What's your background in filmmaking?
PAUL: Writing, directing and producing movies started when I was in my late 30's. I was working as a railroad conductor in Texas and was volunteering as the artistic director of a repertory theater company in a small town. After three years of running the theater I realized I could make a film with the same effort that I put into the 12 shows we staged every year and believed that more people would see the movie than all the season's performances.
We shot my first film during my vacation and other days I was off the train.
As a kid I used to do puppet shows in school instead of boring book reports. (Yes, I was a total dweeb.) That desire to perform evolved into doing stupid skits for the talent show and ultimately to playing the leading role in the high school musicals. While I was in high school a talent agent saw me perform and sent me to auditions for TV commercials. I was in a couple of TV episodes and a bunch of commercials until my early twenties. This was a case of being in the right place at the right time; I grew up in LA. My success in the business waned as my looks changed and I no longer fit the roles being written.
Then I moved around a lot and did lots of other things for fifteen years hoping to find a job that would quell my burning desire to work in film. Some jobs came close, but nothing compares to my life now.
What's the best lesson you took away from the first feature you made?
PAUL: HA! There is no single best lesson. Every day of the first film was an overwhelming learning curve. Even though this was only about seven years ago digital technology on the prosumer level was extremely new and no one had the answer for how to make everything work. There was a lot of experimenting with equipment, lighting, colors, sound, fabric patterns, and post-production software to make a movie.
Here are the biggies:
1) Your friends and loved ones will openly or secretly doubt your abilities to pull it off. Plow ahead anyway. The motto in successful completion of any feature film is “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
2) I was still thinking in terms of stage and not camera as the platform for telling this story and my camera angles often observed the action instead peering over the character's shoulders and revealing information to the audience. I use the camera better now to express the mood and tone of the film.
3) Everyone has a passionate opinion about the movies they watch and have no hesitation sharing their opinion with strangers. People generally either love or hate films. The haters are most vocal, the lovers are usually very quiet. I wasn't prepared for this. It took a lot of time after my first film released to understand that the strident critics were not representative of my true audience that loved the movie.
What's the biggest trap that you think low-budget filmmakers fall into?
PAUL: Visions of glory.
Filmmaking is about telling a story you feel passionate about to an audience that will gain something from seeing your film. It is not about getting famous, rich, or offered a bungalow on the Universal backlot.
The advantage indie filmmakers have is our independence—we can make our own movie and tell it the way we want. The reality of working in Hollywood is that the people with the money control everything: the script, the casting, the location, hiring the crew. You don't go to Hollywood to make your movie. You go to Hollywood to make their movie on their terms.
That means our indie films probably won't be the darlings at Sundance or written up in Variety and we won't get the best seat in a restaurant on Sunset Strip.
We do get to make our movie though, and that's the real reason for doing this in the first place.
What's the most common mistake that a first-time feature filmmaker is likely to make?
PAUL: Poor planning.
It's true for any profession or craft; if you've never done something before, you don't know all the requirements for getting the job done. Novice filmmakers don't schedule enough time for setting up equipment, are busy handling last minute emergencies instead of working with the cast to get good performances, and fail to provide nutritious and delicious meals for the people working so hard to realize the director's vision. And even more stunning to me is the notion that working 12 hours every day is an acceptable norm. Working twelve hour days is the result of poor planning.
There is a huge list of details that need to be worked out in advance of a shoot. I mentor people around the country on getting everything planned so they can have the freedom to make changes on the spur of the moment when better opportunities arise.
As an example I was an actor on a shoot for a novice film crew that shot in 10 days inside a house. Instead of filming every scene for the bedroom on the same day and then moving to the kitchen on the next day, they were filming in several rooms every day and returning to the same room day after day. They wasted so much time, were stressed, and getting sick because of the way they scheduled the shots. I felt really bad for them. As an actor I won't say anything about how they run their shoot, but I knew that if I'd had 20 minutes to mentor them a week before production things would have gone so much better for everyone.
What's the biggest hurdle that a filmmaker will need to overcome during the production/post-production/distribution process?
PAUL: Very recently, post production and distribution has become much more manageable for indie filmmakers. The traditional distribution model is dying a painful death. Painful for the distributors, not necessarily for us.
It used to be that filmmakers had to deliver multiple versions of the same film for different markets; a version with the full soundtrack, a version without the dialogue, a version in PAL and another one in NTSC. However with the new hybrid distribution approach a filmmaker can simply decide to make one version and only one version of the film and sell it to the markets that will accept that version.
It may be true that some films will do better in some markets if they are dubbed into another language, but if the filmmaker doesn't want the hassle and wants to retain the artistic merit of the original actors' performances it is possible to find smaller markets that will accept this version and subtitle the movie.
Essentially with the digital distribution of our work, the world is an open market.
To replace the traditional distribution model, however, a filmmaker must become a social media collaborator. Regardless of how a film is released and what companies are selling it in the different markets and platforms, the filmmaker must create and maintain an online community of supporters and fans who will be cheerleaders for the film.
Marketing a film is more than announcing the movie to the world. Now there is an expectation that filmmakers also create the world of the movie online for audiences to get involved with by playing games, Facebooking with the characters, cooking the same meals shown in the film, getting invited to watch the filming, getting invited to be in the film, etc.
Filmmaking is no longer about just making a movie and telling a story. It's about building a community that experiences that story.
What's the overall premise of your on-line tutorials?
PAUL: I learned how to make films for about $15,000 the hard way and encountered many people who had outright contempt for what I was doing. There is a fallacy from Hollywood professionals that no movie of any quality could possibly be made for less than 1.5 million. That attitude is changing as more people do make great movies with very little money.
Still there are lots of people who have great stories to tell but no experience in turning them into films. I created hours and hours of online tutorials about the specific steps involved in making an indie movie to give people the tools they need to fulfill their dreams.
I learned from many other people. And I've developed a process that makes the shoot stress free and enjoyable. I'm sharing this collective wisdom to make life better for all of us. The site is www.brightfilmmaking.com
What are you working on now?
PAUL: I'm in the middle of three narrative feature films at different stages.
ABRUPT DECISION released at the first of the year with a hybrid distribution plan. I have several online retailers who are also wholesaling the film to smaller retailers, two distribution deals in Europe, a sales rep pursuing distribution in Asian and South Pacific markets, and my own direct-to-consumer retail sales from my site: www.abruptdecision.com
GOLIAD UPRISING is in the final stages of post-production as I write this and as you read it I'll be distributing the movie by going to sci-fi conventions, through my own website, and negotiating deals with distributors around the world. This will be another hybrid distribution plan that I'll figure out as I go. I'm intentionally avoiding the film festival circuit and going to the film's core audience which are sci-fi fans. www.goliaduprising.com
And I'm writing the script for the next movie tentatively scheduled to film in August. When you're reading this I'll probably be in pre-production with a shooting schedule in hand. But right now the movie is simply an idea I had a few days ago in the shower. I make a movie every year and this is my usual work flow.