A few years ago, after directing a few short films and music videos, I had this crazy idea to write, direct, produce and act in my first feature film. And believe me it was a crazy idea.
DEVILS IN DISGUISE was shot in Los Angeles in 11 days with a crew of 3 (including myself) for $5000. We had our premiere at the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, press in the entire world and the film was watched more than 27 million times online.
Here is my survival advice:
Be really sure you want to direct a feature film
Many first time directors romanticise directing their first film. And I understand them. There is nothing else we would prefer to do. But making a film is hard work. It is hard with 200 million dollars, 1000 people, 2 years of production, and it’s also hard work with $5000, 11 days and a 3 people crew. Make sure you really want to go into this adventure. And if you do, jump in, it’s amazing.
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Of course you want to write a space saga with crazy special effects. But last time I checked on Amazon, spacecraft are way too expensive for your first film. But what you can do is look around you, make lists. What do I own? (probably not much) What do my friends own? Make lists of props you can have access to, cars, locations, friends that could help for your cast and crew. You will realize you have so many resources around, and so many people interested in helping you in your insane adventure. And always remember that a great film doesn’t need to have lasers blasting in space or a guy in a red and blue pajama. Sometimes a few locations, great dialogues and a concept are all you need, watch 12 Angry Men, Reservoir Dogs, Primer, Clerks, and Rear Window.
Choose the best actors
It sounds obvious, but it’s not. Many first time directors will give away roles to all their friends. And maybe your friends are perfect for the role. But even though, make a casting session with them, and invite actors. You can easily do that for free and attract great actors that would work for free if they like your project. Of course it’s easier in Los Angeles, New York, Paris and London, but even in the middle of nowhere, say Montana, check universities theatre programs or put up flyers, you will find people with a certain sensibility you need. On DEVILS IN DISGUISE, I chose Magen Mattox for the main role, Leila, because she was perfect for it, even if we mutually wanted to kill each other on the shoot, but that will be for another article. I told you filmmaking was crazy! I did a casting for the second feminine role, Sandy. It was entirely free and I saw so many exceptional talents and ended up choosing Montana Leigh that did an incredible job. They both did such a great job that we didn’t do more than 2 takes per scene. Which was golden for editing (my job as well) and allowed us to shoot in only 11 days.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
Preparation is free. Preparation is king. Once you start shooting you will have literally zero down time, you will forget to eat and even shower (I’m French). Be sure to have all your props and equipment in time. Double, triple check everything. Rehearse with your actors. Let them try things. You have to trust them. They will find things you never thought about by yourself. I storyboarded the whole shoot for DEVILS IN DISGUISE, and I’m a horrible drawer, but it helped me so much. Also, make a look book, to really be clear about your vision of light, costumes, locations, tone, shots etc. I had thousands of images in mine, and it’s a great thing to show investors. If you prepare well enough you will arrive with a complete free mind on the shoot.
Let the magic happen
You’re all prepared, everything is set. Perfect, but be flexible, very flexible. If something doesn’t go the way you planned, don’t call CUT! directly. An actor misses his line, improvises, a dog arrives in the shot, your actors aren’t in the frame anymore, let it happen, these accidents could become magical moments. I never call CUT! directly after the scene is supposed to end, I let it roll for a few seconds, maybe my actor will improvise dialogue or his/her eyes will tell a story…
Remember your actors now know their characters better than you do. The words you spend so much time and heart to write don’t matter anymore. Let the magic happen!
Send 1000 emails every day
Be your own PR firm. I hired a PR for the world premiere of DEVILS IN DISGUISE, and if you have enough money, it’s a great investment. But still, send 1000 emails a day. To sales agents, producers, agents, distributors, film festivals, actors, press, blogs, TV channels, your mum. Everybody should hear your name.
The cavalry isn’t coming
As Mark Duplass famously said, the cavalry isn’t coming. You made your first film, sent 1000s of emails, went to film festivals…you probably will still have to hustle to get your next project off the ground. Over and over. Until you won’t need the cavalry anymore. You are the cavalry.
As a conclusion, making your first film is hard, very hard, very fucking hard, the hardest thing you’ll do until you make your second feature film. I speak from experience, my second feature, WHENEVER I’M ALONE WITH YOU, shot in the south of France with my whole family and co-directed with Vedrana Egon, is in post production.
But you, we, don’t have a choice. We need to get these films out of our brains! Nothing is better.
Not even sex.
And follow my crazy adventures here.