How Do I Make It?


There are almost an infinite number of questions that can be asked of people. The hardest one to answer? The ‘How do I make it?’ question. Chris Neumer rolls up his shirt sleeves, investigates this question and answers it. Would be filmmakers take note, you’re not going to see this anywhere else.

by Chris Neumer

I have had the privilege of serving on numerous film panels over the last few years.  I’ve given lectures on both the topics of film and journalism and have participated in Q&A sessions as both subject and moderator.  I’ve been asked a lot of different questions about the film industry during my tenure at Stumped.  One question that stands out from the bunch is the question generally posed by someone outside the entertainment world who is looking to get in: How do I make it?  And there is simply no good answer to it.

The first time someone asked me that question, I was both amused and somewhat confused at the notion that the person posing the question thought that I had ‘made it’.  The entertainment value of the question quickly dissipated as I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t make me look like a total prick.  “Be really good,” is probably the truest response that you can give to the question, but sadly by stating that, you become a bigger douchebag than Barry Bonds, Chaz Osborne and Sack Lodge combined.

Adding a further degree of difficulty to the question is the fact that there really isn’t a singular answer as to how one can make it.  And there certainly isn’t one that can be reduced down to a reply of a sentence or two.  It’s not like there’s a secret formula out there that allows you to enter the ranks of Hollywood.  The best that I’ve come up with is the following:  “Do what you do.  Prepare to do it for a long time without getting paid.  Don’t get down on yourself when it doesn’t work at first and keep battling throughout.  Hopefully, at some point during that period you’ll get a break and be able to start earning a modest sum of money for your talents.”

The Gipper, I ain’t.

I started thinking about the ‘how do I make it’ question again recently after being contacted by a Chicago based filmmaker who wanted me to take a look at his first film and give him some feedback.  I agreed to take a look at his movie and he sent me a DVD of it some days later.  I’d call it a poorly written, positively horrid looking independent film of supremely low quality if that wasn’t being far too kind.  It’s a film that is so bad in so many different ways, that it’s hard to fathom how anyone associated with the production could look at it and think, “Yeah, we’re on the right track here.”  About the only positive thing I could think to say about the film was that the guy had actually made it.  He wrote a (terrible) script, got a (incredibly cheap) camera and filmed people saying the (awful) dialogue he had written.

It was an absolute abomination of a movie.  I made it through roughly seven minutes before I had to turn it off.  At a certain point in time, you have to put a wounded animal out of its misery.  The same held true for this film.  After seven minutes, I pressed ‘stop’, effectively going a good six and a half minutes longer than I would have liked to.  The film was an assault on my eyes.  It wasn’t just shot digitally, it looked like it was shot on a low-end cell phone.*  Thanks to a combination of poor lighting, an inability to adjust the camera’s color temperature correctly and a complete lack of color correction in post, the director and his director of photography (DP) managed to shoot give everything in their movie a dull beige tint.  On the plus side, the guys were consistent: the sequences shot outside looked just as bad as the sequences shot indoors.

* For what it’s worth, I honestly believe the movie’s production stills were shot with a cell phone.

The whole project was a conflagration of errors that looked and sounded absolutely atrocious.  While the director may have actually cast some halfway talented actors in his film, they were ultimately set up to fail; no actor, not even George Clooney, can overcome a horrible script, one camera set-up per scene and lighting conditions that compare negatively to video clips I saw on America’s Funniest Home Videos during the late eighties.

The worst part of the matter was that I knew the director had spent close to $100,000 of his own money producing this film.  $100,000 on a movie that he should actually avoid showing to people in the film world.

Immediately after turning off the movie, I cued up its online trailer, desperately looking for anything positive that I could say to the director when he called me to find out what I thought.  It hardly seems possible, but the trailer was substantially worse than the movie itself.  I sighed deeply and thought, “This is not how you make it.”

As soon as the sentiment popped into my head, I realized that I could finally offer a great response to the question, ‘How do I make it?’  It’s just that my answer would be a lot longer and significantly more detailed than any response I could actually give in person.**

** If you think you’re a douche bag for answering the ‘How do I make it’ question with, “Be really good,” prepare to triple that level of douchebaggery should you answer the question with a link to a web-site where you’ve already written out your answer.

So brace yourselves, would-be filmmakers, I’m about to tell you how to make it.

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