The months leading up to shooting my first short film were preoccupied with fund-raising, casting, polishing up the script and location scouting. Then something dawned on me a week before filming began, maybe I could not direct.
The self-doubt ate at me, causing many sleepless nights that lasted throughout filming. No matter the years of my life that I had dedicated to film, viewing and writing about cinema was not the same as actually doing. Directing was something I would have to teach myself.
Directing is one aspect of filmmaking that you can only truly learn by actually doing. Listening to interviews, watching film and reading about directing will help, but when it comes down to it, real experience is the best learning tool. And this was something I did not fully grasp until filming began and everyone was relying on me.
In many ways my first film was the first semester of my own personal film school. More than anything, The Dead Days of Summer was a lesson in filmmaking. Each day I felt as if I was learning far more than I could in a classroom.
Day by day, I became more confident and self-assured with my style and technique, which nonetheless still lead to a film that was uneven. Some scenes I am fully satisfied with, others I realize the mistakes I made while directing them. From not shooting enough close-ups, to not planning ahead, the mistakes that I made are ones that only a first time filmmaker should make.
Teaching yourself how to direct a film is a difficult, even painful, process, however it is one that all aspiring filmmakers will have to take part in.
While nausea was a constant companion during the short, but intense shoot, it didn’t dissipate until I finished the first rough cut. My mistakes came into focus during editing, as what I learned throughout the shoot became all the more obvious as I saw my weaknesses and strengths with the edit.
It is through making my first film that I realize the importance of starting off small when teaching yourself how to direct. If I had attempted a feature straight off the bat, I am convinced that the film would have been a disaster.
Attempting a short film allowed me to make mistakes on a smaller scale; ones that could be more easily hidden, corrected and, importantly, appreciated. For all its faults, The Dead Days of Summer is still a film I am immensely proud of., however, the film is also a tool, one that will let me move forward with my dreams and help me progress as a filmmaker.
Even as I complete my first film, I feel as if moving to a feature next would the wrong move. While my first short taught me a lot, more practice is needed for me to fully realize my potential and produce a feature that I would be proud of.
Teaching yourself how to direct is something that takes time, and as I am currently in the middle of that process, I have yet to decide what the next best move is. I am sure of one thing, however, and that is starting off small is the most important thing. It allows you to make all of the inevitable rookie mistakes without sacrificing the film.