First Hand Advice
Months passed by after Bill Murray declared his undying love for me on a windy night in Salt Lake City. Every week that passed I tried less and less to track him down, until I puttered out entirely and I hung my Boba Fett mask out to dry. That is, until I’d get a new idea on how I could reach Bill, I’d try it, and then give up again, and so on. This pattern continued for longer than I’d care to admit. Like years and years. You don’t get people to say you’re a determined idiot for nothing. There is a meaningful result to all the years of trying to make the Getting Bill Murray film. But for today, we have a new chapter in my life that needs to be analyzed and mocked in earnest. It’s gunna be a five parter. Here we go!
In 2012, my homie Clark (who is also passionate about writing and filmmaking) and I decided it couldn’t hurt for us to try and get our foot into the film industry with some other projects. Then, maybe someday we would still get to go back and make Getting Bill Murray.
We were not complete production novices mind you reader sir/mam. Clark owns his own video production business, but it focuses mostly on live streaming conferences and concerts. I’ve helped him run gigs many times, and we have both have experience with shooting and producing marketing, music, and comedy videos. Yet, we both dreamt of moving into the world of feature film production. We both had that dream, but where to start? I wanted first hand advice.
So, we started holding interviews with several Utah film people trying to learn as much as we could. We’d take an individual to lunch, ask questions, look stupid-y, and repeat the process as necessary. The guy who started me on a path that eventually led to a bigger destination and the most epic letdown of my life is a gentleman named Adam Abel. He was one of the guys behind the film Saints and Soldiers, if you’ve ever seen it. Compared to a lot of the stuff that gets made in Utah by local filmmakers at that time, it was a standout film.
We sat down at lunch, and I skipped the previously mentioned “ask questions stage” and just went straight into looking like a hose face while eating my asian pulled pork sandwich. My buddy Clark however, remembered the formula and got the discussion going. We asked how he was able to get the funding for Saints and Soldiers since it was their first project, and while it didn’t have a huge budget – a million is still a chunk of change for brand new filmmakers to raise.
Adam explained they had an extremely wealthy friend that put up the cash for the film. Since Saints and Soldiers did well, Adam mentioned they have been able to self fund many of their other projects since. Here I am again, sitting in the presence of another person I resent a little. I am not a crazy negative person, but hey this is a self therapy session – I have to be honest. That is definitely who I was then. Jealous of people that had the creative life I so desperately wanted.
It is not always easy to hang out with people that have something you wish you had. Adam was spending his life as a creative person, and doing pretty well for himself. Yes, resent this little man I did (Dang Yoda, I can’t say stuff like that last sentence without sounding like him).
“Ok, so what do you do if you don’t have a friend willing to fork over a million bones on a movie idea?” I asked something like that. Adam explained the only way he knew to get a jump start would be to write an awesome short film, and make sure it is super well written and produced – and then start submitting it to festivals and networking.
I swallowed my last bite of sandwich and started drifting off into writer land. I formulated the idea right then that I would go home and start writing – a short film based on a few funny moments from my life. Clark and I took a few more people out to lunch, but didn’t get much out of it. One guy in particular really had no intention of being helpful, he just wanted free salmon. A special thanks to that guy.
To Short or Not to Short
All these years later, I have to admit I don’t necessarily agree with Adam’s advice anymore. I can’t argue film festivals and the value can they can provide to filmmakers. It’s a specific part of his advice his advice I don’t dig anymore. I went to lunch with another dude semi-recently, Jake Van Wagoner, who really helped shift my thoughts. Jake is another bloke living the creative life, and he’s freaking hilarious. You’d have to have a sense of humor having been a writer/producer for Impractical Jokers.
Jake and I started talking about short films and his opinion was, if you can, don’t waste time with short films. Take all the effort, money, and drive and put it towards a feature. He made many valid points, but the basic idea is features have the ability to change peoples lives more often than a short. What really struck a cord for me was – all of these years I have wanted to make a feature, but I was stopping myself thinking I had to do certain other things first. Like getting a short into a festival.
Thats a hog wash cut of bologna crap steak. Why not just figure out a way to do what you know you want to do, and just do it?! Don’t get me wrong here, there are some fantastic short films. I’m glad people make them, but honestly, thats not where I go when I’m consuming film. I’d rather spend 3 hours being Christopher Nolan-ed. Haha he’s a verb now if you didn’t know. Get yourself Nolan-ed up right now if you can.
So, shorts and film festivals are one way to break in to the film industry. Sure. I knew that before meeting Adam. But hearing it from him that day made me think it was what I should do in that moment. Or, you could head straight to creating features and getting them out via festivals and other mediums. There are a thousand other ways in-between. Like the story of how Rocky was made, which is insanely inspiring. I remember once I asked this dude who maintained a list of Hollywood contacts what he recommended to break in to the film industry. He was a fairly callused fellow. He said “Move to LA and start driving limos, and hope you pick up a celebrity.” Haha, don’t do that. Unless you really want to. Let me know how it goes.
Resources and Resourcefullness
“But, I don’t have the money to make a feature film!” Whether making a movie is a goal in your life or not, we can all get really good at making excuses for ourselves. Most of us have things we wish we could accomplish, but we block ourselves. Whenever we fail or don’t pursue what we really want – we blame it on external malarky: Time, energy, money, lack of tech, lack of education, no support, or the poor economy – just to name a few.
Tony Robbins has a killer quote that has really been resonating with me lately. “Resources are never the problem. A lack of resourcefulness is the problem.” As I am working to rewire my brain with the I Will Thrive mentality, this quote is noggin churning heavily. So, you don’t have the money to make a movie – then freaking find a way to get some, and don’t stop till you have it. Or, be resourceful and figure out how to do it without money. Let’s not limit ourselves with our lame excuses anymore! Let’s get busy. And I mean that in every way possible. I just winked.
With all this in mind, I would say the best method of breaking into the film industry would be to be Resourceful, Resilient, and Relentless (R.R.R.) Yes! Three word alliterations are my thing. And we now have three, three word alliterations: Personal Power pact (P.P.P.) and Maxim, Motto, and Mantra (M.M.M.). Put them together and you get PPPRRRMMM! Nine letters of awesomeness that make your hair cute and curly. Ok wow. Sorry. Moving on.
Don’t Call Me Walter
A couple weeks after pulled pork and Adams aid (weak band name, but there have been far worse. Ever heard of Gay for Johnny Depp? Real band. I’m not judging sexual orientation at all here, just saying wow thats a terrible band name. Funny, but terrible) I had written my short screenplay titled – Don’t Call Me Walter.
I followed suit just as I did with the Getting Bill Murray script and tried to get several people to read it. This little short story of mine took an interesting turn while I talked it over with Clark. It was a collection of funny moments from my life, but it also became the story of not giving up on our dreams because we’re all going to be dead soon anyway.
Most everyone that read it laughed, and gave me positive feedback. I was excited. Though it seemed weird trying to find an actor to play myself. Clark convinced me I should just do it since most of it was narrated and I would just have to act out the scenes with very few lines. I had very little acting experience, which I’ll tell you about later as it’s a hilarious childhood fail that should be recognized.
Clark was right about one thing for sure though, Don’t Call Me Walter is a narrated story, and we needed a great voice to pull it off. There go my twinkle Twinkie eyes again. I started making a list of my favorite people in comedy, particularly those that had amazing voices. Can you guess who was at the #1 spot? It had to be John Cleese. If the planets aligned and I could somehow get anyone in the world who I wanted to narrate my short film – it was the silly walkin, fawlty towered, fishy wanda-ed, fart in my general direction John Cleese.
If comedy were a religion, then my faith was built on the gospel of Monty Python and the 80’s movie Strange Brew. Growing up I watched this stuff more than anything else. It was a great release for me with my somewhat rough childhood. If I could ever work with John Cleese, any of the Python gang, or Dave Thomas/Rick Moranis – it would be like working with my personal Gods of comedy. They really are the Gods of comedy for a lot of people. This is evident in the Pythons reunion show of 2014. They sold out the first show, a 20,000 seat arena in 43.5 seconds.
Alright that wraps up part 1! See you next time! Part 2 of the John Cleese saga HERE
VIDEO version of this episode HERE
PODCAST version of this episode HERE