Like it or hate it, American (and, apparently, international) culture doesn't care how films are made. Its denizens love films and will spend countless hours chatting about new films and the people behind new films, but they just don't seem to care how the films show up.
If you have any doubt of this, just watch reality TV shows. The existence of shows like Dirty Jobs, Ice Road Truckers, Deadliest Catch, and AxMen illustrate that people will watch with fascination as people live the most mind-numbing existences, with each of these shows being renewed for season after season. (There was even a show a few years ago about people who sold cars outside Las Vegas that got picked up for a few seasons!) However, all it takes is someone trying to make a show like Project Greenlight or Fox's On The Lot and the shows are practically cancelled before they air! (Yes, I know that Project Greenlight TECHNICALLY had three seasons, but they had to wrangle forever to get a second season and then had to switch networks to get a third.) For some reason, the rest of our culture simply want their films to appear with no understanding of all the work and labor it takes to pull them off. (Maybe The Wizard of Oz was more correct about man's curiosity—or lack thereof—than L. Frank Baum was aware. Only Dorothy and her crew had enough curiosity to seek the man behind the curtain, while countless other Oz inhabitants were unquestioningly willing to accept his stage show.)
As such, for filmmakers, if you want a show that actually gets renewed for multiple seasons that speaks to filmmaking, you have to go to the one show that does it through subterfuge: Entourage! By showing the Hollywood scene through the eyes of an actor, his manager, and his agent, Entourage is actually able to show a shockingly realistic look at the filmmaking process. As low-budget filmmakers, it can be easy to write off Entourage as only showing the Hollywood film world, but, while the LA Studio scene is its setting, it manages to highlight some truly basic truths about filmmaking, regardless of the budgets involved.
If you aren't at least caught up through Season 4 on Entourage, you may wish to stop reading now, as we do have one spoiler. (Of course, this is kind of a pointless statement, as there seem to be virtually only two types of people in this world: those who don't watch Entourage at all and those who are such ardent fans that they've seen every episode that's available, at least the ones that are available on DVD.)
So what are some of the rules we learn from Entourage? Here are just five.
Don't screw over anyone you come in contact with through filmmaking. While the people you run into in low budget filmmaking may not be the Harvey Weinstein-like moguls that Eric, Vinnie, Drama, and Turtle run into, people you screw over will find ways to make you pay. One of my dear friends has this to say: “Friends will go out of their way to help you, while enemies will go out of their way to hurt you.” Screwing people over is a quick way to create an army of people looking to aid in your downfall!
Don't get involved with people you can't stand just to make a movie. It doesn't matter whether the film you're making is $60,000,000 or $6,000, it's far too hard and arduous to work on with people you don't love—or, at least, respect. Now, you may learn that you can't work with someone over the course of a film. As such, at the end of your commitment to that film, even if these people can help you get money for another film, walk away!
Sometimes things are painfully hard, not because the payoff is going to be huge, but because you're on the wrong path! As Vinnie and the boys learned after chasing the unicorn which was Medellin for three years and selling their souls to make it happen, in the end, it nearly destroyed them because they did everything to make the wrong film happen. That's the hardest thing in the world for filmmakers to learn: when is difficulty the sign that you're on the right track and when is it a sign that you're on the wrong one? The biggest way to avoid these sorts of traps is to have older filmmaking mentors, who can advise you based on their superior world experience and observations. (Of course, make sure to select mentors who are the sort of filmmakers you WANT to become, not the ones that are just older. Older doesn't necessarily mean wiser. Sometimes, it just means bitter and angry, which is never useful.)
Never, EVER become romantically or sexually involved with people on your film. Doesn't matter if you're on a Hollywood film or an Omaha film, romantic and/or physical involvement with people on the film will mess you and your production up. For directors, this can be a hard thing, because thespians of the opposite gender can be extremely grateful to you for your insight and you may think this connotes attraction. In reality, it simply is there way of telling you “thank you” for doing your job like you're supposed to. Realize that and act like a professional and you will find things much easier.
Hire people you can trust and then trust them. If you can't trust them, you can't work with them. If you can trust them, then really do so. In the course of the actual filmmaking process, you're going to get paranoid, because, directors, by their nature, tend to be paranoid (especially when they've had too little sleep and too much caffeine). As such, if you can remind yourself that you chose your producer or DP or sound technician because you like and trust them, then you can hopefully tell the craziness inside you to shut up and stop trying to be a control freak!
While there are many other filmmaking tips that can be gleaned from Entourage, we will save those for a future editorial! Hopefully these tips will help you to make successful films in the future!
Jeremy Hanke Editor
director of two feature length films and half a dozen short films,
founded Microfilmmaker Magazine to help all no-budget filmmakers make
better films. His first book on low-budget special effects techniques, GreenScreen Made Easy, (which he co-wrote with Michele Yamazaki) was released by MWP to very favorable reviews. He's curently working on the sci-fi film franchise, World of Depleted through Depleted: Day 419 and the feature film, Depleted.