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Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Articles - Screenwriting

Jon Heder
Jon Heder stars as Napoleon Dynamite

You can never have enough pre-production.

Start it as soon as you can and be as thorough as possible before you ever even think about shooting. Any problems before production will only be magnified—and more expensive—to solve once production starts.

Once you start production, you’re spending money whether you’re aware of it or not.

An hour of lost productivity on set can be more money than you think if you add up all your crew fees and other stuff. Sometimes cutting corners to save money could end up costing you more in the long run.

Most people in Hollywood could have their job done by someone else as well—or better—than them.

Before I did my internship, I had this idea that everyone working successfully in the film industry was unbelievably talented and hard-working. After my internship, Hollywood was totally demystified. Everyone is a normal person when it comes down to it, and with enough effort and luck, it’s definitely possible to break into the business and do their jobs—so don’t be scared.

Success is when Preparation meets Opportunity.

Yeah, it’s probably a cliché, but don’t wait for opportunity to come knocking because it probably won’t come. You can’t be passive and expect to succeed in this business. You need to be actively engaged and pursuing whatever position you want to not only help create more opportunities, but to make sure you can make the most of opportunities when you do get lucky.

Don’t mistake lack of talent for genius.

I got that off a Type O Negative CD when I was in high school and it’s one of my favorite quotes. If you find a movie to be lame and incoherent, chances are it is lame and incoherent for a number of people. Many seem to be afraid to admit that they didn’t get a film and it quickly becomes an "Emperor’s New Clothes" kind of thing—where they talk about the genius and how unique it is when really even the creators of the film couldn’t explain what it means.

Stay away from the craft services table!

It’s hard enough to stay in shape and healthy when you’re busy shooting, much less when you’re grabbing handfuls of M&Ms and soft drinks all day long. Sure, it’s good and free—but it’s amazing how quickly you can gain 5 to 10 pounds over a shoot.

It can always be shorter.

When I’m editing, I like to keep things as brief as possible and have it still work. If you can get your point across just as well and rewarding in two minutes, why take five and risk boring people?

A well-fed crew is generally a happy crew.

Don’t go cheap on craft services or meals, if at all possible. The first thing a crew will start grumbling about is bad food. It’s a nice little way to show your appreciation to the crew and it will be reflected in their morale.

Go with your first instinct, usually, when editing.

Most of the time my initial gut reaction to a scene is the most natural and best way to cut it. If you’re stuck editing a problem scene, try doing the opposite of what you’re currently trying—no matter how silly it seems. Sometimes it will actually work (or at least point toward a better solution).

Remember that it’s only a movie.

No matter how big or important a film is, it’s not worth getting hurt or possibly dying for. It’s also not worth losing a good friend over a creative dispute. Keep your ego small and priorities in the right order.

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