Indie Filmmaking Lessons from ‘The Sublime and Beautiful’

By Blake Robbins

As this Christmas day spent with family and friends comes to a close and my children curl up to drift off to sleep (at least they should – they’ve been up since 2 AM), my thoughts turn back to work and this blog I promised to write. First, I need to come clean…I was asked to write a blog because I made a movie, The Sublime and Beautiful. And, when you make a movie you hope people will find out about it, at the very least, and at the very most, actually see it and possibly love it – which could maybe lead to getting to make another movie. That’s what’s in it for me. So, what’s in it for you?

How about a few tidbits of wisdom I learned making my first film?

Sublime Poster smallOne

Learn to ask for help and be inspiring when you do. Help people see your vision and exactly how they can be part of it. This was new for me, but if I was going to succeed I was going to need help. I asked for a free song from an Academy Award winning songwriter, a police car and police uniforms, the use of an entire wing of a hospital, a house to put up my out-of-town cast and crew, the list is endless. Simply ask and give people the space to say no.

Two

Fail or succeed on your own terms. For better or worse, I stuck to my vision for making my movie and how I was going to make it. Even with very little money that I had raised myself, I still found plenty of people along the way who wanted to tell me what I shouldn’t be doing and how I should be doing it. I tried my best to hear everyone out, but ultimately I did it my way. Example – I had a very talented colorist work on the film (for free) with the color grading, and he did an amazing job making it look like we’d had millions of dollars to shoot with. I took a deep breath and asked our colorist to go back to the original raw footage and make more subtle adjustments – explaining that the film was intended to have the over-corrected look of the raw footage. God bless him for not telling me to shove it. He went back to work and proved just how brilliant he was by also doing that version of the film. For better or worse, the film looks just as intended.

Three

Capture great performances. I watch Gold Rush on A&E. An entire operation is set up to get gold. It takes lots of money, equipment, people of various skill sets, some luck,  and timing – it begins to sound like making a movie, doesn’t it? I’ve seen these professionals on Gold Rush put quality pay dirt into the sluice box only to wash gold right out the other end time after time. Just as I’ve seen film productions wash great performances away or not do everything possible to capture them. Be aware of this – if you aren’t capturing fantastic performances you are washing your gold right out of your own sluice box. And that’s what we’re all there for, to “get the gold”!! The old adage attributed to legends such as Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, or casting director Marion Dougherty, depending on who you speak to, “90% of directing a movie is casting the right people.” I would add that the other 10% is making sure you capture those performances.

Four

Break the rules. Today you can make a movie any number of ways. I did. I shot mine in twelve days with over 30 locations, and none of them were shut down while we shot there. I worked without a grip or electric department. I cast most of my film locally and got fantastic performances from many first-time film actors. I wrote the film to take advantage of the resources I had. I made it incredibly personal. I changed locations, added scenes, cut scenes, improvised. I made my film by any means necessary. I inspired many incredibly talented people to come on the journey, and much of that inspiration came from the fact that we were going on an adventure with new rules. We were going to take every situation where it seemed that we didn’t have what we needed, and let our creativity solve the problem to the film’s advantage. I mean, come on, we’ve all seen many films that had all kinds of money but very little creativity.

Blake Robbins

Blake Robbins

Five

Be nice. The best, most talented people in show business are nice and also happen to be the best collaborators in the world. But, for some reason the assholes get all the headlines. It doesn’t have to be that way. Be nice.

Six

Make your movie for the right amount of money – it will make it easier for all of us to raise financing for our films. It’s not that difficult, but for some reason in our business the idea of fiscal responsibility flies out the window. Any film, even great films, can be made for the right price. Being a business major with experience in the world of business, this is a personal pet peeve of mine.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2014…now get out there and make a great movie.

Blake Robbins is a successful film, theatre, and television actor & director best known for playing Tom Halpert on the hit NBC show The Office, for his role as C.O. Dave Brass on the critically acclaimed HBO series Oz, and most recently as Mitch Glender on FX’s Sons of Anarchy. His theatre directing credits include The Elephant Theatre Company, The 24 Hour Plays, for Acorn Pictures LIVEWORKS, The Bar Hoppers, and a reading of his one act play The Dance at NYS&F.  His feature film writing and directing debut, THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL, was selected as one of ten films set to premiere in the narrative feature competition category of the 2014 Slamdance Film Festival. Robbins is currently in development on his second feature film based on the true life story of Matthew Sanford, which is slated to begin shooting in 2014. He’s also currently writing and developing several other feature film and television projects.

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