1. Know who you want to work with, and believe in them
I think this is the most important of all the steps. If you don’t have a cohesive team of people who are right for the job, the whole project will be an uphill mess. Making movies is hard enough as it is, when you don’t have a good team you won’t even get to the hill.
2. Make friends with people who have money
Let’s face it folks, you need money to make your playland a reality, and you’re not going to get it done without some. We are not as fortunate as the Europeans to have well-established government-sponsored agencies who hold our hands, so time to break out the Rolodex and call all the doctors, hedge fund managers, and start-up millionaires you’ve ever met. Explain to them that they might have otherwise blown this money on a trip to Tahiti, and then they wouldn’t have been able to come to a star-studded film festival or have an opportunity for a financial return! Find out their favorite movie, and ask what their life would have been like if they never got to see it. Then ask for a check.
3. Know what you want to make
Some people might have put this at Step One, but you can honestly make a great film with this at Step Three. When we were making Pollywogs, the story was continuing to be formed while we were shooting it. This was part of a larger improvisation and workshop process that spanned seven months. I knew what themes, images, and plot points I wanted to explore from the beginning, of course, but the process of getting to the final story was hyper-collaborative. Granted, having this at Step Two might make the process a little easier, but this’ll keep you on your toes.
4. Build your story to fit your resources, not the other way around
Until you have millions at your disposal and you are making your fifth movie, chances are you’re going to need to pull some favors to get your shit done. Why not make it easy on yourself and write a movie that you know you can make. In Pollywogs’ case: (Family’s) cabin on a lake: Check. Boats: Check. Giant jumping cliff on public land: Check. A Canon 7D camera (owned by me and Jenny Prediger): Check. A small and extremely supportive community that is filled with great cooks and timely with meal deliveries: Check. You’ll still have plenty of problems to deal with without having to negotiate with a disgruntled location owner about shooting past your scheduled time.
One of the most important skills you can have on a film set is the ability to listen. People will have all kinds of things to say, and everyone wants to be heard, so let them. At the end of the day, the producers and director will make their decisions, but you hired everyone because you liked their ideas, so don’t forget to listen to them.
Seriously. Make sure to carve out space in the day to get focused and burn off some fat and steam. I did yoga every morning while we were shooting, and it made all the difference.
7. Make a good movie
This one should be obvious, but it’s an area where a lot of people fail. If you don’t think your own movie is good, chances are nobody else will. Make sure you like what you are doing, and even if the rest of the world hates it, you can tell them to suck it with confidence.
8. Know what you want to do with your movie when it’s done
What festivals do you see this going to? Why? Who cares about what you are doing? No, really, who cares? Know the people who will support you so you can not only find them and let them know you exist, but so you can also let other people know that THEY actually exist. It’s gonna suck, but you need to be a diplomat, at least on your first film. No one will be the champion of your film as much as you will, and no one will care if you don’t.
9. Don’t give up
You’re gonna want to. Don’t. Keep going, you’ll thank yourself later. Hang out with friends often, getting breaks is a crucial.
10. Know what you want to do next
This is really annoying, but it’s true. You’re going to be ecstatic and sleep deprived, barely able to stand in the front of the theater during your first Q&A, beaming at having gotten there in the first place, ready to hear what people have to say about your movie, baffled at the fact that you are even awake, ears ringing from stress-induced tinnitus. Some asshole is going to ask you what you are working on next. Have something to say. It doesn’t really matter if it happens or not, the fact that you have given it any thought and can have a confident answer will make that guy shut up. Hopefully what you are saying is true, which will make it all the sweeter, but make sure you have something to say.