One might assume that I would be more prepared than most to shoot my first feature because I’m a “child of Hollywood.” But that’s like saying you can bake a cake if your father is a baker. Watching is not the same as doing, and it’s only in the doing that you learn how challenging making a moist, sumptuous well-decorated cake can truly be.
Of course, my father taught me the fundamentals of directing. Growing up, we would eat loads of Häagen-Dazs and watch films together and he would explain why certain shots and camera angles could affect the audience in specific ways. I watched him cut several of his films, so my instincts were fine tuned in the cutting room. My father worked brilliantly with actors, but stressed that you cannot allow yourself to be intimidated by them. He said you must get what you want out of them, whatever the cost. He suggested that I always let them do a few takes their way and then ask that they do it my way. Compliment your actors, he said, as all artists need to feel good about what they are doing. Regardless, I had to find my own way to work with my actors. It’s a special bond, and no director/actor relationship is the same.
I learned producing and production design from my late mother, Polly Platt – but she taught me so much more than that. Mothers tend to do that.
So my instincts as a director were there, but being at the helm is more than just the art of directing. You set the tone for the whole crew, and everyone is depending on you to hold it together. You have to think quickly, make hair-raising decisions in a flash, and trust your instincts 110 percent, no make that 120 percent.
One of the toughest things for me was learning that making a low-budget film often involves a series of creative compromises—”kill your darlings,” as they say. What was initially viewed as a compromise ended up working quite well, if not better, than the original. A good storyteller can always find another way, one just need not be stubborn.
For example, in Los Angeles, shooting permits are quite expensive. There was a dark comedic scene inside a circus tent with a clown setting himself on fire while two of the main characters watch and discuss their counterfeiting business. We didn’t have the money for the permit to put a tent at a location or money for a tent, so the scene ended up taking place in a large office at a casino where we were already shooting. We had to quickly re-write all the dialogue because the original didn’t work in the new location. At first, I was crestfallen, but the scene works perfectly well in the film, is still darkly funny, and no one will ever know the difference.
Putting your camera in the street is more costly because you need cops to block off the roads. For a key scene, I had planned on shooting in the street—this was my vision, dammit. Yes, film industry folks are an entitled lot, but I learned quite quickly that this was not a studio film. I had to believe I could make it work another way—not only that, I had to think quickly—there is no time for pouting on a movie set.
Here are some other things I learned:
1. The night before, always prep for the following day.
If so, near disasters or complete disasters can be remedied– you get through your day—with success– you have too.
2. Have a VFX Coordinator on set when you are shooting any VFX shots.
If you don’t have the money to pay a Coordinator – find it—it will save you loads of money in the long run. Trust me on this one.
3. It helps if people like you, have faith in what you are doing, and are passionate about your film.
I can’t tell you how many people worked for almost nothing in production and post-production. So try not to become an asshole, no one will help you if you do, unless they are being paid loads of money. Seriously.
4. DO NOT premiere your film at a festival without having a sales agent.
Most won’t sign on if you’ve already premiered. Be patient! If you premiere and then look for a sales agent, you may be lucky, but it will be ten times more difficult, and selling a film now a days is tough enough.
By far, the greatest gift I learned was that I could actually do this job and I loved it completely. Overcoming obstacles is not failure or compromising, but an opportunity to learn.
Writer-director Antonia Bogdanovich is the daughter of Oscar nominees Peter Bogdanovich and Polly Platt. She worked on feature films such as “The Witches of Eastwick” and “The Lion King.” As an actress, she appeared in “Bottle Rocket,” “The Evening Star” and other films and TV movies. She has directed numerous theater productions and written several feature scripts. She expanded her short, the critically acclaimed crime drama, “My Left Hand” into a a full-length feature “Phantom Halo,” which has screened at numerous film festivals and which will be in Theaters, VOD and iTunes on June 19th.