Unless you’re working for the big entertainment corporations or a more constant gig at a studio or long-running TV show, a life in film is more like that of a circus performer – constantly moving to different locations, not just in your own country, but across the world.
This is especially true in the modern environment of independent production when co-production (and the subsequent tax incentives / grants) is so essential. Of course, creating a film around a potential financial grant is usually the bumpy road to creative concession. Developing and honing a project is always the start point – and then see where the opportunities take you.
With every film you start again from scratch. It’s not like a formula that can be so easily replicated – which is what makes the process so scary and exhilarating at the same time.
But most importantly it’s a collaborative process. The very essence of making a movie or TV show on any kind of scale is working with other people. Not just the obvious of actors and crew on set or in post – it’s also the creative start point of the script. Very few film makers have total creative freedom. The auteur director can have a personal vision, but storytelling is the combination of some many rich talents.
Working together becomes an even greater challenge when taking into account a different country, a different language and different cultural roots. It begins with the producers. It can end with the producers as well. Twice I have experienced producer groups intrested only in the money.
Mostly though you get to share a dream. And a film dream is the same the world over. I know, there are some people for who the thrill of it all is the deal and making a financial cut. On the set most people will argue they’re just making a living. Truth to tell, all are seduced in some way by the allure of the visual story.
In the same way, the working practices in different countries may taking some getting used to. A shoot that took us from Canada to France to England saw an ‘interesting’ dynamic between the different crews. Producing in Lithuania revealed an accounting structure that I’m still getting my head around. And every country has their own definition of meal breaks!
For unrelenting work-ethic nothing beats China. Physically and emotionally exhausting – but always in a good way. Inherent within the creative and financial pressures of making a film are the times when emotions will rise up and whiplash any ‘discussion’. Yet a natural part of striving to make a film is coming together as a family immediately afterwards. I can honestly say working in China could heighten the extremes of every situation – it was also one of the happiest experiences of working with fellow producers, creatives and crew. It helps if you’re a workaholic. It also helps if you open yourself up to embrace the culture of your host country.
The film also had a great crew from New Zealand who slotted in perfectly with the Chinese crew. For the most part, this was a happy balance. As well as being vast, the Chinese crew showed a daily level of artistry and craftsmanship that was a joy.
Personally, China was such a new experience in general that it actually took us over two years to establish the trusted partners who were right for this story. We approached it the same as any film, however, and that meant first and foremost working together on the script.
The glue that binds us for the months and years that it will take to make the film. Or at least until the circus moves on.