the art of working with what you have

As aspiring filmmakers we can easily fall into the if only mentality. You may have an inventive indie screenplay that would be sure to get noticed at Sundance. But, how do you get it there? More importantly, how do you make it in the first place?

We are prone to make the excuses: 'if only I had a bigger budget, if only I had that camera, if only I had that location, if only I had that crew, if only I had that actor,' and so on… This mind set will become a road block to your creativity. When you dwell on what you don't have, it will stop you from moving forward and that script will most likely not come into fruition.

When you start to focus on the resources you do have, this begins a momentum that will bring that film to life and ultimately onto the screen.

So how do you make a film with the little you DO have?

First, the foundation must be solid: the screenplay. If the script isn't good, neither is the film. It's a rookie filmmaker mistake to jump into production as soon as they've typed the last page. The best stories are developed, reworked, and rewritten. Get critiques from fellow screenwriters you trust. They will see something you missed. I know this takes time and like the rest of us you want to start your career already, but, as the old saying goes: good things come to those who wait. In this case, a better film in the outcome. Always study your craft. Read screenplays which have a similar style to what you wish to achieve.

Learn to adjust. Write specifically for the resources you have. I've encountered having to rewrite scenes because the location I envisioned it taking place was not feasible at the time. Instead of letting this stifle your production, let it become a creative challenge. With your imagination and skills you are capable of conquering it. The scene may turn out better than you initially envisioned because of your adjustment to the locations you do have.  

Once you feel the screenplay is perfected and your blueprint is mapped out, now it's time to gather all the crew and the tools necessary for this construction- the production. In order to lead a team to build a solid film, you must have a vision, a motive, and a goal. Why should this particular story be told? If you don't believe in your project no one else will. Getting others to understand, believe, and want to see that vision come forth is one of the most important aspects of directing. 

Build a team. It will take many years to find essential crew members you want to work with for the rest of your career. During every project your currently work on, connect with those who have mutual respect and similar motives with their work. I've been blessed to meet a few fellow filmmakers who I can call friends and work with me to achieve the vision of my project. 

Value those who do work with you. You never want to take those who are helping you for granted. This means doing more than supplying them with coffee, food, and compensation. If you genuinely care about those working with you, they will care about their job of piecing your film together. The director should know exactly what they want to achieve and be able to communicate that. But, I'll go even further to say when the director becomes selfless instead of selfish about their project, they are capable of accomplishing much more.

That's why you must learn to be a servant before you lead. Those who understand how it feels to work as a PA for 14 hours on a shoot with no pay, will treat their crew with the same respect they desire. As the director you should take all responsibility, even for mistakes that weren't your own. You are the captain of the ship, and the captain goes down with the ship. As an aspiring filmmaker I can assure you the first attempts will not be smooth sailing. However, you will reach the destination if you have the right mentality and approach.

You cannot accomplish this alone. Mother Teresa once said; "You can do what I can not do. I can do what you can not do. TOGETHER, we can do great things." I believe this also applies to filmmaking. Remember, your job as a director is to convey the vision to those you work with so that they can help you accomplish it with their skills and abilities.  A leader inspires and encourages their team to act.

Ur Allure Media Production shoot

Ur Allure Media Productions shoot with Ali Happer, Maria Ramirez, Vanessa Figi, and myself.

Start small. I'm sure you've realized your first project may not be a action thriller feature with car chases and explosions. Unless you somehow procured a Michael Bay budget. Personally, I am a fan of simplicity. I'm sure you have heard 'less is more.' Perhaps, try starting off with character-driven short films that take place at only one location. You are sure to learn from each project no matter how small and build upon what you've learned. This doesn't mean to let go of your big ideas. Save them and continue to develop them for when the right time arises. 

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Many filmmakers go the route of raising funds for production on or Once again, your vision has to be attainable for others to believe in, to the point that they will invest in it. Family and friends want to help you accomplish your dreams. Don't be afraid to ask them if they know someone with a camera, equipment, or a location you could use. But, be sure they are reliable. Demonstrate you are reliable with their resources as well. Out of everyone, you have to be willing to invest the most time, energy, work, and money into your project. 

Don't compare. Don't always be a perfectionist. Your short film shot on a DSLR may not have the same look as a major motion picture with a multi-million dollar budget. Although, if you know what you're doing you can accomplish something very close, maybe even better. I desire to do everything in excellence. Many times I have to remember this is the best I can do with what I have and I can't wear myself or my team down about the minor things. I continue striving to do better with each project, and it should remain that way forever.

I may not have a long list of credits on IMDb or an Academy Award. These are just the thoughts of one aspiring filmmaker to another, sharing what I've learned so far. As soon as I stopped focusing on all the things I didn't have, I was able to accomplish much more than I once believed. I am simply working with what I have. One step at a time towards the destination. I hope I can encourage you to do the same. The world is in need of new artist to rise up and shine.