How did you get into film?

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

For the first installment of my blog, I’m answering that question. It’s the one thing I’m asked most often, “how did you get started?” The short answer is I got fired from my regular job the year I turned forty.

Yup. Tossed out.

I was working at the local NBC affiliate on a “magazine” type program as both the senior producer and host when I was “cancelled.” Ironically the show itself got cancelled a year or so later. Not because I was gone (though I liked to think so) but because it had been on a long time and was no longer sustaining the viewers necessary to justify money spent.  I guess the key question here is, “what do you do when you’re forty and lose your job?” I had no idea. I just sat on my couch and felt sorry for myself. It was my wife who suggested making films.  Actually, she suggested it get off my fat — and do something now!  I couldn’t get another job in broadcasting for year because of a clause called a “no-compete.” Some day I’ll tell you about that.  She had related a story to me of her childhood which I thought would make a good family film. So, with no training whatsoever, I sat down and wrote it. I had no experience in screenwriting, so I essentially made all the mistakes it’s possible to make and when I wrote it. The result was an 80 page script I titled “Friend Of The Family.” It was the story of an underprivileged girl in a small town whose best friend was her dog. It was an honest, straightforward story that ultimately worked because it had a universal theme (something I knew nothing of ).

That theme was of a child in difficult circumstances clinging to her best friend – her dog – and then the dog dies late in the second act. (I did not realize “acts” then or anything else in the screenwriting business. I just wrote the movie on the page I wanted to see on the screen). What I call “Script to Screen”   I also had no idea how common that theme was or still is, for that matter. Looking back I realize most of us had a beloved pet we lost in one way or another. By taking my wife’s story and getting it ready to produce I’d made a decision many film makers don’t make for a long time.  Sometimes never.

I’m amazed how many would-be film makers are going to write that script… some day. I actually wrote it first. Then I smacked into the second great obstacle for making a film — money. You need a good story, then you need the money to make it. Simple concept many people never grasp. I had no idea how much making a film cost. Or who you needed to hire in order to get it produced or any of a thousand things I’ve since learned the hard way. But again, my greatest advantage was not any talent on my part — it was my wife.  Someone who believed in my talent.   She and I went out and raised a little over $50,000 dollars.  I’ll tell you that story another time as well. And my guardian angel woke up, smiled on me, and I ran into Bryce Fillmore. Bryce was a producer who was looking to do his third picture. When my script came along (through a friend) he contacted me. I, who knew nothing, was about to learn that film making all revolves around good people who aren’t afraid of hard work.

Bryce knew exactly what it took to make a movie and said I had enough money for a small feature. A very small feature. First, he suggested a title that was more ‘film friendly’ in terms of sales — “Little Heroes.” Then he got the small crew to work for the paltry sum available, to make it happen. What a great group it was. I’ll never forget all the wonderful help they gave to this 40 year old reject from broadcast television. The accompanying picture up there is of the cast and crew of “Little Heroes” back in 1989. I’m the old guy in the checkered shirt and snap brim hat on the right. Because of our limited resources I also played the “father” because we couldn’t afford another actor. I won’t go into all the amazing things that happened for us to getting a distributor, maybe in later blog entry, but that tiny film (with no stars by a first-time writer/director) got picked up by Hemdale Home video and eventually played on HBO family. I was lucky beyond belief. And I know it. My hope for this blog is that I can share the ‘ins-and-outs’ of independent film production as I have lived it. I plan to share the good and the bad. The “do’s” and “don’ts”. The ups and downs. The “haves” and “have-nots” and everything in between. My emphasis may lean a bit toward screenwriting because that’s where every worthwhile film must start. A great script is essential for a good film. (Notice the difference in adjectives)

If you are a writer, director, producer, actor or any other part of making movies I will share what I’ve learned from my (so far)twenty features and twenty-seven years as a writer/director. What’s the “take-away” from my experience? Simply this; nothing happens until you make it happen. Want to make film? Get a script. A good one. The best one you can find or write. Scrounge some money, find a loyal hard working crew, and then persist until you get that movie produced. Your movie. Whether your forty – or fourteen – because age has nothing to do with it.

I’ll end this first blog entry with my favorite quote. It is the basis of my belief in the film business and life itself. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. — Calvin Coolidge

Good luck starting.  Craig —

Cast and crew of my first film.

Cast and crew of my first film.

2 Comments

  1. Katherine Willis
    September 3, 2014

    That was my very first film job. I was terrified and you were wonderful. I signed with an agency, thanks to you, and started off on my career. I’ll always have you and “Little Heroes” to thank for that!

    Can’t wait for you to get into the juicy stories, Craig! I’m particularly interested in the fundraising/mining for investor ones! CHEERS!!

    Reply
  2. Russ Whitelock
    September 21, 2014

    I loved reading this bit of background Craig, although I knew parts of it from working with you and Bryce during the past few years. I can very much relate to the circumstance of exiting one profession and wondering how in the world to start doing something you truly want to pursue. It’s a tough place to be and thankfully there are some who understand and give others a real opportunity – you did this for me.

    Reply

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