Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"The Drachen Recruitment Experiment" by Matthew Martino

Matthew Martino recently finished post-production on his directorial-debut feature film, The Drachen Recruitment Experiment. He reports that he's currently negotiating distribution deals with several production companies and hopes for a limited theatrical release this summer.

He shares some observations from the experience, which he titles, "Solitaire in a Bar—A Big Headache for the Independent Filmmaker":
Imagine that you and a bunch of friends gather at your house and you decide to play poker. You all get together, plunk down your chips and after an a few rounds, they all go home happy after a fun round of games with good company. And yet you still want to play cards. You might decide to grab your deck and head to local bar where you can sit quietly at a table and play solitaire by yourself.

Only that would never happen. You would never sit quietly by yourself. Someone would inevitably come over and start to tell you how to play. He would stare over your shoulder until a move he would make comes up and he would emphatically tell you that you must make that move. And should you remind this rude onlooker that it is your game and your deck and you will make the decisions and the moves you want to make, most likely he will get very angry because his benevolent advice was not heeded. He will storm away and tell everyone in the bar how much of a jerk you are and that he hope you lose your card game.

If you make an independent film, this will happen often. As people learn that you are making a movie they instantly want to chime in with advice as to how you should do it. This is most likely because everyone has dreams of making movies, being movie stars and of breaking into Hollywood. So when you say you are making a film, you become their surrogate child. And they will live vicariously through you like a zealous soccer mom.

They have had some dream idea for years and they always felt if they just told the right person, it would be made into a blockbuster. I generally believe all people are creative. Truthfully everyone does have a blockbuster idea that could be a hit if it was made in Hollywood. Everyone is creative. Which is why the need for creative people is nil. There is nothing more cheap out there than ideas. No one owns an idea. What is needed are people with the work ethic and drive to do something with their ideas.

I don’t need ideas, I need script writers. When someone gives me this great idea of theirs, I tell them to write it out in a script. I will even recommend CELTX - a free script writing program that could help you put things in the proper format. When I say this, they seem offended. In their mind they believed their idea was so great, I would have to stop what I was doing and immediately get writing on their idea and when Hollywood makes millions on it, I would turn over a check to this gracious person who blessed me with their idea.

The problem is I got my own creative ideas I am working on. I don’t need yours. Why would I work on your stuff when I haven’t even gotten a fraction of my own stuff down? But that’s it, I actually have written scripts. I have put the keystrokes in and can see the fruits of my labor. It puts me in a rare category.

I made a big mistake once. Someone got to see my script. Someone I shouldn't have let see it. But he saw a laptop with the script up on the screen and he asked if he could read it. I said sure. Big mistake.

About an hour later without me prompting he told me that my script wasn't very good. I asked him why and he told me he had only read about two pages. So I asked him why he didn't read more. And he said it wasn't very entertaining.

I then asked him how many scripts he has read. He mentioned that he read the script for The Dark Knight and that it was way more entertaining to read then mine. So he stopped reading mine after two pages. I told him I can't take his opinion seriously because he didn't give my script a chance.

I then asked if he had ever took a script writing class. He hadn't. I asked him if he had ever written scripts, he told he hadn't but that he had really good ideas for scripts. Basically, I found out he knew nothing about script writing and had read only one example.

This seems to be the attitude of nearly everyone I meet where movies come in. Everyone is an expert without having any experience. Imagine applying for a job as a mechanic at an auto repair garage. When you get there the manager asks you what experience you have in the auto industry. You reply that you have been driving a car for ten years, so that makes you an expert on automobiles. After all, how hard can it be to fix a car? All you have to do to make them work is turn the key and step on the gas. They are easy to understand.

The logic falls apart in that scenario. Yet lots of people who have done nothing more than watch films, feel that they must be experts on how a film is made. What is there to do except tell the actors to say their lines and turn the camera on? Right? Certainly your average American has seen hundreds of movies. But that doesn’t mean you can make a movie any more than driving a car means you would know how to build one.

I recently had a woman watch my completed film albeit without the soundtrack being added. The soundtrack was being finished so I lent her a copy without it, thinking that since she had some musical experience, she could imagine where and what type of music would be added. I was wrong. She criticized the film for having long and silent scenes with no dialogue that dragged. She recommended that I re-edit it so that it could be more Hollywood style.

I agreed that the scene dragged, but that was because when music would be added, the scene would move along with it. And I told her that re-editing it at this point in the post production process would be disastrous. This is where the arguments began. When I told her that color correction took weeks, she dismissed the comment saying color correction was not that important. Well she lost me there. Ask anyone in Hollywood who edits how important color correction is. It is huge and massive time consumer. One friend who recently finished editing a feature film thought that he spent about 400 hours on color correction alone. We both bemoaned 13 hour overnight renders that crashed at the last minute, setting us back a full day.

Editing is one long, tedious and frustrating process that seems easy if you’ve never done it. If you really don’t know much about a subject, it’s best not to advise someone on it. You just come across as ignorant and I cannot respect your opinion. And when you get mad that I didn’t validate your opinion - well I cannot respect you.

So if you decide to make an independent film, be aware that people with no experience will give you advice. They will tell you which stars should be in your film (did I mention my first film had a budget with only 3 digits?). They will tell you that should add car chases, explosions, alien invasions - the list goes on. They will want you to completely take their ideas in exchange for a huge check. And be aware that they will be very angry when you don’t take their advice. You’ll make enemies. But you’ll also make a feature film - which puts you in a rare category. Who knows, you may even have some good advice to give to the next new filmmaker. Everyone’s an expert.

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