1/22/2012 – Denny
So I have been officially called out on being 8 months late on my blog post, but to be fair I was a department head on two features in 2012, so I have forgiven myself. I did suffer through a pretty severe brow beating at our last company meeting so I am back on the horse and I promise to keep all of my adoring fans appraised of my activities. So for those of you (I am assuming that at best it is my mom, Hi mom.) who have been patiently waiting for my reappearance I will be giving you a piece of my mind on the low budget independent feature film experience.
My last post was a wrap up of my first feature and this one will be a mid-point update on the current feature I am working on. The feature is titled “Lockhart” written by David Lockhart and a slew of other writers. I can’t really say who they are because I am not sure who is getting credit as a writer, but you might recognize the name David Lockhart because he was a member of the cast of “Hunt the Maguffin”. One thing that I have noticed since I started living in LA was that the film community is actually pretty small. I was brought onto this project by two different people whom I worked with on two different projects. David from “Hunt the Maguffin” and KT Kent (Lockhart Producer) who I worked with on “Between the gutter and the stars” (I was 2nd Cam Op working under Chuy Chavez). This just goes to show that word of mouth is a great way to build your career.
Speaking of good word of mouth, I have already been hired (no deal memo, but it’s pretty set) to gaff a music video for two of the key players on the cast and crew for “Lockhart”. Anthony Pietromonaco (dir.of photography) and Andre Bolourchi (Adam Lockhart).
The music video concept is awesome and I guarantee that I will be writing about it, but this blog post isn’t about making contacts or building your career. What I wanted to write about is the difference between working on independent projects compared to big budget studio projects. My professional experience is almost completely in Television. I worked in a TV studio for over 3 years and continue to work for ESPN, Fox Sports and ABC Sports. I have not had much experience with Big Budget feature films, but when I compare my network experience with my indie film experience the things that stand out the most are enthusiasm for the project, creative input and building of strong friendships.
My gigs with network TV pay very well and the guys that I work with are just as fun as the indie crews, but what stands out is the fact that the network guys are there for the paycheck. It is fun watching professional sports from the sideline or under the basket, and we are motivated to get great shots, but at the end of the day, we all show up, do our job, go home and wait for our checks. There is no bonding experience or sacrifice. There is no ownership or personal connection to the project. It is done and forgotten.
Another thing is that we have little creative influence on the project. We are all trained on how to frame a well composed shot. We have the technical knowledge, experience and ability to keep all the cogs of the live television machine running, but it is all according to a specific formula. Other than the occasional epic rack focus or sweet framing of a shot, it is our skills that we are hired for, not our imagination. In the low-budget indie world we don’t get paid very well, we work outrageous hours and we usually have to do the work of ten men. As I write this I realize that most people would get the impression that I am hating on indie, but that is the furthest thing from the truth.
I have never been afraid of hard work, I don’t need a mansion or a BMW to make me happy and I will get plenty of sleep when I am dead. What drives me is the ability to claim personal ownership of a story that has grown from an idea into a film and to know that it is even better because I had a part to play in it. I hold less pride in things that I didn’t have to sacrifice to achieve, or things that don’t have a little piece of myself. These are the things that I love to do and every day I am doing that, is a day that I spent playing instead of working and that is what I get out of making indie films.
The three biggest influences on the Lockhart set are, KT Kent (Producer), Rocky Collins (Director) and Anthony Pietromonaco (DP) who, as the gaffer, I report to directly. On bigger sets I would have my own crew of electricians and grips, I would take my marching orders from the DP and I would basically do what I am told. Anthony told me on day one to speak up if I wanted to try something and every day since, he has been patient when I wanted to try something and given me a strong sense of ownership. Not only is this personally rewarding, but it gives me a creative outlet and pride in what I am doing. When this film is finished I know that I was more than just a skilled laborer, I was a creative contributor. Which is something that I do not get from the big budget productions.
It is not uncommon for a DP and a Gaffer to work so well together. One of the best learning experiences you get from each set that you walk away from is who you gel with and those people eventually become the core group of people that you work with. Just look at the credits on a Judd Apatow, Kevin Smith or Adam Sandler movie. One thing that is not that common is when a Producer or a Director not only allow below-the-line positions to give input, but often use their ideas. That is another aspect of the indie film world that I love. There is a clear chain of command that I completely respect in the collaborative art of filmmaking, but when you work with such a small crew and people wear multiple hats, you are not so disassociated with the people above-the-line. There is a balance between slowing the production down and making a worth while contribution, but in the end each person on this crew has made a creative contribution and KT and Rocky have given that to us. None of us are knuckle draggers or peons. We all have ownership.
I think the best way to explain my final point about the difference between big-budget and indie filmmaking is to tell you about the second to last day of production when we went to Jamestown, CA. The crews split up into two different units to shoot fight scenes and we were scheduled to meet up at the A unit location to get several shots as the sun was rising. After shooting through the night with no sleep we all met up at the sunrise location and got some amazing footage. When we wrapped at 8:00ish in the morning instead of going back to our hotel to take a hot shower and get some badly needed sleep, we voluntarily decided that we were going to go on a half hour hike up the mountain so we could get an amazing shot of the cast & crew. Then after packing up the gear, we went back to the hotel to drink some wine and hang out. Cold, wet and exhausted we decided that we would rather spend three of the six hours we had to sleep hanging out and having fun. That, in a nutshell, is why I love the indie world.
We still have a few scenes to shoot before we go into post-production, but until then you can follow our progress on the Lockhart Website or Facebook Page. Since I don’t want to suffer anymore brow abuse you will be hearing more from me about the experience.