Friday, April 30, 2010

A New Thing Bonus Feature: The Lone Gun Manifesto

Clive Davies-Frayne at the filmutopia blog (one of my new favourite reads for thinking about script-writing and film production) posted this film-making manifesto, which I found so inspiring that I asked him for permission to reproduce it in full. So, here's Clive, distilling 12 years of experience into how to make a film:

     The Lone Gun Manifesto

For the last twelve years I've been banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out how to deal with the insanity of the movie industry, whilst at the same time exploring the equally insane world of micro-budget movie making. The problem is that neither system works. The industry becomes more and more obsessed with playing it safe and the independents largely try to imitate the work patterns of the industry, only with less money. For people like me it's a nightmare, because what I want to do is make movies and have people watch them... and, to do that without investing three years of my life and all of my money into a project which then flounders around the ridiculous distribution system.

Anyway, after many years of pondering the problems of funding, shooting and distributing movies, I believe I have an answer. However, it means completely changing the way we think about movies. It is a production philosophy designed to let creative people make brilliant movies quickly, cheaply and without exploiting the people who contribute to its making.

Here are the headlines:

1) One DSLR camera, One person, One microphone (The lone gun shoots alone)
2) Strip movie making down to the basics - a camera, a great story and some actors
3) A lone gun never asks for permission to shoot at a location
4) Put something original and honest in front of the camera
5) Think like a photographer, not like a film-maker
6) Money is for food, transport and a dedicated hard-drive for each project and nothing else
7) Natural light only
8) Everyone who works on a movie, has the right to distribute that movie for free or for profit
9) No credits before the title ever, regardless of how famous someone is.
10) The end product must be cinema quality (capable of projection to cinema sizes without falling apart)
11) A creative common license for the movie (how open you go is up to you, but people must be able to share and alter it for free)
12) If you’re going to be a gorilla… you may as well wear the full monkey suit.

OK. In practical terms this means that you are shooting in public places,but never in such a way that anyone is aware you are shooting. That's why it is done best with a standard DSLR camera. (I really want to see someone figure out how to do this with the RED by the way!)

In terms of the sound recording there are two alternatives: radio mics for all cast - or the way I am doing it, a $30 pair of binaural mics, (which look like iphone headphones) jacked into a portable digital recorder. (I've tested this method and the sound quality is phenomenal, once you've got the hang of it) To use the binaural system, the actors have to set away the sound, which is placed in shot between them... and one of them is given a Zippo cigarette-lighter to clack at the start of a scene, which gives you the cue for syncing the audio.

In reality this means you are only filming mastershots. You can't control the environment to get coverage. However, this really, really speeds up the production process. Basically, you and the actors pick your location. You decide where you are going to place the camera. When you're set up, they walk into the set up, set away the audio and play out the scene. Because there is no crew and no lines to edit, the acting can be completely natural (think Woody Allen circa Manhattan).

Here's the list of kit I use (feel free to improvise better solutions):

1) A good DSLR camera
2) A portable digital audio recorder
3) A microphone (not the kind you’re thinking about.. The one I use cost $40)
4) A Zippo cigarette lighter
5) A small beanbag
6) A computer with some professional editing software on it
7) Some actors
8) A pocket sized notebook
9) A brilliant idea for a movie
10) A script
11) A dedicated hard drive
12) An idea about how you’re going to build an audience

One of the things that I think makes this philosophy work is that the writer/director decides in advance, to give everyone who contributes to the movie the rights to distribute the movie for free or for profit. My project has been running for four weeks so far - we’re in writing and pre-production. The first actor I attached has already told me he has friends at a European TV station, to whom he would like to give the finished movie... along with a raft of international arts festivals. Neither of those two distribution options would ever have occurred to me. I'm working on free distribution via iTunes and also on getting a US theatrical release via some of my US contacts. Once you take the rights shackles off a project, it's amazing what happens. Seriously amazing.

Finally, I know there are issues about working this way. It forces moviemakers to give up a lot. However, the freedoms it gives in return, to just work with a team of people quickly and creatively to make a movie, more than pays off for any restrictions.

And… finally, if you know of anyone who would make an outstanding movie, if only they had this one piece of paper, then give it to them. Pass this on to the people you believe it will inspire.

Thanks for reading this - up the revolution!


Mashugenah said...

Good luck. Sounds like a real challenge and I hope it works well.

BTW, I really love how "actors" are just a bit of equipment in your list. Lol.

Steve Hickey said...

Yeah, that is pretty funny :)

They are, however, pieces of equipment that get full and equal rights to distribute the finished product - which is a better deal than the shotgun mike that Matt and Debz just bought will ever get.

Matt said...

I am going to grant my shotgun mic full rights to distribute any films I make with it in any way it is capable of :-)

Billy said...

This is pretty much how I made my documentary. And, originally, I had been planning on making a normal feature film, under much the same restrictions - it was literally at the last minute that I pitched the doco idea instead. The challenge became to write something within those limits, and I had developed an idea along those lines.

If you want to do something, just do it. The way appears as you walk it.

Steve Hickey said...

@Matt: I look forward to seeing what it does with. The future of distribution is wide open, and I shouldn't be prejudiced against the ability of sound gear to make the best of it.
"The way appears as you walk it."

Very true.

Steve Hickey said...

... and after thinking about it overnight, I say 'very true' because that's how it felt while making hopeless. I made a firm decision that it would get done, and then was joined by generous people who wanted to help me, and through them found opportunities to take advantage of.

I've had similar experiences nearly every time I've made a firm decision to do something.

'The way appears as you walk it' is a good phrasing.