Sunday, February 11, 2007

Tales from the Front Line of Indie Filmmaking

I’m an avid reader when it comes to filmmaking. I love books, articles, and magazines that deal with filmmaking, so it’s no wonder that I ordered "Tales from the Front Line of Indie Filmmaking" by Peter John Ross. Mr. Ross is a filmmaker who hails from Ohio. He’s been noted in such publications as Computer Arts, RES Magazine, Film & Video Magazine, LA Weekly, Film Threat and Internet Video Magazine.

The book details Mr. Ross’ experience in filmmaking and he devotes a section of his book to the making of his first feature film "Horrors of War". In the beginning of the book Ross discusses characters he has met in the DV filmmaking scene, and some tips about writing, editing, directing, and audition tips. Truthfully I could have done without the so-called characters Ross has come in contact with. I’m sure we all know that the world is a strange and peculiar place inhabited by wacko’s, weirdoes, and liars. To his credit Ross doesn’t go about naming these people, and his description of them is amusing at times, but the meat of the book is in the latter part, and even then I believe Ross glances over some interesting aspects in making his first feature. For instance Ross does say that raising the films budget was a pain, but he never gets into any real detail about it. A person who worked at Dreamworks SKG is their savior, but there are no details on what the budget was, and how the many investors were involved. Maybe I’m asking for too much detail, and after all who wants to give trades secrets. Remember the old saying: "Don’t piss on anyone while you’re climbing the ladder of success because you’re probably going to meet them again on you’re way down that ladder".

I commend Ross’ skill in getting a bigger bang for his buck. He used World War 2 re-enactors for battle scenes, and as any true low budget filmmaker would do he exploited his assets. If you want to see a trailer of the film go to Mr. Ross’ web site at On the web-site you will find other short films of Mr. Ross’ and also some promos of how they shot "Horrors of War".

So is the book any good? The short and simple answer is yes. Mr. Ross describes how he promotes his first feature, and how he doesn’t quit at doing it. I am even a bit envious on how Ross does this. I wish I had the time or the money to go and screen it to different people in various cities. That takes chutzpah, and he should be congratulated on that itself. The book is illustrated and has no real photos, which would make it more interesting. I would love to see some breakdowns such as schedule breakdowns and budget breakdowns. But maybe I ask for way too much, and after all this was a film done on the real cheap. After all since Robert Rodriguez promoted "El Mariachi" as the $7,000 dollar movie that could, the old argument of telling people what you’re film cost can either hurt you or help you. Ross even has a chapter on "the truth about Robert Rodriguez" which I found amusing and his arguments are well founded.
How do I compare Ross’ tales of movie making to my own? Well there are quite a few things he writes about which I too went through, and I guess most every person does who is making their first feature. What is interesting is how Ross and his partner & friend John Whitney shared directing credit. I do agree also that filmmaking is a film business, and that their are a lot of sharks out there. The way I see it is that Mr. Ross had access to a lot of big budget items and he didn’t have to pay for them. The re-enactors helped out a lot, and provided a lot of hardware and props to make "Horrors of War" look and feel like a million dollar budget film. I think that someone (the money guys) saw this and exploited that, and used Mr. Ross and his friends to create a good little film that they could sell for a lot more money. I admire how Ross kept his cool when the so-called film producers yelled at him for ruining the movie. I don’t think I would have been that cool headed.

The movie is still being screened at some film festivals. It’s most recent screening was at the the Weekend of Fear Film Festival in Germany. The film has also won an award in the the Columbus International Film Festival. So Ross and friends are still beating the promotional drums for the movie even to this day. I hope to see someday Ross’ film "Horrors of War", and I do believe that when I do see it I’ll be amazed at how well it turned out. What would be even more kick ass would be if and when the film comes out on DVD that they include a commentary track. In the book Ross mentions working on one so it’s a distinct possibility. As for the book I enjoyed the later half of the book, but after reading it I do look forward to what Ross will be doing next. It’s a good read, and it was also great hearing someone else’s war stories in low budget filmmaking, and somehow I know he has a lot more. Here’s hoping for a more unabridged version of the book.

PS: Ross writes about his "My Sexy girlfriend Veronica" throughout the book. Based on my own personal trials & tribulations in filmmaking I know that having a relationship and doing a movie at the same time can in itself be trying, so here’s to Veronica for standing by her man. (wink-wink)

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