Namaste, I have an anonymous

by francine Hardaway on April 2, 2003


I have an anonymous friend who is a creative, under-utilized resource at a multi-national company (this is by definition true of anyone creative at a multi-national company.)

Because we are bored by war news, my friend and I have decided we want to make movies. At one time, this would have been very far-fetched and unattainable as a goal, but two years of watching movies shot in digital video at Sundance and the plummeting prices of digital video equipment have convinced us that we can at least make a stab at it.

We’re dividing up the tasks of learning “the industry.” Although we’ve seen it as consumers, we have never been on a movie set, and we need to start at the very beginning: what are the steps that go into making the finished product? We are in the process of reverse-engineering the movie production process to find out how to make it better.

None of this will involve even setting foot in Hollywood. For one thing, we’re sure we don’t want to make the kind of movies made in Hollywood. We’re the “indie” type. For another, we’re completely disconnected from the Hollywood network, totally inexperienced, and probably unemployable by the typical Hollywood studios. So we’re going the Shirley Temple-Mickey Rooney route: movies made in the “barn.”

Seven Steps to a First Movie

1.Buying the Camera. Because I’m a person who believes in using the right tools to do a job well, I drew the task of buying the camera. Fortunately, Peter Froeb, a professional videographer, was willing to help me here, as there were about thirty cameras to choose from.

Digital video cameras come in at about four price points: around $700, around $2000, and around $4000. They come in two formats: digital 8 and mini-DVD. In Fry’s last weekend, there was a Sony Digital 8 (bigger tape, harder to destroy, but not the latest format) camera on sale for $379. This camera does USB streaming, has a 700x digital zoom, a microphone, a night light, and a manual focus. Peter suggested that as a first camera, it would be an economical choice. I take advice from professionals, so I bought it.

2. Choosing the editing software. My friend drew the task of learning to use the editing software, so first she went to an Avid class. Avid is the industry standard, very expensive non-linear editing software that one uses on the Mac. Since both of us have PCs, and no money, we will probably not use this software, but it’s nice to know what’s out there. We hear that Final Cut Pro is better and cheaper. We put that decision on hold for now. You can’t edit what you haven’t shot.

3. Learning to use the camera. You do not do this intuitively. As a confirmed early adopter, I can take most electronics devices out of the box and use them without reading the manual. Don’t even think about doing this with a digital video camera; it’s too complicated. For me, the first obstacle was that I’m left handed and the cameras are made for righties. The next obstacle was that the images MOVE. And you can miss the action if you’re not prepared.

After four hours of intense concentration, I was able to make a one-minute video of my dogs and send it as an email. This felt like a huge accomplishment. Editing a feature film for theatrical distribution seemed a long way away.

4. Developing content. Neither of us knows how to write a screenplay. To learn this, we have registered for the Robert McKee storywriting workshop in San Francisco. More on this later if it turns out to be as good as it is cracked up to be.

5. Overcoming fear. My friend is now afraid this will never happen. Overwhelmed by all the things we have to know, she wonders if we should ever start. As a consultant to entrepreneurs and the igniter of dozens of small company flames, I figure it has a 50-50 chance, and that’s good enough for me.

6. Raising money.We will skip this step for now, since we would never involve OPM in such an early project. Look for us next year with our hands out.

7. Building a team. Everyone wants to be in or be part of a movie. It’s a magical, mystical thing that is even more compelling than getting options in a technology startup. We have a long list of highly skilled volunteers, and we will need them all. I have figured out that I don’t have the patience to edit, I don’t have the knowledge to direct actors, I don’t have the steady hands to shoot video, and I know nothing about scoring music. My friend has more skills than I do, but not by much. Movies are a team sport.

After traversing these seven steps, not only have we not reached Nirvana, we haven’t even become highly effective people (at least, not at filmmaking). Stay tuned.

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