On Using What You've Got by Reese Hayes

It seems like a large population of the independent filmmaking community is overly concerned with gear – cameras, sound recorders, stabilizing equipment, fancy lights, whatever you get it – so much so, that it prevents them from actually making the thing they want the gear to help them make.  I completely understand this.  In fact, I’ve been struggling with a mild camera buying addiction for several years. I always want the newest thing with the coolest features and neatest doodads, but I try to never let my lack of doodads keep me from being creative. As far as I’m concerned, creativity requires very few doodads.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, making Cobblestoned has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding projects of my short filmmaking career to date. We spend very little money, shoot in our backyard, and cast our talented friends to act and operate the camera. Of the 3 episodes we’ve completed so far, a tri-pod has been the only piece of non-camera/sound equipment that we’ve used. We have no gimbals or cranes or dollies or doodads of any sort. We have a camera, a microphone, and (this a very new addition) a ring light. You can see the ring light in action during Cobblestoned 3 when it’s reflected in Erick’s glasses while he sits on the couch eating Shredded Mini Wheats with Irish Cream Liqueur…

And I will admit, we have a nice camera. Like I said, it’s a serious problem I have. After shooting Half Bath with a rented Sony A7Sii, I decided I needed something for myself to shoot all of my projects with. The camera I had been using up until that point was incredibly outdated (i.e. it didn’t shoot 4K video). So, I saved up for a few weeks and bought the Panasonic GH5 and a couple prime lenses. Since then, I’ve purchased another lens, a battery pack, and a variable ND filter. All of that and the Tascam sound recorder and Rode NTG-2 boom microphone I’ve had since high school pretty much fills out our equipment list. And from what I can tell, it’s really all we need to tell a story.

I understand that a lot of filmmaker’s number one priority is not always storytelling. Some just want to make something pretty. Others are more concerned with creating dope visual action sequences or being really cool—okay I don’t actually understand those filmmakers. Storytelling should always be the number one priority. But the point is, make stuff. It doesn’t have to be perfect, polished, professional… It just has to be completed. If you have a camera and a microphone you’re already half way there. And if you don’t have a camera, I’d be more than happy to lend you one of mine.

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.

On Making a Shitty Web Series by Reese Hayes

Reese looking annoyed on the set of Half Bath Chapter 4.

Reese looking annoyed on the set of Half Bath Chapter 4.

Like most budding filmmakers, we honed our craft by making short films, corporate videos, music videos, and micro documentaries with the ultimate goal of taking what we’ve learned to create a feature length movie.  But after nearly a decade of practice and hard work, we decided we still weren’t ready for a feature.  Also, whose got the money for that?  So, what do you do when you’re sick of shorts but not ready for the big leagues?  The obvious answer is the dying art form of the web series.

The first web series we made was a romantic(ish)-comedy called Half Bath about a young couple looking for a new apartment.  We shot it over 9 nearly consecutive days with a small crew and some fantastic local actors.  It wasn’t necessarily cheap to make (equipment rentals and food mostly), but we put in the effort and created something we’re all pretty proud of.  It was an overall positive experience that taught each of us many valuable lessons, most importantly: the dangers of making a not-shitty web series. 

First: It’s too expensive. Who has the resources to feed people or ya know… pay them? Why do we need such a fancy camera? Are these locations really necessary? Why won’t anyone take their shoes off in my apartment???  I saved up for months to be able to make Half Bath and by the time it was completed I had no money and very few views on YouTube. 

Second: It’s too stressful.  5 episodes (ranging from 6 to 8 pages), 9 days, 8 locations, dozens of actors and extras, not enough crew, too much food, everything going wrong every day… It’s a lot to handle and most of it is totally unnecessary.  Looking back on it, I can’t actually remember if I had any fun. I enjoyed the directing parts, but everything else was kind of a nightmare.

Third: No one cares about it anyway.  When you put a lot of time, money, and energy into something you’re inevitably going to expect something in return.  The unfortunate truth about your web series, though, is that nothing will ever come from it.  This obviously isn’t always the case and had my web series gotten millions of views and picked up to be an HBO Original, I’d be preaching something radically different. BUT. Most web series barely see the light of day.  It has almost nothing to do with the talent of the individuals involved and almost everything to do with the way YouTube works.  That being said, no one is searching for your web series.  You have to shove it in their faces, which tends to be a lot more work than you’re probably willing to do right now. 

Erick as Erick shooting a scene in Cobblestoned.

Erick as Erick shooting a scene in Cobblestoned.

We took these lessons and decided to use them to make something we never dreamed possible.  Another shitty web series.  This time, however, we knew that we had to embrace the shit.  No actors.  No crew.  No money.  The result is something I think is far better than anything we’ve ever made before.  By limiting our resources and having a relaxed and stress free attitude, we’ve been able to express our creativity in the most authentic way possible.  We don’t need to wait on anyone to show up to set or have someone tell us the best place to put the camera or give away any of our hard earned money!  And since we know no one is going to watch it anyway, we have a lot more confidence to try new things and actually grow as filmmakers.   

Web series have not only given us a convenient way to tell longer stories and experiment with new ideas and techniques, but it’s also been great practice.  Because we have to do everything ourselves, me must teach ourselves how to do the jobs that we usually hire other people to do. I’ve become a better cinematographer, I have a better understanding of what an actor needs from the director, I’ve learned how to create a sound design, how to produce, how to market… I’m not saying collaboration is harmful to the filmmaking process, but sometimes you have to rely on yourself and there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Unlike Half Bath, our new series, Cobblestoned is written, shot, and edited one episode at a time.  This results in a much slower process, but allows us to be working on it whenever we want.  There’s no waiting around.  We can constantly be writing, shooting, or editing every weekend.  It’s exhausting, but 2018 was a great year for our productivity (and I assume 2019 will be even better).

If you’re not having much luck with short films and festivals or you think you need more experience before striking out on a feature… consider making a shitty web series.  You have nothing to lose but the respect of your parents!