This just in: Making a movie in three days is fucking hard. The Filmmaking Gods* don’t give you a free pass when they hear that your deadline is 72 hours away from when you find out what film you’re going to be making – they dole out just as many technical issues and actor scheduling conflicts as on any other film, but they cram them into a much shorter time period, at the expense of the one or two fleeting enjoyable moments that occur in the production of any film.
*I’m an atheist whenever I’m not making a movie, but I’ll be the first to say that there are no atheists on film shoots. So much stuff goes wrong in the process of shooting a movie, regardless of length, subject matter, or shooting location, that the only answer is that there’s some higher power who really hates movies and really doesn’t want you to make yours.
I shouldn’t be complaining – nobody put a gun to my head to do the Adrenaline Film Project. Rather, my Asian friend Neilson asked if I wanted to do it, and I said yes, and then we pulled in my Asian friend Ryan from high school who also likes movies. The ethnic makeup of our group became even more significant when we found out that the theme of this year’s project was ‘Chinese Enlightenment’, and the prop that had to appear in every movie was a Chinese lantern. I figured that was our ace in the hole. Real, live, Asian filmmakers, and a dorky Anglo along for the ride. We were bound to at least get a concession prize.
I felt like we had a good shot in this contest – none of us were necessarily highly experienced, but we figured that a three-day time limit would level the playing field. No matter how good of a filmmaker you are – and let me take this opportunity to tell you that I am friends with and was competing against some really fucking good filmmakers - you can’t create a visual and emotional tour-de-force in three days, right?
Well, as it turns out, you can. I know this to be true because at last night’s premiere I saw half a dozen or so movies with a level of polish and production value that I wouldn’t have been able to achieve in three months, let alone three days. Choreographed fight scenes. Green screen special effects. Zombie song and dance numbers. By comparison, Writers, a dialog driven show about two guys who sit around indoors being assholes, just about killed me, and we had 10 weeks to make it.
Adrenaline Film Project? Mo’ like Truman Feeling Inadequate Film Project.*
*The grand jury prize would go to anybody with video footage of me at my senior prom.
Our movie wasn’t bad; it just looked like it’d been made in three days. We didn’t own our own equipment so we had to check out a second tier HD camcorder from the journalism school, we weren’t able to dress our location to make it visually interesting, and in the editing room we barely had time to string together our footage and edit the boom mic out of every shot, much less put in fancy titles or engage in this mysterious thing called ‘color correction.’
A big difference between me and my talented videographer friends seems to be that they ‘color correct’ their films. I’ve heard them mention it and, curious, have tried to figure out online exactly what color correction is, but I may as well have been Googling ‘HOW TO DO ALCHEMY?’ All I know is that color correction is the process by which your film goes from looking ordinary to looking beautiful – like She’s All That, but in FinalCut Pro.
Truman Capps, King of the Analogies!
I mean, if color correction is so important, why doesn’t the camera just do it for you? Given how much they’re charging for a good HD camera these days, I don’t want to have to mess with the footage later to make it look good. That’s the camera’s job. I mean, for $5000, I’m sort of pissed that I even have to edit anything – I just want a DVD of my finished product to pop out of the camera like a Polaroid.
What I’m coming to terms with is the fact that I’m not going to be as good at this stuff as other people are. Yes, of course, nothing is impossible and I’m sure I could attain that level of mastery with the investment of lots of time and money into study of the craft and the purchase of good equipment, but the fact is that I’m not interested enough to do that.
I was going to say ‘…the fact is that I don’t care’ in the last paragraph, but that would make it seem like I’m disinterested in making movies that look good, which is not the case. I want very badly to be able to, in three days, crap out a masterpiece without breaking a sweat. I want to be able to write a great script and then turn it into a great movie the way Wes Anderson and occasionally Quentin Tarantino do.
But as much as I want that, I just don’t have the passion to invest myself wholeheartedly in the act of learning how to do all the technical stuff that makes cinematic beauty possible. It’s taken me 22 years to get as good as I am at writing now, and I’ve still got a long way to go. I don’t have the energy to start at the bottom of another ladder and claw my way up, especially when I’ve got friends who are already at the top of it and willing to do the dirty work for me.
“Everybody’s got one special thing,” as they say in Boogie Nights, a movie that was both masterfully written and masterfully directed by college dropout Paul Thomas Anderson. The line rings true, I think. Last night, I saw a lot of films made by people whose ‘special thing’, so to speak, was filmmaking. They’re going to go far.
But I’ve got my own special thing: My hair was way by far the best out of all the festival participants, and the fact that I went away empty handed at the end of the evening is more a reflection of the fact that there was no ‘Best Hair’ award than of any inadequacy on my part. I also write occasionally.
Truman Capps was fortunate to have a dynamite cast for his movie, among them a Chinese exchange student who he convinced to use the word ‘honky’ on camera.