I still remember one of my first meetings with a prospective producer. The year was 2009, and I was just out of college. Seattle still made narrative features in those days. The man wore a stetson which he didn't take off, and he was at least three times my age. You wanted to dislike him, but you couldn't. He was patient with me.
"This is the amount of people who want to make a movie," he said, leaning back in his chair, spreading his arms as wide as he could to indicate the large quantity. Then he halved the distance. "This is the amount of people who finish writing a screenplay." Half again, his arms coming closer: "here's the amount of guys who actually go into production and shoot some footage." Again, half the amount, as he continued: "here's how many make it through production." I saw his point, but he wasn't done. "Here's the percentage of that group that makes it into post and actually does something with all that footage they got." He then leaned forward.
He held up just two fingers now, an infinitesimal millimeter apart. "And here, here is the amount of people who actually finish making a movie." He paused for effect. "Finish your films, Nathan. People will remember that. If you have actual finished products under your belt, you've got something most of your competition can't even come close to."
I didn't end up working with him, but he lit a fire in me that hasn't gone out since. I've completed each film I've set out to make. The latest one, Men I Trust, is complex given its budget, and the Sisyphean effort required to survive and sustain this big little movie over the recent months– financially, creatively, psychologically, logistically– cannot be overstated. Preproduction and production are the hard part. Once you have the footage, you can pump the brakes all you like, but until then, you have no idea if you've got a movie. You don't have a movie until the last minute of the last day of shooting– and even then, post remains a question mark. But as exec producer Kevin Cook reassured me, you take it one piece at a time. You breathe, reminding yourself:
All great things are predicated on a maybe.
We wrapped production Sunday at 1pm. My first reaction was to continue the habit I'd formed: keep worrying! Look for problems, try to fix stuff, diplomatically guide this orchestra to do their best… but there was nothing left to worry about. Could it be true? How did we get here?
The only reason this beast made the finish line was because we managed to assemble one seriously crack team of ace professionals. If even one of them– camera operator, boom, supporting actor– bailed on us, we wouldn't have a movie. That's how fragile filmmaking is. It's not like writing or photography. One lazy apple will ruin weeks of dozens of people's memorizing, assembling, scouting, performing, investing… but these were the non-bailers. They showed up in the morning, before call time. I did everything within my means to make the experience satisfying for them, but it's to their credit they came.
Our guys were wildly overqualified. I don't just mean they all know Lynn Shelton; that goes without saying. Kevin Cook worked on Transformers 4, Z Nation and Captain Fantastic, and is trained in everything from method acting to gaffing to production management. Niall James, our gaffer, worked on Fifty Shades of Grey and the new Twin Peaks. Steadicam operator Daniel Mimura has 50-plus IMDb credits and if something's been shot here in Seattle using steadi, you can bet he operated on it. These people are rock stars.
Actors Eleanor Moseley and Martyn G. Krouse don't just have significant film roles under their belt, but also thriving stage careers: witness Eleanor chewing subtle scenery in lead roles in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Death of a Salesman, and The Lion in Winter… all within the last year; or Martyn mopping the floor in recent productions of Slaughterhouse-Five, Othello, and Richard II. You may know Meagan Karimi-Nasir from The Scottish Play and Glitch, or Katherine Grant-Suttie from Portlandia and others. Our media manager had two films playing at SXSW while we were shooting; our AC is a director in his own right; the list goes on, even down to our smallest positions. Our PAs are engineers and lawyers, for heaven's sake. They're administrative supervisors and corporate HR wizards. Our crafty has two degrees. Nobody was grabbed off the street for this production.
You may wonder why such levels of talent were assembled for a short. I say, why not use a boulder to crush an ant? It works. Why not use $20,000 cameras on a tiny short, if you are able? I see no reason not to do our absolute best. What this group all had in common was an understanding not just of passion projects (you can bet I couldn't afford to finance them the way the corporate giants can), but of craft. Kevin and I picked these people because they were solid, respected craftspeople who do good work because they like to. Because they know how to, and because doing good work with good people is about as great as filmmaking can get. These guys like getting paid like anyone else, but that wasn't why they were here; they also like working on projects they care about, and I couldn't be more honored they found this one of even the smallest interest.
It's about showing up, and giving it your all for the person next to you.
You may wonder when watching awards shows why the winners always make boring speeches where they just thank a bunch of people you've never heard of. You have to understand: when you receive an accolade implying that you alone brought something amazing to a film, with no assistance, it feels absolutely ridiculous. It wasn't you! It was everyone else there, the whole cast and crew, who made it great. It was because of that group who believed, who cared, who made it a well-oiled machine.
To the non-bailers.
I'm not done thanking people– click here for more on our production!