To Hell With Hollywood!
Okay, being a lifelong movie buff I really don’t mean it. I love movies and admittedly am a groupie. I love to watch celebs and vicariously walk in their footsteps. John Wayne, Joel McCrae, Clint (wouldn’t you love to be recognized by your first name), Palance, Costner (or even only by your last name), and many others are semi-deities to us western fans. But also after thirty-five years of banging away on novels, non-fiction works, and screenplays, and waiting for Hollywood to come calling, one tends to vent and wallow in frustration. So, what to do? Stop waiting, that’s what.
Make the damn movie yourself.
Being a lifelong photographer and videographer helps (I was the school photographer in 7th grade), but thousands out there know cameras. And thousands—or hundreds of thousands—want to make a movie or at least be involved in one. Now with consumer-priced equipment and software, you don’t need MGM or Paramount, or Universal. You can have a studio in your bedroom office. Final Cut Pro, Premiere, or the free DaVinci Resolve; software that puts what was formerly a several hundred thousand dollar editing bay at hand. And yes, I said free. A dozen consumer-priced cameras (Sony, Canon, Nikon, Pentax) shoot video in today’s standard 4K, and the cameras I settled upon, Blackmagic, shoot in 4 and 6K. You can have a cinema-quality camera shooting 6K for just over two grand, plus lenses, or a 4K for just over twelve hundred. And the fact is, films making money are being shot with iPhones. Theaters across the country project only a 2K resolution, and many streaming services require only 1080p.
Yeah, I know this technical talk is gobbledygook to most of us. So what? As I said, nearly everyone would like to be involved in a film, and tech types are no exception. And many will join you on a film journey just for credit.
Story? Yeah, my wife and I are writers and have been making a living at the craft for many years, so with 150 or more books to our credit, we have lots of story inventory to draw from. But the fact is great stories are out there in the public domain—open for anyone’s use. And there are literally hundreds of fine writers who’d love to see their tale on the big, or even the little, screen, and would pitch in their work for a piece of the action.
Speaking of a piece of the action, how does one go from action to account…bank account? I’m just about to release my first full-length (105 minute) film, so I’m yet to become an expert. I would never, however, have invested hard-earned bucks into a movie had it not been for the obvious worldwide hunger for content. When I set out on the project EYE FOR EYE, adapted from one of my novellas, I was encouraged by the fact Amazon was paying $.15 a streaming hour for content. Doesn’t sound like much but when they have a billion or more to expose your film, it was making independent filmmakers with a decent product a hundred grand a year. Of course, during the process of making my film, they dropped that to $.01 a streaming hour and the hundred dropped a zero. Alas, what to do?
Luckily, Amazon is the biggest fish but not the only fish in the sea. Now there are 200 or more streaming services all over the world, and for a couple of hundred bucks (for Spanish, more for other languages) you can get foreign language captions on your film. The world is now the independent filmmakers oyster. And there are distributors and aggregators who’ll distribute your film for a piece of the action. This concept is not foreign to me, to risk a pun. For many years I’ve been selling books via Amazon and other internet sources, and enjoy monthly checks from Japan, India, the UK, etc. In fact, I was a co-founder of an uber-successful company, Wolfpack Publishing, built on the concept of working with authors the same way these companies work with independent filmmakers.
I was fortunate to have a friend, David Mirisch, who’d accept credit as executive producer and used his many contacts and lifelong experience in Hollywood to attract a pair of fine actors, John Savage and Blanca Blanco, who proved their worth not only with their talent but by establishing the work ethic on the set. David is also the consummate PR professional and his expertise is critical to the film’s success. Shane Clouse, a friend for over a dozen years, also happened to have been named Montana’s finest actor and is an unsurpassed songwriter and balladeer. Shane wrote and performed the theme song, EYE FOR EYE. Shane allowed the use of another of his works, FARAWAY HORSES. We also used one to which I’d written the lyrics while he did the music and performed, BEEN SOME STAYED SOME. The film couldn’t have been made without Shane’s talent and hard work. And how often do you have a star who’ll double as a wrangler and provide his own horses and mules?
Low budget? You bet. How many times have you seen the writer/director/producer with a hammer in hand building the saloon bar or the privy? Or digging into his closet for wardrobe? That’s me. Or the co-producer and wife, NYT best-selling author Kat Martin, housing a few and feeding twenty-five players and crew who stomped around the house with mud-covered brogans? Or allowing her home to be turned into a set? Or acting as cook, costumer, make-up artist, and occasional chauffeur?
So, pick up your iPhone, download DaVinci Resolve, be prepared to either hire or spend hours if not weeks learning a new skill, lean on friends and acquaintances, and make a movie. Ask me in a year or so if it was all worthwhile monetarily. I’ve long lived by the adage if it ain’t fun you’re doing it wrong. Yeah, I’ve lost a lot of sleep over the past year…but I’ve had a hell of a good time, met a hell of a bunch of talented young people eager to be part of a project, and kept my gray-matter churning.
Success? I keep score by the dollars, so we’ll see. It’s my belief the consumer is the ultimate judge of one’s work. But no matter, no one can take away the laughs and comradeship.
Yes, I’ve rushed in where angels fear to tread, but that’s been my mantra and my wife’s frustration for many years. And who knows, I may even get my dough back.