I make movies. Low budget movies. Several film reviewers in the UK pointed out that my films did not have the budgets necessary to make them “noteworthy”, but did add that I was a director with vision who needed better budgets to make relevant cinema.
Well, no shit Sherlock.
In this tiny little fish bowl of the midwestern United States, few indie filmmakers produce as many feature length films as I do. Further, few black filmmakers in this region produce films with the subject matter that I do. Yet, with all of the effort I put into making non stereotypical films, I am always open to criticism from know it all filmmakers and producers, who say I don’t make films “According to filmmaking guidelines”. I don’t raise enough money. I don’t use storyboards. My films aren’t shot the way “Hollywood films” are shot. And the big one my haters love to use:
” I want people to work for free”.
Most of these haters have not done much more than shoot a bunch of short films, or 48 hour film projects. Or they have degrees from places like “Full Sail” University. In their “years” of experience, they have never faced adversity, hard ship or the reality of being a black filmmaker who does not fit neatly into a prescribed category or genre of filmmaking.
Some of these experts have financial backing from their buddies or parents, and get a real kick out of looking down at me as some kind of B movie loser.
Not that IT bothers me a great deal, but I really get offended when my reputation is besmirched by know it alls who know nothing about the day to day hell that exists in the world of REAL feature filmmaking. I don’t have time or patience to always address these falsehoods, but there is one I need to put to bed right now, or I am going to seriously ruin somebody’s life.
Let me preface this by saying that any indie filmmaker is an idiot, if they expect SAG actors, or name actors to work for free. It just isn’t professional or realistic. But we are talking about regional actors, who have little experience and very little in the way of real film credits. I.E., Hollywood roles, managers, etc.
After 40 years of doing this FEATURE FILM THING, USING all of my discretionary income, and passing up vacations and a lot of other FUN stuff people have in their lives, I AM going to make this statement my last explanation of what I do.
After that, I honestly don’t give too backwater fucks what anybody thinks about what I do, or the way I do it. You don’t like my methods, go make your own feature and go be famous.
And just to be clear, because there are people who say things about me without knowing me: I totally understand it is not feasible for some actors to work on projects without some kind of compensation. But as an indie actor, you are going to have to realize that you will never make a living doing indie film. The money just isn’t there in indie film.
Most of us indie producers have hard enough of a time funding our own lives, let alone feature films. If you want to be paid as an actor, go to Hollywood or find a company that can pay you up front. The problem is, most people with money have hundreds of actors, just like you, looking for that same paycheck.
As for me, I really get irritated when people say I ask people to work for free. I never have and never will. Everyone who works on my films, gets some kind of help, whether it be gas money, lodging and in extreme cases, some kind of money for travel. In addition, I give everyone a legally binding contract which does pay people when and if my films make a profit. I also PAY Hollywood stars who work on my films, because that is how this thing works. That money comes out of my pocket, or from funds raised through crowdfunding or from very close friends who give me money just because they are great human beings, and for some unknown reason, they believe in me.
The fact that my films have a hard time making money, is nothing new especially for a relatively unknown filmmaker. However, let it never be said I get people to work for “free” because I don’t. In fact, I am always quite blunt about what I can and cannot guarantee.
People who work on my films, get the reality check about deferred payment and contracts the day they meet me. Reading the contracts I issue, supposedly gets everyone on the same page. At least, that’s the way it should work. Yet, film after film, time after time, year after year, after all of my thorough explanations, and meetings, and postings, I still find a handful of people who swear I got them to “Work for free”.
God help me.
I am hoping the people who don’t understand indie filmmaking, stop working with me. I hope they figure out how to read a contract. I hope they wake up from that dream in which a low budget filmmaker makes them rich and famous overnight. Most of all, I hope all the haters who claim I promised them all of this Hollywood dream bullshit, get their stories straight and stop making me look bad.
I do hope to continue working with those people who work with me time and again, and know how real I am. You know, it’s really funny. If I was this backstabbing con artist they say I am, I wouldn’t have people flying in from around the world to work with me. That’s right haters. I have had people from England, Australia and Ireland come to the U.S. at their own expense to be in my films, all under the terms of deferred payment. Not one of them has ever complained about “working for free”.
So where is all of this coming from? I think you know the answer. People who don’t get it, or people who are jealous about the way I do things. I don’t make films “by the book”. But I can tell you this: I get films DONE. So, for all the rumor spreading clowns who just can’t do anything else but talk shit about me, here’s one final request:
If you gotta’ shit on my name, just make sure you spell my name right.
William Lee. FEATURE filmmaker.