Breaking and Entering: Filmmaking for the Uninitiated

Just over a year ago, following a string of disastrous graduate jobs, I finally admitted to myself that being a general punchbag for a narcissistic fantasist with too much pocket money is, in fact, soul-destroyingly futile. Instead, I taught myself to edit, took a storyboarding course and decided it was finally time to revisit that childhood dream of becoming a film director.

Being pretty clueless with no industry ties or contacts, it was clear that I was setting myself up for many years of abject poverty, general disappointment and yapping at the heels of low-budget indie outfits who may or may not turn out to specialise in donkey porn for an East Timor niche market. These facts I was prepared for. Others I was not. For those of you considering embarking upon a career as a teeny tiny unappreciated minnow in a vast nepotistic ocean, here are my top four nuggets of wisdom to help prepare you for your glorious quest.

1. The Film Industry is a Breeding Ground for Misogynistic Halfwits.

When I was nine, my grandfather told me that I couldn’t be a film director because I was a girl and girls don’t get to be film directors. Having never found this biological quirk to have been much of a hindrance before (and bearing in mind that my grandfather was also an alcoholic who would frequently call at 4am to garble lines from Macbeth over and over until someone hung up on him) I decided not to set too much store by his gin-addled career advice. Terrifyingly, it seems he was a little bit right.

For the first six super-keen months, I found myself at industry networking events where I was variously told that I ‘don’t look like an editor’ that ‘women aren’t really seen as directors’ or, at best: ‘You mean you want to be a producer?’ It used to be said that behind every great man is a great woman; behind every great director there is, necessarily, a formidable producer. Producers, then, as the all-organising, multi-tasking, non-limelight-stealing backbone of filmmaking are, according to this patriarchal logic, singularly permitted to be women. For other roles: girls – expect to fight tooth and nail for every tiny grain of respect, and to have any beginner’s gaps in your professional knowledge attributed to that glaing lack of a penis between your legs.

2. Beware the Mentals.

My first ‘job’, as an Assistant Director on a short film, consisted of disaster management for a delusional egoist who had cast himself and his family members in a film about a man who has an affair that costs him his marriage. In the process, he fucked up his own marriage so resoundingly that I spent most of my time providing counselling and tissues to his distraught better half.

He then asked me for feedback on his next project: a short film about child molestation. This he described, with characteristic modesty, as the most powerful, unflinching work about this issue ever to be conceived. In fact, it turned out to be a sick, incomprehensible and utterly offensive tirade that included lengthy ‘stage directions’ debating the existence of God before inexplicably giving way to an eight page poem dedicated to Elizabeth Fritzl. My gentle suggestion that this was, perhaps, not the most sensitive way of approaching the subject matter led to a torrent of abuse telling me that (1) our friendship was over, (2) I was ‘a silly little girl’ and (3) he hoped I would live out my days in perpetual terror of my own children being abused, as just reward for failing to recognise his insurmountable genius.

3. It’s All About the Hierarchy.

Film is second only to the military in its rigid upholding of professional hierarchies. It is probably no accident that the Director of Photography on the last feature film I worked on still carries the bullet wounds from a previous stint in the Italian Special Forces.

Occasionally, on small, no-budget shorts, everyone pulls together in mutually respectful collaboration and harmony, suffusing the set with joyous enthusiasm that prevents you caring that the shoot has run over by seventeen hours, you haven’t eaten since Tuesday and your last tube left last week. Most of the time, however, being at the bottom of the food chain, your main purpose is to lurk miles from the action in the freezing cold, luring wild animals away from set by feeding them strips of your own flesh, whilst somewhere far away a psychotic 1st AD screams hysterical abuse down a walkie talkie because you forgot to remind her to tie her shoelaces and the Focus Puller’s sandwiches are cut into the wrong geometric shapes.

If you can stick out the ritual humiliation for long enough, you may be rewarded with your very own minion to torment – and one day, maybe even a whole crew to bully, threaten and cajole. This is called ‘making a film’.

4. Do it for Love. Not for money.

There’s nothing like that magical feeling when it all falls miraculously into place, better and more beautifully than you ever imagined it would. Sadly, that feeling is rarely the herald of any real world pecuniary relief. So don’t get carried away just yet: you’ll still need that bar job to pay the rent.

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