photos courtesy of Teresa Vilaseca
Have you ever noticed that superhero movies are always action movies? There may be drama. There may be romance. There may even be a little comedy, but there is always action. That’s because superheroes are constantly doing. Why have a superpower if all you’re going to do is sit around and read?
Growing up I was the studious type: I had a curious mind and I loved, loved, loved to read. If I was interested in something, I read about it. That’s how I learned. Years later, I met my husband and discovered someone with an entirely different way of learning: He jumps in feet first and just does it. You know those instructions that come with IKEA furniture? He’ll have the thing half built by the time I’m done reading the instructions. There might be a couple of extra screws left over, but the furniture still holds together just fine. I find that the entertainment industry runs on a similar learning curve. It rewards those who are able to do. You (or I) can study all you want, but until you actually create something, studying doesn’t do you much good. I learned this the hard way.
For years I produced motion graphics, and for all practical purposes, I had a successful career. But all I really wanted to do was write scripts. TV or film, it didn’t matter. And it’s not that I didn’t write. I wrote a lot. I even placed in some screenwriting competitions. I read about structure. I took classes. I went to “aspiring writers” panel discussions. But the writing career never happened. In retrospect, I think I was waiting for my very own superhero to fly in and suddenly proclaim that I was now a screenwriter and I would get paid for my work. It never happened because superheroes aren’t real. Or are they?
I finally went to one Film Independent panel that changed everything for me. In it everyone was saying the same thing: If you want to be a content creator, why haven’t you already done it? We live in a world where you can literally shoot a movie with your phone. So that’s when I decided to put on my superhero cape and do something. Within six months, I had completed my first web series, Super Lame Powers, about, you guessed it, superheroes. Well, really lame superheroes. They’re actually not very super at all.
Here’s how you can become your own filmmaking superhero too:
1. Choose the Appropriate Alter Ego
Every superhero has an alter ego with a day job. I had a good job producing graphics at a TV network. I made decent money, but I wasn’t able to be creative and I was miserable. I also knew that if I really wanted to make this web series, I couldn’t be working full-time. So I assessed my priorities and realized, as nice as the money can be, we didn’t need my salary to survive. I left my job and chose another alter ego that only worked part-time so that I could concentrate on my goals of completing a web series.
2. Use the Superpowers You Already Have
I don’t have a ton of directing experience, but I knew I wanted to direct Super Lame Powers. But you know what I did have? I had experience in a job where people fired questions at me all day long, and I had to give an answer even if I didn’t fully know the answer. Believe me, I used that skill while producing and directing the web series. Have you worked as an on-set PA? Then you know how a set works from the ground up. Been waiting tables to pay the bills? Then you know how to communicate with a variety of personalities in a fast-paced environment. You do have superpowers. Use them.
3. Form a Super Group
Even superheroes have flaws or blind spots. In the collaborative world that is filmmaking, no one can do it alone. So find the right people to do the things you’re not so good at. Even though I did most of the pre-production for the web series, I knew I needed someone else on set to take over the schedule, supervising the PAs, coordinating craft services, and keeping the positive energy flowing. I needed a kickass AD and because I knew exactly what I needed, I found one. If you’re professional, have good material, and know what you’re looking for, people will want to put their own superpowers to work for you.
You don’t need to already know it all to be a superhero filmmaker. You learn to do by doing. On Super Lame Powers, I learned to direct by directing. Yes, you’ll make mistakes. I certainly did. But now I have acquired new skills (and superpowers) to take with me to the next project. Because the thing about being a superhero is that your work is never done.