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I’ll always remember the standing ovation I received at my hometown theater when we finished premiering my hour-long western film, “The Money Maker.” It still brings a smile to my face to see the sold out theater standing to their feet as they clapped.
That was July of 2005 and what I consider my first true filmmaking experience. Though, a year before in high school, I found a film called “Fight Circle” that was the first American martial arts film only viewable on the net. This concept made my gears begin to turn. After “The Money Maker,” I wanted to pursue an online project, but when I first transferred to Missouri State University, many people thought I was crazy, except my screenwriting teacher. She encouraged me to do an online production, as she believed the same as I did, that production was quickly heading in that direction.
After a few failed attempts, which helped me meet the right people to work with, I took an old civil war based western idea I had and decided to give it a sci-fi twist. Basically, I took the concept and placed it in an alternate “now”. As I wrote the script, I pictured an actress I had become friends with a year or so earlier, Vanessa Leinani. I pitched the idea to her one-day, and it just took off, and I never looked back.
After many rewrites, the concept was solid. Drifter befriends the owners of a trading post on her trail to revenge, five years after a second civil war. It is here that some of Drifter’s recent actions and past come back to haunt her. The project features classic western themes set in a post second civil war America. I knew I could have a lot of fun with this series. I immediately started putting a team together.
We shot “Drifter: Broken Road” in about eight days time. In fact, one of our longest days was fourteen hours. It was a lot of fun and very exhausting. My approach to directing this project was quite simple: get up early and be ready for the day before everyone else, go over shot lists, walk around the sets, and ready myself mentally for the day ahead. My approach with the actors was to really help guide them through creating their characters. Give them the freedom to create, but with notes and guidance from me. I have always found that giving them the guidelines of a character first, then letting them do some molding, followed by more notes and changes from me helps them greatly. Plus they bring out things in the characters I never thought about, which is always fun, and helps them feel a little more comfortable with what they’re doing on set. Which leads me to improving. I have no problem with actors taking lines that they feel their character would say differently. I always listen when they ask questions. Directors have tunnel vision; we only see the light at the end of it. So your actors and crew will point out things that you may not have realized. You have to be flexible enough that, if the idea is right, to go with it and say, “Yes, I like that better.” It’s collaboration; they’re there to help bring your vision to life as well. Of course, if you’re not keen on the idea, you just simply state why and keep on moving forward.
One approach I take as a director or producer is to always keep calm. If I show any hint of frustration or anger, it is not conducive to the set or production. I have always found that if I keep calm in any and all situations on set, I get more done and more out of my actors and crew. I try to create an environment where people want to work hard and even have fun doing it. If I can’t have a little fun with what I’m doing, it’s not worth it.
That’s why I created my production company, American Wasteland Entertainment, LLC., with my friend, Brittney Greer, whom I met while taking screenwriting classes at Missouri State. Our company’s focus is online entertainment and “Drifter: Broken Road” is our first production. Basically, our goal is to create web series and films that will be featured on the Internet. Many ask us why we do this, and the answer is quite simple: we can get more views online than by just trying to show it around in theaters or attempting to get into festivals. With that said though, we do plan to show our films in theaters or enter into festivals whenever we can. We’re just using the Internet as a bigger theater to expose our creations, and the talent of those who work with us, to a larger audience. Of course, advertising still plays a huge role in all of that.
The Internet is our theater, and though we are just starting out, I feel that we are in early enough to help mold this fairly new industry. Now, if we were asked to make a film that would get into theaters, would we do it? Absolutely! We love telling stories and no matter if it’s on your iphone or on the big screen, we want to entertain and tell you a fun story anyway we can. We just feel that the Internet has given us more opportunity to get out to various audiences. The trick is getting that audience. Just like with independent film, or film in general, you have to advertise and go after your target audience. I think we all know that independently, that can take some time. But, if you want it bad enough, you’ll work at it.
I have a background in commercial and infomercial production, so American Wasteland also creates projects like these. In essence, we’re not only a production company; we’re the studio and distributor. We do a little bit of everything, which means more leg work, but like I said, if you want something bad enough, you’ll work for it, especially if you enjoy it. Too many times I’ve heard, “I want to make a movie.” Then they just don’t do it. If you want to make a movie, make one. Then I hear, “But I want my first project to be amazing.” We all do, but we have to start somewhere. I still have my first short film and it’s hard for me to watch it. It’s even hard for me to watch “The Money Maker,” because I have learned so much since then and I feel personally, I have come a long way. But, I cherish that film with all my heart, because I did something I had wanted to do forever, and I really wanted to learn. I wanted to become better.
I learn something new with each project. Then I take what I learn and apply it to the next project. I try to encourage people by saying, don’t look at a project you did and think how terrible you shot something or wish you could’ve done something more. Make mental notes, be proud of your work, apply your lessons learned to the next project, and work harder at it. If you have this mentality while filmmaking, you can and will only get better. Plus now with web based projects, you can get your work seen by more. Whether you want to write, direct, produce, or act, just toss yourself out there. You’ve got to be willing to put yourself out into shark-infested waters. It’s the only way you’re going to learn to swim.
(As Featured on FilmCourage.com)
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