If any of you listen to How Did This Get Made?, you’ll be more than familiar with the film above. Directed by James Niebauer, starring Gabrielle Niebauer, and produced, financed, and crewed/acted by numerous friends and family, it has been roundly mocked as the next The Room. You can find it for free on Amazon if you have a Prime subscription so you can make your own assessment, but before we go any further, I want you all to watch this trailer and marvel:
Now, you may be thinking that I’m going to jump in with the chorus and mock this flick. Far from it. In fact, if you have ever wanted to make it in the film industry, I would recommend you study this film and its creator. Were there mistakes made? Sure. But I can highlight dozens of multi-million dollar supposed “blockbusters” that made just as many mistakes, tanked, ruined studios, caused controversy, or otherwise were massive disappointments. All of those were made by supposed “seasoned pros” backed by “smart money” who “knew what it took” to make it in Hollywood (whatever that means). Even the best filmmakers lay a stinker every once in a while.
The point here isn’t to mock those filmmakers, or the Niebauers for that matter. I’ll admit, it’s all fun and games when you log on to RiffTrax or stream Mystery Science Theater or download the latest episode of Jason, Paul, and June’s podcast…
…but if you’re struggling but serious about making art, of creating film, of writing the next big thing, of getting your vision out into the world, I want you to reevaluate just a bit.
What’s the difference between you and those filmmakers listed above?
They went out.
Take this from James Niebauer’s IMDB page, when he was speaking about his film Heart KPop: “When interviewed about this film, Niebauer mentioned that the film was completed on an “indie” budget and rather than with the goal of making it big off of the film, the young director and cast were most interested in building their knowledge of film production.”
That is, the Niebauers and their allies didn’t expect to make it big. They didn’t expect this to be a smash hit on the indie scene and win them oodles of awards. That wasn’t the point. They understood that they were still learning and had a ways to go. But rather than focusing on theory and dreaming, they got together to actually make something. There will be those of you reading this who will go their entire lives dreaming of making a feature film and never getting their; James and Gabbi Niebauer, et al, will never be those kinds of people.
And speaking of “people,” it’s critical to understand that the Niebauers didn’t do this alone. They surrounded themselves with doers. The talent level varied, but guess what? So too does it out in the regular industry. You saw all those box-office bombs linked above. A lot of people on those sets took their work seriously, and a lot of people phoned it in. All of them went out and proved themselves beforehand.
Like the Niebauers, I want you to surround yourself with do-ers. Instead of staying up late and re-watching the entirety of The Office for the tenth time, schedule a session with some potential collaborators to talk through pitches. Instead of getting drunk and watching the game, get drunk at a writer’s group. Make groups. Make dates. Make art. But if you want to “make it,” you’ve got to actually make it, whatever that it is.
In that light, I want you to consider Governor Gabbi and other Niebauer works.
Instead of dreaming about it, do it.
Instead of getting writer’s jealousy, build your craft.
Instead of “putting it off,” create a plan.
No. Seriously. Do it. Create a plan. Right now. You want help? I’m here for you.
- What is one aspect of production that you can bring to increase its value? That is, does your aunt have a cabin way out in the woods where you can shoot? Does your grandfather own a vintage restored car that you may be able to borrow? Do you work at a convenience store where you can film overnight?
- How can you get people excited to work on your film for next to nothing? Maybe you’ll promise to work on their own production, in-kind. Perhaps you’ll hire a cadre of their friends/family/allies to bring costs down. Or possibly you’ll raid the local university and pay people in experience on set.
- What is one other way that you can keep costs down? You could do worse than look for grants based on your personage. Maybe you could cast your crew in the film, or else have your cast work the equipment when not on screen (a big’un in today’s limited-crew Covid environment). I’d also recommend shooting a proof-of-concept short film that won’t tie you down in cost or time but will potentially get you interest from financiers and other backers.
Or maybe you’re a narrative-first person and you can’t conceive of a plan until you get the story down. That’s fine, too! Consider these prompts:
- No more than six primary actors. Fewer checks, fewer schedule conflicts, fewer mouths to feed… but more focus on interpersonal conflict!
- No more than one location (meaning one principal locale, outdoor and indoor, where you’ll be filming), perhaps with some pick-ups at other locations to help mask this. Still, you’d be surprised how many angles you can get to make your film seem bigger.
- No more than 90 pages of a script. Keeping it short, simple, and to the point will be cheaper AND force you to think about what’s really important in your narrative.
- A high-concept idea that can sell the film easily: two people try to escape across monster-infested desert.
As you can see, many, many, many people have crafted compelling content with less. Write a dozen pitch paragraphs and see the recurring themes, even. What are the stories, characters, questions, and motifs that occur, again and again? How can you combine that which you can give to the production with your love of the art form? You can have your sci-fi epic in your back pocket when the ultimate opportunity arises, of course, but this is the kind of stuff that gets people noticed, gets people experience, and gets audiences intrigued.
Most importantly, it’ll turn all of those terrible films and shows on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, etc. into fuel. Every time you watch a terrible movie and think, “Why can’t I do that?” push yourself to go and do that. Write a little bit more. Draw a little bit more. Record a little bit more. Take down notes on what you hate as much as what you like and promise yourself that you’ll never make those same mistakes. Continue to build on your craft until you get to the point where you can go out and make that sucker.
If you’ve ever shivered at the thought of marching toward mortality without achieving your dreams, I’m exhorting you–YOU, THE PERSON WHO IS READING THIS RIGHT NOW–to stop being a dreamer and start being a doer!