Author: Michael Sandoval, Co-Chair, Filmmaking Department, New York Film Academy
Let’s say you’re between the ages of 16 and 30 and you’ve never made a film. Some rich guy comes up and says, “I’ll pay you cold, hard cash. I’ll give you ten grand. To make a short film—that sucks.”
He’s crazy. You know this. He lays the cash on the table.
“The more suckier, the better,” he continues. “In fact, I’ll give you a pro-rated bonus if you have a miserable time.”
“You mean, if the shooting goes wrong…” you start to figure out.
“You got it,” the crazy rich dude interrupts. “The more things go wrong on your film shoot, and the crappier experience you have, the more I’ll pay.”
“Deal!” you declare. Heck, you need the money. You have a buddy who has a camera. A few friends who can help.
You shake hands with the man, grab the cash, and off you go.
Your goal: to make a really bad film. And have a crappy time doing it.
So what do you do? Here are a few points to help you make a film that sucks!
1) Don’t start writing the dang thing till a few days before the shoot.
Because who needs to show the draft to anyone else? You know what you’re doing! Who needs a main character? You know that audiences like to hone in on a journey of a hero. Hell, why don’t you have ten heroes? Who needs a climax? That’s for the dogs. If the audience doesn’t get excited, that’s their fault. You’re an artist, dog-gonit! Structure? Ugh. Too much head work. You read somewhere that confusion can work for your film. Or was that a warning?
And you know that sleep and having confidence in your script and being able to understand your characters and your story will only make rehearsal and the decisions on set easier. You’re supposed to have a miserable time, after all!
2) Do NOT meet with your Director of Photography before the shoot.
Because preparation is for the birds – it only makes your team understand your creative vision (and who wants that when you’re making a sucky film?). You want your Director of Photography to be able to make empowered decisions resulting in images that look great and that also fit the psychological tone of your film? You want him or her to pre-think lighting to save time on set? Then by all means, DON’T discuss these things with him or her beforehand, and DO NOT show him your shot list. Your film’s gotta look like crap, remember? Let’s go for the gold! Not just a small pile of crap…but a big, heaping, sticking pile of film crap (or digital tape, or RED DF card or whatever format shooting on. Because remember: it’s not the quality of the capturing device that makes for a crappy film: it’s you!)
3) And Do NOT conduct rehearsals with your actors.
Why, if the actors understand your vision of the story, and understand the backstory of their characters so well they become the characters, that’s just going to make their performance more fluid and believable… and who wants that, when you’re getting paid to have sucky acting?!
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Let the actor’s figure it out! I mean, if they didn’t learn how to read the minds of directors in acting school, then they weren’t paying attention in class. Let them come up with the answers themselves, the lazy bums! Let’s leave everything to chance and guess work.
Casting? Remember those birds? Careful casting’s for them, too! Just ask your little brother and your buddies and that guy who hangs out at the deli to star in the film.
I mean, having trained and committed people who can handle being under hot lights for 12 hours a day and know how to deliver performances regardless of multiple takes…this can only help to guarantee good performances. You WANT people to snicker at your scenes! And that whole thing about shot size affecting the immediacy of performance? Heck, get your little brother to play to the back row of a large theater in an extreme close up—and watch the audience topple to the ground at the over-acting. Painful? Fantastic! You’re getting paid for the suck!
4) Locations? Scouting takes time. Forget that! You need your time to screw around and drink and play video games and not sleep…
Because you know that you make your Director of Photography’s job 10 times easier when he or she has an effective location to shoot, that fits organically with the reality of your scenes, with real texture and feel, with enough room to move the camera…
Shoot in your sister’s New York studio apartment, for crying out loud. Those white walls will blind the audience and create a bland patina so flat that the audience will get hypnotized into boredom. You want to make a sucky film? Boredom is your best friend!
5) By all means, do NOT study other movies and consider the styles you like and that are appropriate for your film.
Because who needs a hundred years of film history and craft? Or a couple thousand years of art, for that matter? Your film begins with you! Craft is for uptight traditionalists who don’t understand your cutting edge vision. So why not just put the stupid camera in your hand and forget the tripod and shoot everything hand-held in a medium wide shot because that’s the way your dad did it when he filmed your kindergarten birthday on his Hi-8 camera. You want things to be “real”. So shoot it like a crappy documentary. “Crappy”’s the operating word, here! You’re the cheerleader. Gimme a “C”- “R” – “A” “P” spells “your unprepared film with no considered visual style sucks”.
6) And be a dictatorial jerk who yells at people, while you’re at it…
Because what better way to have a sucky experience than to treat other people in a sucky manner? Be hated on and make people not show up or do a half-assed job! Crew meetings? Forget ‘em! Only makes people ready to do a good job and know where they need to be and what to bring. Kindness is for sissies. Actors are cattle. Grips, gaffers, sound crew? Your pawns…if they stick around.
7) Shot lists? Scheduled shots by time? HA!
Miserable is the guiding word. You want to make yourself and everybody else within a hundred yards drop dead MISERABLE? Do NOT have a shot list. Or make one, then DO NOT stick to it for no reason—just change things randomly. Here’s an idea: shoot one shot towards one side of the room, flip in the other direction for the next shot, then flip again…and watch your crew tear their hair out in frustration as they have to keep on re-lighting the same stupid scene. Watch your Assistant Director bang his or her head on the wall as the schedule goes up in smoke. Watch your actor’s performances melt as the exhaustion sets in.
20 hour days? Hell, yeah! Break union rules and exhaust your people and yourself! Because disorganization = suck. And you want your film to suck! Suck suck SUCK!
Ahhh! So many ways to do a bad film and have a miserable time! A potpourri of sticking possibilities!
Of course, if you want to make a good film, then perhaps you want to do the opposite of what is suggested. But no one is paying you to make a good film. Right?
Though perhaps 10 grand to make a bad film isn’t enough? Because making a sucky film and having a sucky experience can really, well…suck.
Could we make that a hundred grand? A million?
Now, say, you
– Say you want to make a great short film.