On Leaning into Your Inspirations by Reese Hayes

There’s a lot of talk around the indie film community about “finding your own voice”.  I’m not totally sure what that means.  I’ve been making films since I was 12 and still don’t think I’ve ever found my voice.  There are certain things that excite me as a filmmaker and a few tools that I continually use to tell stories a specific way, but other than in my writing I don’t think I have a specific style that’s only unique to me.  What I do have, however, are a ton of filmmakers and movies I look to for inspiration time and time again.

There are many artists who view the world in such an interesting way, that it’s impossible for their art to not reflect their point of view. Filmmakers like David Lynch and Wes Anderson seem to fit this bill.  Watching their movies feels like stepping into their brains and seeing the world from a totally different perspective.  It creates a sense of wonder in the world they’ve crafted for the screen while being entirely authentic to their artistic sensibilities.  There are other filmmakers (Quentin Tarantino and Edgar Wright, for example) that have built a career and a visual language from the movies and works of art they love.  They’re students of cinema that are able to translate what they enjoy about a certain film into their own style.  It’s not as easy as ripping off a shot or referencing a line of dialogue.  You have to understand the film from every aspect before you can apply the tools to your own work.  The difference also lies in the volume of art they “copy”. 

I’m not trying to say that you don’t need to have an artistic expression in your movies.  Your art should be personal to you and the way you present your art should reflect that.  BUT!  It’s silly to expect yourself to have some completely original way in which you tell your story.  What I’m suggesting is that you steal from every film you’ve ever seen and loved.  Rip off a shot from Goodfellas, take a line from Chinatown, light a scene like the Godfather, do whatever you want!  Don’t be afraid to have inspirations and for those inspirations to show up in your art because inevitably they won’t look or feel very much like the source you ripped off and now you’ve created something different and interesting! 

This shot from Cobblestoned 3 was inspired by a panel from one of my favorite comics, Calvin and Hobbes.  It helps that Reese is half the size of Erick…

This shot from Cobblestoned 3 was inspired by a panel from one of my favorite comics, Calvin and Hobbes. It helps that Reese is half the size of Erick…

A lot of notes on this blog aren’t meant to be taken seriously, and this one may feel like that, but it’s for real.  It’s okay to not know how to say what you’re feeling.  You probably got into movies because someone else was able to explain your feelings better than you were.  And while I’m kind of joking about stealing direct images from your favorite movies… mostly I’m not.  You should take what you like, but put your own twist on it.  Your shot won’t look like Scorsese’s.  Your line won’t sound like Robert Towne’s.  Your lighting won’t feel like Gordon Willis’.  But you’ll learn why those masters made the decisions they made.  You’ll gain a fundamental understanding of how that specific shot or lighting setup works and the next time you make something, you’ll use it to your advantage in a totally new way. 

Just make sure you aren’t focusing all of your theft on one film or filmmaker.  My series, Cobblestoned, is heavily inspired by the works of David Lynch (primarily Twin Peaks), but I gather a lot of ideas and inspiration from other shows and movies as well like The X-Files, The Evil Dead, and Bojack Horseman.  Figure out what you love and lean into it.  Don’t worry about being completely original, especially early on in your filmmaking career, because you probably don’t have enough life experience anyway.  Spend those early years experimenting with tools developed by the people you admire.  Become a craftsman and apply those tools however you wish.  But I guess I should probably mention that I’m not an authority on this and that our Dashing Agent lawyers strongly recommend not listening to anything I say.

On Working with Animals by Reese Hayes

The three things you learn in indie film producing 101: minimize locations, never work with animals, and pizza for lunch as often as possible.  While 2 of these are rules that should never be broken, the animals one is a bit misleading. What it should say is: Never work with animals that aren’t professionals. Amateur animals are a nightmare and can be seriously detrimental to the productivity of a film set. A true, professional animal actor on the other hand is there to help you bring your vision to life (and likely to be murdered by a ghost or home intruder).

I first began working with professional dog actors in my 2010 short film, Let’s Ride Donkeys. Gustav was a true gentleman of a Rat Terrier. He was pleasant to everyone on set, even the PAs! He never barked when things didn’t go his way and his tail was almost always at a full wag. While I was at first hesitant to hire a shedding creature for my short film, his professionalism and grace really turned my views on the whole species around. Now I prefer to have dogs on all of my sets! But I try not to discriminate. I’ve worked with cats, fish, and even a large pig one time.

In 2013 I met Mr. Finch and both of our careers were changed forever.  It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime actor/director pairings. Like Werner and Klaus or Nolan and Caine.  We’ve made countless films together, learning more about the craft and each other along the way.  And as a result of this long, magical collaboration, I truly believe that working with an animal as beautiful and wise as Mr. Finch has taught me how to be a better human being.

            BUT! There are definitely some things you need to know before you can hire a gorilla to jump off a diving board in your super-8 music video…

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Animals are wild (even the domesticated ones).

I don’t care how talented of a director you are. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked with Gene Hackman, Katherine Heigl, or even Rami Malek. Until you’ve tried directing a Golden Doodle, you have no idea what a “challenging actor to work with” actually means. There’s simply no training a four-legged animal to work on a movie set. They may be professional enough to bark on command or shake a human actor’s hand, but chances are high they definitely aren’t showing up at call time. My suggestion is to hire a PA designated to do nothing but keep eyes on the animal. The animal will need to be driven to location each day, they’ll need constant affirmations in between takes, and they will definitely NOT poop in the bathrooms. The poor PA will have to pick it up in a little bag with their hands. Gross.

Animals are picky eaters.

Have you ever tried to feed a bird lasagna? It probably didn’t go over well. Most animals require specialized animal food for their sensitive animal bellies. You can find animal food at most grocery stores. It looks and smells a lot like dirt. But be careful, because this is an easy way to put a production over budget quick. Even animals like dogs who will eat anything put in front of them, shouldn’t be eating lunch with the camera department. You may think all is well, but you’ll be kicking yourself after the next set up when your furry talent pukes all through the 3rd take.

 Animals have a pretty complicated work union.

You think working with SAG is a headache? Try working with the Animal Actors Association of the East. They require each on-set animal to have a minimum of 14 daily breaks which does not include the mandatory 3 naps every 8 hours and 20 petting hours per work week rules. And don’t forget, most animals are minors so their parents must give written or verbal consent AND be on set while the minor is working. It gets even more complicated when the parents of the talent are minors themselves! And yeah, dog years do not apply so unless you’re working with a tortoise or my ex-girlfriend’s cat, you’re probably shit out of luck. Don’t even get me started on the ridiculous backend deals these creatures get.

Animals are a distraction to canophiliac crew members.

Your crew is bound to fall in love with the animal talent. There’s nothing you can do to avoid this. It’s going to cause days to be shorter the talent’s ego to sky-rocket. Try to keep your crew in line and your production running smoothly by spreading rabies rumors.

 Animals are too pure. We don’t deserve them.

Movie sets are filled with bad people and unjust motivations. Everyone is out for themselves and their wallets and nothing else. Except for animals. They’re on set because they love us and we force them to be there. And while they’re often the best part of any movie they’re in, they rarely receive the credit they deserve. Where are the Dog Academy Awards? Why has no cat ever been nominated for best leading actor/actress? There is simply not enough representation in today’s media!


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I hope that you now see the benefits (and dangers) of working with animals on movie sets. They bring a wealth of enthusiasm to the production and can make the most difficult days so much more bearable. But they should never be taken advantage of. Work with animals that you trust and trust you back. Like your dog or your cat or turtle or parakeet or chinchilla or whatever. Collaborate with them to strike a balance between your vision and their personal experiences. Treat them with care and dignity. Love them unconditionally. And for the love of god, please don’t kill them off for cheap plot advancements!

 See Mr. Finch in Half Bath and Cobblestoned!

On The Hot Dog by Reese Hayes

The year is 1931.  Some whipper-snapper of a production assistant is bored with his lockup on the corner of Hollywood and Mulholand. He knows the production is nearing the end of the day and decides to play a prank on the walkie channel. 

“Next shot up is the martini!” he shouts into every PA and AD’s earpiece. 

An annoyed 2nd 2nd quickly responds, “Who the hell is this and what the hell does that mean?”

“It means the next shot after this is out of a glass!”  Laughter erupts among the PAs and The Martini Shot is born, announcing the final shot of the day for generations of moviemakers to come… Or so the legend has it. 

To this day, the martini is generally followed by a beer or a glass of whiskey from that location’s nearest watering hole.  Just the words “Martini’s up” can bring butterflies to a crew member’s stomach.  The end is near and you can finally let loose and unwind after a long day of terrible acting and improper working conditions.  But who actually likes martinis? I tried one after watching 18 James Bond movies in a row, and I’ve got to say… the dude has shit taste in alcohol.  Martinis are gross, so we at Dashing Agent choose not to use that terminology for our favorite shot of the day. We call it… The Hot Dog.

Why, you ask? I thought I made it pretty clear, but it’s because we like to eat hot dogs after a long shoot. Or a short shoot. Or really any time of the week. Luckily we shoot our movies in our backyard (the Regent Square neighborhood in Pittsburgh) and have quick access to D’s Six Packs and Dogz, arguably the best hot dog restaurant in the 412.  They refuse to sponsor us, but jokes on them cause we’ve filled out at least half a dozen punch cards. That’s a lot of free hot dogs! 

When asked about Cobblestoned’s now famous Hot Dog tradition, DP Daniel Kusnir said, “I don’t think I’d keep working on Cobblestoned if it weren’t for the Chihuahua Dog!”

Local talent, Eric Swader had something similar to say about D’s deep fried dogs, “The best part of my Cobblestoned experience was the fried hot dogs at [D’s]. They’re called sizzlers and they’re the best hot dogs I’ve ever had. Like maybe ever, just so good.”

Director and star of Cobblestoned, Reese Hayes who may or may not be referring to himself in the third person said, “The best hot dogs I’ve ever had came right after a productive day on Cobblestoned. Something about running through the woods on drugs makes those dogs divine.”


As you can see, hot dogs at the end of a shoot bring a crew together.  We’ve created a tradition on our set that makes people comfortable and want to work with us again and again (assuming we continue to provide hot dogs).  But what works for us won’t necessarily work for you. 

You might not be fortunate enough to be blessed with a hot dog shop right down the street.  That’s okay! Come up with your own post-wrap tradition.  Maybe your last shot of the day can be The Muffin and you bake muffins for your hungry crew.  Or The Tea and Cookies Shot!  Or The Let’s Go To The Dog Park and Pet As Many Dogs As We Can Shot!  Be creative and positive and make shooting your silly little movie a fun experience for all involved.  But don’t drink martinis cause they’re gross and only spies like them.

On Making Art by Reese Hayes

Schindler’s List.  Eraserhead.  The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence).  Roma.

What do these classic films have in common? They’re all works of art. And coincidentally, also black and white.  Now, I’m not saying all works of art must be in black and white, but if you’re struggling to make something that has people scratching their heads, definitely desaturate.

“The instant you make it monochrome, the world views it as art. And now, you’re an artist.”

As filmmakers, we all struggle to create things that have an impact; on people, the world, culture, cinema as a whole. Most of the time, however, we end up making fluff. Movies that hold no significant value aside from entertainment are respectable and a difficult challenge in their own right, but what we really want is to make art.

Art inspires. Art makes a difference. Art wins Oscars.

Art is also pretentious, so I suggest you avoid making it at all costs.  Do something more fun, like a zombie movie or a western.  Make movies that your grandparents don’t like. Try to be commercial.  Strive to be picked up by Netflix. Sell out! Pay your bills!  And certainly never try to make art. 

“But art wins Oscars!”

Yes, that’s true.  Unfortunately, there is no Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film category at the Academy.  You can make oodles of money, but film snobs may never have your posters hanging on their dorm room walls…

Thank God for Black and White. 

Slap it on anything you shoot. Music videos. Weddings. Travel Vlogs.  It doesn’t matter! The instant you make it monochrome, the world views it as art. And now, you’re an artist. It’s time to reap the benefits. No longer are you bound to restrictions placed upon you by your family, peers, and the rules of filmmaking. You can do whatever you want in the name of art.  You can make an artistic zombie movie or western! If you wanna get really artsy, have just one item in the film be in color… That’s right, we’re making films now. Movies are too mainstream. When was the last time you saw a movie in black and white? Black and white films are much more common.

But don’t forget, you’re not making art. You’re making movies that have the appearance of art. You don’t want your new found artistry to go to your head.  Keep making the things that fuel your enthusiasm. Take risks, experiment, break some rules, but don’t be pretentious (unless that’s your thing).  And if you can do all of this the right way, maybe you’ll end up making real art regardless.