Today’s guest post comes from Richie Harrington, an awesome assistant, who’s also an aspiring writer/director. So, exactly like 95% of my audience. The only difference between him and you (possibly), is that he’s working to advance both goals. If you want to find out how, read on.
Congrats! You finally landed that PA gig on a legit movie or show. Be proud and grateful it’s not easy and people would kill to trade places. But also remember the long game, because you didn’t move to LA to be an assistant. So your day job’s really your side job.
It’s crazy to think a year ago I landed my first real gig to work for an A-list director and it’s been a crazy ride ever since. I started when he was beginning post-production on a movie and have learned so much and met so many amazing people here. However, this post is really about something else I began a year ago.
Last year, I started production on a five episode web series, which I created with two friends, called Welcome to WeHo.
We came up with the concept, workshopped the scripts, then ran pre-production meetings for a few months until we were ready to shoot. I can’t explain how much I learned about filmmaking just by actually making something. (Side note: put as much prep into things beforehand it will help you monumentally).
It’s Gonna Suck
What I really want to share with everyone is something Rob McElhenney (Mac from Always Sunny) told my roommate and co-creator of the series that inspired us. He said “Make something and know it’s gonna suck. Just accept that and then move on and make something else. It’ll suck but suck less. Then make something else and make something else, and eventually it might not suck that bad and you have something good to show people and then you’ll blow up and be famous and successful and people will think you’re an overnight sensation!” His words exactly.
Now I get it, being a writer you want to write the very best thing you can, but you have to accept that right now you’re not that great. Which is OK! Think about it: you’ve probably only been writing seriously for less than 5 year,s so why would you think you’re Aaron Sorkin who’s been doing this for decades? Would you put someone who’s only played baseball for five years in the majors? No! You gotta put in your 10,000 hours. That’s a lot of time, but you have to start somewhere; just keep writing and you’ll improve.
So we made a web series and it’s pretty funny but definitely not the best thing we’re capable of. It’s a start and we’re proud of all the hard work everyone put into it. I learned SO much and gained an appreciation for all the different departments that go into making a film. And now the next thing I make will be even better. (Spend your money on lighting and sound; you won’t regret it).
Now here’s some advice I’d love to share with anyone thinking of making something themselves. First and foremost, don’t be afraid to fail. Worst that happens is you learn something. Second, write knowing what locations you have. My roommate’s dad’s best friend owns a bar on Hollywood Blvd and he let us shoot for free! We got creative and our art director and cinematographers managed to make this one bar into two different clubs for the series. We used friends’ apartments. Believe it or not some people in LA are nice and will let you shoot for free if you ask politely. We shot one episode at a donut stand in Burbank, and it came out great!
Maybe the most important thing to note is to expect the unexpected. Things change last minute, disasters arise on set, and what separates a good filmmaker from a bad one is how they adapt. I’ve seen it on the huge productions my boss directs, and on the filming of Welcome to WeHo. It happens at every level.
I kid you not, the day before we were going to shoot at one location we thought we had totally free, the owner said we actually needed insurance. We panicked at first and thought we were going to have to shut everything down because it would be too expensive, but a friend recommended a reputable company that does affordable short term insurance and they booked it for us same day. (Get insurance; you never know what might happen).
We filmed an entire day at one apartment, and planned to shoot there the next. But the landlord found out we were filming there, and said he’d call the cops if we came back… Um that’s a big wrench thrown at us. Luckily, our script supervisor said we could use her apartment and her apartment was actually much better suited for the series. The actor’s performances were even better the second time around!
Lastly, it’s important to note what it takes to get something done. It’s not easy and we’re eternally grateful to our cast and crew who sacrificed their time and worked for little-to-no pay. We all worked day jobs Monday through Friday, so we could only shoot weekends. We only had the bar while it was closed, so call time was Saturdays and Sundays at 5am for three weekends in a row. Just reading that, I don’t know how I showed up every day, much less anyone else. But yeah, we shot from 6am-9am Saturday and Sunday mornings for three weeks, and it might have been the most fun I ever had. You just need to find people that believe in the script enough to do it.
Also, promise them free food. Always get your cast and crew food and drink! Shout-out Winchell’s for being open 24/7.
And here I am now, a year later with a five episode web series to show for it. I made some amazing friends who I still keep in touch with and work on other projects with. Now when people ask, “Oh you’re a writer/director, what do you got?” I can send them a link to the Welcome to WeHo.
Do It Yourself
I hope whoever reads this feels motivated to go out and make something. Anything!
It’s never easy, but it is doable. If you really want to be a writer/director/producer/whatever, you can’t sit around hoping someone will make something for you. Bust your ass at your day job, of course, but remember being an assistant is the side gig. Creating your own content is the real deal. Take risks, reach out to people for help, and make something that sucks. Eventually, you’ll make something that sucks less!
Check out the web series Welcome to WeHo on our YouTube channel every Wednesday night starting 2/14 and follow us on FB, IG, and Twitter!