On Facebook the other day, writer/director PJ Woodside asked for topic suggestions for her blog, This Old Bitch Makes Horror Flicks. This is one of the few blogs I actually read – I don’t like reading them because of all the words, but I find hers very helpful and very interesting. Along with Steve Hudgins, she runs Big Biting Pig Productions, which is about to release their 7th feature (a creepy-looking movie called Lucid featuring Bill Johnson from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2!)
Anyway, she said “Yo, topic suggestions.” (She didn’t really say “Yo, topic suggestions.”) A couple weeks ago, she asked the same thing and I had reached deep into my soul and searched for the one filmmaking topic I most wished I understood.
Big Biting Pig makes one film a year one a very low budget and adheres to a very strict schedule to get that done. I have been interested in their process since the 2011 Fright Night Film Festival where I saw PJ give a talk about making ultra low budget films profitable. At one point, she something along the lines of: “You can learn more making 10 movies in 10 years than 1 very polished movie in ten years.” I’m not sure if that’s an original butchered quote of hers, or if she was quoting someone else whose quote I just butchered, so I’ll just attribute it to her.
“You can learn more making 10 movies in 10 years than 1 very polished movie in ten years.” – PJ Woodside
Those words struck a chord with me because the first time I had attended the Fright Night Film Festival, in 2007, Dennis and I were there to premiere our short, The Projection Booth, which we had spent about 10 years on and off making. The problem, though unbeknownst to me at the time, was that it hadn’t turned out the way I wanted and I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t as good of a filmmaker as I hoped I’d be.
So I spent 10 years figuring out what I did wrong. I deconstructed the film, and reconstructed it, and deconstructed it and constructed it again. I analyzed and examined every detail and learned quite a bit about structure, blocking, acting, dialogue, suspense, comedy – all these things – long after the film I was shot. These were more valuable lessons than any I ever had on-set up to that point, except maybe the one the time I learned that when you drive to a closed park on Halloween night and you’re sitting in back with your two nephews trying to get video of a local ghost legend, and your two brothers in the front of the car decide to walk off into the woods and leave the three of you there, DO NOT LET THEM GO because a police car will pull up 30 seconds later to a parked car with two young boys and a grown man with a video camera in the backseat. This is really more of a life lesson than a filmmaking lesson, but the the involvement of the camcorder makes it a useful tip for both novice and experienced filmmakers.
The Projection Booth was an incredible educational experience for me, and I’d recommend others do it except for the 10 years part… but the fact is, I could have made 10 films in that time – and even though I learned quite a bit on my decade long filmmaking odyssey that yielded a pretty okay short, I began to wonder what I could learn from doing one film a year and sticking to a schedule and not letting the perfectionist in me have final say.
Everything I’ve written to this point has just been background info. I like my readers to be informed. The actual blog post will now begin. As a reminder, this story is about PJ Woodside asking for blog topics.
So I said. “How do you let go of your project enough to finish it?”
Very quickly she wrote back, “We have a schedule and we stick to it.”
And then I’m like… “No, that wasn’t a question… That was my blog topic suggestion. LOL.”
She said, “Yeah, I know, assface. That sentence was the blog you just suggested. Thanks for the nine word blog post suggestion.”
Now, of course, I’ve spiced the dialogue up here a little for dramatic purposes. (I learned to do this during the editing of my film, The Projection Booth.) She didn’t really call me assface, but she did write my topic in one sentence.
And when I thought about it for 12 seconds, it actually was pretty simple. I know how you finish stuff. You give yourself a deadline and you stick to it. My brain had somehow created a mental block around something pretty cut and dry and had momentarily convinced me that there was some sort of secret formula for finishing a movie. Or magic incantation. Yeah. That would make more sense.
Actually, that’s exactly how I got The Projection Booth finished – the deadline method, that is. I’m not positive if the incantation even helped. We picked a film festival we wanted to enter and I busted my butt trying to make that date. I worked very fast, and I did a lot of special effects and other work that was “temporary” just to get it done in time, knowing I could come back to it after we entered the film fest.
In the end, a lot of those “temporary” elements stayed in the film. Once I was finally able to take a step back and get out of perfectionist mode, I realized the work I had done was perfectly fine. Just because it had been thrown together quickly was not sufficient enough reason to go back and make tweaks that no one would ever notice.
This way of thinking freed me up to go back and make totally different tweaks that no one would ever notice. To this day, I’m still not finished. It’s sitting on a virtual shelf waiting for me to have some free time. But it got out to festivals and my conservative estimate is that far in excess of 30 people saw it.
And, were it not for Dennis’ insistence that I move on to a new project – a comedy short that I’m very proud of but was never able to finish enough to show anyone, we likely would not be working on The Legend of Grassman. The new short shifted my focus off of The Projection Booth enough to where, at some point a few months later, I said… “Cool. A Bigfoot movie.”
So, if you haven’t guessed what I just did, I actually wrote about the topic that I suggested PJ write. Big Biting Pig has no trouble finishing their projects, as is evidenced by this Kickstarter campaign for their 8th film. (Give them money. They will do awesome things.) I, on the other hand, do have a problem letting go of my work, so I have something to share on this topic.
And of course, I’d have nothing to share on any topic at all if, on Facebook the other day, PJ Woodside had not once again said, “Yo, topic suggestions.” (She didn’t really say “Yo, topic suggestions.”) This time, I didn’t have any suggestions, but I was thinking about how I’ve been ignoring my own blog these past weeks as I bust my butt to meet my film’s deadline. I just do not have time to write a 2000+ word blog post while I’m working at this pace, even though I have determined that blogging is a very important thing for me to do.
So I said “I suggest you write MY blog for me. LOL.” I can’t help but be uproariously funny on Facebook. It’s in my nature.
She said “Write shorter. You’ll do it more.”
I said. “Oh.”