Many of us are working from home during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It’s the safest option right now. Meanwhile, we’re all trying to figure out how to order food from our local restaurants without killing ourselves in the process.
So many rules, stay six feet apart, or is it more? Wash your hands every twenty minutes, or is it just after touching certain items? Wash for two happy birthday choruses? Is it ok to pet your dog?
What percentage alcohol has to be in our hand sanitizer? Do we call a doctor if we’re sick? Or should we stay away from doctor’s offices, and hospitals?
How do you stay focused enough to write, now hat we have time to do it? Well, when I find myself getting lazy, or when I can’t seem to summon the energy to write, I like to remind myself why I started writing in the first case.
One way I do this is watching movies that inspire me to write. I like to watch movies that got me interested in writing in the first place. Woody Allen movies, for example, Anni Hall, Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Manhattan. Marx Brothers films, Duck Soup, A Night at the Opera, A Dy at the Races. Movies like Arthur, Dr. Strangelove, Life of Brian. W.C. Field’s, Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy.
My other favorite thing to do is watch movies about movie-making, Here’s my favorite.
Day For Night
Truffaut’s Day For Night, shows us the behind the scenes reality of the writing, rewriting and improvisation, and set-backs that make it seem impossible for any film to get made, on budget, on deadline.
His story focuses on the relationships between the crew, the designers, stylists, actors, the director, the writer and producer. The film itself is a love-letter to everyone involved in the process of bringing a film to market.
Truffaut plays the fictional writer-director of a movie within a movie called “Meet Pamela.” As problems continue to unfold on set, constantly, budget problems force the group to improvise, to put out the fires that break out almost every day during the filming process.
What’s inspiring is how Truffaut, the director stays calm and finds a way to realize his vision despite the challenges. They veer off schedule; so for example, a night scene can’t possibly be shot at night.
The director tells the camera people to shoot “day for night.” By hanges out certain lenses, they can create a night shoot in broad daylight. It is literally “magic” that allows him to create night where there is only day.
Everything appears it will collapse and the film will have to be scrapped when the actress playing Pamela (a married woman) has an on set affair with her irresponsible younger co-star.
She is filled with guilt and can’t leave her trailer to finish the film. How the director overcomes this and other challenges is where this film becomes truly inspirational.
The film won the Best Foreign Film Award here in America, and awards all over the world. It is probably the most inspiring film about filmmaking ever. Watch it and you will fall in love with.
Another piece of advice – read some inspiring books about making movies. Here’s my favorite.
Rebel Without A Crew: Or How A 23-Year Old Filmmaker with $7,000 Became A Hollywood Player, (1995) by Robert Rodriguez.
Robert Rodriguez kept a film diary, detailing how he managed to shoot El Mariachi, a story about how a lone guitar player who single-handedly takes on Cartel Drug Lords — for only $7,000.
The book also goes into Rodriguez’s childhood movie-making adventures. Using home-movie film equipment and improvising with friends as actors, he made short films with very little cash. He describes how he managed to somehow use two VCRs to edit his projects.
As a teenager, he was able to make some great short films, one of which, called Bedhead, won awards on the film festival circuit. After that success, he turned his attention to making what he called his first feature-length “practice movie”– El Mariachi.
He raised money as lab rat for Pharmco, a pharmaceutical institute, for thirty days. He went to a small town in Mexico, hired actors on the spot, used makeshift costumes, and improvised some of the scenes right on the spot.
El Mariachi became a big hit, drawing audiences partly because it was so done well, and partly because of Rodriguez’ own story – that a 23 year old guy from Texas could make a film that would cost the studios million, on his amazing shoestring budget.
The film also went on to win the Sundance Film Festival Award. It found distribution, and was released internationally, and was even re-made into a real big budget studio film (called Desperado) with a real movie star — Antonio Banderas.
The independent filmmaker’s route into Hollywood success is for the courageous and passionate writer-directors out there who are willing to put it all on the line and just do it themselves.
If you’re burned out due to the pandemic, take a look at these movies and books. They’ll inspire you. And if you’re struggling to write your way through a dry spell, read a few chapters. Watch the films. Go back to work. Your film heroes will motivate you to do your best work.