with stabilization gear I was using. Situations like this invariably pop up, especially if there are lots of moving parts, and in most cases it's easier to change an aesthetic than it is to change a schedule. Katz says:
I chose to film Cheap Thrills mostly handheld, not just because I wanted the thing to have a naturalistic, drunken, fly-on-the-wall type feel, but also because I knew that I really wouldn't have the time to fuss around with track, or complicated setups. It can take hours to prepare for a dolly shot, a steadi-cam sometimes takes forever to really prep for.
Shoot a safety -- always!
Even when you think you got it on your first (or second) try, shoot that thing again. Katz explains that, "It’s not that the first one is bad per se, but technical errors can sometimes slip past people when they’ve been working long hours, and moving quickly." The phrase "One more for safety," isn't just a simple direction; it also signified that, yes, we got the shot, yes, I'm super excited, but yes, we need to make sure we got it. Why? Because the editing room is where you find all of the mistakes made on the set, and sometimes it's already too late to fix it by then.
Keep a positive attitude
Technical, mechanical, and emotional meltdowns are an inevitability during production, but these aren't the things that are going to kill your project. A negative attitude surely can, however, because it destroys that which your project thrives on: creativity, enthusiasm, passion, and a cast and crew willing to offer all those things to you. A short film I shot a couple of years ago turned out to be the production from hell -- and footage was lost, my shotgun mic went out, the light kit didn't make it to the set, and the homeowner decided to Skype with his girlfriend throughout several scenes (Don't be a wuss about asking people (nicely) to scram -- even if they're letting you use their place.)
You'll be tempted to let things like this get to you, but don't let them! A bad attitude is so much worse than a broken mic or an unfocused shot. Remember that, for the most part, your cast and crew are looking to you to set the tone each day -- make sure it's a good one. Katz explains it well:
No matter how crazy things get, no matter how impossible everything can sometimes feel, as long as you try to grin and bear it, try to tackle every scene with enthusiasm, heart, and total concentration, you’ll get through the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the shoot, and hopefully, with luck, you might even get a movie out of it.
Be sure to check out the rest of E.L. Katz's tips on Indiewire! (The first one about having a good script is essentially my creative mantra.)
Did you relate with any of Katz's tips? What lessons have you learned that you think would help young indie filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below.