Filmmaking To The Max: What Do You Regret?

getting-personal
first-time-filmmaker

(Kyla) #1

Hi! I’m Kyla, teenage filmmaker & creator of the teen drama webseries To The Max. This column will serve both as a production diary and an ever-growing list of how I’ve found my way around every issue I’ve come across and every mistake I’ve made.

Regret is normal. Everyone’s said something at some point and then thought at some time later that it was the dumbest possible thing they ever could have said and they should not have said it. Or at least, I hope people have experienced that. I haven’t if you haven’t. Have you?

Anyways, regret is just as normal and common when it comes to your own creative work, in terms of writing/directing/producing/everything. I balance between thinking I’m a great writer and absolutely loathing everything I write, which is a fun mindset to have. A lot of the time with To The Max, we’d be shooting something and a line would sound wrong and I’d regret not double-checking the script. Or I’d make a perfect schedule and then realize I forgot about a commitment a cast member had already told me about and I’d regret not writing it down.

The thing about regrets and mistakes though is that they’re completely useless unless you take advantage of them and decide to learn from them. There’s no use wallowing in “I shouldn’t’ve done that” when you can look to the future and figure out what you could change for the next time something like this comes up. You have to look at where you went wrong, where things shifted and you no longer were proud of what you were doing, and adapt.

Since To The Max is in a production void (in that the only thing we have left to shoot is one character’s coverage of a short scene so we’re basically wrapped but we’re not actually wrapped), I decided to look back at everything I regret about this project, so basically all my mistakes. Because that’s fun and positive. I’m slowly starting pre-production on a new project and I’ve been thinking about what I want to change about my showrunning style. There’s always room for improvement, and I’m going to examine some “common” (read: probably just applicable to me) regrets and mistakes and how to fix those for next time.

REGRET #1: Being too ambitious

I’m an ambitious person! I really am. I like tackling a million creative projects at once, I like leadership, I like exploring different paths that will lead to some sort of success. With To The Max, I thought I had this handled. Filmmaking isn’t that difficult, I thought. I’ve done Nanowrimo and written a musical, making a webseries can’t possibly be that hard. Jokes on you, naive sixteen year old Kyla who knew every word to Grease. Jokes on you. I hadn’t realized how insane this gambit was until I was deep into it. For reference, To The Max started with 13 episodes, 30 pages per episode, multiple locations that weren’t just “house”, 15 characters, and an 80s setting (which meant complicated costumes/hair/makeup). I ended up cutting it down when I realized it was unrealistic… to 10 episodes, 25 pages per episode, the school/my house/outside as locations, and 14 characters, still keeping the 80s setting. It helped to some extent, but that extent is … not much.

HOW TO CHANGE IT FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Write what you have! It’s limiting, yes, but it’s the easiest way to remain within budget and to make your life super simple when you move your project from the writing phases to actual pre-production.
  • Be chill. Not everything has to be an extravaganza. There are a lot of great webseries set in singular locations with minimal characters. You don’t need FIFTEEN CHARACTERS. What was I thinking?!
  • Prioritize quality. Your webseries doesn’t need to be ten 25-page episodes. Trust me. It doesn’t. A lot of the time, brevity is the soul of wit and you can cut out a lot of extra junk that will be a hassle to shoot. Quality over quantity!

REGRET #2: Not being authoritative enough

This will probably be expanded into a column of its own at some point, but I found that as much of a control freak as I am, I had a real problem balancing the line between leader and friend. I started off too harsh, began walking along that line, and then as I got closer with the cast and crew I fell onto the friend side of the line. I originally didn’t think much of it-- we were so close to being wrapped and I could still command attention if need be-- but it came to a breaking point on our last shoot day. The cast members who were filming that day were absolutely lovely and had a ton of creative and inventive ideas, but by the end of the shoot I had let them get away with too much and I felt absolutely bulldozed. It went from “can I do this” to “we’re making an executive decision” within six hours, and while the latter was said jokingly and it was funny at the time, I now very much regret letting them undermine my authority like that. All their suggestions were brilliant and completely workable, but in the words of one of the cast members, I wasn’t directing anymore-- I’m just the person who wrote it and holds the camera.

TO CLARIFY: I’m not at all upset with my actors! Everything that was said was said in a joking manner and I was fine with it. I love all their suggestions a whole lot. They didn’t walk on me purposefully-- I definitely let it happen.


Gina Montani in the foreground with Daria Miran and Harmony Dawn in the background. They decided on the iconic lipsticks!

HOW TO CHANGE IT FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Display authority. As friendly as you are with people on your set, you’re still in charge and it’s still your project.
  • Make specific choices. Direct, be confident, know how you want things to play out. Don’t just let the actors do whatever they want in scenes. Have a run-through and give notes.
  • Consider other opinions. People on your set are going to have fantastic ideas-- but it’s your job to listen to these ideas and decide whether or not to implement them, not just let it happen.

REGRET #3: Forgetting people are human

As anyone who has even heard of me knows, I’m an absolute disaster. The thing about being an absolute disaster is that I get caught up in what I’m doing and I forget that eating and breaks are things that need to happen (specifically for other people). I’ve been good at scheduling breaks and providing food every shoot day where we do more than one scene, but I forget sometimes that my script editor is not available at all hours of all days because some people actually sleep, or that it’s ridiculous to make a bunch of high schoolers do a double-shoot weekend during the school year, especially when exam season was like a month away.

HOW TO CHANGE IT FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Schedule even more frequent breaks. Even if people aren’t hungry, they need time to chill and decompress between scenes.
  • When working with teens: don’t film double shoot days unless it’s the summer. Schoolwork is a thing from September to June, and it’s a thing that should be done!
  • Be patient. People are people; they won’t always know their lines perfectly or they might forget stuff. They’re human. Probably.

REGRET #4: Not being super duper 100% organized

Budgeting? Proper scheduling? Call sheets? Shot lists? Storyboards? Not shoving everything haphazardly in a duffel bag the morning of the shoot? That’s ridiculous! I’ve never heard of those things in my life! For real though, I’m pretty organized and I do have my own non-traditional versions of schedules and shot lists and storyboards. However, I could have been way more organized with To The Max, specifically in that I should have actually budgeted and made proper call sheets and organized costumes/props/etc more carefully.

HOW TO CHANGE IT FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Learn how to do all this stuff. Stareable’s got some great guides for budgeting/call sheets/everything under the sun, or you could just find this stuff on the general internet. Learn it. Live it. Be all consumed by it.
  • Keep things in neat folders! Whether paper or digital, everything you do for your individual projects should be well-kept together and coherent.

REGRET #5: Not delegating duties

Literally I’m not a hat person. Metaphorically I wear far too many. (I think that’ll be my new Twitter bio.) With To The Max, I felt like I had to do everything-- I couldn’t trust anyone else to do someone’s makeup or to schedule or to do literally anything. I was protective over a passion project that I put my entire life into. However, this caused needless amounts of stress for me and also lead to the slight disorganization previously mentioned because I simply couldn’t keep track of everything I needed to do.

HOW TO CHANGE IT FOR NEXT TIME:

  • Find a solid crew. Reach out to people who are good at certain roles and are willing to make the commitment.
  • Find people you can trust. Maybe they’re your best friend, maybe they’re just amazing at what they do. Either way, you need to trust your cast and crew.
  • Assign specific roles and stick to them. If someone’s hair & makeup, then they’re strictly hair & makeup. They shouldn’t shift from hair & makeup to actress to production assistant to script supervisor to camera operator to co-writer and co-producer of an entirely new project with you like my poor friend Kendall did.


November, before I ruined Kendall.

What regrets do you have? What mistakes have you made? What are your plans to adapt and change these things? Tell me!


(Bri Castellini) #2

I was looking for a specific thing to quote and respond to but I just wanna quote this whole dang article and tell you how proud I am of you and how far you’ve come. I can’t wait to see To The Max!


(Herman Wang) #3

After we decided to convert our short into a web series, I kind of rushed things, and wrote and then shot one episode at a time. This ended up being less efficient than it could have been, because we ended up having to book the same locations more than once, instead of just block shooting everything in one location at once.

Our current blocks that come out of six 5-minute episodes seems to be the right amount and size.


(Kyla) #4

thank you!!! that means the world to me and I can’t wait for you to see it!!