Growing up, I didn't aspire to be much. I had a short phase where I wanted to be a Navy SEAL and another one where I wanted to be an NBA player. I had a fantasy about becoming a professional wrestler in middle school and I spent my high school years thinking about joining the ministry. But once I reached the end of high school, there was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to be: a filmmaker.
I had grown up with a love of film cultivated by years of hanging out in video stores and collecting various movies. The 90's independent scene was red hot with names like Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, and Quentin Tarantino breaking out and making the type of movies they wanted to make, not the normal stuff the Hollywood machine churned out. Even better, all three men were film geeks like myself, and that gave me something to aspire to.
The earliest origins of my film making dream can be dated back to sitting in study hall my freshmen year of high school. It was here that I spent my free time writing scripts for the movies I wanted to see which were mostly sequels of the films I loved. I wrote a sequel to The Rock as well as Ghostbusters (the opening scene was pretty awesome with the Ghostbusters fighting off the ghost of Andre the Giant in Madison Square Garden.) I dabbled with some of my own original ideas and eventually decided it was time for me to break out my dad's old camcorder and make my own short. I wrote an Evil Dead inspired script that would take place in the shed in our backyard that sadly I never made.
It wasn't until I found myself working at Blockbuster and dreaming with my buddy Matt did my dreams of film making begin to come true. With his unrelenting support, I found myself standing in a Black Friday line at Best Buy at 4:30 AM hoping to get my hands on an entry level MiniDV camera. I did not freeze my gonads off in vain, as I walked out with a camera and I immediately got to work at writing a script.
I took some advice from Robert Rodriguez's Rebel Without a Crew, a book I read over and over again. I thought about what I had access to and then wrote my script around that. I knew I had my buddy Matt, my friend Anthony was coming into town for Christmas, and two females. I had my house, my girlfriend's apartment, and a park. I started crafting a story around these people and locations and what emerged was a short film titled Skin Deep. It was quite progressive for 2004, as it was the story of a black man who falls in love with a white girl online, but she has no idea he's black until she shows up for their first real life date. She rejects him and afterwards we see the fall out her actions in both of their lives.
I'd be lying if I said it was amazing. It wasn't. It was written quickly and I had one meeting with Matt to go over some notes and then we started putting things into motion to get filming as soon as possible. I assembled a home made steadycam, bought a MiniDisc player to record audio on, and started loosely putting together some props. It was a practice film and it was what would hopefully be the first in a long list of films that Matt and I worked on together. We were already bouncing ideas around for the next film and we had high hopes that we would learn all that we needed to on Skin Deep so that we could get serious the next go around.
Sadly, it just wasn't meant to be. The production was hindered by all sorts of issues. It took some significant sweet talking to convince Anthony (who never wanted to act) to join our little movie. My girlfriend was even less enthused about possibly taking part. Then once we began filming, a freak ice storm hit Memphis and production grinded to a halt. Even worse, my father who did not approve of my hobby/career of choice, did just about everything he could to discourage me including shutting down our production the day of.
We ended up with 40 minutes of useless footage that we got alot of laughs out of. I cut together a blooper reel that was quite funny and Matt and I recorded not one, but TWO commmentary tracks for the DVD. We also recorded intros ala Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier on all of his early DVD releases. As much as it was disappointing to not have a finished product worth watching, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed every minute of the process and I had hope the next go around would be even better.
Life got in the way, yet again, when my father's alcoholism got the best of him and I found myself crashing in the corner of a bedroom trying to make ends meet. Eventually, I gave up and moved to North Carolina to be near family that could assist me in finishing up school and getting back on my feet. Matt and my dream died when I left Tennessee, and despite a few starts and stops over the years, I had pretty much given up on the idea of ever filming something again.
In fact, the reason I've focused so much on my writing is because it's such a solitary act, I knew I wouldn't be reliant on anyone else, nor could I let anyone down with it. I could just craft a story as I seemed fit, and then walk away when I was done with it.
The couple of times I put together some script outlines or even discussed the possibility of shooting something I let people get into my head. Unfortunately, I'm not surrounded with folks who support the creative arts, so I gave up deciding that this was just one dream that wasn't meant to be.
Recently, however, I've been giving a lot of thought to dying and what I might regret. It was during some of this self-reflection that I remember something I used to say, “I don't want to be forty and have never made a movie.” This thought rattled me as forty is just over two years away for me and well... I haven't made a movie.
As fate would have it, I found myself watching a lot of Kevin Smith films recently, my original muse. I also discovered Mr. Inbetween, that was spun off a documentary created by one man, who wrote, directed, produced, and acted in his film. Then this past weekend, I was attempting to finish Stuart Gordon's Space Truckers which has been a bit of a struggle for me. I decided to search and see what people thought of Space Truckers on reddit when I ran across a post that recommended watching Space Trucker Bruce, an extremely low budget film shot over a several years inside a man's house where he built all the sets out of cardboard.
It dawned one me then that neither Anton Doiron (director of Space Trucker Bruce) and Scott Ryan (creator of Mr Inbetween) did not let a lack of people, support, or money stop them from telling the stories they wanted to tell. Sure, there movies may look a bit amateurish or “B movie” style, but the went out there and did it, something I've failed to do after all these years.
I found myself researching no-budget/micro budget film making and exploring what options might be available to me. I quickly began formulating a story concept in my mind for a short film starring just two people. My research led me almost down the dangerous road I've been down before of too much information and too many people tell what to do and what not to do. There is so much information out there its easy to become a student of it all and a dreamer and not an actual doer. So, I've decided to only research specific topics I need advice on (gear, sound recording) and try to allow my own common sense get me by.
I'm not sure when I'm going to get a chance to shoot my movie. Obviously, in the midst of moving right now is not the best time, but a seed has been planted. I'm going to get something done before I turn forty, even if it's a two minute film about nothing. But for right now, I'm going to seek out no budget inspiration, begin experimenting with getting good shots with my phone, and allow this dream to come back into my life.