Choosing a title for this post was difficult. There is a lot of different elements here, but ultimately it is how to do what you love. What I mean by that, in my case, is how I feed myself, pay rent, and make money as a filmmaker.
I went to college, but it wasn’t that. I’ve been an assistant, and it wasn’t that. The bottom line is you have to make things, with the right people, about the right subjects. At least that’s how it has worked for me.
You have probably heard people like Tarantino or Rodriguez say “just make films” and yes, that is true, but I think you need to be a little more specific. This is an example of how that specificity works for me.
Douglas Little is a super talented guy. He’s a world class artist, who has done set design for spectaculars like Queen of the Night and beautiful work for labels like Dita Von Teese and Lady Gaga. He’s a genius. He also makes artisan couture perfume in his amazingly macabre Upper West Side apartment, and that is what really interested me.
So I wrote him an email.
Here is the email: Re: Doc about you.
Hey Douglass… My friend/beauty writer Katie Becker introduced me to you and I was captivated by the post The Window wrote up on you (http://thewindow.barneys.com/heretic-douglas-little/)I’m a filmmaker/commercial director (www.robertoserrini.com) – who from time to time does short docs about interesting people doing extraordinary things.Wondering if you wanna be captured on film?Process would take a couple of hours. My style is loose and easy. Rock and Roll event-garde. Film is done for solely for personal reasons … you’d ok it’s release before it see’s the light of day. Just think you would make a beautiful story, your work, even outside fragrance, is exceptional.Here’s an example of the last film I did – https://vimeo.com/118563384Lemme know, I’m NY based, easy to talk to n get a hold of.Thanks!Rs
I had made docs before, and have been making films for a decade, so I had a body of work he could look at and decide if this was his jam. Luckily it was.
We talked on the phone for about 20 minutes so he could explain to me his process, key points about blending a fragrance and what his apartment was like, so I would understand shooting in it, lighting, sound, etc. We set a date and showed up at his door 2 weeks later. It was just that easy, no need to over plan or produce. Point number 1: Just grab your camera and go make something.
Our crew (because it’s not mine, it’s our) is the best, and this is a point number two: make films with the right people. Surround yourself not just with talent but people you like, that you think are brilliant, and that more then anything you have a great time with. Mikko Timonen and I have a company together, and he is not only one of the greatest DP’s I know, he’s one of my best friends. Ramsey Fendall and Matt Jacob are also best friends who both give so much to a project that working without them seems bland, and Russell Dreher is a life long best friend that I met a decade ago through a post on Craigslist looking for filmmakers wanting to make films together. These are the people that make working a pleasure, and make the work something to look at.
Douglass wasn’t really prepared for what we brought to the table, which is to be expected. We love our toys, and we’re all shooters, so we have lots to play with. First, no one is getting paid anything for these passion projects; which is the best way to create sometimes. Everyone is there because they want to do it, collaborate, and play. So Ramsey brought his RED and a Arri SR2 16mm film camera, Mikko a FS700 with Russian anamorphic lenses, Matt a BMCC and a VR360 camera and Russell an OSMO. We were packing heavy.
The shoot was simple; we set up, mic’d our subject, everyone grabbed a camera and we rolled. I had a conversation instead of an interview with Douglass, let him talk, made sure he understood that if he made a joke I probably wouldn’t laugh because I didn’t want my voice on camera, and more then anything tried to make him feel comfortable. As a director, I’ve learned that is my main job; the vision comes along side that, and I rest assured its going to look amazing because I have 4 guys who are loving what they do.
We shot for a few hours, played with some techniques we’ve been wanting to try, and had a great afternoon. Douglass was amazed at how we worked saying, “first of all, all of you are assholes.” because the stuff we shot looked so tasty.
I don’t make these film to get business, that is just a natural bi-product of the work. I do it because I really want to know what Douglass and perfuming and his life is about, and I want to play with my friends, and make something to show random people, to open up their eyes and minds to something cool, just like my friend Katie did for me and the journalist that wrote that article for her, and ultimately Douglass did for the journalist. It’s an interesting subject, and I know it is because A) I’m interested in it and B) someone already wrote an article about how interesting it is. So this is the third point to just make films: make the right films, meaning films that people want to watch. Make something that is interesting, topical, sharable and most importantly something you want to see.
The edit process is really where the love and hate come out. I never wanted to be an editor. I taught myself on a stolen copy of Pinnacle Systems (Im old) on a PC that I built (very old) just out of college. I had to learn because I wanted to make films, and no one, I mean no one, is going to edit your first film for you, unless you’ve made some pact with the devil or have a famous last name on your drivers license. So I learned how to edit, painful dropped frame firewire 400 DV tape at a time. Ultimately that got me into the business, and took me a while to actually get out of editing and focus on directing, but it has never left me. In the end directors can have a style and leave a mark, but with editors, their fingerprint is undeniable. For me, it’s where it all comes together.
It took me a solid week to do this piece. There was interviews to cut down, B-Roll to assemble, lots of Public Domain archival footage to find and manipulate, titles to create in After Effects, music to find, and color correct to work with. I’ve also never worked in such a wide frame, the anamorphic was a challenge on its own, and since we were mixing media and frame sizes, I had to get creative with the visuals. Creative means time consuming which means lots more cups of coffee.
Final result is that Douglass loved it. So much he started sharing the rough cut which I could have killed him for. Let a girl finish putting on her makeup before taking her out, you know? Already there are plans to do more work together, connections to other people, bigger projects with viable budgets in the future. This is how I get work, not through an agent, or a company, or some roster I’m on. Don’t get me wrong, those are perfectly fine ways to represent yourself, but for me it has always been boots on the ground and doing work I love with people I love. It makes sense to me; clients will see this work and want something similar, which is great because it came from a place of pure imagination and didn’t rely on a big budget to make happen. While taking creative direction is part of my job, it’s always so rewarding to be chosen for a project based on the work you like to produce.
So yeah, just make stuff. But make the right stuff and you’ll be where you want to be all the time.
Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well.