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The Seed&Spark Blog

Education
An Education

September 16, 2016

• Jen West

In my journey to become a better director, I decided that it was beneficial to join a similarly-sized project as what we hope Electric Bleau will be. Toward that end, I’m helping a friend in the art department on a 2.5 million dollar film as a graphics and support person. I’m doing the best job I can in my role, while absorbing everything like a sponge.

The last time I did a film job outside of writing/directing/producing was almost 10 years ago when I was a production office PA on a John Sayles film (Honeydripper, 7 million). Becoming a part of the crew is an invaluable opportunity to learn about how team morale works, how to best collaborate with other people, and to also work within specific department budgets. As a member of the crew, I get to hear inside conversations that even the director or producer aren’t privy to.

It takes a village. Photo from the 18th Annual Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama.

I will leave the film I am working on unnamed since it’s still in production, and I will not be taking an official credit. The main reason for that is because I want to keep my personal branding as a writer/director. In an industry where it’s already very difficult to shape other’s perception of you and your abilities, it needs to be super clear on what your career aspirations are.

I did not go to film school. Experiences like this are my chance to dive in and examine the underbelly of film. I’m really excited to be here learning and am grateful for the opportunity.

What are my takeaways so far?

  1. It’s never too early to start. People need time to do their jobs. The more weeks you can build into official preproduction, the better. Be efficient in making decision. To quote a new friend, “It’s better to do the wrong thing early than to do the right thing late.”
  2. Start doing things yourself way before preproduction. Go on your own location scouts. Start preliminary storyboards. Create vision boards on Pinterest for locations and production design. Think. Everything. Through. Get a headstart because there will never be enough time.
  3. Believe in yourself in your role. You were hired for a reason, and that’s not for someone else to do your job. You will be challenged, and you will need to defend your decisions.
  4. Damnit, be nice to people. Nobody likes assholes. The folks who take the time to learn names and treat PA’s as human beings are the best. Character will start to really count when you are tired and pushing your limits.
  5. Collaboration is an art. Most people want to do a good job, and want to be allowed to do a good job. Let people thrive where they are best.
  6. Money goes fast… really, really fast. Don’t skimp out on hiring folks who are experienced with budgets and working within them.
  7. See that ball? Don’t drop it. Everyone’s counting on you, no matter what you are doing. You will fail from time to time. Own up to it and move on with a positive attitude.
  8. Becoming a director isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s really refreshing to meet people who want to perfect another craft in film. They exist.
  9. Everyone is important. Sometimes the smaller job titles can be the most difficult and critical. Appreciate them.

On the Electric Bleau front, we are still kicking ass. I spend my evenings and weekends focused on our next steps and moving the process forward. We just completed our PPM thanks to the brain of Stacey Davis and design of James Martin. We are pushing that out into the world as interest arises. Raising money (a little over a million, to be exact) continues to be one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever faced. We’ve now been at it over a year, and progress is certainly being made. Our hope is to find complete funding by the end of the year so we can film next spring/summer.

We are also putting focus back on attaching a big name or two to the project. It seems imperative that we do so in order to find complete funding. Thankfully we have a few folks who are willing to mentor us through this step by step. More on this soon!

Read more by

Jen West

Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Jen West is a writer and director living in Atlanta, Georgia. She is known for writing and directing Piece of Cake (2006), Crush (2011), Bubble (2013), Call Me (music video for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, 2014), and Little Cabbage (2015). She is currently in preproduction on her first feature called Electric Bleau. She studied design at Jacksonville State University and film at The Art Institute of Atlanta.

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