The Highs and Lows of Filmmaking

Making a movie is neither a smooth nor quick process. It’s fun, grueling, discouraging and exhilarating: and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Making a movie is neither a smooth nor quick process. It happens in fits and starts. It’s long hours spent getting the script in great shape. It’s hopeful meetings with agencies pitching “name” actors for lead roles. It’s late night phone calls with producers in different time zones. It’s fun and grueling and discouraging and exhilarating.

Recently, I posted an article about the making of my first independent feature film Devil’s Hollow. In real time, I will tell the story of how me and a talented group of indie filmmakers—from L.A. to Kentucky—have banded together to produce a low-budget movie. That story is still unfolding.

The perennial challenge to making a movie is finding the money. When you don’t have the backing of a major studio like Warner Brothers or Paramount, it’s up to you to identify investors and persuade them to write checks to fund your project. And that’s where we find ourselves with Devil’s Hollow; the script is written, locations secured, actors interested… but it simply takes time to raise all the money.

So I asked myself: What does a storyteller do when he finds himself in a holding pattern like this? The answer? Tell another story.

While awaiting the full financing for Devil’s Hollow, I wrote a new feature script. It’s a psychological crime drama called Relict, about an attorney who seeks vengeance after the accidental killing of his family. Like DH, this one was written to be shot in just a few locations, using a handful of actors.

If DH is a low-budget movie, Relict is no-budget. In fact, it’s negative-budget. Everyone involved so far (actors, producers, family, friends) has been chipping in their own money and resources to make it happen. Some have invested hundreds of dollars in cash and equipment. A director of photography friend loaned his Canon 5D Mark ii camera for us to shoot with. An engineer friend built a homemade camera dolly. Actors are volunteering their services.

My mother bought a $25 chair from a thrift store as a prop, which we promptly splattered with fake blood. My father loaned us his house as the primary location. The local police chief (a former high school classmate) has given us access to film inside the police station and use some of his uniformed officers as extras. This new little film, Relict, has become a community project, a true example of run-and-gun independent guerrilla filmmaking. Someone once said it takes an army to make a film. In the small town of Frankfort, Kentucky, the troops have assembled.

This experience is teaching me something valuable, lessons that go beyond how to light a set with just a floor lamp and paper lantern, or how to record good audio by taping lavalier microphones to an actor’s chest. For one, it is evidence that making a movie in a small town in the South is quite different than making a movie in Los Angeles.

In Kentucky, people don’t see movies made every day. As a result, many are eager to pitch in and help out. Local artists get a chance to practice their craft, whether it’s acting, music, or set design. People get excited, and the whole community bonds. So, if you’re considering making your own movie, consider making it outside L.A.

The other lesson this little movie is teaching me is that, as a storyteller, you can’t simply wait for everything to come together before you tell your story. If one project slows to a grind, you just start working on the next one. It’s the only way to keep practicing and improving your craft, not to mention advancing your career.

Two roads diverged in a wood — and I took them both. Now I find myself making two independent films. I’ll tell you the story of them each as they continue to come together.

Making a movie is neither a smooth nor quick process. But stories won’t wait to be told, and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

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Chris Easterly is a professional film and television writer. A graduate of the Warner Brothers Television Writers Program, he has written for the...
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