I have spent years allowing my representation to send out scripts and get small meetings that led nowhere. So in March, I dedicated myself to putting myself in the driver’s seat. I took the wheel and am in the process of making a ninja short. Over the next few months I’ll chronicle the process. It is definitely not for every emerging screenwriter, but for anyone who can commit to making it yourself, why not? Emerging as a ninja filmmaker will get your name out to a wider audience and it is the kind of attention you want.
I have neither the contacts nor the pedigree to burst on to the Hollywood scene with an amazing first feature. Yet. Still? What I do have is passion, drive and a game plan. I am no longer climbing a career ladder buckled with competition, I am making my own ladder. First up – the “Let’s just do something in the backyard” short. Many, many people do these shorts just for fun. It’s easy to get a great camera, a lot of them are done on iPhones. Add the idea of being a bad ass professional on the sly who goes in and out undetected but gets the job done like a ninja and you have the ninja filmmaker. That’s the kind of short I wanted to make. In and out, get it done, calling card for a professional indie short to be used as a proof of concept for a feature. That’s the plan – let’s see if God laughs.
So how do you make a short film as your calling card? Good question.
Ninja tip #1: Write a short you can DIY
All of this will be for naught if you write a script with a car chase and explosives that you cannot shoot. No matter how brilliant, no one will see it because you have neither the funds, the production value nor the expertise to pull it off. Keep it simple and make it work.
I wrote a short about three young women waiting for a job interview. One of the girls kills the other two. Simple, right? I needed one standing set: an empty room converted into a waiting area and two cutaway shots: an interior of a corridor and the exterior of an office building. It got even easier as it was my script with me directing I was able to create my storyboard and shot list for the D.P. DIY for the emerging screenwriter. Know your limits.
Ninja tip #2: Find reliable people
This first one is for me to exercise the directing muscle. Even if I do everything to perfection, I know I am only as good as the people around me. And the people who show up will have varying levels of experience. Let’s face it, if you do this for a living, you want to be able to earn a living. Most people who are emerging know the deal – you work on other people’s shorts for their reels and they will help you out with yours. But what if you don’t know anyone who is looking to augment their résumé? Then you beg your friends. In my case I bribed them with pizza.
I am very proud that my introduction to ninja filmmaking was with friends and co-workers who have never worked on a film and have no clue. They were there for me and it sounded like fun on a $0 budget. The down side of making a ninja no-budget short for experience is getting people you don’t know very well to show up. But they did. And I thank them.
We shot over two days at three locations. It was a long first day, and I can’t say everything went smoothly, but I got the shots I needed and most of the shots I wanted.
Ninja tip #3: Keep your crew fed
When I say $0 budget I don’t mean no money, I mean literal pennies. I think I spent less than $200 and that was mostly food. I cannot stress enough the importance of craft service. If you have the nerve to ask people to work for free and they have the kindness to do it then the least you can do is have fresh coffee and pizza.
Ninja tip #4: Ninjas are stealthy – don’t get caught without a permit.
The second day we needed a public location. I didn’t plan on getting any permits because it was literally two very long traveling shots down a corridor. In and out in ten minutes. So when the security team of one location stopped us we had to scrap that plan find an alternate location. I get it. The first location is a popular one for shoots and they have a duty to protect the public and make money and see how their location is going to be used, blah blah blah… The place we ended with was the opposite. I think some people saw us with the camera, but I seriously doubt they cared. In and out in ten minutes. It took longer to get the pizza delivered. Lesson learned.
Ninja tip #5: Trust but have a back-up plan
It actually took about a month for me to shoot just two days. Two people who had promised to participate didn’t show up. Just did not show. One was the D.P. The freaking Director of Photography! Camera, lights, etc. No show/no call. I could go on about the unreliability of this person, but I have chosen to stay positive and not allow myself to sink to that level. The other no-show was an actor. Eh– oh well, at least she apologized. Still– Must. Not. Go. There.
Luckily, I had a group who is reliable and we were able to shift. The still photographer subbed as D.P. And the script supervisor became a reluctant actor. We moved forward.
I scheduled the shots by need so if we ran over time I could lose the last shots without short-changing the story.
Listen, things happen. Be grateful you are in control. This is your project. Your time to lead and shine and show off your skills. Never let anything or anyone stop you. Consider all possibilities. Don’t look at it as attracting bad luck, realize that it’s just a ninja short and not everyone is as committed to your dream as you hope. Needs must and move forward.
The principal photography is complete. My crew is paid – I was able to get them all a little gift for their help and support. Now on to editing…
Vive La Ninja.