Anyway, taking over where I left off, by the end of my P.A. career, I had accomplished something everyone should before they call it quits. I had learned how a set was run, made some important contacts in the industry, and even directed my own short film when I wasn't working. I was hit hard over the head working in the real world, and it was anything but easy working a few years as a production assistant on various films and commercials. But as I said last time, an aspiring director who's stuck as a P.A. or at least in production the rest of his or her life, isn't in a very good place. At some point it's time to show off your skills. What's the only way to do something like that? It's time to shine, so shoot! You need to get yourself out there with something that shows off your creative talent and vision. That's right, it's time to direct your own independent short film. If all has been going well, you have not only saved up some money, but you also have people in place you met along your road to wrap that can help you make this happen. After all, no one makes movies alone, nor should they.
There's a second part of the story I told last time. The first part was the realization that P.A.-ing was a dead end for me as someone who wants to be a director. People need to see that you can make a movie, not drive a cube truck into a parked car (not that I ever did that... um, well...). Let me first say that in my second of three years as a P.A., I took a several month break to do my first indie short film. It was finished just before this half of my story. So, the other part of my epiphany here came the next day after I met with my P.A. friend who screamed, "P.A.-ing is a scam!" I'm not exaggerating; it was the next day! My current producer, Curtis, was told by a common friend that he had to see my new short film. Curtis came over that evening and watched. When it was all over, he turned to me and simply asked me, and he was dead serious, "What are you doing working as a P.A.?" It was a great question, and I know I asked myself this question all the time. Those two incidents are where it clicked for me, and it also symbolized my move from P.A. to director. Okay, fine, it was more gradual than that of course, but it started a new road that day. If you go back to my film school days, I actually went from being a director, to being a P.A., to being a director once again. It's actually a strange thing to do, but it's kind of how it usually has to work. You go from a big fish to a small pond, to a small fish in a big pond, back to a small fish in a lake, to a small fish in an ocean the size of three planets!!! But seriously, I had enough of learning how a set runs, it was time to do my own stuff. Rewind a year and I did what I thwell, i say now think was a very smart thing right in the middle of my P.A. days. I wrote the 23 minute mystery/thriller, Escape from the Night and shot it too. It just didn't pay off fully until a year later when it made its festival run (for myself) and showed it to Curtis (for the sake of Trust Us).
Escape from the Night is nothing like my student film; I totally went the other way with it. Get the Hell Out of Heaven was an afterlife, light comedy. This time I wanted something else to put on my reel: a moody, dark thriller with some drama sprinkled in. I've always wanted to switch it up in my career as far as genre and feel anyway, so it was cool to just go completely the other way. I put together a story about a guy tormented by nightmares, and after some rewrites, I was ready to go.
This time I didn't have the help of my college, except for some friends to bring on board as crew. Equipment wasn't free anymore, auditions weren't organized through the school of course, and advisement from my professor was more or less gone. More than anything I didn't want to produce it, but of course I got stuck with that too with a little help from my D.P. Now, money of course is a huge, huge issue when funding your own short film. I found a few shortcuts that helped me through this to minimize the financial hit. First off, I had won significant credit towards film stock, development, and negative cutting by winning a couple of awards at the Hofstra Film Festival back when I was a student. This worked wonders for me. To add to that, I also worked at an equipment place in exchange for barter towards equipment rentals as my first job out of school. My D.P., who's also a buddy of mine from class, was able to hook us up with a 16mm camera from the equipment manager at my old college. Between all of this, trust me (trust you, trust us), we saved thousands of dollars. Put that with a crew and cast that agreed to work for free, and we were in good shape. More shortcuts? I didn't pay for one location during shooting. I knew enough to keep the script super low budget, and the screenplay didn't call for that anyway. We shot in my apartment, my parents' house, a public bathroom we were given permission to use, a parking lot outside the city, a cemetery. It was all free! Editing costs weren't an issue either. I had just gotten Final Cut and I did all of it myself. When I hire me, I work real cheap. And even with all of this, the short was still expensive to shoot! A lot of the costs were in post and extra film, and even this can be avoided now with video taking over. Looking back, I didn't even need an answer print... but I made one anyway. Now it seems we can finish on DVD for most film festivals. Things have changed so much in such a short period of time! I would imagine it's even cheaper to get your own project done on your own budget. Just don't mix up cheaper with easier. There's nothing easy about it, but my experience as a P.A. made the shoot much, much smoother than my student film, where I never came so close to calling it quits.
So those are ways to cut costs for yourself, and it worked. I won't go into all it took to organize everything this time, I'll save that for later. But know that making your own short is the best thing you can do as an aspiring director. Escape from the Night became my main road towards meeting my first of what is now two producers, and it just shows people what you can do. This goes for writing too: how can anyone know you're any good without work to show them? Working on set in the production department won't do this for you. It will help you prepare to do this on your own like it did me, but it won't help you strictly as a director. So if you've been a P.A. and you've spent some time on other director's sets, it's time to shine, so shoot!!! Doesn't mean you can't work on other people's projects again. And this doesn't go for directors only... D.P.'s, production designers, camera operator... whatever your interest, take some time off as a P.A. in your department and work on the smaller things so you can actually do what you want to do. Otherwise, you're shooting yourself in the foot without even firing. So many people get stuck here, so don't let it happen to you. You've worked way too hard and are way too talented to let that happen! I guess sometimes you have to quit something (P.A.-ing) to not quit something more important to you (like your ultimate goal).
So that's that; it's all possible. Until next time, once again, please check out our campaign at: http://www.kickstarter.com/