On Friday night, March 30, I entered the New Jersey Film School in Martinsville, New Jersey and met with my dear friend, Chris Messineo. An award winning screenwriter and filmmaker, he established this school but a few years before (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1980129/). His body of shorts include the endearing BRANCHES, the intriguing ONE SAVED MESSAGE and the though-provoking FAÇADE. Recently, New Jersey Film School won First Place in the DVXuser Film Festival with the well-crafted THE WATER’S EDGE.
I had the pleasure of taking a screenwriting course with Chris over ten years ago. Afterwards, he invited me to take part in the New Jersey Screenwriter’s Group. Thankfully, I was accepted by the other writers and have been with them ever since.
Now, I was his student again for his two-day “Crash Course in Filmmaking.” As a screenwriter, I only want to write and work behind the scenes. Yet, due to the near impossibility of ever seeing a feature made, I decided to make my own short to get started. As the producer of the project, I want to know more about the process so I wouldn’t look like a complete idiot on set, hence the class.
At 7 PM, five other adult movie-making hopefuls and I listened to Chris layout the two-day plan, which included the five stages of filmmaking, how a story goes from script to film, what positions an independent movie crew may require, necessary release forms, how to set up and compose a shot, and finally, the shooting of a short film with two professional actresses. Crash course, indeed.
By the time 10 PM rolled around, we had pages of notes and the script in hand for the morning’s shoot.
Right before I left, I came to an important realization: shooting a film was no different that running a tradeshow.
What made me come to such a conclusion? Chris showed us his production book for his previous film. He filed everything from shooting schedules to signed releases, as well as location notes and the actual script. That automatically brought me back to the giant show books I had carried with my own paperwork.
As a marketer, I was the tradeshow coordinator for a major manufacturer in the folding-carton industry. Okay, that may not sound exciting, but since I handled all aspects of a $2.5 million show with tens of millions of dollars in equipment, it was exhilarating. I managed union workers, hostesses, hotels, deliveries and every miniscule aspect of pulling off a successful show to sell equipment. Everything had to be perfect, even when it wasn’t. I prepared for each show a year in advance, and during the event worked fourteen hour days for over a week.
Making a film is about management.
It’s like running a tradeshow.
I can do this.
In the morning, armed with a new comfort level about what lay before me, I headed back to the school for our 9 AM start. Chris was there with his producer, Chris Furlong from Off Stage Films (http://www.offstagefilms.com/). Besides helping with the shoot, Furlong, in his They Might Be Giants t-shirt, had scrambled to find a new actress after one had bailed in an extremely unprofessional manner. She’d left us in a lurch as we were depending on her for the shoot. Thankfully, Amy Metroka agreed to join us and was on her way from Brooklyn to join Meissa Hampton for Chris’ vignette, THE CLOSET.
The actresses were fabulous, and we learned much about directing, sound, digital filming, lighting, editing and a hell of a lot more. We each had a chance to work the camera and monitor sound. Otherwise, we shut up and listened. Although Chris was the director, the production was pure collaboration. Oftentimes, Chris approached the actresses much as I approach my students: “You’re wonderful. That was great – but we have to work on…”
Due to time constraints, we only took two takes of each angle, and you can see all of them in the video: two-shots, close ups, over-the-shoulder, and the macro lens zeroing in on Meissa’s bright blue eye. Afterwards, we broke for lunch before indulging in editing. The final two-minute result of our class project can be found here: http://vimeo.com/39564391.
The best part was learning what actors expect from directors as well as writers. They confirmed what I had discovered long ago: stage direction is insulting. Other than that, a table read usually reveals what’s what so cast and crew know how everything is going to come together – hopefully.
This is when my second revelation knocked me out: I can direct. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not full of myself. I don’t think I know everything about making a movie — not even close — but I’m confident I can manage a set. Therefore, I’ll watch the director during my TOO MANY PREDATORS shoot and take notes. If I have a another short in the future, I’ll see about filming it myself. After all, why the hell not?
Now, I have to nail down that location for my film – so I can breathe…
PS: Whether you’re an adult with a desire to make a movie or a child who wants something cooler than day camp, the school is ready for you year round: http://www.njfilmschool.com/.