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Ten Things Every Producer and Director Should Know
Ten More Things Every Producer and Director Should Know
Making the Tin Man: How I Made My First Feature Film
It’s Just Some Extra Zeros...
All About Completion Bonding Companies
Money Savers!
The Strange Tale of Peter Borg
An honest look at film festivals
The Death of the Hollywood Dream Factory
Nice script. Where is the budget?
The TRUTH about the SAG Ultra Low Budget Agreement
Screenplay Structure the PROPPER Way (NEW!)

Making Tin Man: How I Made My First Feature Film


This story details many of the trials and tribulations I went through in order to make my first feature film, "Tin Man." Because everything happened during 1981-1982 many details have faded from my memory. So, I'm sorry if I've left someone out. I hope that by sharing my experience others will be able to avoid some of the mistakes I made and make a better film.

I've recently completed the book and it's been published (215 pages). You can buy the book by going to this page.

I welcome your comments and questions via email at:

CHAPTER ONE - The Beginning

I have a confession to make.

Before I made my first feature film I had absolutely no idea how to make one. Now, I thought I knew how to make one of course. (But I didn’t.) I had a strong background in filmmaking - USC film school grad, something like 37 documentaries, shorts and commercials to my credit - but I discovered I was completely unprepared to make a feature-length film. While the USC "Wonder Boys," Lucas and Spielberg, were cranking out one block buster after another, I was exploring the world and whatever interested me with my 16mm NPR and a Nagra recorder. I’d load up my VW bug with equipment, strap a mike boom to the roof, and off I’d go. Each film was the work of one person: me. I wrote, shot and cut every one of ‘em. Frankly, I felt documentary filmmakers were the only real filmmakers. Feature filmmakers just sat in a motor home drinking ice tea and chatting up the actresses. Right?

But like creative folks often do, I was getting bored. I’d developed my own style which always guaranteed me some level of commercial distribution and modest financial success. But my “style” eventually became a creative rut in the road. As hard as I tried, I kept approaching and documenting each subject the same way. Heck, it was safe, it worked and the distributors didn’t want me to change a thing. “Make another one, won’t you?” But I just didn’t have the heart to do another one.

So, I’m walking downtown one day and discover a book of matches laying on the sidewalk. You know, the kind with advertising printed on the flap.I picked the matches up and read the advertisement printed on the cover: “You too can drive the big rigs!” There was a drawing of a happy looking guy waving at me from the front seat of his mighty Kenilworth - 250DW, 19 speed diesel tractor-trailer rig. I thought, “Humm. I don’t have to make documentary films. I could drive a big rig!” I briefly considered signing up for truck driving lessons but had to drop that idea when reminded that I didn’t own a big rig. No, I had to remain a filmmaker and the only thing left to do was make a feature film.

You probably think I’m kidding, don’t you? I’m not. That’s exactly how it all began. I figured it would be easy. There’s a lesson here: don’t ever pick matchbooks off the sidewalk.

So now I was a producer/director of feature films...just because I said so. Of course I’d never really “directed” an actor in my life and I’d always wondered what a movie producer really did. Directors wore berets, sat on Chapman cranes and yelled, “Roll ‘em” to thousands of Egyptian extras. Armani-clad producers drank champagne at the Cannes Film Festival and shout, “Sergio, babe. You look great! Let me tell you about my next picture.”

This couldn’t be right. So how would I begin my next career? I needed help.

Sadly, most of my film school buddies who went directly into features didn’t know me anymore. One consented to a brief 10 minute meeting at his plush 20th Century Fox studio office. He’d just co-produced a so-so feature and thought he was pretty hot stuff. He flat out told me that I had made a mistake by making documentaries - that nobody would take me seriously now. Like I could " for the Yankees because I was in Little League." I ran into an attitude that USC film school grads weren’t supposed to need anyone’s help - they’re supposed to be automatically successful. Hah! Nobody told me that. So much for the old school network and USC’s hammer lock on Hollywood.

Remember, I was Mister know-it-all documentary filmmaker. I didn’t need no stinkin’ scripts. But now I did. A few years earlier, during a period of temporary insanity, I’d spent almost six weeks writing a script. Then, I sat back and read it. What a piece of crap! What a waste of paper and computer technology! But I did learn something valuable: the script is the most important part of any feature film. If you don’t LOVE your script and aren't willing to jump in front of a bus for it, drop it. Let it go. Bad scripts are dangerous! Don’t touch them, they’ll burn you!

I think it was Shakespeare who said, “The play’s the thing.” I’m not a fan of that guy, but he was right-on about this. The story is the foundation of everything - you’re nowhere without it. That’s why the good writers are some of the richest people in Hollywood. Truthfully, I’m jealous of them. They have that odd talent to craft and compress a highly visual story with dramatic dialogue and colorful characters into the small space of 110-120 typed pages. I think it’s a god-given talent that they possessed and I didn’t at the time.

Next Article:   How I Made My First Feature Film - Chapter Two (The Play's the Thing)

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