Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"That Thing" by Fernando Gil

Fernando Gil of Boring Monkey Productions candidly describes making a no-budget movie without any expectation that it would be especially good:
Despite my rotten memory I remember the day I decided to actually write the script I've been itching to make a movie out of. Not the exact date, but during late December, while I was skipping out of the final exam of an English class I was going to fail anyway. I enjoyed going to that class mind you, but I was a few papers behind and I was going to eat that F anyway. Grew tired of the community college grind and decided while sitting on a park bench that cold winter morning that I was going to do something. Just do it. And I did, it was that impulsive decision that lead to two years of slowly piecing together a flick that would be called That Thing. Directing wasn't something I dreamed of when I was a kid, only in the year or two before that December morning did I start getting the urge to tell a story in that way. Should be easy, right? In retrospect it was probably a stupid idea, but hey, it got done.

I knew I would have no budget straight from the start, I've always been poor and I've never been one to ask for money. It felt ridiculous to have a budget or to even credit somebody as a producer, because anything that was paid for came out of my nearly empty pocket. Having no money probably freed us from trying to make a “good” movie. Didn't have to worry about being commercially viable, wasn't even planning to sell it. Was free to make a movie as I saw fit, good or bad. And I think that was the best way to go about it.

Wrote the script in a way that took advantage of the location I just happened to be born and raised in, out in the streets of the South Bronx, definitely added some character. Nearly all the scenes are during the day so we wouldn't need to spend as much time lighting and that worked out well. Made it so that nearly all the characters and their actors would only require one day's worth of shooting. Both a blessing and a curse because I didn't have to worry about people I wasn't paying flaking out, but it also meant I had to fill near two dozen roles, which resulted in using more non-acting friends than I would have liked. Even worse was scheduling all these people around their real jobs and lives, trying to get five or seven people to show up at the same place at the same time was never easy. Frustrating work outside of the actual movie making part. The reason the film took so long to make was because we only got to shoot a scene once every couple of weeks if we were lucky.

The experience felt like a hobby, a very frustrating hobby. I mean, once everyone was finally on set and we started rolling, it was bliss. Maybe that's the hind-sight talking but I hardly felt stressed when shooting, those were the fun times. Still kinda boggles my mind that I was able to gather that many folks together just to make something. Borrowed nearly everything outside of a tripod and the hard drive I cut the thing on, most of the budget went to lunch and the occasional prop or two. And about two years after that cold December morning there we were again, fighting the snow and shooting the last scene. And that was the easy part.

What came next was the editing of so many video tapes and coming to the realization that the movie I just made was not good, it didn't look good, didn't sound good. And that was something I had to accept, this was no Hollywood flick. From the beginning I knew I was not making a Hollywood movie, it's just a thing that was made in my spare time with the spare change that was in my pocket. Nonetheless, that realization hits hard, especially when you're on the fourth month of editing at nights while running on nothing but a can of leftover Dr Pepper because you're too broke to pay for food. When you hand someone a burned DVD with those two years of your life on it, it's hard not to tell them to look past the lack of a budget, you feel the movie can't speak for itself. Whether that's true or I'm being hard on myself, I'm not sure. Probably a little of both.

A hard lesson to learn, but probably the best way to learn it. By putting the feet to the fire, actually creating something and seeing it through from conception to completion, that experience offered wisdom that I couldn't gain from merely taking a class or reading some books, many lessons that would have been glossed over without the context. Those lessons, those words of advice I hear from other directors and such ring much more clearly now. I've been there and back.

“What now?” is the question I've been asking myself lately. The cost to make it was less than most folks who walk into a Best Buy spend on their 50-inch television set, and I'm proud that we actually made a movie for that much. No regrets. But sometimes it feels like a tree fell in the forest and nobody was around to hear it, I hope it doesn't just rot in the hard drive. It'll find it's way to the internet sooner or later, but will people watch? Probably not. If nothing else, at least I proved to myself that it could be done, as long as you have that burning desire to tell a story and you're stubborn enough to see it through to the end you can make a movie, education and upbringing be damned. That Thing is a small glimpse into the way my eyes saw the world. Now I just gotta take those lessons and make another. Made one already, the next one should be easy, right?

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