Making a Movie

Here's a glimpse at what went into preparing for my recent Art Grant project.

The hardest part of making my next short film is over.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a month now, but on Friday, May 6th, at about 1:55 pm, we wrapped production on my latest short film. Easy, Over Eggs, written by Zach Low and directed by me, is now being edited. In the coming months, we’ll find some music for it. The film will at some point be available to watch. Knowing that now it’s just a matter a time, and not so much a matter of logistics, is a relief.

Zach Frankart, director of photography and producer, prepares the camera

Pre-production is a stressful part of the filmmaking process that’s not often talked about. Most filmmakers are probably too exhausted when it’s all over to even want to think about it. Leading up to rolling sound and cameras, you have to figure out money, people, locations, and scheduling. You spend months planning for two days of filming to make a 10 minute short film. The amount of time that goes into making a film cannot be understated.

How I prepare to make a film

I watch and read a lot. I hoard ideas and inspiration from others like an animal gathering food as they head into winter. Watching films and reading about how they were made helps me in a couple ways.

First, I learn from their mistakes (and I’m reminded of my own) so I don’t make them. Second, I can find inspiration for things to try. It’s not about watching someone’s work so you can rip it off - it’s so you can make new connections. If I take this piece from here, and that piece from there, and combine them with this original idea, what happens? That’s when you can discover something new and figure out what it is you have to say about it.

This time, though, it was a little different.

Cameron Kelly and Trent Rowland get in character

About that thing I said

As I wrapped up my last short film in 2014, I wrote:

I don't know that I'll ever make a film that fits a traditional narrative - such as two people sitting at a table talking. And that's OK, because part of what I love about film is that there's so much room to explore.

I thought about that for awhile. I really meant it - I didn’t know if that staple of filmmaking was something I’d ever end up doing. And then, I decided to challenge myself. Why can't I have fun making a movie with two people sitting at a table? Why can't I add the same subtext and nuance to that? And what would it be like to work from someone else's script? I wanted to find out.

Working with someone else's script meant this project wasn't just about my vision, but also the writer's perspective. We collaborated closely, sending about a half dozen versions of the script back and forth over a 3 month period. Most versions only had minor changes, but a couple saw drastic cuts to see how far we could go. In my mind, a big part of filmmaking is to see how much you can say with as little as possible. While the original version of the script was 29 pages and written with the intention of being a stage play, we settled on a shooting script that was around 15 pages, but still felt true to its original vision.

Zach Frankart's script with shooting notes

How to make a movie when you’re busy with life

Another big thing that was different time around - I'm making a movie when I have 2 kids. Here's how you do it:

  • Work through your lunch break so you can take meetings and make calls.
  • Stay up after everyone else is in bed, even though you know you'll have to be up in a couple hours (when your 6-month-old baby wakes up).
  • Do it because you have to, because you're compelled to make art.
  • Do it because it's fun.

A brief moment of downtime on day one

Nothing can stop us now

Well, a few things can stop us.

Less than a month until our production date, and we still hadn’t confirmed a location. Then it’s 2 weeks out and I don't know if we'll be making this thing. This is the time you just want to quit. Pack it up and go home. But you can't. Right?

Most people do quit, though. Making a movie isn’t hard. The individual pieces are hard - finding and scheduling and getting permission and paying for things. Those aren’t easy. Too many people hit the first or second or tenth roadblock and decide that enough's enough. But if you stick with it, it does start to come together.

A week before we were set to film, just as it felt like everything was about to fall apart, the opposite happened - we got things in order, and people offered to pitch in even more than we had asked. Let’s go!

The best analogy I can come up with is this: Making a movie is like wrangling a bunch of marbles on a slick table. Your goal is to get them to all roll in the same direction. The thing is as you push one along, it bumps into another, which sets off a new chain of events. Oh, and the table has holes and spikes and marble-eating monsters. You have to get through with as many marbles - and fingers - left as possible. Things go from completely in control to violently random, until all is calm and everything settles into place.

And then you start filming.

Cameron Kelly, Zach Frankart, and Trent Rowland on set

Want to see what happened after we started filming? Read future updates here.