The Long Road to "Yes:" My First Short Film as Director
My first short film – finally!
I think I first realized that such a thing as a director existed when I was 14 years old. The nasty voices immediately started in my head: “Only old white men get to do that fun stuff. Like Scorsese and Coppola and George Lucas. Not women. Especially not tiny hijabi Sri Lankan Muslim women from Dubai.”
But I still couldn’t shake that feeling. That I was meant to be doing that thing. That Scorsese and Coppola and Lucas were doing.
I had been a quiet introverted ‘writer’ up until then – a writer of tortured poetry, weird plays and much angst-ridden short stories.
Because the world around me told me ‘no, you’re not allowed’, I stayed that way for about 15 years. Give or take a year.
Then #metoo happened. Then four rejections happened in quick succession. Each one hurt worse than the others because all I needed was for one person to say yes.
Then I thought to myself, “Why don’t I say yes… to myself? Who has the right to tell me that my story isn’t valid?”
Answer: no one. Not even me.
After one traumatic childbirth experience, the death of my mom, three company (read: family) moves across three countries, I’ve realized that life is short. What’s the worst that could happen? Nothing will kill me except, you know, death.
I am terrified. So so terrified. My anxiety disorder is LOVING this. My depression just waits for those rejections so it can tell me just how ‘not good enough’ I am (they’re both wrong, but I love them anyway).
But here I am, on this director’s journey at last. And I have to say, my dear friends – I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt. Good God, it hurts, but it’s a good kind of pain.
Early last year, I made an 8-minute short called I Like Long Walks. One location (my house), one character (me), minimal set ups. We're currently tightening it up in post and hoping to submit it to a few festivals. Watch this space.
Here are a few lessons I learned from this teeny tiny but mighty experience.
Food rocks. Food is super important. Food is the wind beneath my wings. (I'm fasting.) Seriously though: Plan lunch in advance in consultation with your crew. If you're going to do French hours i.e. no lunch, have tons of healthy and nutritious snacks on hand. Again in consultation with your crew. I had precisely one other person so that consultation would have been easy. If I had done it. And have lots of water on hand.
Get help. I was so overwhelmed writing, directing, producing and starring that I failed to account for pretty basic needs (see above).
I was initially planning to shoot the thing myself so I did not feel the need to do a recce with sound and light in mind. If I had, I'd have known the train and the highway right outside would be rather a bother for sound. Plus my loud neighbors and their ludicrously long home improvement projects. I had also initially wanted to shoot in my bedroom. But light is terrible there. So we chose the living room but light fluctuates like crazy where I was sitting. It all made for fun times in post.
Take your time on set. Goodness takes time. Especially when your actor (me) has not had a lot of sleep and is acting out some tough emotions.
Divide your script into units even if there aren't any scenes. So this makes it easier to shoot and easier to edit as well.
Make sure sound is rolling when camera is rolling and off when camera is off. It can make for irritating work in post listening to sound files looking for the correct audio. Label sound files with scene numbers.
Choose people to work with who are generous with their knowledge. Who don't laugh at you when you ask questions. Who teach you everything they can. Because personally, I learn best from other people
A true spirit of collaboration is key. No creative should dominate the conversation, should drown someone out, should muscle in, negate or ignore any other. Empathy and being a good listener are SUCH PIVOTAL QUALITIES for a good filmmaker, it's ludicrous. I would highly recommend reading Marshall Rosenberg's Non Violent Communication. The whole book seems to be up here for free with seemingly no copyright claims.
This is where directing overlaps with mothering to a great degree - the director directs the vision of the film. What that means to me is: Directors set the most gentle parameters they can and then allow their people to play freely within those parameters. Those gentle parameters are key, I think.
Keep the props in a safe place in case you need to reshoot!
Hope this helps. If it is in your heart to do so, go out and make movies, folks. Nothing quite like it. I always knew this. But I'm only accepting this truth now. Better late than never, I guess.