Becoming a filmmaker, or at least trying

Making movies requires that you talk to people; you can probably get used to this, even if you're a writer.

I’m in the midst of producing and co-directing a film that I wrote. It’s a strange position to be in because filmmaking is the ultimate community artistic undertaking and writers are crotchety, solitary creatures who generally toil in solitude and typically engage in public only after several cocktails.

But I have to say that this is great fun. And after countless hours in the dark, scrabbling a keyboard at obscene hours before or after a full work day, squinting under a dim lamp at my daily five hundred words, it’s nice to be out in the sun. I was quite burned, despite the clouds, after our first two days of shooting. Filmmaking is an outdoor activity. Writing involves long hours hunched over a desk.

Attaching a camera to a car in a complex attempt to accurately capture what the asshole writer put in the script without thinking how hard it would be to get the shot.
Attaching a camera to a car in a complex attempt to accurately capture what the asshole writer flippantly put in the script without thinking how hard it would be to get the shot.

Making films requires talking to people, occasionally shouting, and a whole lot of thinking with both sides of your brain. You suddenly realize the power of your words when the DP comes up to you and says, “It says here that the truck rounds the bend, spraying gravel, but I’m not sure we want to blast our borrowed camera with stones so that we have to buy a broken piece of equipment with the credit card.” When you make a film, your words become concrete and literal with surprising velocity.

I’m not sure where filmmaking will lead. I’m middle-class stock, not one to pull stakes and head to Los Angeles or New York City. I’m pragmatic enough to appreciate the fact that I’ve got a good job. Like anyone who grew up in a union household, you don’t take a paying gig for granted.

But I still feel that I’ll be making films for some time to come. I know that I can write scripts that people want to buy. I don’t yet know if I can make a film that people will want to see. But after only two days in production, I feel good about this. The mood on set is upbeat. Our crew and actors are enthusiastic. A shitload of talented people are coming together to make something special. And if the vibe we’ve created carries over into the finished product, the audience will sense that enthusiasm.

I’m not sure where it leaves that aspiring novelist. After two books with which I’m pleased despite the fact that they’re not published, I might go back to it someday. Nothing to me smells better that the fanned pages of a Jim Harrison novel as I sit reading on a stump in a Douglas Fir forest. Nothing, perhaps, except the smell of synthetic butter-oil on popcorn in a darkened cinema while projector light flickers overhead.

Two more days of production. A few months of post. And then we’ll see where things stand.

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