Filmmaking With Puppy-dog Eyes

Hey Film Folk,

Here at Atomic Filmmaking HQ, we’ve just got a new office dog! He’s a miniature schnauzer called Max, and he’s adorable…

Watching Max settle into his environment, reminded me of a useful lesson for Atomic filmmakers, indie filmmakers who want to maximise their results. Let me explain…

I’m completely used to my surroundings here at HQ, as you will be with your home/work. I don’t consciously even “see” a lot of my surroundings.

I’ll turn on a light switch without having to look for it, sit in a chair knowing where it is and generally wander around without really “noticing” things anymore. After all, the vast majority of my surroundings haven’t changed for some time.

Max, however, notices everything. It’s all totally new to him. He’s chewing on chair legs, finding my stuff to pull around and play with. Destorying things that I’d long since forgotten that I owned.

I think we could all use puppy-eyes with our filmmaking… don’t worry Max, I’m not suggesting anyone takes yours…

What I mean is, what assets do you have that you don’t even think about anymore? You probably have access to spaces, locations, kit and props that you wouldn’t think of. Look around your environment and think what you already have, that you might be able to use in your filmmaking.

Robert Rodriguez and Carlos Gallardo were trendsetters with this form of filmmaking, which Robert christened as “Mariachi style.” When making El Mariachi he wrote in locations, props and assets which he had access to. By doing this, you’re affordably adding production value to your film.

If I see a warehouse in a film, it looks real and gritty and it looks as though it was expensive or difficult to organise and obtain. OK, maybe you don’t think like that when watching a movie, but if the filmmakers had pretended that one of their living rooms was a warehouse, you would have noticed how cheap and ineffective that was…

This doesn’t just work with locations though, what other assets do you already have that might serve your film? If you or a friend have an interesting vehicle, uniform or possession, perhaps you can write it into your film?

If your friend is, say,  keen on fishing and has loads of equipment. Perhaps one of the characters can be tweaked to be a fishing enthusiast and set a scene by a lake? This technique can be amended to serve all manner of situations and possibilities, enriching the film.

What locations and assets do you have at your disposal? Think about it with fresh puppy-dog eyes!

Also, when shooting on set, or on location, really look. Deeper than a typical, cursory glance. What details are there that you can MAXimise and take advantage of? There might even be assets readily available on location that weren’t part of your plan.

To go back to Robert’s tale of making El Mariachi, when shooting the scene of Carlos arriving in a Mexican town, there happened to be some people there selling chilled coconuts, to drink. Seeing how dramatic it looked when the coconuts were being hacked open, Robert wrote in his Mariachi character buying a coconut into the film and shot it. If you wrote that from day one, you’d then need to set it up. You’d need to find people, a stand, coconuts and ice… by being fluid with what is readily available, it simply looks as though the filmmakers went to that level of effort. AND… Nobody is saying don’t put in effort, but by thinking like this perhaps you can spend more time, money and effort on other parts of your production?

As a footnote, Robert forgot to get a shot of his Mariachi paying for the coconut, so he wrote in a line of extra voiceover, explaining the coconuts were a gift from the town to weary travellers. More creativity to solve filmmaking issues (and the result is better than an ordinary coconut sale). Robert really is the king of indie filmmaking…

So, be like Max and look at your world with fresh eyes and see what is already there to bolster your filmmaking…

Just don’t be like Max and crap on my floor. 🙁

Thanks for reading,

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P.S. As many of you know, along well as the impending book (Hollywood Hates This Book – The 7 Step Guide To Making Your Film For FREE) I also have a companion project… It’s called “The Production Posse” and I’ll tell you more about it next week.