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First Time Filmmaker – Lessons Learned

the keyman adam baldwin

Making the Feature Film “The Keyman”

First Time FilmmakerIt’s been 17 years.  20 if you count the birth of the script—which was in the summer of 1997.  I worked in corporate and commercial videography and always dreamed of being a filmmaker.  The idea for the movie “The Keyman”  came to me in the parking lot of a grocery store.  It was a huge “what if” question to something that had just happened to me.  We shot the film in September of 2000, and released it in 2002.

After my first film “The Keyman” (now available on iTunes and Amazon Prime) , I went on to direct four more movies over the next decade.  But the first film is usually special and it was no different for me.  Here are some of the biggest things I learned.

First Time Filmmaker Needs to Hire Seasoned Department Heads

No matter how good you are, it’s critical to surround yourself with people who have done this before and are skilled.  As a first time director, you will make lots of first time mistakes.  You can’t afford others making first time mistakes.  You probably can’t afford your own either.

Learning Some Psychology is Critical on the Set

My mentor is a psychologist.  I bounced script and characters off him.  I had him visit the set.  He taught me how to read the DSM IV.  By clinical definition, actors are insane.  To be a good and skilled actor, you have to have a fair amount of disassociative disorder, mixed with a multitude of other disorders to pull from.  No wonder Hollywood is crazy.  This movie set was where I first learned all about “passive aggressive” and how to deal with it. (You act aggressive to confront the PA person).

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I was sitting at lunch with an investor in the movie, after we had wrapped principle photography.  He was talking about something in his personal life, and he said in response to an action he’d taken “no good deed goes unpunished.”  This was brought home a little while later when a crew person I had bent over backwards to help announced publicly I had done little or nothing.  What I took away was that while it’s good to give someone a “win,” it’s equally important to make sure it’s a win for me too.  Otherwise, it opens the door for bitterness down the road.

Genre Is Critical to Distribution

A dark drama (which is what “The Keyman” is) is juicy and fun to shoot for cast and crew.  But it is a difficult genre to get distribution.  If you want distribution, you need action or horror.  Every new filmmaker has a dark drama.  The only thing worse would be a comedy.

the keyman adam baldwinAll Distributors Care About is Who and the One Sheet

A recognizable name actor is the most important element you can have for distribution.  You move to the front of the line if you have that.  We got Adam Baldwin to star in the movie and we got multiple offers for distribution.  The next biggest factor is the movie poster, called the “one sheet” in distribution.  All the foreign buyers take a look at those two things, then watch the trailer, and make their decision to buy your movie based on that.

The Investors are the Last Ones to the Buffet Line

Hollywood feasts on the indie filmmakers.  They snap up films that are the hopes and dreams of hundreds of young creatives.  And they have a system where they take the least amount of risk.  And the first revenue always goes right to them.  The investors are the last ones to get revenue, taking whatever scraps and bones left by the distributors.  Yes, it’s a cynical view, but I have found it’s true.  Self distribution is more of a possibility today than it was 17 years ago.  And recently, we were able to go back into the lab and restore the beautiful 35mm and get a digital print made for iTunes and Amazon Prime.

These were only a few of the lessons I learned from making “The Keyman.”  One of the most rewarding things about the making of this movie has been all those people who reached out to me or left reviews about how powerful the film was or how it touched them.  I hope you enjoy the movie.