Thursday, June 9, 2011

10 Things I've Learned: Part II

Yesterday I posted 10 things I've learned while working on Abandoned Allies, and today I'll share with you 10 more. The musings are, hopefully, good for other first-time filmmakers.

10 More Things I've Learned

1. Prepare your family.
Families appreciate being prepared for your new adventure. Prepare them for how your life might change, and take them along for the ride. Consider yourself lucky if you have a really supportive family.

2. Prepare your friends.
Repeat #1 with your friends.

3. Your relationships may change.
Pursuing your dreams may cause your relationships to change. The ways / reasons they change are numerous because that's just part of life, but be aware that the decision to make your first film may be a catalyst for change in some of your relationships.

4. Find a mentor.
Managing your time, relationships, responsibilities, and energy will become increasingly difficult. Amidst a whirlwind of activity, you need a sound voice of reason. Someone who can serve as a mentor to you--both professionally and personally--is a really wonderful thing. Should you be so lucky to find someone, treat them with respect. Always honor their time, life experiences, and the feedback they share.

5. Hire a coach.
If you can afford it, hire a great career coach. Family, friends, and mentors may provide a wealth of advice and knowledge but a professional will likely have an unbiased opinion and few hidden motives. They also ask key questions and speak the truth in a way that you can hear it.

6. Ask for help.
Once you start talking about making your first indie film, people may find it interesting enough to lend a hand. Take them up on the offer to help. Give them specifics on what you need, and how they can support the efforts. Always say thank you.

7. Build a team.
Filmmaking is a collaborative art. Don't do it alone. Build a team of people willing to work with you on your first project. Barter, trade, or pay them what you can to build a solid team.

8. Work with the best.
Work with the best, most flexible, reliable, trustworthy, and supportive people you can find and afford. Get to know them, their interests, and their families. (I count myself so lucky in this regard.)

9. Don't trust everyone.
You may, unfortunately, encounter people unworthy of your trust. Do your best to find out early--before the stakes get too high--that a person is unworthy of your trust. Ask around to learn of some one's character, and then find out for yourself if the person's reputation is accurate. You owe it to everyone involved with your project to work with only the most trustworthy people.

10. Be honorable.
Do your best to be an honorable leader. Everyone stumbles and makes mistakes, but do your best every day to be worthy of leading a large production.

In the last installment of the series, I'll share 10 more things I've learned while working on Abandoned Allies. What do you think about the first 20 lessons shared? Care to add to them?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

10 Things Things I've Learned: Part 1

In light of having another birthday to celebrate this Friday, I'm sharing 30 things I've learned while working on Abandoned Allies in a three-part series. My hope is that sharing these lessons will help another indie filmmaker complete their first project with, perhaps, a little less stress.

Here are the first 10 things I've learned, in no particular order.

1. Make a plan.
If you don't know where you're going, how will you get there? Make a plan for making your first film. It may change regularly, but that's to be expected. Having a plan will keep you focused on the tasks at hand so you can finish your film.

2. Prepare for a marathon, not a sprint.
Making a film often takes lots of time and effort. How long do you think the project will take? Multiply that by three. Now you have a more accurate picture of how long you'll likely spend on this film. Prepare for the long-haul, then be pleased when you finish it sooner.

3. Find a way to pay the bills.
If filmmaking is not paying your bills then find a good way to earn an income while working on your first film. Seek a job that eases your financial burden, helps you learn about filmmaking, and gives you the peace of mind to finish the project you started.

4. Downsize your monthly expenses.
Depending on your plan and financial situation, you may need to downsize your monthly expenses. Take stock of your spending, create a budget, and iidentify luxury items you can cut. You'd be surprised at how much you can save.

5. If you want to do it, you're more likely to get it done.
Things you want to do tend to get done faster and with greater ease. Pay attention to these things as you work. Focus your energy on the things you enjoy.

6. Even if you don't want to do it, do it anyway.
We can edit out boring parts in films, but not real life. There are plenty of things you would rather not do, but sometimes you have to do it anyway. Do it and move on.

7. Guard your time.
There are only 168 hours in a week, and how you use them is up to you. Guard your time and don't waste it. Meticulously count how you spend these hours each week, and find ways to use them more efficiently.

8. Guard your energy.
Just as you guard your time, guard your energy because you'll get burned out. Learn what drains your energy. Then find someone who enjoys that work and ask them for help. Similarly, figure out what gives you energy and do that frequently.

9. Prepare for chaos.
Making your first film will be challenging. Prepare for the chaos you've just invited into your life. Remove distractions, decrease stresses, avoid nay-sayers, organize your personal space, etc.

10. Enjoy the ride.
Making your first film can be really stressful, but enjoy the journey. You'll learn a lot, make new friends, challenge yourself, and accomplish something quite big. Don't be so focused on the future that you miss the present. What you're doing is pretty amazing, so be sure you pause to enjoy it.

The series continues tomorrow with another 10 things I've learned while working on Abandoned Allies. Stay tuned, and share some things you've learned in the comments below.

The Late Rev. Charles Long

Rev. Charles Long in Vietnam with a group of Montagnards from his church.
When I first met Rev. Charles and EG Long it was May 24, 2008, at their home in Raleigh, N.C., to interview them for Abandoned Allies and I was fraught with worries when I showed up.

Charles and EG were my first on-camera interviews for the film, and I felt likely to make tragic mistakes while I was there. My lack of knowledge about filmmaking and the subject matter felt as weighty as the humidity outside. The temperatures were up in the 90s--even in May--and the humidity made it worse.

But inside their home, the atmosphere was much different.

Charles, a tall and slender man, led me inside where he introduced me to his smiling wife, EG. It was cooler inside. Calmer. Full of grace, understanding, and forgiveness of my inexperience.

We chatted about the film, how they could help, and how to use the next few hours. They showed me areas in their home to use for the interview. They led me to a treasure trove of photographs and artifacts. Their home looked like that of proud parents with photos of their children (and their children's children) displayed throughout.

I set up my borrowed camera equipment, and the interview began. They shared their story of falling in love, getting to know God, becoming missionaries, and the decision to move to a country no one seemed to have heard about yet: Vietnam. It was a long flight to the other side of the world, but they would end up living there for nearly 15 years.

The interview made them smile as they shared memories from their first years of marriage. Their love for that country and its people radiated from them as they talked. By the time the interview ended, I felt as if we had been abroad without leaving Raleigh, N.C. Charlie and EG would host me a few more times as my research for the film continued.

It was during Memorial Day weekend last month that Rev. Charles Long passed away. Surry and I attended his visitation that Tuesday, and found the church packed with people paying their respects. The large, diverse crowd was spectacular.

Rev. Charles Long is a man respected and loved by many people. It is truly an honor to have learned his story. Spending time with Charlie and EG taught me so much about the Montagnard people of Vietnam. I am saddened by the loss of such a great man.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Beast

Last week I finally bought a new external hard drive. I labeled it The Beast because it's 2TB, the most external storage I've purchased while working on the film. The name makes me giggle when I see it while managing so many files. The Beast is a much better, more encouraging name than the factory setting, you know?

It's been a while since I started shopping for an external drive. I need a means to save Abandoned Allies off-site, should anything go wrong: natural disaster, theft, accident, etc. The thought of losing all of that work really makes it tough to breathe.

This past weekend I set up the new drive and started copying files. It took about nine hours for all of the Abandoned Allies files to save to the new drive, but at least it is done now. There are a few other things I need to organize, and then I'll finally be able to take an external drive (with the film saved on it) to another to-be-determined site.

Storing the film off-site as a back up will give me a little peace of mind. In the meantime, there's much more work to do. At least, finally, I get to check this off my list! Win!

Monday, June 6, 2011

One Simple Truth About Independent Filmmaking

Years ago I attended the screening of an independent film. The director answered questions afterwards. I mustered up some courage, walked to the mic, and asked him how he started making films.

His answer was, "I just started making movies. With whatever resources I had."

That moment is a big one in my life. The response made me angry because it was so simple. It also gave me enough courage to start Abandoned Allies a few months later.

For years I had been waiting to start making my own films. Waiting for the right time, the right team, the right subject matter. Just waiting for something to get started.

The truth is: there will never be a better time to start making your own independent film than right now. Start today.

Whatever you're dreaming about--even if it's not filmmaking--find a way to do it. Know that it's not going to be any easier to start tomorrow. No one will give you the perfect circumstances. And you're not getting any younger waiting for them.

Don't wait for the perfect time, team, resources, circumstances, script, or subject matter. They don't exist. So quit making excuses and start now. The journey ahead isn't going to be any easier the longer you wait.

Independent filmmaking is not an easy journey. There are ways to make it better, though. More on that later...