Making My First Movie
by Jorge Solis

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Making My First Movie
By Jorge Solis

In my wallet, there are two things that I believe symbolize who I am and what I hope to become in the future. These two things can be found underneath all the receipts from Sam Goody and Blockbuster. These two things are ticket stubs to a horror film festival at Lincoln Center. On these two ticket stubs are the names: Del Toro and Winston.

            As a little kid, hours were spent in front of television watching horror movies. Growing up I wrote many horror stories and it was only a matter of time before deciding to make horror movies. There were two filmmakers at Lincoln Center on October 20th, 2002: Guillermo Del Toro and Stan Winston. They were passionate about what they spoke, joking about their experiences, and having fun answering questions.

            I was fortunate enough to talk to them and get their autographs on that day. I realized that if they could make horror movies, I could too. I told myself that I was going to make my first movie at the College of Mount Saint Vincent and it would be called, The Intruder.

            Reading this essay isnít going to tell you how to direct like David Mamet does in his book. This essay is not going to tell you how to make a movie in 10 minutes like Robert Rodriguez. Itís my story about The Intruder. This is about the obstacles and triumphs I faced while making my first movie. This is what I saw and how I remember it.

            Even though this was such a bad idea, I unfortunately became President of the Communications Club. Choosing the role though meant it was my chance to make my horror movie. After the Communications Club made its campus TV show, it was time to make the budget proposal for the next semester. The club members were in my favor to make this film which I would write and direct.

            When budget proposal was finally written, the club was asking for $400. It never occurred to me that the College would have problems with $400 but I was in charge of a small club. The Communications Club was not a known club that did a lot of activities or parties before. During my time as President, it was the first time the Club used the equipment in the Communications Building.

            The college gave the club $200 for the movie. The reason the budget proposal asked for $400 was because the Dean of Communications told me there was not enough space in the computer for the student films from the Video Production class and my feature length student film. The $200 went to pay for the external hard drive and I put $100 dollars of my own money into the budget of my movie.

            Looking back, Iím glad I produced my own movie. In my opinion, it was better that way. The school didnít understand why this college student Iway. I learned rned that tevision watchingwanted to make The Intruder. Only I did. There were no worries about wasting other peopleís money. Using my own money proved that this film meant a lot to me. I learned where to save, what I really needed, and who I could borrow things from.

            The Intruder was a $100 budget movie. 10 digital tapes were needed for the digital camera. Luckily the Communications building was selling the DV tapes for $7. The rest of the money was spent on fake blood. My older brother had a fake musket and a switchblade comb. Even though she didnít know she was contributing (actually it was stolen from her room), my older sister helped with a toy heart with eyes. A friend of mine in Video Production let me borrow the digital camera the class was using.

            Over the winter break, I asked some of my friends if they wanted to help me make my movie. It didnít matter to me if they couldnít act. I just wanted to make my movie. I asked other people who werenít my friends or who I hadnít talked to but were known to be in the Drama Club. As a director and human being, you learn a lot about people in general.

            There are a lot of books about filmmaking and directors in my room. In my room, there is the ďEvil Dead CompanionĒ by Bill Warren, ďHitchcockís NotebooksĒ by Dan Auiler, and ďBurton on BurtonĒ edited by Mark Salisbury. You learn about storyboarding, what makes a shot, and that 1 page equals a minute from these books. What happened next no book would have prepared me for. I wonder if Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock ever faced this situation. I wonder if an actor went up to them and said, ďFire this guy or I quit.Ē

            During filming, this actor wanted me to fire my friend for his own reasons. He tried to convince me that my friend was using me and taking advantage of our friendship. Sure there were problems with my friend like being late for example but nothing that could not be handled. Keep the actor or lose the friend? This actor and I go back since high school because we were in the Drama Club. I thought about it and I said I wouldnít fire my friend.

            So that actor quit and soon enough, the problems began to build like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill. I knew I made the right decision but no one wanted to believe me. Not even my friend that the actor hated. Even though a new replacement was found the next day, scheduling scenes would be tight and difficult. Where I once had the advantage of filming one scene one afternoon, I had to film two scenes an afternoon.

            Always stick to what you believe in even though no one shares in your beliefs. Why make The Intruder? For fun. It was my practice movie. Donít you want to send your work to a film festival? No. Arenít you serious about what you do? Yeah but I know Iím not Spielberg. This first-timer still had to learn his craft. I just wanted to make a home movie with friends. This movie would be something we could look at and laugh at. Plus film festivals want money and this college student who was also paying tuition didnít have that much money to pay to a film festival. I only had 100 bucks to make my movie.

            You have your own beliefs and so do other people. Patience and being a good listener are some qualities you develop during filming. Everyone had something to say whether good or bad. It did take time to film a scene, mostly because I wanted to film from different angles. Yeah some people did get hurt even though I tried my best not to let that happen.

            Communicating with people is difficult for me, especially for one who is quiet most of the time. I tried my best to speak but these were mostly friends who didnít know how to act. Simple directions worked for the ones who could not act but the ones from the Drama Club wanted more.

In this scene, why does she talk to herself while sheís driving? Because Robert De Niro was talking to himself in Taxi Driver. And if any sort of directions failed, I made the actor or actress imitate something from my favorite movie. It was also important to make sure they didnít know. One of the main actors, the anti-hero of the movie, wanted to know why his character was always yelling and always being a jerk. My answer was that he was imitating Kurt Russell from John Carpenterís The Thing. I didnít care if he wanted to do the scene his way. It was fun for me to watch him imitate Kurt Russell in some way.

This thought was constantly in my mind: Keep what you like and change anything in the script that makes you think twice. If someone in the cast has an idea, use it. I didnít want the cast members to memorize but to improvise most of time because I heard thatís how Robert Altman does it. There were changes made like switching the exterior locations to interior locations because of weather. I kept telling myself: Do whatever you think is necessary to make a scene better.

Storyboarding is like drawing the panels for a comic book. In that square panel, you put in what you think should be there. You are your own artist. For some scenes, I followed the storyboards I drew. In other scenes, the photography was done on the spot. Both were fun but I prefer making up the scenes the way I drew them.

Sometimes the best footage would be when the actors did not know the camera was rolling. The camera was kept rolling because you would never know what you might find. When I said, ďAction!,Ē I had to stop the camera right away because the actors started right away. Because I learned from them during filming, it meant they were rushing and soon a lot of mistakes and retakes would keep occurring. People would be talking too fast if I didnít tell them to slow down. What I intended to be a detailed scene becomes a very short, flat scene.

Probably the most difficult scene I ever filmed was the most exciting day in my life. My friend told me he could roll over the top of a car while itís moving. He told me heís done it before. He told me to write it in the script. So I wrote in a scene where a guy gets hit by a car. I found a friend with a car who, thank God, did not realize how dangerous the stunt was. On this day, more friends were brought in to help me out, another friend to hold the camera, and I drew the storyboards. The people in charge of security at the College of Mount Saint Vincent knew what we were doing. There was no need to worry about them. I made sure I spoke to everyone involved for an hour and a half before filming. There was no need for surprises like a dead friend lying on the pavement. When filming began, I was yelling directions, praying to God a thousand times, and hoping I didnít pee in my pants if something went wrong.

            When it was all done, you could hear me yelling, ďThat was great!Ē and hugging my friend who could have lost his life. My friend did not realize what he had given me. How many student filmmakers can say they have a hit and run in their movie? With the hit and run, The Intruder is not your typical student film. Students are learning how to make film look like art at UCLA or at NYU. I was learning how to make a guy getting hit by a car work.

            Itís difficult to explain to others that you know something that is too hard to explain in words. While I was enjoying a sense of pride, others were losing patience.  I, on the other hand, couldnít wait after class to film a scene. This kid who dreamt about making movies was learning something about filmmaking. My body was at a point of exhaustion because I did travel back and forth. The long distance from the college and my home would wear out anyone. Even though my body was worn out, my spirit had enough energy to study, write essays, and film after class because I truly loved what I did.

            It was my love for movies that kept me going while some of my classmates were losing patience and energy. While they were losing patience and energy, my father was in the hospital. There was something wrong with his heart and he heeded an operation. I became conflicted between staying with my father at the hospital and finishing the movie.

            You realize how people truly are when your life turns to the worst. I didnít tell anyone in the cast my father was in the hospital. It would lead them to convince me to postpone the movie. Postponing the movie was what some of them wanted and I always spoke back angrily that postponing was out of the question.

            I was praying for my father to return home while I was filming. I thought about my father during class and on the trip to the hospital. I made some bad decisions in my class work and during filming. Once an actress became annoyed with me because I mixed up the afternoons she was free after class. While she was complaining to me, all I wanted to do was yell at her, ďMy father is in the hospital with tubes up his nose!Ē

            There were complications with the operation my father had. The hospital had to keep my father for more time. As a little kid, I thought of my father as Superman. Watching him being at the most horrible condition gave me nightmares. I thought I was a bad son because I couldnít be with him more in the hospital. I prayed and prayed to God asking him to bring my father home. I just wanted to see my father watching TV in the living room again.

            I asked myself: Why should I continue the movie? Why donít I just give up? Why donít I just postpone the movie like those jerks want? I asked these questions as I cried in front of my mother one night. The answer to the first question came to me: Because my father wouldíve wanted me to.

            My father wouldíve wanted to know I was finishing the job rather than staying with him in the hospital. My father always told me never to leave any work unfinished. It doesnít matter if some works are good or bad. There are a lot of people who leave things unfinished and it does make you feel less of a man. It takes a man to finish the job. I told myself I was going to finish the job. I was going to finish the movie. I will finish the job because it is what my father wants.

            My father came back from the hospital during my Spring Break at the school. The movie was being edited while my father was recovering from the operation. I think that editing is the most important aspect of filmmaking. It was great to see the footage taking shape. I remember cutting a scene from a medium shot to a tighter shot. This scene was cut like that because that was how it was cut when George Clooney said, ďEverybody be cool. You, be cool.Ē in the movie, From Dusk Till Dawn. An actorís 5 minute monologue to 2 minutes because I felt in that scene there should be more visuals than hearing someone talk. The scenes were cut first, and then music was added. I cut the music to the scenes because I heard that the editor to The Crow movie did that. Anyone who was passing or who was a friend of mine, I asked to get their opinion on a scene. Questions like these were asked: Was the cut too quick or was the scene taking too long? The rough cut of The Intruder was 82 minutes. The movie was cut down to 75 minutes for pacing and for taking in other peopleís suggestions.

            The movie was finished edited on the day of the premiere. Like I said I would, I had the movie finished near the end of the Spring Semester. My closest friends came to the premiere and I watched the movie with the rest of the cast. A horror movie works if the audience has something to react to. The Intruder worked at the premiere because my closest friends and my cast members were reacting to the scenes. In my mind I told myself I was cutting the scenes to make the audience react somehow.  Watching the audienceís reaction was enjoyable because I was hoping they would.

            Remember when you were little and you showed a family member your drawing? The drawing wasnít a masterpiece but it was a labor of love. Thatís The Intruder. I just want people to recognize The Intruder as a labor of love. Even though times were tough, I enjoyed making the movie with my friends. Even though some did act like idiots for wanting me to postpone, there are bloopers of them at the end of the movie having fun. I enjoy hearing comments, whether good or bad, from people about the film. My favorite comment was from a friend who said she would not want to live in the dorm building I filmed in because it looked scary. I smile when I watch the movie by myself or with someone else. I learned what Iím good at and what I can improve on. I enjoy hearing my fatherís comments about what he liked about the film. I love movies and I poured all that love into The Intruder. That love will be poured into the next movie I do.

            I believe that anyone can make a movie but you need more than a camera and a script. Do you have the patience to make a movie? Do you have the energy to film a scene? Are you willing to put all your effort into something knowing it might turn out bad in the end? No one expected much from me which is why I am always glad to hear a comment about The Intruder. Even though there were too many obstacles that would have made another person just quit, I still made my first movie with love, passion, and heart and thatís what matters.  

Copyright March 2004 Jorge Solis all rights reserved. Sponsors


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