Making Movies: D.I.Y.

For the record, I had nothing to do with Amazon Studios linking to my posts on this blog or my Honolulu Star-Advertiser “Career Changers” blog when I wrote about why I entered their contest, and dealing with the disappointment of not being one of the six finalists after making the semifinals cut. But I appreciate the bump in new blog readers it gave me, and hope my musings have helped encourage some of you to continue pursuing your goals, whatever that may be. If you’re a writer, then write. Want to be in the movie or TV biz? Then go make movies and TV shows.

D.I.Y. in other words. Do It Yourself. Sure, you can focus on writing screenplays and learning all you can about the craft. However, nothing can replace the actual experience of working on a film or TV project from start to finish. You begin to learn the difference between putting words on paper, and creating a story that will be filmed and viewed by actual audiences. All those witty asides and stylistic flourishes in your script narrative? Not gonna be on the screen. Your big speech scene with the beautiful phrasing spilling off the page? Watch as the actor stumbles over your carefully constructed sentences that are hard to read out loud.

If I had a do-over in life, I would have started making short movies or producing video projects much sooner. Not just for creative purposes, but for financial income as well. That’s really why I created the Career Changers TV show for local channel OC16 here in Hawaii. For you mainland readers, Oceanic Time Warner is the largest cable services provider in the state, with about 350,000 subscribers. A few years ago they launched Oceanic Cable Channel 16 to broadcast high school sports (very big in Hawaii since we have no pro teams) and homegrown programming. Initially, it was mostly shows about surfing and ocean activities, along with some island style comedy for younger viewers. Over the years, it’s grown to include shows that cover everything from the local entertainment scene to cooking, fitness, retail products, Hawaiian crafts, spirituality, tech stuff, and real estate.

However, no one was producing a show that addressed the current economic downturn and need to provide resources for people who were looking for work, or thinking of starting a new career. I saw it as an opportunity to fill a niche — and make money since none of my scripts were selling. Fortunately, I had started doing more local networking with like-minded creative types about two years ago. I signed up for playwriting classes to meet more writers and actors. Took a free producers course given by Olelo, Hawaii’s public access television station, which taught me the basics of using professional video cameras and Final Cut Pro editing software. At social events, I met people who were producing documentaries and producing TV shows for OC16.

I don’t know if you have similar channels (commercial, not public access) where you live, but unlike most network or cable stations, OC16 doesn’t charge the producers a fee to air our programs. Once they accept your proposal and screen your pilot, if you get a regular slot in their schedule, you keep whatever revenue you generate from sponsors or advertisers. In return, I just have to give OC16 one minute and thirty seconds to air their commercials during my 30 minute show (each CCTV episode airs daily at different times for a month). Time Warner has been sending executives to Hawaii to study the OC16 concept and will possibly expand the model to other cities, so keep your eyes open for similar opportunities to create your own TV show for a localized market.

But thanks to the internet, YouTube and things like Amazon Studios, you already have venues to create media content for, which could be a stepping stone to bigger, better things. What’s intriguing about the Amazon Studios concept is the idea that filmmakers in search of commercial material could take your script or mine, make a rough “test” movie of it and put it out there for others to see, review, critique… yet it doesn’t seem like many people are taking advantage of the opportunity. Meanwhile, lots of filmmakers are trying to produce micro-budget movies on their own, while ignoring the big money Amazon is giving away in its monthly contests.

Recently, I received an email that was sent to American Film Institute alumni. Although I’m not an AFI grad, I’m on the list because I won a scholarship to attend the AFI Television Workshop program they used to run each summer. As you may know, the AFI is a pretty prestigious school, and many alumni have gone on to achieve success in the TV and film industry. Anyhow, the email was a reminder to alumni that Amazon’s contest could be a good chance for them to earn a substantial amount of money while showcasing their talents and skill.

So I sent a follow up email to the AFI list pitching one of my Amazon scripts, INUGAMI, as a test movie project to anyone who was interested. A couple of days later, I heard back from a talented cinematographer with a MFA from the American Film Institute, who said he would love to be involved. But we need a director and producer, and my contacts in L.A. are limited… so I don’t know if that will happen or not. My next option is to DIY here in Hawaii. Can I pull it off? I dunno. Then again, I’ve managed to create and produce a little TV show that’s been airing daily for over a year now and is making money, and in the process I’ve gotten to meet some very talented people and successful entrepreneurs, who are doing their own thing in a variety of fields.

Writing is a tough way to make a living. If you love it though, be willing to write for other mediums and think video/cable/YouTube. Increasingly, we live in a video-driven world. The printed word will never die… but writers have to adapt to survive. Hell, I’m working on an infomercial style video right now for a life-saving device created by a Hawaii inventor that could roll out nationally in a few months. Do I feel like a whore? No, because I’m going to use every trick I’ve learned from screenwriting and making my own TV show. It may not be the Hollywood movie I dreamed of writing, but my stuff is being watched on TV every day — and I get to blog about my experiences too.

Got a DYI story you’d like to share? Post it here in the comments. And if you don’t have one yet, go make it happen!

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One Comment on “Making Movies: D.I.Y.”

  1. Hey! Congrats on the infomercial. Anything we do where we can be creative is great, and getting paid for it is a big, sweet glob of that coveted proverbial icing!

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