There’s a new Canadian indie doc making its rounds and it’s called Slaughter Nick for President. It’s a yummy little bundle of Canuck joy, sure to swell that north of 49 pride and warm the beer-infested heart cockles of sundry Canucks from coast-to-coast-to-coast. Executive Producer Liza Vespi (no “s” there, kids, but say “Lisa”) has funded a little gem of a documentary which is sure to get audiences moving in their seats and singing that chorus line along with Serb cover band Atheist Rap: “Sloteru Niče, Srbija ti kliče!” (“Nick Slaughter, Serbia salutes you!”)
Here’s the skinny: Rob Stewart, (pictured above) as Tropical Heat’s globetrotting kickass dick-for-hire Nick Slaughter, was living out a discomfiting post-acting career idyll in sleepy, suburban Brampton, Ontario, when a random, er…Facebook search revealed how much his former alter ago was still the bomb…in Serbia! WTF?!
Hardly believing his eyes, Slaughter, er…Stewart, goes into bloodhound mode. He googles around a bit to confirm his initial findings…then he rings up production colleague Vespi to explain the situation.
After several more frantic exchanges with counterparts in Belgrade, Stewart and Vespi cobble together enough shekels for an ocean hop to visit the former war-torn region and capital, only to encounter something the both of them never thought possible. Have a squizz at the official trailer and strap in for the ride:
The doc alone is worthy of its own bespoke blog post and review, but something Liza mentioned during one of the behind-the-scenes clips posted to the film’s YouTube outpost had me doing thought hopscotch (“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…schlemiel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated!”) long into the night: the idea that indie filmmaking isn’t for sissies.
An incendiary statement, to be sure, so perhaps best to define what I/she mean.
By “sissies,” we mean:
- filmmakers who can’t stick to simple schedules or deadlines and it’s in first position: that enormous amount of energy required to propel an indie film out of the doldrums into a degree of awareness…well, it’s beyond the fathoming of most indies! In any of the talks I give and in much of the work available here, I am fond of quoting statistics which argue clearly against doing this, the dozens of reasons this job is so inconceivably difficult. The filmmaking industry and the puppet masters pulling its strings are bad enough without the filmmaker herself/himself contributing to the plethora of “no’s” already stacked against most productions. It’s why I implore indies to stick to a rigid schedule. Keep your word and try not to miss deadlines. If you commit to producing a package of content weekly, do it. Don’t overpromise volumes of deliverables you have no intentions of delivering. Keep to a schedule so you don’t leave your production to guesswork. Filmmakers who suffer from so many things happening in their life that art takes a back seat to everything else shouldn’t be making films in the first place. Yes, you read that correctly but allow me to rephrase: you can make any film you wish (since this is the “democratized filmmaking era,” is it not?), just don’t expect it to gain any sort of audience fanfare and don’t expect us – your audience – to support you if you’re not taking things seriously by keeping a schedule.
- filmmakers who fold at the first incidence of “no:” better get used to hearing it in this business, as it will become a permanent lo-light in your weekly series of correspondences with stakeholders and your cast/crew. Three no’s for every yes is the correct arithmetic, if you ask me. Let enough of those “no’s” penetrate your shield, and the accumulated negativity of so many of them begin to cloud your reasoning. You’ll be unable to resist the downward pull and soon you’ll forget the reason why you came to the table in the first place. You’ll become completely disillusioned and your art will suffer chronically. The patient will die. Before you set off along this journey, think long and hard about the grab bag of techniques you’ll be using to bring yourself back up to “steady state,” if needed. Plan for this eventuality in advance, because it’s definitely coming. The more popular your film becomes, the more enemies you’ll have.
- filmmakers who permit lack of funds slow them down: you will almost never have the money you want, but you will certainly provision for the budget you absolutely need. You also commit to not going through with the filmmaking process until you’ve amassed this required amount. Yet, once you do get what you need, move boldly forward. First-time filmmakers? Don’t make the mistake plenty of indies preceding you have by holding out for hundreds of thousands of budget bucks which plainly aren’t materializing, I don’t care who you are. Learn to be charismatic and inspirational in other ways that motivate your cast and crew just as effectively as money, yet which don’t necessarily involve monetary exchange. Once you utilize this as your “means of exchange” that very first time, be beyond generous in your spreading of it. If it’s your near-money, then spend it like near-money. Don’t be a cheapskate, because people notice these sorts of things.
- filmmakers who succumb to moodswings: liken your indie picture to a long-term relationship. I once heard Christine Vachon mention it best during a podcast with The Treatment’s Elvis Mitchell: “If you haven’t succeeded in maintaining a long-term personal relationship over the course of several years, you’re not ready to make an indie film.” You will experience plenty of bad days. You will have days when you want to chuck the work you’ve done into the trash and buy a ticket to the nearest Caribbean island. You will lose total confidence in your mission and will question the reason why you came to the table in the first place. You will become so overwhelmed with both your production and shooting stresses you’ll indulge your vices: for some it might be drink, for others food, and still for others…well, let’s not go there. You will also be asked countless times about why you’re doing this, and naysayers will attempt to convince you you’re not good enough, that you’ve lost your marbles and why don’t you go and land a “real job.” When your bills begin to pile up and your rent or mortgage payments start falling due, their bromides will crash into you like the undulating surf. Will you collapse under the pressure or will you actually see this project though to the end because it actually means that much to your life? If you’re unwilling to this sort of sacrifice, then you’re not ready for the journey. Either that, or you’re shooting the wrong film.
- filmmakers who aren’t obsessed about their movie: another thing I’ve heard Christine Vachon say during interviews and panels past: Killer Films, her New York-based outfit, only works with directors who are absolutely obsessed by the need to make their film. Oftentimes, she’s said, these are first-time filmmakers who have been sitting on their scripts for years and years, brimming with the anticipation of being able to finally shoot their movie with a considerable budget. She receives a ton of solicitations and story pitches by creatives who just don’t seem all that passionate about what they’re doing and Killer sends them packing.
So what’s the moral of this never-ending tale?
Don’t fold at the first incidence of resistance.
Don’t get intimidated by people who claim to know more about the filmmaking process than you.
Don’t let distribution gatekeepers tell you your picture is worthless…as soon as it gains a measure of heat they’ll be first in the queue for their percentage and their piece of the action.
Don’t let people get into your head and make a porridge of your thoughts: you had damn fine reasons for embarking on this journey in the first instance and those reasons are still valid.
When the going gets rough – and it will, so gird your jangling loins and provision yourself adequately for this now – this, my friends, is the imagery you’ll need to conjure up in your grey matter.
This is the swami you’ll be tapping into for inspiration.
And this is the magic potion you’ll be guzzling to re-up your flagging indie juice.
Adam Daniel Mezei, PMD | Producer of Marketing and Distribution
Indie Audience Engagement Services for Independent Feature Films and Documentaries
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