Reviewed by Erik W. Van Der Wolf
Written by Kelley Baker
Published by BookSurge Publishing
Take a gander in any film section at your local bookstore, and you’ll see enough “how to” books on screenwriting and directing to damn near fill the Arizona Crater. (For the record – the crater is 4,000 feet in diameter and 570 feet deep. Let no one tell you reading Dread Central isn’t educational). The problem is most of them are written by people who have had far more success writing instructional books than they’ve had actually writing and directing movies. The “Great American Novel” has indeed been replaced by the “Million Dollar Spec”, or the dream of making the next Paranormal Activity Witch Project, and there’s no shortage of people willing to take your money to tell you how to go about doing it, no matter their qualifications … or lack thereof.
What’s unique about Kelley Baker’s book, The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide: Part I – Making The Extreme No Budget Film, is that Baker doesn’t promise to reveal the secrets of finding success in Hollywood. Far from it. Instead he tells you to forget those Hollywood dreams because they are most likely not going to happen. Sure, there are exceptions. But those exceptions only go to prove the rule, the rule being: The odds are stacked against you, and the best shot you’ve got at getting your film made is if you make it yourself. And the most you can hope for is to make just enough money to pay your rent and, if you’re lucky, fund your next project. He knows this because he’s not only done it, he’s still doing it, unlike a lot of other “how to” gurus who have jettisoned their filmmaking and screenwriting careers to write instructional tomes full-time.
Drawing on his twenty years in the film industry as a sound designer on such films as My Own Private Idaho, Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, and the Psycho redux as well as his personal experiences writing and directing three independent features (Kicking Bird, Bird Dog, and The Gas Café) and several award-winning short films, Kelley Baker’s Survival Guide is a big, unhappy dose of reality as he rails against the studio system, the state of the “independent” film genre (which is about as independent these days as water is dry), and instructs you not just on how to make your truly independent no-budget film, but how to make the best no-budget film you possibly can. Because not having a sizable budget is no excuse for making a bad movie.
His book takes you through each stage of the filmmaking process starting with defining the concept of your film and writing (and rewriting) a script based on a realistic budget (money you know you can get versus how much you want to get) and what you actually have access to. Or, more importantly, what you have free access to.
He takes you through assembling your crew, location scouting (again – free is better), casting, working with equipment houses, and even gives tips on how and where to obtain radically price reduced, or even free, film stock, though some of these recommendations may become moot as digital becomes the standard. But the time Baker spends on the pre-production process is what really stands out here. There are so many pitfalls that await even the most experienced filmmaker during the actual production process, and Baker does his best to highlight the most common and how to, hopefully, avoid them. The accounts of his own experiences, which primarily serve as cautionary tales, are informative and engaging.
There’s also time spent on what to do after your film is finished. He highlights the problems he’s seen with the film festival circuit (which has essentially become a marketing apparatus for studio backed “independent” films) and delves into his self-distribution model, which is based on the punk rock bands of the Seventies. Those bands didn’t have the backing of big labels. Didn’t want it. Yet, they found success via self-promotion. The best part? They maintained one hundred percent ownership of their work and saw all the profits from it, which were then used to fund their future endeavors. Distribution is where a majority of filmmakers get stymied or ripped off, and he fills you in on all the tactics and shadiness therein.
While there have been books on this subject written by people with more horror credentials, like Lloyd Kaufman’s Make Your Own Damn Movie!, Baker’s Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide reads less like an exploitation template and far more like a friend in the industry telling you the realities you face. He isn’t shy about admitting where he’s royally screwed up (Gas Café came out way too dark; the IRS seized his home after bungling the financing of one of his movies) and is flat-out honest about the state of the independent feature and why most people fail when they set out to make their own films.
So, while Kelley Baker is short on horror cred, he’s long on a realistic approach (very important, that) to making your low budget movie an obtainable reality. And, being the designated no budget film reviewer for Dread Central, I can tell you this book is a must read for a lot of you aspiring filmmakers out there.
5 out of 5
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