Its easy enough to spot the film crew with the big budget. On any given day on Los Angeles there are a dozen or so productions shooting on location. The grip trucks line the avenues, the caterers pitch their dinning tents and we strain enviously against our seatbelts to spot a movie star as we drive by. This is big budget Hollywood, with all its stops pulled and hired motorcycle cops eyeing you suspiciously, as they lurk at the edge of the blocked off thoroughfare organic hotdog in hand.
It is the stellar opposite of the world of the very independent filmmaker. Driven by love, artand blissful naiveté we skulk around the corners of the filmmaking world, borrowed lights in hand, to produce something, anything that we can capture with whatever equipment we have to hand.
Usually its a lot more organized than that sounds, although I can only speak for my ownproductions and those that I have been associated with.
For instance last year myself and a small group of filmmakers completed the somewhatinsane feat of making 52 films in 52 weeks. We quite literally produced a film a week for an entire year. Each of these films being written by us, adapted from original short stories, shot and edited by us in one week and put up on our Youtube channel, warts and all.
The point I hear you ask? Well, I’m not sure there is just one point or any when you create, whatever the medium. We had no budget, or just what money we had in our pockets onthe day. Our genres ranged from romantic comedy to slasher to thriller, fantasy and periodpiece. We shot on location in rain and cold and ridiculous heat. Mostly in North Hollywood,but also in Marina Del Rey, Lancaster, Burbank, Covina and The Los Angles NationalForest were we camped out to for two days and shot all night with only the light of a campfire.
It sounds romantic, and it is, if you enjoy sleeping on the floor of the forest and trying not tostep in bear poo. But I think as a filmmaker, whatever the budget and where ever you findyourself, you have to be in love with it, passionately, because why on earth would you putyourself through it otherwise?
Money or no money, making a film is a miraculous thing. You are reliant on so many different things falling into place, showing up and actually working properly, most of whichare completely beyond your direct control, regardless of whether they have been paid for or not. Your actors have to show up, not get sick, not have a paying gig, not have a car break down, or a hang over. Your makeup girl must not realize that she has some thing better to do than help you out for free on the off chance that you might actually complete the film and she might actually see her name on the credits at some point, in fact thatapplies to all of the crew. Your camera must not break down, your tape must not run out, your cast and crew must understand that at 3 in the morning and with 20 bucks the only food on the planet is Del Taco.
And throughout this potential catastrophe you must remember to say ‘action’ and actually capture everything on film that you need to construct your vision in the edit, and don’t get me started on sound. Getting an actual sound guy to show up more than once when theonly reward is the desperate need you have for them, deep appreciation and theoccasional donut is next to impossible. During our year of filmmaking we had four suchheroes, one of which was in LA for the Oscars, nominated for best sound on a student film, who I had the pleasure of working with on a TV pilot I produced in England. She didn't winan oscar, but she did get to mix out mariachi music on location with us in North Hollywood, which I am sure meant far more to her.
You learn quickly as a very independent filmmaker that having an ego is like wearing a haton a roller coaster. Pointless and a bit silly really. You can try to hold on to it as hard as youcan, and you might even manage it for a while. But then you miss the ride, the thrills, thefun and eventually you will loose it anyway. The ride will rip it from your clutching fingers, or you will cast it off yourself after you realize you will look like a pillock in the photos that always show up on facebook somehow.
So, ego aside, and over the next few months, I hope to show you the world of very independent filmmaking. The perils and the pleasures, pinnacles and the pain, the...selfindulgence and the sublime. Well, you get the idea. I’ll interview and profile other filmmakers, go on set and relate the experience. Ill reference my own work and experiences as well as introduce you to the films made on a wing and a prayer, or an ipodand laptop. There is some truth to the rumor that you can make a film with a camera phone and it can still be compelling. But I believe that it’s all about the story, and althoughit is true that in theory anyone can make a film, not anyone can write a compelling tale, findthe right actors, film it, edit it, and put it out into the world. That is the miracle.
Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer, director, filmmaker and photographer living in North Hollywood. In 2012 she was involved in the unprecedented project 52 Films/52 Weeks: A Year in Filmmaking, where she and her partners, wrote, directed, produced and edited a film a week for an entire year. She currently has several independent projects in development, runs a music video production company as well as a budget conscious photography business for the hard working actor. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.