Five Ways to Navigate the Shoulds & Supposed-Tos of Moviemaking. – OR – Better to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission.

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, April 19, 2013

Introduction.

Have you read Steven Pressfield’s THE WAR OF ART? If you have, spread the word. If you haven’t yet, here’s the gist of it: The world will be saved when we ALL MAKE WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE MAKING. There is an idea in your head that fills you with joy. This idea is tapping on your shoulder daily, telling you to open that restaurant, sing that aria, build that sculpture, write that screenplay-novel-play-poem, shoot that film, dance that tango. This joy inside you is what will save the world. And don’t you want to save the world? I know I do. If you do, the sure-fire way is to follow your bliss and make what The Muse is telling you to make. Go. GOOOOOOO MMAKKKKEEE YYYOOUUURRRTTHHHIINNNGGGG.

Begin.

Ahhh, but the rules.
Rules, regulations & guidelines are keeping you from making your thing. Am I right?
– Or – is it that YOU who are allowing rules, regulations & guidelines to keep you from making your thing.
Stop.
Today we’ll discuss ways for you to stop.
And we’ll use the example of  – say – the making of a movie.

Somebody somewhere once said “If you’re gonna make a movie, you’d better have permits for your locations, or else.” Someone somewhere said that “if you’re gonna make a real movie and if you want to to be taken seriously, you’d better hire union actors. Or else.”  And yet another so-called sooth-sayer announced: “If you are going to use union actors, you’d better declare your shoot a UNION SHOOT. OR ELSE!!!”  …Renting equipment? You’d better buy insurance or YOU’RE GOING TO DIE. Filming in the City of Such-and-such? You’d better notify the COMMISSION OF THE THING, or YOUR WHOLE FAMILY WILL EXPLODE.

There are a lot of very serious people in the world who are enforcing some extremely serious rules. Got it. If we want to work with them, we will absolutely adhere to their uncompromisable regulations. Clear.

However……if we choose to make our art our OWN WAY, within our own delightful system that we ourselves have invented that is ITSELF part of our art, then, dear OFFICIAL RULE MAKER, we just may not get around to meeting you. But, all the best!

For those of us who are making movies our own unique and innovative way, here are five useful approaches to five certain requests that are sometimes made of us in this well-meaning, law-revering moviemaking culture of ours:

1. Location Permits

Let’s say you need a hotel room for your movie. But you don’t necessarily have briefcases full of greenbacks designated for a hotel manager or owner. Couple creative alternatives for you come to mind here. 1) Depending on your shot list, you may not ever need to show the exterior of your hotel. Empty your own bedroom of its personal touches and BAM: mysterious motel room. No permit needed!  2) Cruise remote suburban areas where films are not often shot and genially approach 20 – 30 hotel proprietors until you find the one who loves movies and can’t wait to host you for some ridiculously low fee.  No permit needed. This was the case for us. We are forever in love with Saeed Farzam at Pavillions Motel, Santa Monica.

When you’re not so keen to go the route of location permits, be open-minded, tenacious, persistent, and filled with faith. Seriously. Believe that you will find or invent the location that you need, and you will.

2. Burning Fires Openly

To some, this is a questionable act. For others, this is necessary preparation for a scene about a house that just burned down. How can you film charred remains with no charred remains, I ask you?  Still, let it be said, dear filmmaker of good intentions: In this scenario, you have to have permission from somebody. You may not have a permit from the city; you may not have consulted with ALL interested legal parties; you MUST however, be sure the ground you are about to singe is on property that is legally your own – or on that of a friend or family member who has given you the thumbs up. – This, and you want to be sure to have on hand every manner of garden hose, fire extinguisher – and buckets of water aplenty. Kind of essential, really. Peace of mind that comes with these measures taken is an added plus. We toasted a mattress, some old 2 x 4s and a broken screen door among other things, in the field behind a generous & thoughtful friend’s home. A cozy campfire among neighbors!

Long story short: Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

3. Auditions in a public park

During pre-production of our first feature film, our pockets were not necessarily lined with dosh for the rental of an audition space. And anyway, the little kid we wanted to see for the role agreed to meet us after his drama class, which was right around the corner from a park. What could be more convenient. The gods of moviemaking were clearly handing us a free space to hold auditions. We met him & his parents near the jungle gym. Lovely family. Turned on our video camera; asked Mom & Dad if they minded; went ahead with our small leading man’s on-camera interview. When the City Parks representative kindly asked us to cease and desist, we did. Said thank you to our family, and left the premises. But we had our winning audition on tape.

Better to Ask for Forgiveness than Permission!

4. Gun Permits

This one’s a bit of a dice roll. But why not roll ’em. Life is short. Make hay while the sun shines. We filmed our gang-member-shoots-pistol-in-air scene – complete with 12 volunteer ex-gang-members – with a completely rubber, bullet-free, total prop gun….in….an outdoor city scene at night with no permit.  I was having a bit of a heart attack I must admit. What if someone mis-interpreted what was going on. What if someone dangerous strolled past our little staged scene, and decided to get involved. What if the cops showed up and fined us $10,000.

My advice for you: Pray.

Totally serious. Naive? Perhaps stupid is more apt? Some might say so. Still, in the absence of any other measures taken, I prayed all week leading up to our scheduled ‘gun fight day’. I decided hundreds of times in advance that everyone was safe and protected. That we were all going to be completely okay. We also cut all yelling, swearing, and, well, talking  – from the scene. The whole thing was shot in silence.

But yes: Pray. To whatever god, or non-god – to whatever person, saint, animal, mineral, other being or universe you love that gives you hope and comfort while you film your brave and excellent independent film.  PRAY.  Close your eyes and Pray.

And on the day… night fell…. the ex gang members we cast acted out their thing….and the cops showed up. Our director jogged over to their car.

And now, I know our director’s good with people – charming and all that – but this went beyond. As unexplainable as a UFO-sighting: our uniformed friends chatted with him for about 5 minutes….and then quietly drove away.  “Just finish up quickly” I think is what they instructed. Some police people out there are pretty cool, dear fellow filmmakers.

(Thank you moviemaking angels.)

5. Family Home Videos

The police also found us on a different day: a charming sunny afternoon where we were filming in the quaint hills of Highland Park, L.A., and calmly asked us what we were doing. It’s these kinds of days when are rewarded for the clever and trusted producer-extraordinaire you invited on board. Our producer Andrew Ahn warmly greeted our friendly neighborhood patrolmen, then happily told them about our family video. We were proudly documenting our Korean, Mexican, Irish-Welsh roots. Our next addition to our collective family home video library.

When you have no permits, you are always making a family home video.

Conclusion

It’s not so much that rules are made to be broken. It’s more that rules crave to be creatively circumvented. The entire history of human beings is teeming with examples of rules that have been innovatively re-envisioned. Rules must never be allowed to stop you & your art, dear talented friend. Rules are simply another way that life prompts you to be more creative than ever before. Never allow rules to slow you down to inaction! Allow rules to fuel you into inspired action! You MUST MAKE what you are called to make. Heed your heart! Do it’s bidding! Make your thing! Save the world!

T.S.

Tara Samuel is an award-winning producer-actor from Toronto. Also proud Co-Founder of notorious film collective WeMakeMovies. Recent Winner Best Actress, RUBY BOOBY. Producer-Lead Actress of WILD PRAIRIE ROSE, shooting on location in Beresford, S.D. June, 2013. Samuel’s writing and directing has been celebrated on the festival circuit; articles on filmmaking published widely, most recently in MovieMaker Magazine. Samuel teaches a 6-wk screenwriting course in Los Angles with co-instructor John Sandel, The Script Kitchen. For more information or to join our class, please email scriptkitchen@gmail.com

Tara Samuel is a script consultant and editor on fire about sharpening your screenplay. She is your ScriptKicker. In close collaboration with you the client, Samuel zeroes in on the specificity of your characters, hones your story rhythm and maximizes your audience engagement helping you to create a perfect story-ride. Samuel kicks your script into ship-shape; kicks it through the goal posts, kicks it out of the park. www.scriptkicker.com

Tara Samuel is story editor for screenwriters Jon Rannells, Ruby Booby, Mexico-Machismo, Mr.Happy-Joy; Paula Tiberius, Male Order, Bitch Magnet, Kathryn Winslow, Downtown Mrs.Brown, Sam Zvibleman, The Rwanda Blend, Justin Miller, The Sound & The Shadow, Andrew Ahn, The Good Life, SummerVacay, Biggz, Gareth Bennett, Bang Baby Bang, Deborah LaVine, Aunt Janny’sMoney, Darrow Carson, Absolving Grace, Whit Spurgeon, The Interview – among many others.

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