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.

And the Lord declared: Let There Be Really High Stakes

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, March 22, 2013

Attention all Screenwriters, Graphic Novelists, Novelists-Afraid-Of-Screenwriting, and Waiters, Bankers, Accountants, Teachers, Custodians, Firefighters, Cashiers and Parking Lot Attendants who Dream of Being Screenwriters:

You already know how to tell a great story. Quit worrying. Worrying is not your job. Writing is your job. Start writing. Start right now. Don’t even read this article. Begin writing your story right now.

For anyone still finishing their coffee & toast and in need of some entertainment before they get back to writing:

The reason you already know how to write a great story is this: You already know what the other guy would be thinking. And when I say ‘the other guy’, I am referring to your attentive friend, your fellow story lover: Your Reader.

How do you know what your reader would be thinking? The Voice in your head tells you. Aka: your Gut Translator. Some people call this voice their Lord in Heaven, some people call it the God of Creativity speaking through them. I call it your friendly Gut-Translator: Your Inner Voice. This voice is your inner writer-coach. Great gal to have around. Gal or guy, animal or mineral, listen to this sage advisor in your head. You were born with her and she is totally rooting for you. She is on the ball – and she is bang-on. As you write your universal tale of love or revenge, dear screenwriter, as you weave your adventure of loss, grief, murder or hope, this voice speaks to you the whole way along. You all have it. You just have to listen.

Ah, the listening part. The task is upon us, we humble servants of our imaginations, to listen as well as we can to this voice while we write. And darn it if distractions don’t sometimes get in the way. “This idea’s really gonna sell” gets in our way. “This character will really impress that producer” gets in our way. “NOW they’ll finally see I can write” and “No one’s ever seen THIS idea before” …get in our way. Sometimes our listening needs a polish. A dusting. Sometimes a murky curtain of second-guessing separates us from our sure-fire Voice Of Excellence. All I can tell you, dear valiant writer-at-whatever-stage-of-your-career: Keep listing to that Voice in your Head that is telling you what you Already Know.

As a story consultant and screenplay editor, all I do, every time, is guide you back to your gut. Your Voice. Your Gut-Translator.

Today’s Inner Writing Coach reminder of the day:  REALLY HIGH STAKES 

You gotta have high stakes in your screenplay. Really high stakes.That’s how you’re gonna make your audience care. Your inner voice knows this. She chimes in with things like:  “Come on, would Cinderella really put up with that? Make sure she’s trapped – socially, economically – something – otherwise she’d high tail it outta there for sure.”  …Or she pipes up: “Okay come on, she can’t SEE that that her grandmother is now a WOLF? I gotta see that she is REALLY looking forward to seeing her grandma. ‘Cause those are some serious blinders.” Show your audience that Cinderella has spent her last penny. Show us that Little Red has no other friend in the world.

When you have high stakes, your audience will be on the edge of their seats, viscerally and bodily CARING about your story. Really and truly caring. The whole point of storytelling. Keep your stakes Really High. Where there are high stakes, there is tension. You gotta have great story-tension from beginning to end: The exhilarating/promising ups and devastating/terrifying downs of a roller coaster ride. Then back up again. I don’t care if you’re writing the next James Bond adventure, or Driving Miss Daisy Part Two: More Driving. When you think your characters’ stakes are already high, make them higher.

How do you create high stakes? You SHOW me what is RIDING on the outcome of your character’s goals.  Seems obvious? I know that you fine writers know this instinctively, and yet, still, it is our daily duty to mine our characters’ hearts fully, and SHOW our audience the many WAYS our lead character is COUNTING on a certain positive / successful outcome.

Don’t only show me the planning of the heist. Show me the ways that the poverty is affecting the impressing of the girl. Don’t just show me the training and the glorious boxing match. Show me the the brother who no longer speaks to our boxer. Don’t only show me an election campaign, show me the birthday party no one comes to. Show me the frayed suits. Show me the whispering colleagues. Give me Henry’s nervous pick-up lines, yes, but also show me his agonizing dates-gone-wrong. Let’s see Henry get fired from his job.

All kinds of ways to create extremely high stakes. Your Inner Writer-Gut will always ask you questions, then provide endless ideas. Your Inner Voice wants to see what your characters are emotionally attached to. What addictions they are desperately trying to shake as they pursue their new plan.  Don’t only show me her fight to survive illness – also show me all she has to lose: her particular joys, inside jokes and successes before the illness crept in. Seen the opening of Pixar’s “UP” anyone?

Show me what is RIDING on the various outcomes of your characters’ actions. This is the way to make your audience feel great pain and profound love. Listen to the questions & suggestions of your Inner Writing Coach. You are about to complete a great screenplay.

T.S.

Tara Samuel is a script consultant and editor on fire about sharpening your screenplay. She is your script kicker. 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. This is her passion. www.scriptkicker.com

Tara Samuel is an award-winning producer-actor from Toronto. Recent Winner Best Actress, RUYB BOOBY. Her 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. More information: scriptkitchen@gmail.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, Summer Vacay, Biggz, Gareth Bennett, Bang Baby Bang, Deborah LaVine, Aunt Janny’s Money, Darrow Carson, Absolving Grace, Whit Spurgeon, The Interview – among many others.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five steps to making your movie when you have zero money.

Published, MovieMaker Magazine, February 19th, 2013

Prologue

This is the article you have been waiting for. You have a movie that you are aching to make but you can’t, because you have no money. This is nonsense. I’m here to tell you that actually, you can. Read this article, then go make your movie.
“Pft.” “Shaa.” “Whatever.”
I can hear you.
“Come on, ZERO money?”
Yes. I dare you to read further.
Five steps to making your movie when you have zero money
I’ve heard it as often as you have. I’ve heard my friends say it – heard myself say it – heard the entire “industry” say it: “I am ready to shoot my film but I need to raise the money first.” Dear earnest writer/actor/director/producer: No you do not. You do not have to raise the money first. It is possible to make a movie that audiences will love with “zero money.” It absolutely is. I know this, because I did it.  And our moviemaking adventure is still going, this February of 2013. We are screening at festivals. Shopping our movie to distributors. Earning great reviews and awards. And we started filming our movie with zero money. Here’s our trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTVq66DyVI4 …And here’s the second trailer we made, after we shot the whole movie:http://vimeo.com/14757487
To be true: in this lucky millennium called the 2000s there are ALL KINDS of ways to raise money to make your film. But the fact is: You do NOT need money in your pocket to start the cameras rolling. You heard me right. You can make a movie with zero money.  You can also make a movie with $50. Or $100. Or $600. Your movie is right beside you, ready and waiting to be made. Read this article, then get to it.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #1: DECIDE that you are going to make your movie NO MATTER WHAT.
This, my voracious storytelling friend is the crux of your task. This decision is the most important, the most pivotal mental & emotional step that needs to be taken. And this decision comes part and parcel with a DATE. Ain’t no decision made dear colleague, without a date. Bottom line: your date for THE EXACT DAY YOU WILL BEGIN SHOOTING is WAY more important than how much money you have in the bank.
You think I sound crazy. But “crazy,” dear openhearted reader, is one of the requirements for saying out loud the most empowering sentence there is: “I am going to make my movie no matter what.” Committing to making-your-movie-no-matter-what is synonymous with making a Leap Of Faith. Which to some I suppose is an act of “craziness”. I beg to differ. This leap is the necessary self-catapult into your clear, blue Sky of Success.
Which is what we did. We launched ourselves into the stratosphere of our movie RUBY BOOBY by promising to start the cameras rolling December 10, 2009. Ruby has now screened at festivals in Los Angeles and New York, has offers from indie distribution companies, and has earned a Best Actress award at the International Film Festival of Manhattan.  And Ruby Booby would not exist, had we not said “We have zero money, but we are going to begin filming on December 10, 2009.”
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #2:  Ask, offer, repeat. 
Ask. Ask anyone and EVERYONE for what you need. Don’t stop asking. With humor, grace and courtesy. No shame in your game. Ask and ask, and you will find what you need, from cameras, to lighting equipment, to sound equipment, to wardrobe, to props, to food. Ask and ask and ask.
Offer. ALWAYS imagine what the other person might like in return. Get creative here. This person might simply want to observe the love and chutzpah that goes into filmmaking. This person might be praying for a small role in your film. This person might be young and hungry for experience and credits. This person might be building their own catering company and looking for a track record. All of the above was true for us on the set of Ruby Booby.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #3:  Always Say Yes. 
When you have no money, you will get your film made when you say YES to every opportunity / favor / gift / volunteer that comes your way. Say yes, then find a way to spin said opportunity/favor/gift/volunteer into an element that supports the movie you are making. Can your scene be set in your neighbor’s kitchen instead of that park that requires a permit? Can your characters’ wardrobe be a little more flexible? 
On the set of Ruby Booby, the home of writer-director Jon Rannells served as five different locations. I did my own make-up. We found a motel room that – well – it smelled of urine. But the owner was an absolute angel. An infinitely generous host. He brought us lunch daily without being asked. We happily embraced our aromatic surroundings. At the outset, we had no camera. So we asked everyone we knew: “Do you have a camera we can have for a few weeks?” Eventually, when the question is asked with humor, grace and courtesy, someone will say yes.
Ruby Booby was filmed with two borrowed Canon HV20s. We found a guy who simply didn’t use his anymore and didn’t mind loaning them to us. He was happy to receive a “special thanks” credit in return. We were elated to now have TWO cameras to shoot our movie.
A consumer video camera can absolutely be used to make a good movie. We all know it’s about the STORY you’re telling. At the end of the day the tale you’re telling is what will make your movie. (That, and good sound.) From there, you can build the aesthetic of ANY CAMERA into unfolding of your narrative/non-narrative. (We did. Had no choice. Worked with what we had. Pretty happy with the turnout. See trailer.) Examples of films with international audiences shot with consumer video cameras abound. Google’em.
If you have no money, your job is to accept whatever camera / microphone / breakfast / free-house-to-shoot-in comes your way. If you have no money to begin with, you have SCORED when someone offers to help you make your movie.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #4: Thankfulness = Enthusiasm = More help getting your movie made. 
If you’re making your movie with no money, thankfulness is your only currency. It is in fact, the backbone of your shoot. It is the very marrow of the skeleton of your team. You think you’ve been thankful before? When you’re filming with no money, turn your thankfulness up to eleven.
On the set of Ruby Booby, we were daily amazed by the help that poured in. Amazed and gushingly thankful. We said thank you all over the place. And lo and behold, more people wanted to join in. We found volunteer P.A.s, camera ops, a cheap motel, 10 ex-gang members, prop guns, danishes, casseroles, post-production equipment, color correctionists and more. Say thank you throughout, fellow filmmakers, and everyone helping you will seek to help you further.
No-Money MovieMaking Rule #5: Raise money as you go. Or: How to acquire things like motels. 
I knew the motel thing got your attention. Indeed, all filmmakers could use a little petty cash in hand. (I can hear you chuckling wryly – don’t think I can’t hear you.)  Financial needs arise, it’s true. Some of your volunteer crew members may be broke as well, and out of gas. Your free catering staff might need more supplies. Your donated camera might fall off the hood of that car – yes it happened to us – and you’ll have to repair that thing. Sure. You could use a little dosh while you make your movie.
But careful here. You are not off the hook. Not for one second. You broke-ass Burgeoning Auteurs out there better hit the pavement and start filming because you have no excuse not to. For some of you, a motel is easy to acquire! You know someone who knows someone! Ask, ask, ask. Don’t ever let me catch you delaying your film shoot because “you need a motel, and you have no money.” For some of you, antique furniture is a breeze to borrow. For others, you have access to a pool, a playground, a view of the ocean, hockey equipment, free soda, limitless cream cheese, a dialect coach, a stunt woman or free bowling shoes for everyone.
Still, when you’re out there leaping dear brave and hardworking artist, you can line your pockets a little by raising money as you go. 
This was our final Ruby Booby m.o. Once filming was underway, we asked our friends to spot us $50 here, and $100 there. We kept track. We posted an ad on Craigslist and found a web designer for cheap. (We found our entire crew on Craigslist.) Kris Fitzgerald built our entire site for $100. (Don’t get hung up on how the site looks. Say Yes. Be thankful. Someone just built your freakin’ movie website for $100.) We sent the site to everyone we knew and asked for $5. We didn’t go the Kickstarter route because we needed the money right away. When we wrapped shooting we continued to ask for $5. Some gave far more. A few people donated $1000 outright. We paid all loans back. All told, our exact shooting budget totaled $7000. Our post-production budget totaled the same. We hustled equipment, invented production design, galvanized troops and wrangled cash as we went. Our COMMUNITY made Ruby Booby. Your community will make your movie.
Epilogue
This approach to filmmaking I will concede takes considerable patience, open-mindedness and faith. My husband wanted to kill me – but loves me all the more now for what I have accomplished. Most important: Humor. Please have a giant sense of humor while filming. I don’t care if you’re doing a remake of Sophie’s Choice. Humor will help you to not strangle or get strangled. And breathe. One must remind oneself to breathe. Things will get challenging, yes. But isn’t that how life is anyway? You might as well make your movie. Just begin. Make it. And finish it. I guarantee you: New doors will open for you. Surprising opportunities will present themselves. You will now have a calling card film. You will have MADE A FILM. Your life will be changed, because you completed your own movie.Now go. GO.
T.S.
Tara Samuel is a “Best Actress” award winner for her role “Ruby” in Ruby Booby. Also an award-winning producer with an ongoing slate of films in development and production. Tara is the co-founder of both Busterhouse Productions and of the notorious Los Angeles indie film collective www.wemakemovies.org Tara is also a screenplay editor and consultant with clients around the world, www.sriptkicker.com – and teaches screenwriting in Los Angeles: www.scriptkitchen.com