Why do we do what we do?

Fear is the Mindkiller

Most people in the indy film world who make features take way too long to make them, that is when they finish them at all.
I think the reason that most features (or even shorts) never get completed is because of the fear that the movie just isn't good enough. I mean, Orson Wells made that movie when he was 25, so why isn't your movie as good as Citizen Kane?

"Orson Welles" is a big fat lie

Do you know who shot Citizen Kane? Gregg Toland. This is the dude who quite literally wrote the book on cinematography (actually, Painting With Light is fairly incomprehensible, but it's worth reading.)
Do you know who edited Citizen Kane?
Robert Wise.

Yeah, that Robert Wise. Sound of Music, Westside Story Robert Wise.
If you had these two dudes shooting and editing your first motion picture when you were 24, you'd be heralded as a genius too.
The fact is that Hitchcock made scores of movies before he made one you'd ever heard of. Robert Altman and John Frankenheimer did a whole bunch of TV before making any features. They all had a lot of experience before making any of the movies you might actually care about.
So instead of realizing that you're not Orson Welles, get out there and practice making movies. It takes a lot of practice.

Features and Shorts

Feature films are very different from short films. You might think that making a 90-minute feature is like making 9 10-minute shorts.
But that so isn't true.
Making a feature film is a different process. Your brain is in a different place than making a short. I can't really describe it, but it may have to do with the notion that you have to keep the whole 90-minute thing in your mind and deal with the many hundreds of issues that arise (seemingly on a daily basis) without getting all freaked out.
Finishing a feature and getting it ready for distribution is a process like no other, even in the film world. You have to make sure your DM&E's are in shape for overseas distribution. You have to make sure you've registered the copyright for the movie (probably more than once), you have to make sure you have .pdf's and hard copies of all of the signed contracts. You have to affirm that you have a complete chain of title of all of the elements in the motion picture, including the screenplay, the right to use the performances of the actors, the cinematographers, the director(s), and all of the music and sound.
Very few of these things do you ever have to do for a short film as nobody will buy your short film.


So the lesson I take away from all this is that you have to practice. You have to practice making feature films. And that's what we here in the Pandora Machine do. We practice. I'll admit that the movie Pandora Machine, if done today, would be much, much better. The screenplay would be better. It would be shot better. The visual effects would be better. (The performances, however, were pretty darn good.) And hopefully with each movie we've increased the quality of our pictures. That doesn't mean I'm ashamed of our older movies, I have lauds and criticisms of all of our pictures. But it's fair to say we get better as we do more of them.

Our Process

Work Backwards


Is anybody going to buy this picture?

The best way to go is to work backwards. Start with "what kind of movie can I sell?" Let me give you a hint, it's not a coming-of-age story which is vaguely autobiographical and it "more about the characters than the plot" and "based on people I know." If you hear a filmmaker asking you money to make a picture like that, don't give them any money you ever want to see again. 

But honestly, don't give a filmmaker any money. Unless you have name talent in the picture and are guaranteeing a theatrical release, don't spend more than about $6000 on the movie.

Now, I'd love to say that we identified our strong points (making sci-fi movies), noted a need in the market for sci-fi, and then set about making science fiction pictures. But that's not quite how we got into this. Instead, we started making sci-fi films because a friend of mine told me an unsubstantiated rumor that some distributor was willing to pay $50,000 for horror pictures with creatures that could be serialized. By the time we'd finished Pandora Machine, we'd made an erotic thriller Law&Order episode of Blade Runner on no budget instead. Lucky for us, Blockbuster wanted to buy the picture and we made our money back (about $17,000). If we'd known then what we know now we'd have done much better, but that's always the case.†
In any case, in corporate - speak this would be known as "Identify Your Market". And good luck with that.
The other stereotypical advice is "Do what you love, what you have passion for." Yes, do what you love, just make sure what you love is popular. You might love 18th - century costume dramas. I do. But they're not going to sell without big - name talent in them (and even then it's... iffy). I suggest 18th - century zombie pictures, (but those will only sell in North America.
Oh, and here's one more counter intuitive thing (to most Americans). We tend to think that our taste is the most vulgar in the world. We tend to blame ourselves for making dialog-free movies where stuff blows up all the time. Ha! It's not our fault! No, indeed, of all the markets in the world, North America is the most tolerant of heavy-dialog nothing-blows-up-type pictures. And we're snobs about actor's performances and dialog, too. We hate watching dubbed movies. But since watching movies with subtitles is a pain in the tuchus, we end up never watching movies in languages other than English. It's because we love the language and the sound of the words too much. If we spoke Swedish Ingmar Bergman would have played at every drive-in in America.

Is any of this helpful? Probably not to anybody outside of the Pandora Machine. And certainly you can find folks willing to offer the advice that you know who you can sell to before you write your picture. How do you do that? I have no idea. We have sales people we've worked with and continue to work with. That's how we do it, by having known people. I know, that's just not terribly helpful.

So step one is to identify your market. Do that and you'll have step one completed.

OK, but now I get to write a script, right?

Once you've memorized Blake Snyder's Save the Cat, you could start to write a script (starting with a logline). But the fact is that it's better having known all the rest of the steps of our pre-production, production, and post-production process. Sure, it's a catch-22. But that's why practice is so important. If you've practiced making lots of feature films, then you have experience when you go to make your next one. Keep practicing. That's what I do.

And then I schedule the picture?

Exactly. And all your experience having made pictures before presumably will make the scheduling simpler because you've written all your scenes to take place in a limited number of locations.

Yay! Shooting the movie!

Do it in 12 or fewer days. Don't bother whining, if you're shooting for more than 12 days you're going to lose money.

But I like whining.

Me too. You still can't do it.

And then post-production?

Exactly. And get the feature out quickly. Don't take years and years to make it. Because you're going to have to make another one right away.

You're scaring me.

Fear is the mindkiller.

What else do I need to do?

Read the rest of this Wiki!

†As an aside, I'd made two features before Pandora Machine. A Hamlet, and a movie with a title no one could pronounce, "Apostasy", which was based on Milton's Paradise Lost. Whenever I think about adding some Shakespeare to the dialog in any movie we make our producer reminds me that my first two movies didn't get distribution due to a lack of classical reference.


Show php error messages