By this, I mean, go to a quiet place, think about the project you want to create and then make a decision to commit to it and begin. Once you begin, ensure nothing stops you from getting it made. Nothing can stop you if in that moment when you made the decision to begin, you were 100% sincere with yourself and your intentions.
So, be clear with yourself & your intentions. And then it’s full-steam ahead. And enjoy the ride!! ‘Cos filmmaking is an adventure full of fun, friends, enemies, trials, tribulations, successes and drunken parties.
Enjoy it all! And soak it up!
Don’t ask for Permission: ask for Forgiveness
Of course I can’t recommend breaking the law so…
Write what you know – or don’t!
Often, when you have no money to make your films, writing what you know, can help. So, if you write a short film that is about your childhood for instance? Maybe you could shoot for free in your parent’s house where you grew up? And use the house a the base for cast and crew and equipment? The location would also lend a certain authenticity to the story and perhaps you will be more attuned to the ‘truth’ in the story than you might otherwise be if you had written something you didn’t know anything about.
But you don’t have to do this. Not everyone’s mind works in such a literal way.
You can write material about things of which you know very little and still manage to wring the truth out of it.
I suppose, just make it as manageable as possible for yourself given you will likely have little or no money.
And on writing…
Although, it can be very hard to be disciplined, the best thing for writing and to get better is to be disciplined about it. Write every day. If you can make it a 9-5 thing, do! Although, I know people have jobs to pay the rent and children to feed etc.. so this may not be possible. But when you can write, Do. And carry a notepad and pen with you for those ideas that suddenly jump you from nowhere. Those are usually the best ideas to pursue. I find taking photos of places that look like good locations for a film can help stimulate a story too. So, having your phone camera handy too is always good.
I have often grieved ideas that I never wrote down when they were fresh in my mind. When I go back to try to reclaim them, they often don’t work or are no longer as dynamic as they were when they first arrived, screaming at me to write them down.
So, do try to write those ideas down when they spring at you.
Rewriting is hard but worth it. This is just the hard slog of writing. The first whiff of love has gone and you are left doing the domestic work round the house for this ‘idea’ you fell in love with all those years ago. But this is it. This is the reality of making a script good. Not even great but just good. It is kinda like a marriage.
I suppose the secret is: keep at it.
Although, I know this is hard.
I say all of this while giving you all a big hug. 🙂
Taking feedback on your writing…
Taking feedback on your writing should be a joyous thing. But this is where you might have trouble. Often, it is your ego getting in your way again, pretending to ‘protect’ your artistic vision when really it is not allowing you to hear a valuable note that could make your script better.
Sometimes, though, you might be right in disregarding a note. And this is why life is hard. How do you know which is which? I don’t know.
But I do try to take every note as a signal that if they picked up on it, there is likely something not working there. Their suggestion/s of how to fix it may not be right but they are right in pointing it out to you.
That’s how I look at notes, anyway. They are all useful. I do not know if this is helpful to you. Disregard it if you like.
Edit your own films
It also forces you to think about your film more visually and helps to prepare your mind mentally for the day’s shoot. Anything that can help you focus on the shoot and the telling of your story- the better. You are cutting your teeth as a director and the fact you have to rely entirely on yourself means you learn so much more than you otherwise would had you an editor already in place.
Sometimes, people have two shotlists. One with the bare minimum to edit the film together (in case the police arrive and they get chucked off their illegal set) and another that would have the shots they would ideally like.
I try to think about the bare minimum I need but also to ensure that they are infused with what I want from my ideal shotlist. For instance, in “Proclaim!” I ensured that we shot mostly everything on a fig-rig. This meant the camera was always buoyant and gave a sense of urgency. So, even if I was covering the scene in a basic way: wide, mid-shots, close-ups etc: I had that sense of energy in each shot regardless.
I got long scenes of dialogue with the actors walking along and using the camera on the fig-rig followed them in front of the actors and then behind them with a wide-angle lens. This meant that I got a huge chunk of dialogue done fast but I also got gorgeous shots that told the story well. The sense of urgency that the characters were feeling was conveyed to the audience and a sense of time closing in on them was told via the wide angle lens in a narrow laneway. We got those shots done in 45 minutes.
So, think about your shots and edit creatively. Often the boundaries of low-budget filmmaking are our blessings in disguise!
Get your own editing software and learn how to edit. Even if you don’t end up editing your own films down the road, the skill of having learned how to edit will serve you to the end of time as a filmmaker!
If you can get your actors, cinematographer and sound people to turn up for rehearsals then, by all means, do!
If you can only get your actors, then great!!
But do rehearse!
It will help you hone your own ideas of what you want from any given scene. Actors can ask questions and feel heard and develop a sense of ownership over their role. It will build relationships and a sense of trust between you and the actors.
This trust is gold-dust. You cannot put a price on that stuff. It is also good fun!!!
So, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
I often go to locations by myself a week before a shoot and film certain shots on my phone and send to the cinematographer and sound people just to give them more of an idea of what I want but also to mentally prepare myself and them for the shoot. It also helps to stimulate certain questions from them that they may not be thinking about or may not think of until the day of the shoot. It’s always better to get these questions well in advance of the shoot.
All of this will help make the shoot run more smoothly for you.
Protect your energy/health
This will seem obvious and also probably annoying but, don’t drink much alcohol on a daily basis & don’t smoke.
I don’t drink much alcohol- ever. This is very unpatriotic of me as an Irish woman. However, it has served me greatly. I hear my friends talking about drinking wine every night and I see the affect it has on their energy levels throughout the week. They often wonder how I get so much done. I think it comes down to this fact. I rarely drink alcohol. I’m not opposed to it. But since I never have much money and all of it goes on making films & rent, I have ended up being quite sober for most of my young adult life.
Have an exercise regime everyday and stick to it. You’ll be so pleased you did. Being able to breath and have a body that works well is something I am so thankful for. It means I enjoy what I do more. I have been ill before and it sucks. So, I love my body and I want to look after it so that I can make more films and art and enjoy my life.
I also don’t smoke- or, I rarely do so. Smoking kills your energy. I don’t understand why anyone would want to take from their own life energy most especially when they are doing what they love. Don’t you want the good times to last for as long as possible?!
Smoking and drinking alcohol also takes a huge chunk of your money each week.
Save that drinking and smoking and drug-taking and whatever else you enjoy for the wrap party! Then, indulge! But jump back out of it the next day- or the day after the next day!
Eat lightly enough, drink lots of water.
Don’t overeat if you can, drink lots of water and get 8 hours sleep every night- again, if you can! If not, just try to get as much as you can. Dreams are really useful too for creative inspiration. So, sleep is doubly important!
Be kind to yourself. Try not to beat yourself up. You’ve only got yourself at the end of the day. Be nice to you.
Don’t hang round with people who put you down.
If you find someone putting you down once, you can be pretty sure, they’ll do it again and they’ll do it behind your back too. This will likely bother you if you are a sensitive creative, which you invariably will be. So, smile politely and laugh it off then, do not give your time to that person/s ever again.
Also, avoid people who are passive-aggressive. They are not managing their own energy or communication of that energy well and it is not up to you to have to deal with it.
As Maya Angelou says, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
‘What if I make this and it’s s***t?’
Curiosity fights Fear pretty well
As creatives, we are always battling with fear. ‘What if I make this and it’s s***t?’ etc…ad infinitum.. Being curious can help to counteract this fear. When fear arises, force yourself to be curious, for example: “I wonder, can I make this film as beautiful as I see it in my mind’s eye? Is it possible to use certain colours and lenses that may bring out the tone, texture and feeling I’m visualizing?”
These are more active thoughts and what happens is, the more you think them, the more you go about trying to find out if you can actually pull the film off. So, you might end up reading a book on lenses or emailing a DOP you admire and asking him/her if your hunches are correct etc… You end up learning tones from their answers. You bring that knowledge to a test-shoot with a friend of yours and try the lenses out etc.. You learn from that experience.
Before you know it, you are on set, creating that film. The curious thoughts made you active and they prepped you for the actual film your heart desired & quietly prompted you to make.
So, get curious!
In some instances, having an ego is really useful. It can drive you to want to make stuff. But, it can also turn on you: ‘You’ll make a fool of yourself!’, ‘Everyone will think you’re a loser!’, ‘You’ll never live up to the last great thing you made, so don’t bother!’
Sidle up to those thoughts and really interrogate them. These thoughts never answer with any profundity. They merely answer with more fear. They are like an amalgamation of Trump’s tenure as president. What must you do? Resist.
I often remind myself of my insignificance and this really helps me. I think to myself, ‘I’m a speck living on a tiny planet flying through a vast universe so big, I’ll never comprehend it. Why am I worried if other specks on this rock think I’m s***t? This is ridiculous.’ Or often, I visualize myself on my death-bed as an old woman and I ask her, should I make it? She, always without fail, says, “Go make it for God’s sake & get over yourself!” And I invariably make whatever I want.
The line between foolhardiness and bravery are so close, it’s often hard to tell which you are being and really it doesn’t matter at the end of the day. It all comes back to intention. Your intentions are good. You want to make something that you will enjoy making and that hopefully others will enjoy too. Simples. Go be foolhardy. It’s fine!
Having said that…
When you get down which you will, having someone to admire, helps!
Being down is s***t. I try to take inspiration from people I really admire. Jerry Seinfeld is someone I really admire. I watched the documentary on him “Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian” on Netflix. He was trying to make himself into a stand-up again after a huge break from it after the TV show ‘Seinfeld’ ended. He spent a year doing the tiny comedy rooms where he had started out. He also suffered stage-fright and forgot his jokes. He got down. But he kept going. He didn’t stop. He didn’t beat himself up too much- that was really inspiring, the fact he had compassion for himself! It was this compassion that allowed him to grow. And he got back on track. He did it! After a year, he did a set on David Letterman and brought the house down. But it was a humble journey by someone who didn’t need to do it. But he wanted to do it because he loves it. He never did it for the big bucks or the fame. And he often talks about the discipline and stoicism you need to develop in order to keep going. I really admire him.
I don’t read enough. So, this is a note for me. I have books on my shelf on directing and writing and on tons of things I’m interested in & I haven’t read them yet because I’m an idiot. Don’t be an idiot. Read those books!
screw those motherf***ing rejections
Structure Enrages Rejection
Write a list each night before you go to bed about what you will do the next day and try to keep to it as best you can. It keeps you focused and when the rejections come in, which they will, you will already be in the middle of writing that next feature anyhow, so, it won’t hurt as much. Of course, it’ll still hurt. But, if you’re on this road already, one of the things you slowly realize is that if you’re honest with yourself, you never got into it for the ‘yes-es’ in any case. You got into it because you love it. And no amount of ‘no’s’ is going to stop you. So, put that structure into your day and take your writing and storyboarding etc… as seriously as a full-time, fully paid job. And screw those motherf***ing rejections.
Always have a party after a final day’s shoot and always celebrate at every screening you can because God knows it’s tough to make any money out of this game and successes are hard won.
You need to celebrate your achievements.
Sometimes, I have not and I have lived to regret it.
All you’ve got is the joy of making your films. You cannot control too much of how it goes out into the world.
You have got to celebrate the time you spent together with creative misfits & reprobates like yourself, making something you all believed in, that made you realize there is much more to life than merely paying the bills and having …stuff!
So, party. Have fun, slap each other on the back, drink and dance until the wee hours of the morn’. You all made something together out of nothing.
There is not much more in life that is better than that.
Remember that. And celebrate it.
Mo (or ‘Maureen’) O’Connell is a filmmaker and actor from Dublin, Ireland.
She is a graduate of Ballyfermot Film School, Dublin with a Diploma in Film Production and of RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), London, with a BA in Acting.
She has made several no-budget award-winning short films namely, “Proclaim!”, “GIRLS” & “Thespish” and has also made a multi-award-winning no-budget slacker comedy feature film, “SPA Weekend”.
Mo has also received funding for co-writing a feature-length version of her short film, “GIRLS” with wonderful co-writer, Gemma Creagh via Screen Ireland’s Spotlight Scheme.
She is currently being mentored by Emma Norton of Element Pictures & Michael Zam.
Mo is the Festival Director of the Dublin International Comedy Film Festival.
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