5 Things You Should Know Before Making an Indie Movie

Indie filmmakers, heed my warnings. I have scrawled them here, like a madman's crooked notations on a napkin he hopes to somehow put in the hands of a former self, a younger self or a less haunted self.
5 Things You Should Know Before Making an Indie Movie

Hello. It's been a while, so allow me to reintroduce you to my column. So to speak.

As Cracked's senior video editor lo these brace of years, it's been my privilege to lift myself above the common muck of prose, a mode of communication so outdated that it's a wonder you don't have to stick a crank in it to get it going. So to speak.

My thoughts now operate on a higher plane, rendered at 24 frames a second in lush, color-corrected perfection. Can you doubt that this is the more impactful form of creative human expression? Yes? Well, counterpoint: Here is a video of me jerking off.

So to speak. I guess I was technically jerking off that other gentleman. But more importantly, the point that I've just graphically illustrated -- thereby also illustrating my earlier point about the superiority of video to prose, creating a once-in-a-lifetime double-whammy argument supremacy type of situation -- is that despite their obvious superiority, making videos isn't always glamorous. In fact, sometimes you do stupid things, and everything becomes an impossible clusterfuck until it's miraculously pulled out at the last second.

Case in point: Back in 2010, Abe Epperson and I, and a bunch of our best friends, got the opportunity to shoot a low-budget indie horror/comedy movie of our own concoction called Kill Me Now, with an actual real director (of rap music videos) named Travis Long at the helm. I wrote the script, which shows you how long ago this was, since obviously I don't write anymore except as a flimsy pretext to plug things. This was an exciting opportunity for us, it being the first feature-length movie either of us had gotten to work on.

And of course, by "opportunity" I mean three weeks of hellish, misguided, grueling, ulcer-inducing crises on the order of biblical plagues. Now, two years later (and conveniently enough, just as the movie is about to be released), the true stories can finally be told.

Indie filmmakers, heed my warnings. I have scrawled them here, like a madman's crooked notations on a napkin he hopes to somehow put in the hands of a former self, a younger self or a less-haunted self.

Here's what NOT TO DO. You IDIOT.

Don't Set the Movie at Night, You Idiot!

Want to see the quickest way to make your indie movie laughably overambitious? It looks like this:


It's really the first and last words that are the problem, like a shit sandwich with the shit as the bread and the bread on the inside, so you get shit all over your hands.

Shooting at night, outside, means you've got to light your scene with giant red-hot lamps on impossibly tall metal rods, causing the pine needles to smolder if they get too close. Those lights are powered by gas generators, which have to be many feet away and covered in soundproof blankets to keep evil spirits at bay (union rules), so your crew spends a lot of time scrambling through the dark, crab-like, batting away light-drawn insects and maintaining or repairing hundreds of feet of cable. They hate this, and now they hate you, too. Congratulations.

Not to mention that setting your movie at night means asking your entire cast and crew to reverse their sleep polarity and spend a few weeks working through the night and sleeping through the day. And some of them have to sleep in the director's mom's basement closet, which is lined with a high shelf of porcelain dolls. THIS HAPPENED TO ME.

NEXT TIME: Two dudes in a situation with a girl in a house. No, a room! A room in Los Angeles with lighting very similar to the way your living room is lit right now. Sounds funny to me!

IMPROVISED SOLUTION: Three Miller High Lifes can usually force sleep upon you come dawn, and as for staying up through the night, don't worry: The churning nausea will handle that for you.

Don't Use a Giant Ensemble, You Moron!

Come to think of it, why even have three people in the movie? Castaway got away with one most of the time. Or hell, just shoot it POV and make it about a guy who lives alone in one room in Los Angeles! He could get a crazy job, or think about getting one, and describe it aloud to himself, as well as the ensuing adventures he would have presumably gone on.

Because every character you "breathe life into" for your cheap-ass bullshit is another human actor with a physical body you need to fly to the location, house, feed until they don't die and keep safe and entertained enough that they don't resort to autoerotic asphyxiation (especially the ladies, strangely).

And oh my GOD, the disease. Looking back, perhaps there is no version of reality where you can cram 20 people into a cabin in the humid backwoods of Illinois for three weeks without them all getting sick, but TWO DAYS?! TWO DAYS for 90 percent of the cast and crew to contract the flu? Katie Willert ended up in the hospital, and Nick Mundy ended up vomiting between takes, but you GOT YOUR PRECIOUS SHOTS. I hope you're pleased with yourself, me.

NEXT TIME: During the filming of Kill Me Now, I must have walked past stands of gel-based hand sanitizer for sale at least two dozen times. Next time, I will stop, turn, lift and convey a tub of said sanitizer to the nearest check stand, then slather it all over everyone every hour on the hour. I suggest you do the same.

IMPROVISED SOLUTION: Telling the actors to be hilarious anyway, and then somehow they do it. To be honest, there are some blank spots in my memory. I just recall Beck Bennett falling asleep at the wheel of his character Todd's Corvette literally seconds after finishing a take, only to be woken up by "Action!" The ensuing take is the one in the movie.

Don't Crash a Van Through a Wall, You Halfwit!

Here is a list of things that happen in our movie that it was stupid to try and do. Spoiler alert, obviously:

*A van crashes through a wall.
*A circular saw goes through a door.
*A person is run over by a car on-camera.
*There are several OTHER car accidents. Honestly, it's like fuckin' Mario Kart, I don't know what I was thinking.
*There's a pointless crane shot that took all day to get, then got cut from the movie. So it's not even in our movie really, so it shouldn't even technically be an entry on this list, but this is the only way anyone will every know we did a crane shot, so I'm putting it in anyway.
*There's a scene in a jail cell (also ultimately cut, due to us shooting one half, then realizing the other half was impossible to make match).
*A bear is there, around, visibly. Note, this is NOT an invisible bear. The bear is visible to the NAKED EYE.
*There's a laser tag scene described in such a way that it required us to build our own arena from scratch. All for one OBJECTIVELY DUMB joke I could have cut any time I wanted.
*People are stabbed, shot, gassed, poisoned, drilled and otherwise disposed of in ways that require copious amounts of sticky, syrupy stage blood to be all over the set, which is a house that does not belong to you, so you constantly have the feeling that one of your ventricles is jerking to the right.
*President Romney brings peace to the Galactic Senate by eating an entire hippo (ultimately cut; ASPCA complaint).

Not to mention the standard range of on-set crises: trucks stuck in the mud, hard drive outages, uncooperative cloud cover, injuries, lost props, damaged everything, personality clashes, the emotional weight of Darfur constantly at the back of your mind, a lack of variety among snack chip types at the craft services table and, of course, the shrieking.

NEXT TIME: First of all, keep more Miller High Life in stock. No one needs to hear Abe shriek like that. Secondly, take a stand against the crass spectacle of modern Hollywood by keeping your next movie humble, "a thinker," and totally lacking in explosions or gun-toting car chases through the woods.

IMPROVISED SOLUTION: Begging all of your family and friends to kick in a little extra money so you can pay someone to dress as a bear while you film him. Also, it turns out Abe can be made to stop shrieking if you beat him about the head for long enough.

Don't Have a Bunch of Stuff in It, You Numbskull!

Sometime in the third week, when our souls had all been ground to a fine powder by the collaborative creative process known as "trying to make people laugh," we found ourselves riding around in the bed of a pickup truck down bumpy, freeway-adjacent gravel roads to scout possible locations where we could strip me to the waist and have me lie down in the cold and dark for many hours and film it. And that's what I deserved.

You don't set your first movie in "the woods." That's stupid. It's too vague and amorphous and full of animals, like a terrible orgy. Fortunately, we didn't set our movie in the woods. We set it in a cabin, a store, a laser tag arena, train tracks, a van, a parking lot, a church, a quarry and the woods. The parking lot wasn't that tough to get to, to be totally honest. I don't want to risk hyperbole.

And don't put a bunch of shit in your movie! Like, shit for the people to hold or do business with. Just let the actors act, you know? Because it turns out you have to buy all of that stuff: the chainsaw and the kegs and the van and the machete and the rifles and the rope and the jars of various sizes.

Man, you know, I never listed it all in a row like that. I should wrap this column up before the men from the government arrive to question me.

NEXT TIME: I understand volunteer work is quite rewarding.

IMPROVISED SOLUTION: Purchasing any and all props that will be required for the following day's scenes each night at the town's only 24-hour business, a Walmart Supercenter. You will bathe here, get your hair cut here. Its flickering plasma screens will be your only connection to the outside world. Learn to love it and its strange, oblong denizens.

Don't Expect to Like It, No Matter How Long It Takes to Come Out, You Pathetic Husk of What Was Once Called a Man!

Between the time the movie I'm currently plugging at you was filmed and now, the director Travis had a child, several of the actors landed TV roles, the Higgs boson was discovered and an Ice Age swept across the globe and slowly receded. Watching it now feels like looking at a high school graduation slideshow.

And as the editors, Travis, Abe and I have also each seen the movie about a hundred times, in maybe 20 different forms. It took that long and that many viewings to get it right, lose perspective, forget the movie existed, watch it with fresh eyes, actually get it right, lose perspective again and then convince some foolish people to distribute the movie. And become unfrozen, I guess, from the Ice Age.

As you'd expect, I hate the film now, and I look forward to sharing it with all of you. I think you're really going to like it.


NEXT TIME: Do it all over again. Think of a less cheesy line with which to end the resulting column.

IMPROVISED SOLUTION: Apropos of nothing, remind the nice people that they can currently BUY TICKETS to see Kill Me Now premiere (and meet the cast and crew) on December 5 in Los Angeles or December 6 in San Diego! They can also stay on top of all Kill Me Now news -- including how to download it once it's available online -- by following Kill Me Now on Facebook.

Check out more from Swaim in The 3 Worst Pieces of Advice on the Internet and The 6 Least Necessary Sequels to Viral Videos.

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