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 "...play
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)
Buy the book now