Let me tell you about my first movie, Misdirected.
I grew up idolizing the likes of Kevin Smith and Robert Rodriguez for their talent and their ability to make a career based on one well-made independent film. I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Before I even had an idea for a script I knew I was going to make an independent film. I was very enthusiastic; very young; just out of college. I told my best friend–a fellow filmmaker. His advice was very clear, “You can’t do it.” He wasn’t trying to kill my dreams. He just knew well enough to know how hard it is to get a production together when you don’t have any money or resources. But I was not to be deterred.
In 2002 I wrote a script called Misdirected. The story of a college student who–after a night of hard parting–wakes to find himself in a hotel room with a dead body. When a mysterious woman threatens to blackmail him for a murder he’s forced to retrace his steps and discover the truth before he’s arrested.
The script’s conception was simple. I knew I wanted to start with a question. So my question became: What would you do if you woke up in a hotel room with a dead body on the bed, a gun in your hand, and no memory of the night before?
Of course, it would be a comedy.
Working a full-time job I knew I would be limited to shooting on weekends. I scheduled an 11-day shooting schedule, Saturdays only. There was no money. I took out a few credit cards and figured out the bare minimum I needed to invest for production: a Sony VX-2000 video camera, tripod, tape stock, an Azden shotgun microphone, and lunch for the cast/crew. It’s been my experience that people show up for dreams but they stick around for lunch. So future filmmakers take my advice, feed your cast & crew well and feed them often. Later I would invest in some external hard drives for editing. (Estimated total budget $6500) Every other piece of equipment (which wasn’t much) was borrowed from work; as it just so happened I worked at a television station at the time. And some things were just flat out improvised; our boom pole was actually a painter’s pole; our dolly was a wheelchair our gaffer found in the trash.
I sent a general call out to every friend and co-worker, begging them to work on my crew. Dedicating your Saturdays to work for free on someone else’s independent film is a tall order. It really showed me who my friends were. Most of my crew proved to be tremendous and strengthened my friendships with them.
Casting was a lot harder. Philadelphia is filled with talented people but I was 23 years old with no track history and I wasn’t paying. Luckily the Philadelphia Film Office had a free job board. (Without the Film Office I would never have had a movie.) I took out a P.O. Box, posted on the Film Office website, and before I knew it I had demo tapes and headshots coming in. It felt pretty fantastic. I had no space to audition actors so I had them come to my apartment; which I admit felt a little shady. The sacrifices the actors make are incredible. One actor drove over 3 hours from Virginia to be there.
Locations became another problem. Many places simply weren’t willing to sign a location release. We were turned down by several colleges despite valid connections. Various apartment complexes and hotels took their turn denying us as well. But we just kept asking until we finally had our locations.
Production was filled with stressful moments. We battled all the normal issues of a low-budget film but here are a few notable ones.
After the first day of shooting one of our lead actors was in a serious car accident that left him partially scarred on his face. For continuity’s sake, we had to take steps to cover the scar every day after.
At the end of Day 1, an actor stepped on the microphone’s input wire. Didn’t seem like a big deal at first until I played back Day 2’s tapes and found more than half of the audio was unusable due to a loud buzzing noise. Reshoots and dubbing were required.
One of our day-players disappeared for the two weeks leading up to their shoot date. No phone. No email. We didn’t know if they’d be on set until the moment they showed up.
After being on set for several minutes I got a phone call from one of my crew members saying he wasn’t going to make it because he was drunk in Atlantic City.
One day our two lead actors Ross Lorin and Shaun Scott Chandler had to walk down a Philadelphia street carrying a dummy wrapped in a sheet. Despite the obvious camera crew someone called the Police. Luckily the Policemen were very nice and production resumed promptly.
One day we shot in a convenience store. We had one hour to shoot before it opened. After that, we would have to shoot around their regular traffic. The goal was to shoot as fast as possible and be out the door before they opened. However, that did not go as planned as one of our leads showed up quite hung 0ver. We were forced to shoot pieces of the scene between customers coming in for their morning coffee.
I didn’t have my own editing facility. My editor worked part-time at the local public access channel. He took every bit of unscheduled editing time in their editing booth, cutting the movie in Final Cut Pro. He worked nights, and weekends. Our external hard drives malfunctioned; sometimes they worked; sometimes they didn’t.
Eventually, we hammered out a lovable little comedy. We even found a local theater that let us show it.
Misdirected didn’t jump-start my career but it was an important stepping stone. If I could go back and do it over again I’d do a thousand things differently. I learned so much from that movie. Without it, I would not have been able to produce the short films that came after it, or my second feature-length film, Victim’s Song. The relationships and experiences I had while shooting Misdirected were incredible and have changed me forever.