Cut the Cord

April 10, 2024

Filmmaking is like being in a mosh pit. Sometimes, the intimate contact with all the heaving, sweating bodies can be exhilarating. Sometimes, it just hurts and stinks.

What happens when all of your careful casting and background checking leads you to hire someone who is truly destructive to the Film? Once, I had a very talented DP whose sullen resistance became so unbearable that I had to fire him. Months later, he told me in tears that he’d been so jealous I was directing my first film that he was intentionally sabotaging the shoot.

As much as I appreciated his honesty, this is a confession that should have been made only to a doctor in a padded psychiatric ward.

The same instability can come from an actor. I’ve had actors shut down during takes, doing nothing, offering nothing—essentially pissing on the take. Think about this: it’s their face and their acting, and it’s on film. Their artistic “position” has led them to render a scene unusable in the very Film they’re starring in. This is like someone shooting a hole in the bottom of the only lifeboat.

Rule #3 of Unwillingness: recognize the mental patients and escort them quickly back to Bellevue.

Rule #4 of Unwillingness: Immediately fire anyone pissing on a take. I was going to say give them one more chance, but I changed my mind. Just being on a set with a camera, crew, and cast is an absolute miracle, and anyone who doesn’t understand it should be nowhere near you.

When you hire someone, an implicit Deal is made; they will do their job, and you will pay them. It’s a Deal, and it only works when everybody honors it. If someone cannot be Willing, then they should at least honor the Deal. That Deal means that anyone you hire is committed to giving 100% to the Film. Not 85%, not 50%--100%. That’s not a lot. It’s the bare minimum. Anyone who can’t give 100% should ask themselves why. And if they don’t know the answer, they should do everyone a favor and vacate the premises.

If, after repeated attempts to come to an understanding, the person continues to be chronically unhelpful, then you have to get rid of them. It’s never easy. No one wants to recast a lead. No one wants to stop shooting and find another DP. But, sometimes, this is the only way to save the Film. My experience has been primarily on low-budget films; once you start, you have to finish. You don’t get another chance. You have to keep going no matter what.

But, as hard as it is to stop the whole machine, ask yourself this: do you really want a film that is unwatchable? Do you really want a film with your name on it that has somehow missed what you know it could have been?

Why am I beating this poor horse so mercilessly? Because the only thing that matters is the Film. You have to protect it and revere it at all costs. There is still massive abuse of power in this business. My point is that it can happen even on the most indy, artsy fartsy of well-intentioned films, and absolutely none of it has anything to do with arts, farts, or indy.

Pull the plug. Cut the cord. You’ll survive. I’ve done this on a couple of films. I probably should have done it on a couple more.

Here's Ep. 8 from a video series I made called Drunk Film School.



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Independent Filmmaker & Musician