Joe McConnell’s Film School 102

Alrighty then. I shall continue the free filmmaking lessons that I started back in December. If  you haven’t read part 1 HERE IT IS. Films. Movies. Hollywood. Most people think it’s magic to make a movie. Even I still think it’s magic sometimes, and though some facets of filmmaking are very special, I know better than to think that it’s ALL magic. It’s actually just pretty simple stuff that you can learn without taking out a 120K loan to go to film school. Because seriously….who in their right minds wants to do that?

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Ever seen the film Swimming with Sharks (1994)? Or Les Grossman in Tropic Thunder (2008)? Well…..give those a watch. Now, I haven’t worked on 200 million mega-budget Hollywood films, the biggest budget I was ever on I think was about 1/4th of that, but it’s pretty much the same deal every time. Someone/some company has lots of money. They hire producers to control that money in the film production. One of those producers or production managers is very mercurial, frugal and unsympathetic. They, ya know….kinda like having power over others and get off on it. Usually….that’s your boss. And that boss will put you through hell unless you follow the rules, are ALWAYS prepared, bust your ass and never complain. Even when you’re blocking traffic on a dirt road near a swamp and there are 10,000 mosquitos ripping you apart for 16 hours. Don’t complain. Just do it. Even when you have to drive 2hrs roundtrip to the nearest Home Depot and when you return to set they don’t need the materials anymore….so then you drive another 2 hrs roundtrip to return the stuff….but when you get back to set they need you to GO BACK to Home Depot for something else. Don’t complain. Just do it… with a smile on your face.

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The people at the top aren’t always that bad. But….90% of the time someone in the group of investors, executives, producers and managers will be MORE THAN HAPPY to be a dickwad to everyone on set. If you’re lucky….you’ll only get those 10% of the time jobs when EVERYONE IS SUPER COOL. Anywho……What are those rules and ways of being prepared that I mentioned before? Well…it varies depending on your boss, your position and the production that you’re on (because there are no set rules…just general rules) but what I’ve found to be tried and true are these (if you’re working as a PA or anything comparable), ya know…a bottom of the ladder job. 1) Always have some paper on you. A small pad is fine or just some scratch pieces 2) Always have at least 4-5 pens on you. Producers/Production Managers are always on the phone and they’ll snap at you for a pen/paper many times. If you ALWAYS have them ready, you’ll be their best friend…for a couple of minutes. Some people like to have pens, pencils, highlighters and erasers on them (and that’s great!!) but that’s too much for me and it always weighed me down. So….a few pens and you’ll be golden.

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3) Keep your mouth shut. Keep it shut when they’re filming, when they’re rehearsing….hell….JUST KEEP IT SHUT. There will be time to goof off with friends you’ve made on set during lighting set-ups, lunch breaks and general WTF is going on!?! breaks. You’ll slip up for sure…most people on set do. We’re only human. But if you follow that rule 95% of the time you’ll be A-OK. 4) Have a good attitude. I’ve said this before. You don’t have to smile like a retard all the time….but just have an optimistic viewpoint towards the shit-storm of a movie that you’re working on. After all…it’s JUST A MOVIE. 5) This is the one I hate. Always pick up your phone…IMMEDIATELY. It goes without saying that during work hours you need to always answer your texts and calls….but when you’re off…..ANSWER YOUR PHONE. Yes…you just worked a 14 hour day and commuted home and have 8 hours to eat, shave, do your laundry and sleep. And then production calls/texts you. ANSWER IT. I’ve gotten into trouble with this one a lot because I hate cell phones and dig the off-the-grid style….but hey…..answer your phone.

There are certainly other rules…but those will do for now.

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Whatever department you’re in….you’ll start to pick things up pretty quickly. Within 2 weeks to a month of production work, you’ll know more than most people in film school. It’s not really rocket science. Just do what you’re told, learn from your mistakes and anticipate when the demanding actress will want hot jasmine tea before she asks for it…and you’ll have a friend for life. Being on a movie set is kind of like babysitting. If you’ve spent time with kids, you’ll know that they’re selfish. They could be AWESOME kids….but still, they’re selfish. They wanna do what they wanna do. If they don’t get their way they’ll throw a hissy fit and you’ll have to spend 5 minutes talking them down or they’ll go out and randomly hit other kids. That’s like a film set…..just with a bunch of grown ups.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G and it’s helped in your film pursuits, your knowledge of the filmmaking process or that it just generally entertained you. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. And have an awesome day!