I haven't written much about PHX since the shoot, and I have my own personal reasons for that. I had begun to write a blog post about things that I had learned from the shoot, but had a really hard time balancing tact and transparency. But, after seeing Somewhere, I realized that there are some personal things, failings on my part, that I do want to record and publish, in the hopes that, if some other filmmaker reads this post, they may think twice before falling into some of the same traps that I did.
1. If you love a certain style of filmmaking, don't try to make another style because you think it might be more acceptable/mainstream/more likely to sell/etc. I wrote PHX as a traditional drama because I knew we could break down the script, set a schedule, and shoot the movie in the time we had. Looking back, though, I didn't make the kind of film I really wanted to make. I want my films to be more David Gordon Green and Sofia Coppola, but instead, I ended up much more "filmmaker trying to make a calling card film" (not that there is anything wrong with that, but you should always stick with your original intent and purpose for a piece, and not change just because you think it will make it easier to get into a festival).
I was inspired by an area of town, and by the people who inhabited it, but, while my script hit basic sights of the area, it didn't showcase very much of the people (though we did have some locals playing parts). I guess, in the end, I should have taken more time, and created a more docu-style piece, but I was afraid. That is the most basic way I can express why I did what I did - I was afraid. And now I look at a script like The Definers, and I wonder if, maybe, it would just be better to throw away the dialogue and just have ideas of what the scenes are. Spend more time with the actors figuring out what their characters would be doing and saying, and just let it flow from them. Which leads me to my second point -
2. Control is the enemy. When you write a script, even if you're not completely married to it, trying to get what you want out of it is hard enough without trying to get every single thing that is on the page. I wanted to hit the beats, hit the emotions, which is all important, but sometimes you tangle yourself up in all of that, and you end up tying a noose around yourself because the shooting becomes so rigid that, really, you're just doing the filmmaking equivalent of gym class - Showing up, doing the exercises because you're required to, and then leaving with sore muscles and not much else. And that last point, that's what I didn't understand while I was shooting. Everyone was showing up to gym class, and I was the coach, and it ceased to be about making something, and became about running the mile everyday, because we needed to meet the criteria for the curriculum (in other words, shoot the script in the time allotted).
3. As the leader, you will be the enemy. This has become more and more apparent in my life since the film. It is almost human nature to point out everything that the person who is in charge is doing wrong, but I've noticed that, even for myself, I'm more likely to complain and less likely to put on a game face, keep a great attitude and do something that will help move things forward. It's something I've had to try really hard to change because I saw how it made me feel, and realized that I was doing that to other people. On the flip side -
4. You are the leader, which means you are the person people are looking towards for the tone and feel of the day. If you are excited and energetic and friendly, other people are more likely to be the same. If you are not, you have to find a place in yourself to, essentially, bullshit your way through it. Honesty and transparency is not your friend. People don't like a leader who is a human being, they like a leader who is a robot. I don't mean that in a negative sense, but, what I'm trying to say is that you have to take everything human about yourself and put it aside for the duration and be unshakeable. I thought that it was best to just be me, but people didn't want me, they wanted Churchill or George Washington. That's who you have to be.
5. Everyone will talk shit about you behind your back. You will overhear it, or it will get back to you one way or the other. You have to put on the game face, and you have to be unshakeable, and you have to go in every day and look those people in the face with a smile and a good attitude, and when the day is over, you have to go home and leave the day behind you (however you do that, but it should NOT be drugs or alcohol). It's almost impossible when you're not a salesman at heart (I never was), but, I hope that one day I will have enough experience to be that person.
6. Have at least one person, not involved in the shoot in any way, that you can talk to at any time that will provide encouragement and perspective. For me, it was my parents. They were invaluable to me in times when I wanted to shut down the whole thing and walk away (and there were many of those times). They, along with my counselor, were my support team. This is also good advice for any major endeavor or project that you may be working on in your life.
7. This whole thing runs on money. Even if you have enough for your budget, if you don't stick to your budget, you're going to be hosed down the road. Have someone who can hold the money (someone you trust, obviously), and will make sure that you're not just spending a bunch of money that you may not need to spend.
8. Some things are not meant to be. PHX was originally going to be shot in the winter of 2010, but was pushed up to June because of a timing issue. I should have walked away from it. The script wasn't ready, I wasn't in the right head space about what I wanted to do (see point #1), I hadn't had enough time to do a larger audition, to spend time with the actors to really dive into their parts, and to gather up some more crew who would be willing to believe in this project and help make it happen. Those things are all my fault. I can't blame them on anyone else, and those are all things that became liabilities and made the shoot more difficult than it had to be.
I hope that, whoever may read this, that it will help you out a little. If I could go back in time and tell myself about all of this, maybe things would be a lot different, but as so many things in life are - It is what it is. We take the lessons we've learned and put them into the next one, and there WILL BE a next one.