When Project Greelight first came out, I didn’t have cable and didn’t get a chance to see it. (I still don’t have cable, as the History Channel and Discovery would suck away my life if I did!) Being an independent filmmaker, of course, I heard a lot about it from friends, who would come up to me and say things like, “You do indie filmmaking, right? You oughta get on that Ben Affleck Greenlight show.” I nodded, smiled, and meant to get around to watching it some year. (For those of you unfamiliar with the premise of the show, basically it’s Ben Affleck/Matt Damon/Chris Moore’s attempt to incorporate new or fairly new filmmakers into the Hollywood System, via an initial competition that yields a budget and greenlight on the film from Miramax to the winner/s.)
Well, after six years, I finally got around to watching the first season on DVD. As a filmmaker and magazine editor who’s aired serious issues with the Hollywood Studio system, I found it especially interesting to see all of the things that crept through the camera lens that most normal viewers wouldn’t pick up on. Unfortunately, the most frustrating character on the show for me was not the extremely overwrought Hollywood System or its representatives. No, it was fellow Kentuckian, Peter Biagi, the feature cinematographer who claimed to represent Indie filmmakers that made me want to tear out my chest hair. While I am fully aware of how much reality TV (or anything else) can be manipulated by creative editing, there were a number of times where Biagi admitted straight to the camera that the real reason he usually did Indie film was because he didn’t like to feel constrained by planning ahead of time. He would go on to imply that the true beauty and art of Indie filmmaking was the fact that Indie filmmakers didn’t plan things, they just let the winds of creativity carry them away.
Unfortunately, this is a cry that I have heard from filmmakers who think they and this magazine are on the same page. It is the ludicrous notion that actually thinking things through and planning things ahead of time leach away creativity!
The truth is that proper preparation and planning allows you the luxury of having time to add additional shots or be extra creative because you’re not freaking out while you try to get all the basic shots you need to tell your story. This fact came home to bite new director Pete Jones in the butt in the show because he let Biagi run around trying to get the most creative shots first, before he had gotten the necessary coverage shots. As such, large chunks of Pete’s movie never made it to the screen because there wasn’t enough coverage.
For the Ultra-Indie filmmaker that is financing their entire film without having Miramax bankroll the production, preparation is the difference between you making a movie and making a piece of crap. Now, don’t get me wrong, experience and budget do dictate how much you can plan and prepare ahead of time. If it’s your first film, you plan as much as you can and then have to just leap in, knowing that you have missed many issues because you didn’t know what to plan for. The next film you’ll know how to prepare better, and so on. (This is why it’s a great idea to start your filmmaking career with a few short films, to learn more about what you need to prepare for without getting enmeshed in a full length film that might have too many problems to be successfully completed. If you have no short script to shoot, then shoot a piece of your feature as a short and get the hang of the filmmaking process before you go back and shoot the full feature.)
With that said, I would leave you with this thought:
“Being a filmmaker who is too lazy to plan ahead properly does not make you an Independent; it just makes you unlikely to successfully complete anything you start.”
Or, perhaps, a better thought:
"If you jump out of a plane without having first taken the time to pack a parachute, the ground will rush up to meet you far faster than you would like."