When it comes to buying DVDs, I have one neurotic obsession: director’s commentary. If it’s not there, I won’t buy it. This may seem a little strange to most people, but the logic really is quite simple: a commentary track is basically an opportunity for you to sit down and listen to a director tell you how they made their movie. Granted, some directors use it as a brag-fest, and some actors just like to goof off and make lowbrow jokes; but for the most part, commentary tracks are a relatively cheap way to get advice on filmmaking. If you don’t do so in a while, you would probably be surprised at what you can learn just by taking a couple hours to listen to one now and then.
Fast, Cheap, and Written That Way operates in a very similar way; the author interviewed the writers behind such independent classics as Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, Rodger Dodger, and Living in Oblivion. He asked questions about the writing process they went through, as well as the trials and tribulations involved with getting the film made and distributed.
The interview format of this book is simple and easy to follow. It’s also a much better choice than trying to condense and summarize each of the interviews, as the reader is far more interested in hearing each director’s exact words anyway.
Interviews don’t make up the entire book either. At the end, the author has a section entitled “Thirty (Highly Subjective) Lessons,” based on his own experiences and the things he learned from each of the interviews. While the author freely admits that the reader could take each of these lessons with a grain of salt, the advice given is still pretty solid.
Depth of Information
Considering the number of writers interviewed in this book, each interview is less than fifteen pages; but the upside is that the author picked films from several different genres in order to give a more broad spectrum of information. This seems like a good choice, as it would apply to filmmakers of all genres, as well as those who like to switch genres with each film. Plus, the organization makes it into somewhat of a reference book. Though it would probably be good to read the whole thing from cover to cover, one could also read each genre section individually depending on one’s needs. For example, if you want to make a film based on a play, you can read those two interviews; if you want to tell a love story, read the three in that section.
There is some great information included at the end of the book as well. Some of the “lessons” the author mentions are: read other scripts, stay within your genre, write characters that actors will want to play, watch out for repetitions, and – the greatest (but true) writing cliché of all time – write what you know. Though this section of advice is fairly brief compared to the interviews, it’s also a well-condensed summery of said interviews, as well as good, solid advice for aspiring screenwriters.
As mentioned before, I’m a big nerd when it comes to director commentaries, so I absolutely loved this book, and any of our like-minded readers will probably feel the same way. But even if you’re not that into commentaries, most microfilmmakers will be able to get some good tips out of this book. While the information was pretty well condensed, I still would’ve liked to see a little more in the way of screenwriting tips.
After one makes their first couple of films, it’s easy to get caught in the mindset that one is now prepared for anything. This is a very dangerous trap for independent filmmakers! Remember, Murphy’s Law still applies – even on multi-million dollar film sets!
Though Fast, Cheap, and Written That Way mainly focuses on the writing aspect, there is plenty of advice on the filmmaking process as well. After all, many microfilmmakers do double-duty as writer and director, so we need all the advice we can get.
Value vs. Cost
Twenty-seven dollars seemed like a bit much for something this size, that's also paperback. (Though the argument can always be made that anything that prevents a filmmaker from making a costly mistake is money well-spent.) For the price I would’ve liked to see a little more extensive screenwriting advice, perhaps in the “lessons” section of the book. Since that's no longer viable for this release, I would like to see a price around $19.99, as I think that would encourage more filmmakers to pick it up.
Even without my suggested price drop, I’d still encourage all perspective writer/directors to at least skim through it at your local bookstore and see if it wouldn't be a valuable edition to your filmmaking library.
As most microfilmmakers often act as both writer and director, this book could be a very useful resource for anyone looking for advice on how to write a good first screenplay, get the funding they need, shoot and edit the movie, and finally get is distributed. While it’s not an all-inclusive book by any means, it does give great first-hand insight from directors who have been through the process and lived to tell about it.