The following is a guest blog by Eric M. Blake. Eric is an active filmmaker currently studying in the University of South Florida, working on his Master’s in Film Studies, where he among other things has directed three short films for the Campus Movie Fest.
I went out and made a movie. An absolutely terrible movie. Nothing went the way I wanted, and I can’t even look at the finished product. Does this mean I’m a bad filmmaker? Should I give this up?
In a word, no. It’s good that you’re disappointed – if you didn’t think there’s anything wrong with your first dab at filmmaking, that would’ve been a red flag. A bad first experience in moviemaking does not mean a failed career. The first time you tackle anything, it’s bound to be a clumsy attempt, because you just don’t have a feel for it. Not yet.
I made my first movie, Mortal Coil: An Eric M. Blake Noir, for the 2013 Campus Movie Fest. I had this ambitious idea to take up Brian De Palma’s challenge to student filmmakers to make their first movie a silent movie. The story would be told without any dialogue – just acting and camera work.
You can look it up on YouTube, if you like. I already know it’s a mess.
There are many reasons for that. We didn’t have a good tripod at the time, so we had to hold the camera by hand. The way it looked forever alienated me to “shaky-cam”. And the last day of shooting, two key actors announced they’d be unavailable, so we had to improvise by “fudging” the story and experimenting with POV shots. As a result, the plot’s a bit muddled (“Doesn’t the guy have still have the money?”), and if you look carefully, you can see the tail end of the actress rushing out of a shot, because she’s not supposed to be in the scene. In short, “flawed” doesn’t even begin to describe this film. It was my first directorial effort. And it’s a mess.
I don’t regret making the film. It was my first real session of film school.
Arguably, in fact, a bad first movie is one of the best things to happen to you. It shakes you up, keeps you humble, and helps you self-critique, and learn. It’s better to get the “bugs” out of your system early on, while you’re still an amateur. You go out there, make the best film you can, and then look at what you made and ask yourself, “What do I like about this movie? What don’t I like?” Get constructive critiques. And then apply those lessons to your next project. If you truly love making movies – and if you’re honest about yourself – your work will get better.
Believe it or not, some of the great filmmakers of history have gone through this. Stanley Kubrick hated his first movie, Fear and Desire, so much that he apparently tried to gather up all the prints of the film, so no one would ever suffer from watching it again.
In 1996, Quentin Tarantino told Charlie Rose about his first movie, My Best Friend’s Birthday. As Quentin tells it, when he finally had the resources to process the footage, he ended up very disappointed, because “I did not have at all what I thought I had!”
You can see both Fear and Desire and My Best Friend’s Birthday on YouTube, by the way. I personally don’t think Quentin’s movie is that bad, which goes to show that sometimes, you really are your own worst critic.
Quentin went on to add that he did not regret making the movie, because “That was my film school.” He learned a lot about filmmaking by going out there with equipment and making a movie. In effect, he learned what to do and what not to do, in the best possible way.
After all, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?
We did you a favor and found My Best Friend’s Birthday for you. If you don’t have 36 minutes to spare right now, at least skip to the 20 minute mark to see Quentin himself deliver the lines he later reused for the opening scene in True Romance. Classic.