I was recently told that on social media, my life looks like a series of red carpets. But while I have stood on the occasional bit of crimson to promote my independent film Zelos, the reality of making an indie feature bears no resemblance to my Instagram account (shocking I know!)
For one thing, if you zoom out from that photo, you’ll realise that a red carpet isn’t even a full carpet, it’s literally a patch that you take a picture on to make it look like you’re on a carpet. That was the first hard truth. But here’s a few other things I wish someone had told me.
It takes years of your life
It may have been rather naïve to produce a feature film when I’d never even set foot on a film set before. How long could it possibly take, I asked myself, then decided the answer was definitely “No more than six months”. Reader, that was almost four years ago.
We had six months of pre-production leading up to the shoot – but completing the film took another 18 months. Add three months to prepare our theatrical release, nine months of travelling with the film to Q&A screenings around Australia, and festivals interstate and overseas, then another few months to organise and promote the digital release.
Throw in the two or so years I spent writing the screenplay and… I’m starting to find it difficult remembering a time when Zelos didn’t occupy most of my life.
Shooting is the easy part
You think shooting will be the hardest part, because it’s really bloody hard. You breathe a sigh of relief when the madness of running a film set is over and tell yourself “Done! Now we just have to do post-production and it’s finished!” That’s because you are a damn fool and, buddy, you don’t even know what hard is.
The REALLY difficult part starts after the shoot. It’s when you need to find money for post-production. It’s a stop-start process where you get just enough to pay for the edit and then for sound and then for music, with long periods in between where the film doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere but somehow you’re still working around the clock and no one but you can understand why.
Then you complete post-production and you whoop for joy because your film is finally finished, and because you’re still a fool. Surprise! The MOST difficult part hasn’t even started yet: it’s trying to get cinemas to agree to play the film you poured your life into and make sure people even hear about it, let alone come and see it when you have no money left for marketing and the latest Star Wars is coming out the same week.
It’s a lonely struggle
When you shoot and edit the film, you have people around you all doing their jobs (you hope) and driving the film forward with you. Then your cast and crew move on to their next projects and suddenly it’s just you, the producer, pushing the boulder up the hill on your lonesome. There’s no one to encourage you or to hold you accountable if you just… stop.
But if you decide to give up because it makes you want to cry and/or drink copious amounts of hard liquor, it will all have been a monumental waste of time. So you keep pushing. You see other people watching TV in the evenings or picnicking in the park on weekends and you wonder why you willingly chose to spend yours hunched over Excel spreadsheets and frantically typing up emails begging for money.
Friends keep asking you if you’ve started (or finished!) your next project yet, because they don’t understand that you’re still spending ALL your time on the current one. You resist the urge to hurl a whiskey glass at their head because they mean well and they were kind enough to stand in as extras for your crowd scenes and you’ll probably need them to do that again in the future.
So is it worth it? Ask me after the next one.