How to Make a Movie Entirely on Your Own [PODCAST]

'Ramblin' Freak' director Parker Smith didn't need a crew or any actors to get his first feature into SXSW.

Before Ramblin Freak', Tacodeli employee Parker Smith had made only one movie that featured sound. The three-time film school dropout was stuck between a rock and a hard place after realizing his internship at the Austin Film Society provided little more opportunity than the theater job he had just left. This was just enough motivation to write out a budget on the back of a receipt in the kitchen at Tacodeli, purchase two archaic Panasonic DVX 100Bs, and start production on his remarkable documentary, which premiered at SXSW last week in the Visions section. 

The task of making the first feature is a daunting one. Some would certainly think that filming it entirely alone should make it a hundred times more difficult. For Parker, however, being the only member of his film crew provided him with the freedom necessary to experiment, learn, and shoot his movie the way he wanted. 

In Ramblin' Freak Smith captures himself journeying in a van across the country to find legendary bodybuilder Gregg Valentino. Valentino's story (his arms exploded due to overuse of anabolic steroids) merely sets the stage for the real heart of the film: Parker's deeply personal self-reckoning with his twin sisters' lifelong battle with EB. (Victims of Epidermolysis Bullosa lack a critical protein that binds the layers of skin together. Without this protein, the skin tears apart. There is no known cure.)

Producer Jon Fusco sat down with Smith at SXSW to learn how he pulled off making a movie about a guy who doesn't know how to make a movie. From watching five documentaries a night rented out of his local video store to finding a producer through Instagram, he provides us with insight into the art of learning as you go. 

Listen to the episode by streaming or downloading from the embedded player above, or find it on iTunes here.

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This episode was produced and edited by Jon Fusco.

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Your Comment


I think really EVERYONE should make their first movie alone.

My first doc just released ( has won several awards and is getting really great reviews and impacting people. But it wasn't easy, I shot, edited, produced and am distributing it all alone.

But already had sold out screenings of 500+ audiences (5 times), sold almost a thousand copies, and was invited to screen at our state capital in Wisconsin.

And no, I never went to film school or had ANY industry help... at all.

Just a good story and BIGTIME drive to get it done.

YOU can do it too!

March 27, 2017 at 7:52AM, Edited March 27, 7:52AM

Jordan Mederich
Documentarian / Filmmaker

Awesome. It's great to hear this. I made a short and likewise I pretty much did everything; even the lead role. It was good fun to do and I was lucky enough to win Best Low-Budget Film at the London Short Film Festival this year. It’s called 'Doomsday Ready' - - Obviously lots of hard-work involved, but it’s great what you can do now with pretty modest kit.

March 27, 2017 at 3:03PM, Edited March 27, 3:05PM

mark jackson

Hi! I'd love to watch Ramblin Freak. Where can I purchase the movie?

April 3, 2017 at 7:16PM

Sarah Le

Hi, great article ! This is an inspiration for all filmmakers ! (WoW).

No matter if you're alone in this - don't fret it; some things are possible (not everything of course, within the scope of your production budget
and your time/resources)...
but this filmmaker proved that it's possible. Believe in yourself, don't give up (it cannot be 'an option', just tell yourself that you will
go through it all the way, abandonning will almost seem as if it was all in vain (especially, if so far in the process). You learn a lot
through the process and the years; but one thing you learn is to never give up and making sure you reach the end).
I suggest also that first-time filmmakers spend a - great - deal of efforts on these elements :
- Story/Characters/Uniqueness/Originality/Your own thing (not a reproduction of someone else's ideas)
- Visuals
- Sounds
- Your distribution plan (what happens after you're done.. figure it out, the sooner, the better (your PLAN B/C later if it doesn't go as well as planned with distribution/no one
watches your*ttt......etc). Inform yourself of how to maximize outreach for 'audience viewing' of your profile, Nobody (really) spends years to have their film be shown
to their family and friends...and that'S it. All filmmakers (mostly) wish to 'make it Big' (for the first film at least) and hope for the best in terms of distribution. It's
such a crucial step, tThere is 'making the film' and then another thing, 'making the film play somewhere with people'.
- Cinematography (the better it is,
- Find ways to get money (That's very obvious though), crowdfunding or such (I haven't ventured there but I may need to; I hope not). You're going to need some at some point (buying 'unforeseen' things, 'unforesen expenses'; like you will need a E&O special insurance
'that protects teh distributor of copyright infringement' if you wish to distribute your film).

The choice/genre of that film is something that I've noticed
for many indie no-budget starters; the documentary. I think that's a great avenue for anyone contemplating
making their own film - by themselves - alone (or nearly alone). I will share some of my feelings (
as I am currently making (alone on my own) my first full feature adult-R fiction thriller film (I started many years ago...still not done (
the reason for that is because I am doing a 3D CGI Animation Film that has the quality of a Pixar film less the childish PG content (Rather than 'filmed film' 'live' in reality).
I have 0 experience with 'live filming - I don't even have a camera lol! (Except an old cruddy NTSC cam that I never use(d))' (althoug I very much 'get' the camera
language and transpose in digital cinematography (as best as I can, it's not 1:1 thing, in digital, you cheat
and you try to 'make it look' like the real thing. It's hard, but with these years and improvements, softwares
have become so powerful they replicate anything you do in real life with almost 100% accuracy (like there was an article about real-time renderers that is demonstration that fully 3DCG or 2D animation film made
Entirely in the
computer will dramatically appear in the next 15 years); and it will get
Even Better/Faster/more Automated..etc; it only improves, that that's the benefit of computer automatization
and exponential 'manpower' available by the computer/automatization; that huge crew, some of their tasks
get automated; as such it becomes feasible to do it own your own in the 'virtual (imaginary) world, either 2D (hand drawn); or 3D (full CGI)' (as I am doing)).
Sometimes, I feel like creating a No3DAnimationFilmSchool like website, there are absolutely none.
There is very little content regardings to non-real film. In fact, it's always assumed
that 'film' is real and with a camera, when film has taken form in animation hand drawn and later
on in computer imagery (CGI animation). That's why I love this medium of film, it's not about
picking up a camera/point and shoot real things (which is great too). It's about making a world from your own thoughts
of reality - rather than filming reality itself (with a cam). Of course, that entails lots of
work (you may need a whole team (and very little people 'venture' alone in animation it'S too much work), or you must 'get creative'/solve lack of manpower/no-budget problems) and that is why people shoot film 'in real life' (you can't beat reality - it's free/there for you,
plus if you're alone/on your own it gets more feasible), it's easier to shoot live than making/creating it all by yourself in a animation or CG film (like I'm doing). This requires
most creative capabilities and demands on you, because you must replicate reality/basing yourself on
reality. With that said, I counted the animation/CG texts on this website on one hand (sigh). Clearly,
very few people are doing that (going the 'animation' route for first film). I could ask how many people have made a full-length feature film (not a short) in animation
or CGI here or even on ImbDB - alone, by their own self; I would get silence/(silent) crickets.

Just a 2 cent.

April 7, 2017 at 8:47PM, Edited April 7, 8:47PM


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