“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ― Sun Tzu

In the Jungle the Tribe Marches

I’m back at home sipping the hazelnut coffee and watching some soccer on TV. I have to say the past week of shooting was exhausting. It was a combination of many factors which I’ll get into a little bit to share some of my insights with you all. This will be especially helpful if you are just starting out in the film business but I think  it will have some good insights for all. First I will tell you a bit more about the project. It is a program ran by Grand Valley University whereas they do a film with students intermixed with professionals. I was approached by the director Mitch Nyberg on set of “7 Stones” about participating. I liked the purpose of the program and myself tried to spearhead a program at my alumni university – Michigan State. I ran into politics not at the top but at the bottom. The professors from different colleges who just could not get along or agree. Film covers a vast spectrum and doesn’t fit neatly into one college or department. Egos are large in that arena and ultimately a program that I feel was superior to all I’ve seen was mucked down in politic mire. Not the first time we have heard of that.

Producing a film can be fun but it is not a game. It is a complex weaving of business agreements that align artists towards a single goal of telling a story and having the proper releases to make it a business entity. IF you are in one of those management positions you have to take it extremely serious. If these roles are not filled by highly motivated and organized individuals the project will fail or at best be like a horse drag over broken glass. On this projects the cracks of disorganization were there from the get go. Like I told the program and film director – this is not an everybody wins community recreational project. This is a program to attempt to prepare students for a chance to make it in the professional film world. 90+ % of these students will end up at TV stations or other smaller media positions that are a far cry from their initial dreams of working in our industry. There are no grades in the real world of filmmaking. No B, C, D – just pass or fail. I had inside info from the director on the state of things and secondly I know. I mean after producing 40+ projects in all formats, sizes and genres – I know. You can’t BS me and if you try I will call you out. If I had a dollar for every time on set I heard “I assumed” I would have doubled my pay. Every student should have been given or required to have a clip board, pen and legal pad. Pre-production meetings were obviously lacking as departments were not always on the same page. Furthermore producers are not hired shoppers. I saw problems that were only solved by spending and then trying to cut corners elsewhere. When you are attached to a learning experience the community participating via sponsorship or gifted use of vehicles, locations, services or products should come easy. You have to get off your ass and make contacts, shake hands, give out biz cards and make the deals. I didn’t see that – I saw them trying to go back to pre-made deals and try to squeeze talent costs. I hate to say it but that doesn’t usually work in the real world. You can’t make a deal for say Martin Landau and then go try to nix his pay because you can’t go get craft service sponsorship. Also contracts are real legal agreements and in the real world there are consequences and they are often costly ones. The hit to your reputation can be worse than the damages from legal actions – as I write now the Grand Valley Film Program is in breach of contract and working on a speedy remedy. They are in breach because of lack of organization. I truly love these kids but see that I had a passion for this industry that some of these kids lack.  When I was struggling there was not any film programs like this one available to me. We had to produce up everything. When I see lazy or lack of self motivation it really strikes a chord. I’m a nice person but many in our industry are not very forgiving. Honest mistakes happen via unforeseen events and the best of the best ANTICIPATE these events. Others create issues by “assuming” which as the old statement goes, will make an ass of you and me. Don’t assume! Know! Define! Eliminate gray areas and anticipate!

Technically the folks all worked very hard. They were 20-25% slower than a seasoned crew but that is just a learning curve. I think we captured some great magic on camera and I’m very happy about that. How many will take their errors, setbacks and failures and use them to propel them forward? I don’t know. I saw some fixation on things that created an issue versus just rolling with things. Filmmaking is a TEAM effort. A well oiled production machine is like army ants on a march.

I discussed some of the silly university politics around film titles and such in an earlier blog. The attempts at censorship really runs against the grain of artistic expression. I saw where a little bit of the University BS tries to tie the hands of the production. If the goal is to try to create a real world work situation than the sanitized, overly cautious  attitudes of the few need to go away. Marketing and promotion are real aspects of filmmaking and even though this project is more for festival and limited release – practice as if you are working towards worldwide distribution. You ultimately play how you practice so the program really needs to look at this as a model to professional production/distribution and not a summer camp. Now I always said, I always counted on folks being slack ass so that I could outwork them – And I did.   In summary – I appreciate the opportunity and knowing the reputation that we’re given here in Michigan (this holds true for entire Midwest) as being assbackwards. I’ve realized as a MI resident who works mainly outside the state or in other countries that in some ways, okay many ways – WE ARE! I don’t want that reputation and those who have worked on a CDI produced project where we were the parent company in control – know we work hard to not make that our reputation. Sure. We’ve made mistakes but it has to be about wanting to be better. The willingness to work harder to make things better vs the easiest path. The doing just enough or more often not enough. When that happens it is like the human body. If you fall into reactive mode it is like a virus or disease running wild through the body of the production. PREVENTATIVE is always the way to go. It is an Eastern vs Western medicine approach and I think my martial arts background helped me blend ideals. A surgeon knows the task ahead. He has anticipating several possible negative things that could pop up. He has equipment on standby should this or that happen.

Also accountability. IF you are in a position of monitoring for and addressing issues immediately – you must monitor all departments for accountability. I see a lot of friendly friendships that doesn’t allow direct brutal immediate corrective decisions. I’ve become friends with people who started as associates. First came respect for someone who worked hard and took accountability. From that friendships grew because we were interdependent with one another and these were FILM WARRIORS! They worked tireless to make sure the ship was SHIP SHAPE! So when you raised a drink at wrap with ship safely in port – friendships form. But I’ve gotten serious and firm with everyone I’ve worked with at some point and I would say that 98% of them know it is because I care about the ship and all of us on it. Usually if someone is messing up they know where that is happening and accept responsibility and correct it asap. Why? Because it is a TRIBE. One department affects the whole! Each department should strive to be the best they can be. That in turn inspires other departments. An AD will know exactly where a lag is and try to define the issue slowing things up. A UPM works tirelessly to prep for the days ahead. I saw a UPM on this last project who worked hard but was acting like a Key Set PA. They were swallowed in the NOW so how can they prepare (preventative) ahead? The answer is an external office apart from the chaos and getting stuff done. The producer if not needed on set should be taking care of things forthcoming and making sure with the UPM that everything done is business sound.

I think that many will grow from this experience. If you get offended by this blog you are one of those who will likely be working public access TV or not in this field at all. If you take it for what it is – advice from someone who has been there done that on various continents in various genres with various artists who are awesome – you will grow! I collect the daily resumes. I deal with the vendors, the distributors, the marketing departments and  as a younger man I didn’t 100% grasp that paying your dues statement. I do know now. I’m excited for the select people out of that student crew that will make the cut and join our ranks. We are the business artists. This is our tribe. Not everyone is welcome. If you don’t pull your weight or take pride in your work and work for the collective whole – move on. That is the heart of motion picture or TV storytelling industry. I always get slightly offended by outsiders who always think they could easily be an actor or crew member. That is like saying anyone could jump on a boat with a few folks and win the AMERICAN’S CUP (Boat race). So if you want to make it. I mean really make it. You have to give it your all. I’m here to tell you if you can be happy doing something else – do it. I’m speaking to those artists that have no choice. This is their calling.

DO IT!

IN OTHER FILM NEWS

I was just informed that http://www.darkestnightmovie.com will get a wide release in S. Korea.

http://www.deadlyrenovations.com releases nationally on Aug. 21st, VOD in Sept and is for pre-sale now!

“Locked in a Room” has an offer on the table that we like and so some back and forth will be happening with the N. American rights. More once a deal is done.

“Benjamin” had a great NYC showing and distribution will follow shortly I’m sure. The interest is already there it is finding the deal that feels right.

“7 Stones” stuck in post audio BUT it needed it. The film is too good to have poor sound so I say take your time and do it right.

Several new film projects about to finalize either in acting, producing or both. Internationally I’m still in talks on films in France, Mexico and Morocco. We will see. Also a few home state Michigan projects brewing so again students could be finding their way to PA positions if they have the right attitudes. Some guys may find their way on to grip electric teams because they impress the right people. HINT: David Lowing helps me crew up most of those departments and I trust David. He knows who hustles and who constantly disappears and is never to be found. So I’m excited about http://www.cdiproductions.com as we expand into more international work. I’m also excited by opportunities to film right here in Michigan.

I hope everyone has a great weekend. And if some of the G.V folks are reading this – hustle on my learning amigos. You could be our tomorrow storytellers and I’m here to tell you the road is hard. Only those with the deepest wells of passion will survive.

I hope to see you in the jungle. The Tribe marches!

DJ

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One response

  1. Another great blog,DJ. Really enjoy reading this stuff as I get a better insight to what you are doing. And what and how you are thinking about your work. Maybe this will keep me from bugging you with endless repetitive questions. I know that gets to be annoying at times. 🙂 As always,wishing you good luck and success in all you do…Sandy

    July 28, 2012 at 1:59 pm

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