Thursday, January 10, 2013

Collaboration in the film world

I've learned a lot about the film world in the few days since I wrote my last post.

For example: it's absolutely great to have creative collaborators. But if you're relying on them, and they flake on you, you're screwed.

Best Boys, Gaffers, and Key Grips
Let me back up. One thing that really appeals to me about filmmaking is the collaborative aspect of it. I've always been fascinated by movie credits, and the strange terms that roll before me after a movie ends. Best boy, gaffer, key grip.

But mostly what makes me sit through the film credits every time is imagining how fun it would be to work with so many people. It would be so different as my life as a novelist, where I am mostly working in isolation, with no one to be accountable to except myself (except for that one glorious period in my life when I had a book contract).

In one of the special features on the Finding Nemo DVD, the Pixar screenwriters talked about how long it took to perfect their story.  But what struck me most - and made me the most jealous (besides the fact that they work for Pixar!) - was that they all had other people to bounce their ideas off. Partners. Collaborators.

And so far, in my short tenure as a writer/producer, collaborating with others has been the best part of it! It's been fun, educational, and most of all, incredibly motivational.

But now for the cautionary tale.

The ugly side of collaboration  
For a while now, I've been trying to get work as a production assistant on local films. I finally had a three-day, unpaid gig lined up for next week, and I was very excited. It seemed very organized and relatively "big-time," at least by my standards: there was a lot of crew and they were planning to shoot in both Seattle and Washington D.C.

Then it got cancelled. Because, from what I heard, some key collaborators -- all of whom were volunteers -- flaked on the producer to the point where she just couldn't move forward. Which, I'm sure, was heartbreaking for her.

This brings us to one of the conundrums of indie filmmaking. You need all the volunteers you can get, because who has any money to make films except Steven Spielberg? But if your volunteers flake on you, you'll never get your movie made.

Luckily my current collaborators are all reliable and very enthusiastic. I will be paying them eventually, although not much.

But what happened with this movie I was supposed to work on has driven home two very important points to me.

1) It's good to pay people if you at all can. (Thank you Geeksoft day job for bankrolling my project!)
2) Collaborating with others on a creative project can be exhilarating but also dangerous.*

*Of course I already knew #2, having had my fair share of bad experiences with, for example, rock bands with egos run amok. But those were never projects that I was sinking my own money or tons of creative energy into, the way I am with Planet of the Ex-Boyfriends.