How I Made My First Feature Film
CHAPTER EIGHT - Back Home
I arrived home with an awareness that Cannes means different things to different people. The live broadcasts from the French Riviera show the stars, the limousines and the parties, but never the sweat, rejection and sore feet. Sure, I went to a few premieres, screenings and parties. But all those events were quite naturally arranged to promote someone else’s film, or someone else’s company or projects. None-the-less, I had 20 pounds of trade papers, a maxed-out credit card and a stack of business cards to deal with.
I can’t recall exactly how it happened, but one of those business cards eventually led me to this friendly, DeLorean-driving, Greek-American guy who’d produced a couple of teen exploitation pictures. (“Killer savages a teenaged girl’s birthday party, etc.”) He was very helpful to me and sort of took me under his wing. Granted, he probably thought he could somehow make some money by involving himself in my project, but he continued to offer advice and moral support even when his financial participation seemed unlikely. If I ever had a question about the business-end of movie making he usually had the answer. I also met his full-time film editor who eventually cut Tin Man for me.
Now, somehow or another I was introduced to an actor named Brian Avery. Beside Tin Man, Brian’s most notable claim to fame was his part as Katherine Ross’ jilted-at-the-altar fiancée in 1967’s “The Graduate.” But, like most actors, Brian paid the bills by doing something else. He dabbled in the booming 1980’s L.A. real estate market and knew many investors. After first securing an acting part for himself in Tin Man, he introduced me to a slippery real estate speculator from New York named, Aaron.
Like a lot of people, Aaron was dazzled by anything even faintly related to Hollywood and movies. Meeting a star, any star, was a moment he'd remember. I have to admit I made the most of this idiosyncrasy when I could. After much negotiation during which I gave away most of the film, Aaron decided to put up a little over 100K. This wasn’t enough to complete the film of course, but it was enough to get started and maybe even get it “in the can.” At this point I was ready to rock!
This approach might seem to have been suicidal, but I had learned something important at Cannes. VCR’s were becoming a common household item in the early to mid 80’s and there was a great demand for titles to fill those machines. I met buyers at Cannes who would scoop up the video rights to anything available. HBO and Showtime were in their infancy and needed titles too. If I could just keep my budget low enough and still put quality on the screen, I’d make money.
Of course I never told anybody I didn’t have all the money to make the film. And while I did my best to conceal my inexperience, this fact was probably very obvious to a lot of people I met. But looking back, I don’t think my greenness was so bad after all. There are very few people out there who really know what they’re doing! They’re the ones who’s names you see on the credits of one film after another. All total, maybe a dozen or so? These successful people are literally one in a million. Everyone else is afraid to admit their lack of knowledge and experience. As a defense, they often radiate high levels of self-assurance which makes you feel less competent by comparison. This is a Hollywood smoke screen! Like any other business: Nobody knows anything.
It was at this point I learned the most important lesson about making movies - and life in general. The greatest asset you have is yourself. You may be thinking, “Well, that’s obvious.” But the fact is, most people don’t really believe this. They don’t live it.
If you answer, “I’m a director,” when someone asks you what you do for a living, you have to be that person. Never forget that the movie, and you, are one and the same thing. This is not some ego trip, it’s the truth. This is the authentic psychology of filmmaking. Your movie can never be anything else but the sum total of your own life experience...and a good script. Think about it: you have nothing else to draw from but this.
So when Jason says his Dad plays poker with Al Pacino, just nod. When Tiffany says she’s friends with a super agent at William Morris, just say, “That’s nice.” If Jim mentions that his college roommate works at Universal, just smile and act impressed. If Josh says his project is in development at Warners, wish him well. Whenever I hear someone say, “It’s who you know,” I think: Loser.
It’s your idea and your dream. No one else’s. If you have something that’s really good, you don’t have to sell it to anyone. They’ll steal it.
I still had a movie to make and a few more things to do first. Like casting. All us filmmakers are creative technicians. We direct cameras and lights and catering trucks, not actors! Unless you have a live-stage background, you know nothing about these strange people, much less how to direct them. But, I looked forward to the casting process because it meant I was very, very close to actually making my movie.
Next Article: How I Made My First Feature Film - Chapter Nine (Actors and Casting)
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