During the last month, I’ve spoken at a number of church media conferences, and time after time, I’ve met church media directors and filmmakers who tell me their real goal is to produce and direct feature films. I’m thrilled at the ambition, but there’s often a bit of a disconnect, because I’m not really seeing them actively moving in that direction. So as a public service, here’s some advice from people who understand where you’re coming from and have some recommendations:
From Ralph Winter – producer of X-Men, Wolverine, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, Adrift, Hocus Pocus 2, and many more. Essentially, Ralph has spent most of his career producing $200 million movies. Here’s what he’d recommend:
It’s all about the story. That sounds easy, but it’s not. Only 1% of the scripts I read are any good at all. Which means it’s not about having the right script software, it’s about talent. All stories have value, no doubt – but knowing what story an audience will pay for is different.
It’s also important to understand that it is a business. Play for the long game, not just one movie. And it’s not just about production – how will you market and distribute the finished film?
If you don’t consider that, it’s just a home movie.
For example, 5,000 movies are submitted to the Sundance Film Festival every year:
125 get chosen to be screened for audiences.
10 get bought by a studio or distributor.
2 make money.
I’m not trying to scare you off, but the bottom line is that if you are taller than 6’2” you have a better chance of playing in the NBA.
– Ralph Winter
Korey Scott Pollard has spent his career as a Second Unit Director or First Assistant Director. The second unit director directs the action scenes (and Korey has directed some major action scenes) and the first assistant director is the guy who runs the set on a film or TV series. He’s the person who schedules the shoot, manages the crew, and is essentially the COO on a film.
Korey has worked on shows like Chicago Fire, 9-1-1, CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, House, Nashville, American Crime Story, Seal Team, Jack Ryan, The Orville, The Assassination of Gianni Versace, and a long list of other projects. He shares some very personal advice:
Working in Hollywood is a lifestyle choice, not a career. In the life of a migrant film worker, there is minimal glamor, no sense of security, no matter how long you may be doing it. As a result of this lifestyle choice, I lead a nomadic existence, following the money, and the money always follows the tax incentives. As a result, I have worked in extraordinary places, Mexico, Montreal, Paris, Morocco, and all over the United States, including Hawaii.
A feature film can take you away from your family for anywhere between eighteen and thirty days for a low-budget independent film and up to six and nine months for large studio films. Imagine working on a television or streaming series where you may be away from your family for nine months, with barely a three-month break between seasons if you remain employed on the second and subsequent seasons—no guarantee, especially in my position as an Assistant Director. So there is no reason to uproot your family and drag them with you.
I can also go months without working, with no job on the horizon, and the stress on the entire family is palpable. Like the many months I was unemployed after my wedding. And then, a week before our first wedding anniversary, I left for a six-month project on the Big Island of Hawaii. Years later, I found out my wife was pregnant with our first child, my son, while on location in Florida; I was gone for three months on that job. Then, while working on a television project in Nashville, my son, in his teens, started experimenting with rebellion, drugs, and alcohol, and my wife felt abandoned by me because she was.
I am a workaholic and struggle to prioritize my family, especially when I am out of town on location for nine months. The chaos of working is the only thing that disguises the pain of being away from my family. My fix for my problem alienates those I love.
On our tenth wedding anniversary, my wife and I calculated the number of months I had been absent from our home up to that point. We were astonished to discover I had been physically absent from home for twenty-seven months of our first ten years of marriage. Technically weren’t we only married for eight years then?
I am nothing more than a carny with an excellent dental plan because I was fortunate enough to join the Directors Guild of America, but what if that doesn’t happen for you? What if you can’t join the union of the craft you intend to pursue?
Do you want only to work on sub-par “Christian Movies” written to preach to the choir without offending? If you do this, you might be able to hang on to your parents’ faith because you prefer to proffer the regurgitated mission and pretend it is a purpose. Just keep drinking the kool-aid, and they will love you. That is an option, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Or do you feel a terrifying call to walk far outside the circled wagons mentality and the empire of cultural Christianity in America and experience God in everything but the religiosity you were raised to follow?
If you see Hollywood as a mission field, I caution you to sit still and ask God to reveal your primary purpose. Thirty-three years after moving to Los Angeles, I am still not the director, writer, and actor I set out to become. However, I am where I am supposed to be today, a believer painfully learning to trust the God I profess to believe exists and leads me. If others cannot see that trust, I certainly have no business convincing them they need that faith. Seek him not a mission.
– Korey Pollard
– I’m not trying to scare you off, but give you an inside peek at the reality of filmmaking – particularly in Hollywood. If you genuinely feel called to the industry, then by all means do it. But know the challenges before you take the dive. And perhaps more than anything, know that today, there are many options for creating films as well as TV or digital programming that exist outside the system.
Both Ralph and Korey share very good advice. Read it again, and I’ll post other professional’s recommendations in the future. It should influence whatever choices you make.