More Shitty Films, Please!

You Will Never Make Anything This Good

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times over Jäger shots at an indie film fundraiser, “We need to stop making shitty films. What this town needs is to make good films, knock peoples socks off, so we can get somewhere.” As if it were that simple. Because if it were, we’d all be making Citizen Kane in our back yards already. While I agree that making great film is a noble goal, it’s not going to happen for most indies, and then if you stop making shitty films…well, then you’d have to stop making films altogether.

Why is indie so intractably shitty? I think the real question is, “why are we surprised that someone who has zero experience making a film puts out a bad film?” If I gave you a guitar right now (assuming you had never played one before) and shoved you up on stage this Saturday in a shithole biker bar somewhere in Algona, how long do you think you would last before the cries of, “Freebird” from the ugly, drunken crowd actually made you cry? There’s been nights when I lasted two or three sets before breaking down and having to pop my ‘hole card’ percocet to deal. And I think that’s the problem–as film makers we are so far removed from the disapproval of our audience that we are free to indulge the fantasy of our brilliance far longer than real performers. When the time frame between writing and finished product is months, or even years, we can be excused for being slow on the uptake about just how bad we really suck.

Blowing your wad on one massive, shitty, indie project is the bugaboo that hamstrings the majority of indies. It’s easy to understand the fantasy of trying make your name right out of the gate. Making a film is such a huge, expensive endeavor that it makes sense that you’d want to knock it out of the park, who knows when you’ll get another chance? But this is entirely the reverse of the way we should be looking at the matter. Have you listened to the entire catalog of The Beatles? Amidst the brilliance of Lennon and McCartney is a whole lot of shite, and they are widely regarded as the most successful, prolific songwriters of their era.  What Lennon and McCartney certainly did right was crank out a nearly endless supply of songs from the word go. Many of the songs were splendid, but the dynamic duo didn’t grab a guitar and bass at fourteen, plug in, and write Eleanor Rigby.

And take J.J. Abrams, as another example. Whatever you may think of the man’s films, he is widely recognized as a successful film maker, and certainly did not spring from nowhere. In an interview with Howard Stern, Abrams recounted his early years making films. J.J.’s father was in the entertainment industry, and making films was a natural course for J.J. to take. J.J.’s first films were done on Super 8, and by his own admission, were entirely shitty. He made a bunch of shitty films, and eventually they got better. His advice for aspiring film makers? “The technology and distribution channels have gotten to the point where anyone can make a film. We no longer have the same restrictions, and you don’t have to be associated with a studio. Go make your film, there is no longer anything stopping you.” I think he should have said, “films”.

Here’s an idea: instead of blowing twenty grand out of your IRA,  (and a hundred favors that can never be repaid) on twenty minutes of absolutely abysmal indie hellishness, why not blow two grand on five minutes? Better yet, spend five hundie and make a ninety second sketch. Get it through post, and then see where you’re at. Figure out where you went wrong. Because you did somewhere, believe me. Otherwise you would be doing this for a living.

Now go do it again, like ten or twenty more times. You’ll be able to, because you’ll still have savings and favors left to pull from. Give me twenty shitty, two minute films. I bet by the time to get to seventeen or so they’ll start to get watchable. If not, well maybe you’re not cut out for this film thing. You should go be a butcher or something. Nothing wrong with being a butcher.

True bottom of the barrel indie film is going to suck. There is no getting around it. The people who exist at this level do not possess the talent, skill and experience to pull off something truly great, and there is simply no money to be had. So instead of wallowing in misery and bitterness, cursing the cruel hegemony of the ‘system’ that keeps our genius in the darkness of obscurity, let’s embrace our station in life. Yeah, we’re not that good. So what? We can still have fun and learn our craft.

Give me a hundred shitty films. A thousand. I want to see an entire nation awash in a sea of horific indie clap trap. I can guarantee you that while you are agonizing over your one shitty film and running yourself into bankruptcy there’s some fuck nut cranking out ten films on the same budget, getting ten times the experience. That fuck nut is going to be the next J.J. Abrams.

Not you.





  1. Happened upon this link on Reddit. You’re right of course. I’ve been acting in indie films for 6 years in my area and just made the natural move over to film making about 2 years ago. Admittedly i haven’t gotten much experience in in that time. I’ve co created a 7 minute short and a 26 minute. I’ve experienced what you’re talking about first hand though… local guy with a horrible script hires local horrible director to turn out a horrible film. The director really should not have accepted the job and taken the guy’s money, but it happened. I don’t think you should be using people’s life savings for your practice in getting film making experience. Anyway, if you want to see another horrible indie film, here’s the link to my newest that I wrapped up post on a few weeks ago. It’s really not that bad to be honest. Accordion player in a polka band is introduced to a dating guide written by Christopher Walken which talks about how using Facebook relationship status updates to make yourself seem unavailable will get you women because according to Walken: “Women want what they can’t have”. It is of course an action/horror film. Kidding. 26 min comedy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ModK6cG93E&feature=colike

  2. Jer,

    “I don’t think you should be using people’s life savings for your practice in getting film making experience,” is probably the best comment ever.

    I’ve seen so many ass hat vendors take these dupes’ money with not even a hint of remorse. “It’s going to be great!” they tell them. “No, don’t worry about budget, we’ll deal with that later.” Much later, after they’ve cashed their check and moved on to the next dupe.

    Your film sounds hysterical. I’m going to watch it.

    Well played, good sir.

  3. Weekend Lites

    Nice essay Ben.

  4. Love your article – and I so agree. My first feature got terrible reviews in the States, however a lot of hype as well in Asia (for the reason that I’ve done it on 2000 USD, not necessarily the actual quality of the film haha).

    The result: I made a 2nd feature with a higher budget which turned out a lot better. And now I’m going to make my 3rd one :) Cheers!

    • Cheers!

      That’s how you do it, Juliane! Each film is a stepping stone to the next bigger, better thing. Pretty soon, you don’t suck any more.


  5. I think what you’re saying here is totally practical advice. Making a bunch of shorts allows filmmakers to try things out, go out on a limb more (experiment) and not have to worry about money as much or making a bad feature, which is the nightmare that keeps filmmakers from either not trying at all (not even making a movie) or trying ‘to hit one out of the park’ and falling on their face. At the same time, there is this sort of go for broke feeling towards filmmaking, where it could be your last film and you want it to matter. I guess the point is: Don’t go for broke unless you can afford it? I don’t know. I also like that you mention how even the Beatles have some minor work. The first films by most great directors are usually a little shoddy and not scorchingly ambitious; they worked up to that and it took a couple movies to create their styles. They knew they needed practice — that’s one point of your article. And not everything they made later is great either What I’m saying is a lot of luck and outside factors come into creating a good film. Things have to sort of go your way. Know that. Be prepared. Do the work. Be critical. Be able to see the flaws and work them out as much as possible before hand (this includes making those shorts, doing tests and- if at all possible – REHEARSING). Set appropriate perimeters and go for broke within them…. also, thank you for using the word ‘bugaboo’.

    • dilettante douchebag

      Bugaboo is my favorite word now.

      Yeah, I don’t know why people are so afraid to suck. It’s a learning curve. Everything is a learning curve. Nobody is a genius the first time they do anything. I think that fear of being criticized is the main reason people don’t progress.

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