web series

On Getting Rejected (again and again and again) by Reese Hayes

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Today, I received my official letter of rejection to the Stareable Web Series Festival via film freeway. Actually, I found out I wasn’t accepted to the fest yesterday when I checked their blog and saw the Official Selections List did not include the pilot of Cobblestoned. Honestly, I’m not very surprised by this decision as I’ve only been accepted to one short film festival over the span of my 13 years as a filmmaker, but I had my hopes up for this one and find myself disappointed nonetheless. After all, Cobblestoned is all of my friend’s favorite web series! That has to count for something, right?

Rejection is something everyone faces time and time again. It can really hurt to not be given an opportunity you believe you deserve. And as a filmmaker or artist, it can feel like the hard work you put into you art isn’t appreciated or that you, as an artist, don’t have what it takes. And I don’t know, maybe that’s true for me, but so far rejection hasn’t stopped me from continuing down the path of an independent filmmaker. But it’s definitely caused some serious setbacks.

Why can’t I make something that people want to see on a big screen? How will I ever break into the industry if no one sees my work? Am I even a real filmmaker if my small audience only watches half my film on YouTube?

I obviously don’t have answers to any of these questions, yet I ask them each time I get another rejection letter. At some point I might give up on submitting to festivals all together. It’s quite expensive and when you don’t get accepted it literally feels like throwing your money away. And that’s money I could have used on my next project!

It seems like some people get pumped up over rejections. Like it lights a fire under them and makes them work harder to get accepted next time. I wish I had this kind of personality, but I tend to creep into the darkness and wait for my inspiration to return. It’s not that I crave validation or constant attention, but being told you’re not good enough over and over again kinda sucks. It’s hard to keep going, but from my experience the only way to move past it is to make something new. So, this time I’m trying not to dwell on it. Yeah, it would have been fun to fly to New York, meet a bunch of people, and see how a live audience reacts to my film, but now I have a free weekend to make the next one!

I guess it stings because each time I make something new, I feel like it’s the best thing I’ve done yet. And usually it actually is. So, I get excited. I feel like I’m making progress in this ridiculous career path. This time, I’ll get an acceptance letter! But each time, I’m put in my place again. Maybe I need to stop valuing myself from what some festival curators see in me. Maybe I need to focus on making something my friends and family will enjoy. Maybe I should start my own film festival and accept my work every time!

Okay, I don’t know where I’m going with this post anymore. Rejection sucks, but it doesn’t mean you suck. I suppose it can take a long time to make something worth showing in a festival. Don’t let it get you down like it gets me down. From my experience, it’s not very healthy. Continue making things until you’ve made something no one can ignore. And maybe just save your money on short film fests. I don’t think they’re all that important anyway. Make a feature and get it into Sundance and then when it gets nominated for an Oscar and you ultimately win, get up to the podium with your little golden man, thank you mom and your producer, and put some shame on the people who told you no. And then laugh at them, because now you have a dumb little gold man that will forever sit on your shelf judging all those who enter your home.

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 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!