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Write, Direct, Repeat: Meet Your Filmmaking Co-Conspirator

To get onto my first film set, I took a job as a Production Assistant. PA’s (as they’re called) are basically the mother of all go-fers. You assist in every way you can, no excuses, no complaints, and mostly you lift, carry and fetch.

On the set of Manipulation Short Film

Production Assistant on “Manipulation” film set (that's me in the way back) | Photo: Zach Gross

I grew up in Manhattan and, as a good Manhattanite, I have no interest or proficiency in driving. So when our shoot moved from Manhattan on one day to New Jersey the next, I was hosed. This “no excuses, no complaints” PA wasn’t going to be able to drive, and for a PA to be unable to haul and fetch on a film set is an epic fail. I pictured my future in filmmaking starting and ending with my first on set job.

But wait, I’m a writer, how did I get myself into this mess? By writing, of course.

Two years ago, I was asked by the hosts of the Film Courage podcast if I wanted to write an article on screenwriting for their website. I decided to write about my frustration with studying screenwriting in order to write spec scripts and knowing that those spec scripts would go out into the ether with little chance of ever being produced.

I have no aversion to patience or hard work, but as someone who's working toward a career and not a hobby, I just couldn’t bear years without feeling like I was making tangible progress. I knew I’d have to create a system of carrots to keep myself moving forward.

The article I ultimately wrote for Film Courage was called, “Filmmaking is for Screenwriters Too,” and it summed up my feelings on why I was determined to be proactive about my screenwriting career and why anything less sounded like madness to me. But it wasn’t the article itself that radically shifted my trajectory, it was the last lines of the bio I’d written to go at the end of the piece. I wrote:

In 2011, [Kim] plans to take an improv acting class, make a short film, complete her feature comedy spec and do a whole bunch of film-related things that haven’t even crossed her mind yet. What she doesn’t plan to do is sit still and wait.”

Those two lines, after all my bravado in the article, were like throwing down the gauntlet and saying I was going to risk stepping outside of the safety of my office and launch myself head first into a film career. A month later I was on that film set thinking I would be fired at any moment and wondering why oh why hadn’t I just stayed in my office.

But I did survive that first PA job because another PA covered for me (he’s Daryl Ray Carliles, in case you want to meet the nicest guy ever). He drove us everywhere, taught me what I needed to know and never busted me with the rest of the crew for my un-driver-ness.

I ended up loving that job and everyone I met on set. I discovered the intense camaraderie that develops on a film set and how hungry I was for that after all the years I’d spent alone writing. I didn’t feel like I was getting off track, either. On the contrary, here was a whole new world of people actively telling stories, just like I was, but doing it in a different way.

I was completely addicted.

On the set of Vivienne Again short film

Directing actor Scott William Winters on the set of “Vivienne Again” | Photo: Gregory Keith Kirkpatrick

I wrote a short film script and was determined to get it produced. I decided if I really wanted to challenge myself and grow my career with gusto I’d take a stab at directing it, too. I did and found that as a writer there is nothing more exhilarating, terrifying and fulfilling than directing your own work.

But even with ambition and enthusiasm, I still had an immeasurable amount to learn about film. Without having gone to film school, I knew I’d have to make up for it by studying everyone around me, volunteering for local film projects, taking classes, and most of all not letting a lack of knowledge or experience in filmmaking define what I could learn and what I could do in the future.

And that’s the key: Just because you don’t know how to make a film today, doesn’t mean you can’t have that knowledge tomorrow. You just have to commit to learning and you have to start acting on that commitment now.

That’s where I hope this new column can come in. Write, Direct, Repeat will serve screenwriters who want to learn about directing and producing their own work. In addition, it will be for those who want to draw lessons from filmmakers in order to become better screenwriters.

I’ll share with you what’s worked for me, and what hasn’t, and show you a number of ways to tackle each challenge because this is definitely not a one-size-fits-all endeavor. I’ll let you know how I got my first on set job, how I approached directing for the first time, what I’ve learned about producing my own work and how every new lesson feeds right back into my writing.

The first step is to write down a few goals and share them. Put them in a blog post or on Facebook and Twitter. Read them aloud to your family or stand up at a party and be that guy who drunkenly told a bunch of friends his career goals. But one way or another, actually do it. Then you’ll be totally screwed like I was and have to fulfill those goals and forever change your life.

Because you see, that’s me, your filmmaking co-conspirator. We’re going to have a blast, get into loads of trouble, fall flat on our asses, and make films along the way. Sound like a plan?

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