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Entertaining the Idea of Giving it Everything You’ve Got #atozchallenge #indiefilm

I read a book or article somewhere that said no one who is on the fence about filmmaking ever makes it. That begs the question – how much do we have to want this for us to stand a chance at reaching some pinnacle of success, whatever that looks like for each and every filmmaker?

It's almost like there are two ends of the spectrum -- the filmmakers who just dabble in it because they want to have fun and they think making movies provides their desired level of enjoyment, and the filmmakers who take this field seriously; sometimes maybe to the point that it stops being fun anymore as they become so focused on it eventually paying off in the end via studio deals or awards or whatever. The former was me then. The latter is me now. I guess the trick, or rather, the sweet spot is to find that middle ground where you have a balance of the two; the ability to recognize and enjoy the fun part while also keeping the serious aspects in mind.

Still, does film have to consume me in order for me to win? If so, why does it come at such a heavy price tag in terms of me having to put my all into it? Maybe this is required of any endeavor that you embark on. It's all or nothing and you must give it everything that you've got just to stand a chance at making a wave amidst all the noise. You can't be half-pregnant or a halfway gangster.

So I have to give each project that I work on everything I've got. That way, as least I can be satisfied if I choose to continue in film or move on to another area of interest. Giving it my all allows me to take a chance on myself and not have any regrets. The alternative doesn't do me or anyone else any good.

Have you read yesterday's post about Daring to Ditch Disadvantages Like Robert DeNiro yet?


Daring to Ditch Disadvantages like Robert DeNiro #atozchallenge #indiefilm

In Production on ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVERWatching “Heat” in its entirety for the first time during post-production on my short film “ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER” helped me further understand how adapting to knew plans, when your current circumstances no longer serve you, is very important.

For months, I’ve had a few food storage containers and shot glasses soaking in (what used to be) soapy water that turned into sitting water -- to break the grease or loosen any sign of leftovers so I could wash them with ease. I wanted to keep these containers because I didn't buy most of them; they came from my mom, grandmother and one of my aunts. So, I wanted to return them to their original owners. The thing I've failed to get a handle on, however, is the fact that they are just storage containers; I can get new containers or use what I already have in the cabinet.

My 30 seconds to make a decision have long been up and the heat is on, as the areas surrounding those used containers get rusty and bacteria starts to grow -- they are made of plastic, after all.

I can't hold onto these containers nor the celebratory shot glasses that are in no better shape than they were years ago. They've each had their time in terms of usefulness but neither of them serve me now when it comes to meeting my dining needs.

“Never get attached to anything you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner” – Robert DeNiro as Neil McCauley in the action crime drama “HEAT”

l-r: Director Nicole Ayers, Camera Operator Torian Holt and Actor Rodney Benson during production on ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVEROn the movie making front, this lesson from Robert DeNiro’s line in “HEAT” has a lot of meaning such as the importance of not getting attached to a particular draft of a screenplay, an uncooperative actor or crew/staff member, an editor, a DP, a film festival, the style of a scene, a line of dialogue, a prop, a favorable review from critics, a bad review from critics, or even an end goal.

When the heat is on, I need to be quick to walk away from any element that has a negative impact on my production. I must not waste any time on ridding myself and my projects from anything that becomes a liability when things get rough -- especially given the fact that independent film is already one big ongoing struggle after another.

Thinking back to when I was making ABYSS: THE GREATEST PROPOSAL EVER (and even today), I realize I need to be better at honing in on these things because there were times when I did just the kind of thing that DeNiro says to avoid. 

  • I wanted a specific editor and damn near panicked when I couldn't get one.
  • I wanted most of the scenes to be completed in one shot -- but that didn’t happen, which left me feeling lost and out of my element while wondering how in the world I was going to piece this movie together.
  • I planned to shoot at a place in Kensington and then scheduled to shoot at a house in Germantown; all of a sudden, it seemed as if the rug had been pulled from under me when both of those plans went down the drain.
  • I wanted an editor to re-assemble one of my final cuts during post-production, but when that solution was postponed, I worried that this movie would never be finished.

Making movies and watching films made by other people has taught me the importance of embracing change, compared to the alternative -- resistance, which keeps you stuck and can make matters worse, not better.

The same goes for all those other areas of life that have either long passed their sell-by date or just started being more troublesome than they are beneficial to us. We need to let these things go -- habits, material things, thoughts, beliefs, relationships, goals, jobs, emotions, activities, behaviors, agreements (in the workplace or otherwise) and habits that bring us trouble; this goes for just about any type of trouble -- with law enforcement officials, trouble within ourselves, trouble in our families, trouble with people we don't even know or trouble with our health, spirituality, safety, happiness, freedom or peace of mind.

When we are not willing to walk away from the things that cause us (or have the potential to result in) trouble -- and do so in a timely fashion, we do a disservice to ourselves and sabotage the things that matter most in our own lives. In movies and in life, there is always another way. There's always another actor who has the same, if not better qualities that fit a particular role. There are always other craftsmen and servicemen who are skilled at doing the job that needs to be done. There will always be another chance to improve upon something, or to start over, or to be different than before. That is, unless you're dead. Then, it won't matter -- but what will you do with the time you have now?

More importantly, are YOU willing to do-it-like-DeNiro and walk away from the parts of your life where the heat is on?

 In case you missed yesterday's post about making movies, check it out now: A Conversation Concerning Competition in Cinema


A Conversation Concerning Competition and Cinema #atozchallenge #indiefilm

Production Crew on Set of TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONSThere's a saying in the film industry -- you're only as good as your last movie. Considering that film festivals receive upwards of 2,000 submissions each year and only accept less than 5% of these works to screen at their event, moviemakers are pitted against a lot more than our own work.

The competition to gain favor among audiences, media outlets, studio executives and judging panels is high -- especially now that YouTubers and Vine stars appear be to landing television shows, sponsorships and movie deals more often than those of us who have studied and practiced the craft of filmmaking.

Oftentimes, it seems like we’re competing against four different areas including our previous work, Hollywood flicks released by the big-boy studios, other independent films and new media stars in who are killing it in the online video arena. While taking this into account where my own filmmaking endeavors are concerned, I also welcomed “Khoobi” director Amir Motlagh and “Troop 491: Adventures of the Muddy Lions” director Praheme to add some further understanding on how these matters affect them, or not.

For me, knowing that my latest short film “ABYSS: The Greatest Proposal Ever” is a much better movie than most of the movies I’ve made so far, brings a certain level of contentment. It tells me that I’m not spinning my wheels – at least not right now. Competing with one’s last movie can be a good thing; it’s worthwhile to consider this form of competition to be a sign of progress if the work we produce now is better than our previous creations. Competing with movies that are backed by studios and come out of Hollywood, however, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Filming scene on set of an Amir Motlagh production.“I have no interest in looking back, so my previous work is not a concern. However, I do strive to push myself anytime I have an opportunity to work. Often that means refining elements and avenues that might have been previously pursued or explored.

You can always build on thematics or aesthetics but in the end of the day, comparing is not helpful for me.”

 – Amir Motlagh, director, “KHOOBI”

l-r: Director Praheme and actor Kimani Coleman on set during scout meeting scene in TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS“I hope that with every movie I make, I can improve somewhat from the previous film. I don’t feel any pressure at all because it’s a natural progression. That is what makes a successful career – my movies getting better with each one.

I can see some growth in my first feature [Troop 491: The Aventures of the Muddy Lions] compared to the work I’ve done in film school, [particularly with] my writing and story. I feel like I’m decent; I don’t feel like I’m really good at anything right now and if I keep that mindset, that’s how I will keep making good work. I’m always working on my craft. On my second movie, I will be able to see my improvement as a filmmaker."

– Praheme, director, “TROOP 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions”

Not all independent filmmakers try to go toe-to-toe with studio productions but over the years, I’ve noticed some in the indie film world who do attempt to make movies that rival studio fare – particularly in the case of genre films; which never ceases to amaze me because it doesn’t make much sense. Studios have the juice to pull off all sorts of scenes containing stunts, special effects, crazy action sequences and hire the likes of George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Zoe Saldana.

Zoe Kravitz and Shailene Woodley star in DIVERGENTNo matter how much some independent films try to duplicate what Hollywood does, an ultra-low budget independent film is almost always going to come up short. That’s why it’s best to stay in our lane and do what we can with the resources we’re working with.


“'Superior' is a strange word in arts because it implies absolute standards of judgement, whether personal or from an outside source. That type of judgement is probably detrimental to your mental space whether immediately, or in the long run. One might as well concentrate on the tasks that lay directly in front of him/her.” – Amir Motlagh, director, “KHOOBI”

Over the years, other independent films, as well as online video series, have been two forms of competition that I considered to be useful to me in terms of knowing what resonates with people and what doesn’t – as well as what is possible and noticing opportunities to make or showcase my work in a way that has yet to be done by anyone else.

“I don't want to sound like I just picked up a GO GET' EM incantation; but really, the only competition is the self. The rest is a real drag. If this were basketball, then we're talking about something else. The rules are set, the standards are set. Filmmaking is not basketball. "Best" doesn't exist. Collaboration is a much better tool than competition.” – Amir Motlagh, director, “KHOOBI” 

Director Praheme on the set with actors Kimani Coleman and Michael A. LeMelle during a prison scene in TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS

“Competition helps us because the higher the competition, people have to work harder to get their work seen in a very crowded workplace. There’s so much material out here now – yours has to be really good to stand out. So, that means you have to find better stories, better actors and get the best cameras in order for your work to get noticed, because there is so much competition.  I think competition is great for every form of business; people get lazy if there’s nobody competing against them, and I love it!” – Praheme, director, “TROOP 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions”

Of all the concerns I’ve had for a long time regarding competition, I’ve been starting to come to terms with understanding that it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day, since the audience ultimately decides what is good and what is just Blah. That begs the question: How do we compete against other players in our field when the audience is in control? That’s just it -- we don’t!

Being aware of what’s out there in the marketplace is key to knowing how audiences respond to certain genres, cast members, plots, etc. but it is unnecessary to size up the quality of one’s work based on the characteristics and trajectory of another person’s creations. It’s better to give a project my best shot and not worry about competition in any area of the film industry. Instead, I choose to view competing films as motivational tools (even to learn from, where necessary) rather than a barrier, which is freeing because whatever happens will happen.

How has competition influenced how YOU operate in your profession, area of study or other pursuits?

Also, stay tuned for more from Praheme and Amir Motlagh! Be sure to check out yesterday's post: What Ben Affleck can Teach us about Bravery.

TROOP 491: THE ADVENTURES OF THE MUDDY LIONS is about Tristan, a reluctant new Scout who is conflicted after witnessing a homicide. Will he follow the code of the Streets or the code of the Scouts?

Directed by Praheme, this family film is showing:

Arizona International Film Festival

  • Saturday April 12th - 7pm at the Screening Room (127 East Congress; near Scott)
  • Sunday April 13th - 12:00pm Noon at the Grand Crossroads Cinema 6 (4811 East Grant Road; at Grant and Swan) in the Crossroads Festival Mall

Watch Amir Motlagh’s short film “KHOOBI” about young man born with an obsessive compulsive drive, whose dreams are faced with obstacles, including a war torn childhood that shake his soul to this day.

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