Well I couldn't get a hold of a vampire so I got the next best thing, Indie Filmmaker!
Rebecca Davis and I met only last month thanks to that glorious 30 day rush called Script Frenzy. She kindly agreed to answer a few questions I had about her journey as a filmmaker and she had some excellent advice for those trying to get work their way to the top in this very tough field of work.
Connect with Rebbecca
- Tell me a little about yourself, what first got u interested in filmmaking?
Rebecca: 1. I first got interested in filmmaking in high school. For the longest time I wanted to be in the FBI(weird right?) and then I woke up one day and just had the realization that I wanted to TELL those stories. So it was a pretty quick decision. Which I guess means it was the right one.
2. So was there a specific person, movie or book that really got u jazzed about the concept of film and making movies yourself?
Rebecca: There have been several throughout the years. Honestly, the first director that I can recall making an impact on me enough to remember his name was Tim Burton. This was back before I had taken film history classes or anything. Before I saw films like Citizen Kane or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (both of these I consider crucial to my film development). Tim Burton really spoke to me, the teenage emo kid who was into weird art.
me: Funny you'd mention Citizen Kane, just finished watching that before our meeting, blow me away, Orson Wells rocks!
Rebecca: Citizen Kane is my all time favorite. I know, its cliché, but there's a reason why it's so many people's favorite.
me: it's one of those films i feel like i could watch over and over again and continue to get stuff out of it
in the book Film Directing Shot by Shot the author Katz pretty much bases loads of his pre production information on what Welles did for that film
Rebecca: Awesome. I haven't picked that book up, but may have to now!
me: it's pretty awesome. I've learned a ton and it's a pretty easy book to follow, according to Chris Jones it's a must have. Just for the heads up I'll probably be quoting him like a ton :)
Rebecca: Now you're gonna make me have to add to my extensive film library, lol!
3. Did you go to film school?
Rebecca: 3. Yes. First I went, while still in high school, to the Fine Arts Center here in Greenville for film. Then I went to Bard College. Which, I guess, I should specify, is not a film school. It's a liberal arts college. And I consider that far more important than a technical film school. Even though my degree was in Film I learned far more than that. And actually, even my film courses focused less on technical skills and more on content within the film. I took one basic two semester long intro to filmmaking class and then from there it was more intellectual. Classes such as history classes about specific eras (my film noir class was one of my favorites), specific genres (documentary, found footage), and even integrated arts classes (Like installation art). I also recently got a degree from Full Sail in entertainment business, just to make myself more rounded and less likely to get played.
4. So do you think it's important to go to some sort of film "school" or can you learn everything self taught?
Rebecca: Honestly, I don't think it's necessary to go to film school. I think college is a good idea. Higher education is a wonderful thing. It opens you to new ideas and new perspectives. But film school itself? Not necessary. I ended up with just as many music and other credits as film credits at my school. It's great to know how to operate a camera, but what are you going to shoot after that? That's my philosophy. The camera operation/lighting setup/sound stuff is easier to learn
5. While at Bard did you also learn screenwriting or did you teach yourself?
Rebecca: My advisor helped me learn screenwriting, but for the most part, I picked up some books and figured it out. He just would take a look at my scripts afterwards and make sure I was doing it correctly.
6. What was your first ever job "on set"?
Rebecca: Interestingly, 1st AC. It was on a feature that my Fine Arts Center teacher wrote and directed and used all former students to crew. But once I moved to New York I was "demoted" to plain ole PA. Anyone in the "studio system" biz will tell you "you've gotta pay your dues."
me: ah, as i suspected. start at the bottom and work your way up :)
Rebecca: If you wanna be in that system you have to. If you wanna make films in LA or NYC you have to. But I think there are other ways as well
7. From a lot of people ive talked to they say you can pretty much get on a lot of sets just by offering to PA, u might work like a slave but u also learn a lot, would u say thats true?
Rebecca: Definitely. You learn a TON, because you're all over the place, having to get things for different departments, learning how to deal with actors that are full of themselves. But you'll be the first one there every day and the last one to leave and you ALWAYS eat lunch last and have to be back on set first after lunch, lol. You pretty much are a slave. The most intense job I've ever worked. Also the most rewarding, though, because I definitely toughened up because of it. You can't get yelled at that much and not toughen up. You learn how to suck things up and just do what you have to to impress.
8. It's worth the hassle?
Rebecca: I would say so. Even if you plan to do more indie films that go against that system, you learn valuable lessons. Even if you only do one or two.
9. What would u consider a major pitfall that snags most first time filmmakers?
Rebecca: You mean a first time filmmaker making their own project?
me: Yes. As in directing...
Rebecca: Ah well, I'm gonna answer that broadly and then go for specifics
Rebecca: You pretty much have to be ruthless and fearless. On a mental level, self doubt can absolutely crush you. You have to be so confident in your project that you can make others confident in it as well. Don't know if you saw my blog post from this morning or not, but that kind of addresses the mental side of your identity as a filmmaker. Now, as for specific issues...Pre-production can get overwhelming. Do you have locations secured? Do you have talent secured? Have you really allowed for enough shooting days? If you plan to do everything legit, have you asked/paid for all permits necessary? It's important to, as a first time filmmaker, take on a project that you know you can complete otherwise; it might make you frustrated at the whole concept. The hardest things for first time filmmakers are rarely camera related or equipment related, especially nowadays when so many people know how to shoot a video, edit it, and get it on the web.
10. What you say and do to avoid those pitfalls?
Rebecca: Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are people around that know more than you, and there are people around that know more people than you. Knowing people helps you with the location issues for sure. Example: I'm planning a short film shoot for about a month from now and I needed a police precinct. I was certain that I was just going to have to fake it, but the producer that I got to help with the project "knows a guy that knows some guys" and we're probably going to be able to shoot in an actual precinct for no fee.
me: Dang, that's cool!
Rebecca: Yep. talk enough about being a filmmaker and people come out of the woodwork!
me: Sort of like how i met u lol
Rebecca: this area is kind of great for it, because filmmaking is exotic here. You don't have to jump through nearly as many hoops because people are fascinated by it.
me: i know, but everyone automatically assumed ur gonna make loads of money hate to break it to you ppl but indie filmmakers don't really make money
Rebecca: True, we definitely don't make money. but at least i just got the day job i was trying to get. Cool. if you're trying to do it I'm down to help.
11. Do you think you can ever "over plan" in pre-production?
Rebecca: YES. Pre production can turn into brain crack if you're not careful. For more info on brain crack you can check out this link: http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/archives/2006/07/071106.html But essentially...you can preplan and preplan so much that the film in your head becomes the most awesomely amazing thing ever, and it becomes comfortable to feel that way because the idea in your head is so great. At some point, YOU HAVE TO JUST GET IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND DO IT. If you screw up, it's ok. You'll do better next time. You're probably going to suck your first few times out. It's just a fact. But learn from the experience for next time.
me: very interesting, i really believe that sometimes u just have an idea and u need to just go out and shoot the darn thing, it might suck but you're getting practice for that super planned production
Rebecca: exactly. I'm trying to do a film a day thing, where I shoot something simple every day, edit it, and upload it. All in a couple of hours. Just to keep shooting. Keep the brain going and build the skills.
me: so it's almost like instinct?
Rebecca: yep. and so you don't get afraid to show your stuff too. The way I see it now, and it has taken me a while and years of self-doubt to get there, you don't want to wait to be a filmmaker. You are. Just get out and shoot things and show them. The showing part is very important. That's the only way you're going to get feedback, and you can't be afraid of criticism.
me: don't remember who said but they said that experience is one of the greatest teachers, it's one thing to read it in a text book but a scenario will stick with u better if it's actually yours, not someone else is thats sharing it now
Rebecca: yes. which also comes back to the whole brain crack thing. You read something and you go "dude, I've got this great idea. I could do so much better with my great idea." And you just sit with it like that. If you don't do it, you won't realize that your idea, as it is, is probably a bit crap, but you'll get better. Nobody goes out and hits a home run on the first try. Sorry for the sports metaphor, lol.
me: i forgive u, lol
12. On a low budget indie film what would consider the important member of your crew do have on set whose a pro or at least one with a lot of experience?
Rebecca: 1st AD. Hands down. At least these days. Like I've said before, anybody and everybody can operate a camera now. The 1st AD is the person that keeps everything going. If you don't have a good one, you won't be efficient in your time usage. They are the go-betweens. They make the creative people's visions happen by making the practical side run.
me: hu...maybe ppl think it's your DP but u disagree?
Rebecca: Yep. If I were you, as an indie filmmaker working with a low/no budget, I'd be more willing to DP myself as the director. Have an AC to help you. Then get yourself a good 1st AD. That way you're not fielding the 10 million questions coming at you from talent, Pa's, grip crew, or whoever else you happen to have. You can just focus on the artistic side.
me: well then, that was actually very helpful!
13. Would you list your top 3 best pieces of advice 4 first time directors?
Rebecca: 1. Don't get bogged down in what you don't have at your disposal. Focus on what you do have. This includes equipment, locations, talent available. Be realistic with what you have and adapt it to what you're trying to do.
2. Don't be afraid to talk to people. You need money? Ask your dentist or doctor or somebody else you know who may have some cash they can offer in exchange for a producer credit. You need locations? As around. Post to craigslist. Just stay vocal about what you need.
3. Pre-plan, but don't turn it into brain crack. Use somebody else to bounce your planning ideas off of, and they can help keep you in check with what you haven't planned and what you've over-planned. And for the record, this does not have to be somebody involved in film. Some of my friends who know nothing about the biz have really helped with this.
14. Dream film that you could write direct and shoot if money was a nonissue?
Rebecca: I'm a big sci-fi/fantasy fan. I've written one feature length script that I would LOVE to direct. It's an urban fantasy. Kind of x-men-y. And there's the script I'm writing for Script Frenzy. It's a steampunk space story. Either of those I would love to see actually made. Ideally I'd like to direct them, but I'm willing to sell them too. So, I guess my dream film would be a great sci-fi/fantasy story. I think the genres are poorly represented lots of the time and would like to fix that.
me: couldn't agree w/ you more, i can only think of a half a dozen sci-fi films in the past decade that i truly admire, Serenity being one of them :) Sorry, Joss Whedon fan girl lol
15. What would be the one thing you would want the average person to know about the independent film industry, locally and around the world?
5:26 PM Rebecca: I would like the average person to understand the difference between the independent film industry and the hollywood industry. So many people don't really understand what an independent film is. And then on the other side, there's all the stuff on YouTube, etc. that attacks indie film from the other side of the spectrum. Indie film is not Hollywood, and it is not the crappy videos that comprise 99% of YouTube. It is an entity in and of itself. And the indie film world is where you're going to find the most passionate filmmakers, who make films because they can't think of anything else they'd rather do. And they're willing to be sleep-deprived, starved, and broke to do it.
me: AMEN, PREACH IT SISTER! Great way to end if i say so myself. =)
me: Thanks so much 4 your time and I look forward to our farther interactions. You pretty much made my day ;)
Rebecca: Definitely. any help you need, I'm here.