By Jesse Steele
So, you want to make a film? Seems easy enough. After all, there are enough Hollywood films out nowadays about a young, upstart Plucky McEveryman, who has a dream and a handicam camcorder. It always works out for him, right? As a filmmaker and a fellow Plucky McEveryman, let me tell you the truth. I warn you the truth may be hard to take. What makes you think that being from a small town in rural CA has in anyway prepared you to make a film that anyone would even want to see? The small high school that you went to had no media arts classes and the best English course you could take was freshman creative writing. You have no friends or family in the industry, which means you have nobody to vouch for you, or give you an “in.” So let’s be realistic. Can you write a screenplay that will be seen and adored by millions? Can you gather a crew locally that will be able to pull off a production value to rival that of a small budget Hollywood feature? How could you possibly sell it in the end anyway? You are up against 10 million other people! Well, I am here to tell you the truth, and the truth is … yes you can.
Making a film in the Eastern Sierra is like herding turtles. It seems like an awesome idea and something that everyone would want to see. But in actuality it is slow, unbearably slow. But guess what? With the right skill set, passion, work ethic and above all patience, you will walk away with your very own movie in the can. It just takes longer due to lack of resources and usually money. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t doable. It just means you will have to do most everything yourself. I currently have a film being finished in post production and another ready to shoot. I have 4 screenplays ready to enter pre-production. All being shot here locally and yes, I happen to live right down the road from many of you. How did I pull something like this off? Confidence. Because ladies and gentleman, confidence is infectious. How can anyone say no to helping out on a film, if the head honcho believes in it with all his being? By not ever giving in to the draining mentality, “It is impossible because so many other people fail at it all the time.” You aren’t other people. You are the person who is going to make a film in your home town. Ok, so now what?
Let’s look at our hero, Plucky McEveryman. A young man with a bigger destiny than he is currently living out. Others have seen his potential for years! If only he could see it in himself. He probably has dark rimmed glasses and a face chiseled off of a Greek marble statue. He gets the idea to shoot his film about the forth coming Werewolf/Eskimo apocalypse. Lo and behold, just as if it was written in a movie, his great, great aunt dies leaving him an antique video camera, circa 2005. Now his dream is possible! So with the help from his best friend and soon to be love interest, he secures a cast and crew from a traveling circus and some funding from the owner of the local burger shop. McEveryman, shoots his film and it is accepted into the Sundance Film Festival and they all live happily ever after … Not likely, but it can be done. I will tell you how. High concept story ideas.
High concept means the story is beyond the scope of normal life. Now you say, “but Jesse, I recently saw (add name of random Hollywood film here) and it was about a guy who was afraid to get married. That is basically the story of every person I have ever met!”
Well, to that I say, who played the scared groom? Let me guess. George Clooney? Bradley Cooper? Probably Joseph Gordon Levitt, right? Was he afraid to marry Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johansson? Which might I add is more unrealistic than herding turtles, but I digress … Here in our neck of the woods we don’t have the luxury of big name stars or big money to hire them. (Side note: if you have big money to hire them, please feel free to contact me at www.stainlessfilms.com, I am looking for an executive producer on a pretty great movie I just started writing about Werewolf Eskimos.) So the problem we face and why films rarely get started here is we don’t have easy access to bankable movie stars that can guarantee a draw of millions of theater tickets.
But as an outside of the box filmmaker, what can you do ensure a quality film that people will enjoy? A high concept idea will draw the attention of anyone, including investors. Actors are a dime a dozen. It’s OK, I can say that. I happen to be 1/8th actor. Who better to play the mailman in your motion picture, then your actual mailman? You won’t make millions of dollars without a bankable star. But who cares? Get rid of that idea. You are a story teller not an ATM machine. You don’t require money to work, it just makes it easier. So come up with an interesting, well thought out story that is the single most important event in your character’s life. Then write it down. If you don’t know basic screenplay story structure, you can always download a program like, Plotbuilder (plotbuilder.com). It does all the formatting for you. Oh, and I forgot to mention. The creators of Plotbuilder are local brothers from Bishop, Doug and Andrew Wilson. See how this local movie of yours is already starting to look more plausible? That’s the first step.
Next week, I will walk you through the rest of the process. I will introduce you to a young man from the Eastern Sierra who recently entered his screenplay “Lots of Luck in the Valley,” into the prestigious LA Screenplay Competition, and placed 2nd out of hundreds. I will also let you in on a secret weapon we have here in the Eastern Sierra when it comes to making motion pictures. We have the talent and the drive all around us. It all just depends on the amount of work one is willing to put into it. Just remember the first rule of screenwriting 101. “The hardest thing about writing a movie is putting your backside in the chair to start.”