IFH 317: How NOT to Follow Your Filmmaking Dream



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For anyone who wasn’t able to make it out to my talk at the Chinese Theater a few weeks ago, you are in luck. I recorded it LIVE so I could bring it to the IFH Tribe. If you want to watch the talk check out the video below but if you are on a commute or can’t watch it sit back and enjoy my velvety voice, well just enjoy.

The talk is about how not to follow your filmmaking dream. The mistakes I made and why I sold my soul to the devil to make my filmmaking dream come true. I go in deep on my story from Shooting for the Mob. I speak about things I never discussed in public before so you are in for a treat.

I hope this helps a few of the IFH Tribe out and serves as a warning of what NOT to do.

Here some info on the book that inspired my talk.

A bipolar gangster, a naive, young film director, and Batman. What could go wrong? Alex Ferrari is a first-time film director who just got hired to direct a $20 million feature film, the only problem is the film is about Jimmy, an egomaniacal gangster who wants the film to be about his life in the mob.

From the backwater towns of Louisiana to the Hollywood Hills, Alex is taken on a crazy misadventure through the world of the mafia and Hollywood. Huge movie stars, billion-dollar producers, studio heads and, of course, a few gangsters, populate this unbelievable journey down the rabbit hole of chasing your dream. Would you sell your soul to the devil to make your dream come true? By the way, did we mention that this story is based on true events? no, seriously it is.

“As a young, aspiring director chasing his dream, the author half-falls and half-skids down the rabbit hole of becoming trapped by his “angel investor” — into an impossible situation, filled with shady characters, shockingly incompetent unprofessionals and money that seems to fly away as it is allegedly secured. This is the ultimate “How-Not-To” primer for beginning directors — and, for everyone else, a yarn to enjoy for its dark-edged hilarity.” – Jim Uhls (Screenwriter of Fight Club)


Alex Ferrari 5:30
Today I wanted to talk to you about following your dream. That dream that is in your belly, that dream that doesn't let you sleep at night, that doesn't let you breathe, that you fight so much to get a lot of times it's the filmmaking dream. A lot of times it's a screenwriting dream. But that dream, I want you to ask yourself, What are you willing to do for that dream? Are you willing to sell your soul to the devil to make that dream come true? Because that's exactly what I did. Now, before I tell that story, I want to tell you about a little bit of how I got there. Why, when the devil showed up, I signed on the dotted line. I was raised or I came up in the 1980s, late 80s, early 90s solons High School and film school came up. And during that time, it was a glorious time because it was kind of the birth of independent film back then. That's when all these amazing directors were coming on. It seemed like every single week, there was a new director a new mythical story that showed up. So we had Spike Lee with she's got to have it and john Singleton boys in the hood rock Richard Linklater, slacker, Tarantino, with Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith, with clerks. And of course, the most mythical of all these stories, Robert Rodriguez, El Mariachi. That story for my generation, and for many generations since is literally mythical. A young Latino filmmaker, goes out and makes a $7,000 action movie in 1990. Like today, that's doable, and people do it all the time. But back then it was unheard of the technology wasn't available to do it. And to have the audacity to make a feature film about that $7,000, let alone an action movie was insane. And the story goes that he happened to meet one of the biggest directing agents in Hollywood at ICM at the time, then he gets signs a deal with Columbia Pictures and goes on to make Desperado in Sin City. And once upon a time in Mexico and Spy Kids, and the rest is history. Now, that whole phenomenon taught that time and filmmaking, I call that there's a word that I came up with, which is basically the lottery ticket mentality. You know, filmmakers got into this, I have to make one movie. And that one movie is gonna get me into Sundance, and that Sundance movie is gonna, I'm gonna win Sundance, and then someone will come down from Mount Holly went and anoint you, you shall direct. And that was a mentality that not only did I buy into it, it was burned into my brain. And I was constantly looking for that lottery ticket. Everything I did was about that lottery ticket that short way that quick way, not the, I gotta bust my balls for 20 years, or 15 years or 10 years and pay my dues? No, no, no, that one movie is going to do it, that lottery ticket is going to do it for me. So when the devil showed up, for me, my devil was named Jimmy. And he was a gangster. Not a fake gangster, but an actual real mafia gangster, who spent time in the mafia. spent time in jail for doing God knows what. And he showed up and offered me a $20 million movie to direct his life story in a feature film. And a friend of ours connected us and I use the term friends very, very loosely. And I was very green. I was 26 years old. And I was extremely, extremely green. At that time, I was not worldly at all. I directed a few music videos and commercials. And I had talent and I had some experience. And I could have done a great job directing a feature I felt even at that young age. But when he offered it to me, I said to myself, is this my shot? Is this my lottery ticket? So what happens is when you fall into this wanting of your dream so much, and just you'll do anything for that dream, it opens yourself up to be taken advantage of by someone who's going to tell you exactly what you want to hear. So Jimmy found me and he's like, Okay, this kid has talent. I think I can use them like Do some stuff and I signed on the dotted line. I said, Sure. This has to be my shot, like, how else is this has to be it. So then he turns to me and goes, alright, kid, I need you to shoot a trailer. This is my bad Jimmy impression. So please bear with me as you shoot a trailer because I got to prove to the bonding company that you can actually direct the film. And I'm like, of course, what do we need to do is like, I need you to shoot like 10 minutes of my script. Here read the script, by the way. So I read the script. And it was amazing story. It was a really good story. The script needed work. And he goes, can you can you script doctor it? Can you rewrite it? And I said, Of course I can. I've never written script before. I said, Sure. course I can read your script. You know, how hard could it be? It's really, it's just words. So I took some scenes out of the movie, and out of the script, and I put together 10 minutes, so we're going to go shoot. And he's like, you need to pay for it. Because this is your shot. I'm giving you the shot, I'll give you the opportunity. So there's that word again, your shot. So I'm saying to myself with my shot. This is my shot. So I'm gonna bust out my credit card. And I'm gonna put $10,000 on it. Now, it worked for Kevin Smith. It worked for Robert Townsend and Hollywood shuffle. I couldn't have worked for me. So I put that 10,000 down by the way I was broke. I was not doing well, at the time, you know, but I was like, This is my shot. Gotta go. So we went and shot this amazing trailer. It was just brilliant. It was I really loved it. We shot it on 35 millimeter, because that's all we had back then. I flew in this amazing actor from LA he was a real Hollywood actor was the actual first time I'd ever worked with a real actor. He was amazing. He was wonderful. And we shot all this stuff. And we had a great time we shot the whole thing in about four days. I edited it and put it all together. And I was so proud. And Jimmy loved the Jimmy was like, Oh my god, kid, you got the good job. I knew you were the right guy. I knew you're the right guy. And we're gonna have this screening, we're gonna have the premiere. Now, when I tell you where the premiere is, you won't believe it. Of course, it's exactly maybe you will believe it. My premiere was going to be at an Italian restaurant. Straight out of Goodfellas. I'm not even joking. It's like literally a scene out of Goodfellas. And we were gonna like, take the back room, put a big tube TV because that's what was around. And we were going to put in I think it was a VHS at the time there was no DVDs yet burning. So I was gonna put the VHS and we're gonna watch it. Now before all that I'm finishing putting the finishing touches up on the on the trailer and I decide to call Jimmy, I'm like Jimmy, I'm doing the credits. So I'm just letting you know what the final credits are going to be. I'm going to be the director, obviously. And then I'm going to put you and me as a producer, since I produced it. And I paid for it. And I actually actually physically produced it. And DVDs like that's not gonna work yet. I'm the only producer on this. And of course, my young ego got a little flustered. And I said, Jimmy, I'm sorry, but that's just not gonna fly on the jet and all of a sudden the real Jimmy showed up. And he started railing into me on that phone call. threatening me I'm gonna throw you in a ditch. Do you know what the hell I am? I don't care. This is my movie. Who do you think you are all that and I hang up on? Because at this point, I'm still good. I think I could still walk away at this point. Mind you, that wonderful actor from LA overheard all this. And he got scared to death because he was playing Jimmy in the trailer. So he had spent time with Jimmy, you know, trying to get that whole, you know, get into the character and all that stuff. He said, Are you okay? I'm like, I can't believe this. You know, I'm pissed off and this. I'm still ignorant to the situation. I'm still. It's all about me. It's about my ego. That all of a sudden, that friend that connected us calls me and goes, What have you done? He goes, are you kidding me? Like I'm leaving? I'm not going to go tonight. He goes, What do you mean, you're not going to go tonight? He invited all his buddies. You know those extras that were on the set when you were shooting the trailer with real guns in their holsters while we were shooting. Remember those guys that you kind of ignored because you were too busy directing? They're all going to be there. And what do you think's going to happen? If Jimmy shows up? And his directors not there? And the movie doesn't show up? What do you think's going to happen? You think you're going to walk away from this? It's too late to walk away. And it all of a sudden dawned on me. I'm like, oh crap. I'm in. It's Donnie Brasco. I'm in. Man, I can't. I can't get out. And there was a moment right there that I had the choice. I had the choice to leave the situation. And if there was a moment that was it, or I'm gonna go down this road, the universe said, here it is your choice. You want to spend the next year going down this road with this guy, where you can walk away from your dream your shot. What are you going to do? I stayed. And I stayed because I was afraid. And because it was my shot. It was my lottery ticket. So I show up to the restaurant that night. And the second I see Jimmy, we locked eyes. And I could feel the voice inside of his head go, I got this guy. He's mine now. And I was and from that moment on for the next year, we tried to make this movie, we moved into our production offices, which was a 1960s, the lappa, dated racetrack. Straight out of brasco. I'm not even joking. I mean, I can't even explain to you red carpet. You could smell the cancer coming off the walls. The asbestos was everywhere. These were our production offices, our production meetings were about cocktail tables put together. That was our production meeting. I move in with Jimmy and we start trying to make this movie were sending reels out to everybody, all this kind of stuff. And the story of Jimmy and me trying to make a movie for the mob, by itself is extremely entertaining, and extremely would be fantastic. But that wasn't the only part about it. The funny thing is that Hollywood actually took him seriously. And I was flown out multiple times to LA. And I met billion dollar producers. I met the biggest movie stars in the world. I'm meeting the heads of the biggest agencies in the world. I'm at the Chateau, my mom, having tea with one of the biggest actors. You've know, if I say his name, you would know who he is. While I'm surrounded by other actors like, again, this is my shot that has to be my shot. I'm at the IV. I'm at Spa goes with meetings with producers. I'm meeting a billion dollar producer whose movie had just done gazillions amounts of money. And I'm in his penthouse in the Hollywood Hills, where the walls are made of glass. So you could just see all of the valley and everything was just stunning. And they're sitting there in his screening room like the end sequence of trade of True Romance. Literally watching my trailer. This has to be my my shot, right? Why would the universe do this? If it wasn't, I even got to meet Batman. I actually got to meet Batman, I was flown to an undisclosed location where I landed, and I went to Batman's house. I'm not kidding you one of the actors who played Batman, and I'm driving to his house and we get to the mansion. And it is a mansion. And it's Wayne Manor. It's just a man. Let's just call it what it is. It's Wayne Manor. All right. And then all of a sudden, as his assistant, his servant, his butler, what it's worth, Alfred. Alfred Alfred shows up. He goes Mr. Wayne, we'll see you in a minute. He's in the other wing. This is I'm not joking. I'm like, sure. I'm fine. Why not? So we walk in private chef making fresh omelets. He's like, what would you like, sir? I'm like, I don't know. Egg whites with some tomatoes. I'm like loving it. I'm like, it's this is insane. This has to be again, my shot, right? So I'm sitting there. And I'm waiting. While I'm looking at his awards and his movie posters and things he's done and all this kind of stuff, right? And all of a sudden, I see Batman walking towards me from the other side of the house. And I go, oh my god, there's Batman. And he's wearing a cardigan. Like, why is Batman wearing cardigan. It was surreal. It was surreal. And he comes up to me. And we start talking. I'm like, Oh my god, dude, like you'd be playing Batman and these movies you were in. And I love this movie that you also want an Oscar for and this is how man Thank you. They were sitting there for three hours talking. While Jimmy is basically twiddling his thumbs because Jimmy, we can't talk movies. He's a gangster. So we're talking movies and TV, all of a sudden Batman turns to me and goes, Hey, dude, you want to like sleep over? like to talk about the movie cuz I'm going to be in your movie. And I'm like, you're going to be my movie because I want I want to work with you and I want to be in your movie, again. test to be my shot. And I'm like, I would love to sleep over Batman stuff. And then all of a sudden, Jimmy goes Nah, kid. naki we gotta get back. We gotta keep working on the pre production. And I literally almost turn to him. I'm like, dude, When Batman asks you to sleep over, you sleep over. It wasn't to be I was flown out, flown back out to our racetrack. And I have this, I have this I have this app to share one other story with you because I want you to understand who Jimmy was. Jimmy not only threatened me verbally on a daily basis, it was like going to work with Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, you had no idea who you were going to get. It could be the coolest, funniest stories like amazing guy, or you can get my clown to do I amuse you. psychotic bipolar, insane. So he would threaten me on a daily basis, he would, I'm gonna throw you in a ditch. I remember one day while I was in a production meeting, he grabbed my shoulder and squeezed so tight right here. And said, because I had a really good production meeting, and my my crew and everything, were really happy. And they said, he said, Don't forget who's the captain of this ship, I can bust you over the head with a shovel and throw you in a ditch somewhere, which is fantastic motivation to direct the film. Wonderful. Just get your blood flowing. During that time of trying to make this movie, I was introduced to amazing crew people and had people flown in from LA I worked with and there was two crew members specifically that I have to mention, because in the darkest time of my life, there was two crew members that both from LA one was named Frank, who was a first ad who had worked with David Fincher and Martin Scorsese and all this stuff. And he became a mentor toward to me, showing me how to do it was a film school. This whole process was very rough film school, but a film school nevertheless. And the second guy was my cinematographer. We would like to call him Boris. Now Boris was Boris was like a light. He was a shining light in the darkest time of my life. He was there to protect me, he was there to educate me. He was from Eastern Europe. So I'd never met anyone from Europe because I'm like, close little box boy and completely green of the world. You know, and, and it was him that kind of helped me, him and Frank, who helped me through this. But still I was they could see the pressure. I was under the pounding I was under. And it was, it was insane. And I wanted to tell you that because of Boris is why I'm here talking about this story. Because Boris was the one who kept pounding me for 18 years. Alex, you have to tell the story. Alex, you have to share this. You have to write the screenplay. So exact words was always you have to write the screenplay. And I'm like, I'm not writing the screenplay. And it took me a long time. Where to finally a year and a half ago or so. I'm driving with my family to target. And Boris calls me out of the blue. He goes, are you near a radio? I said, Yeah, I mean, turn on this channel. When I turned it on, guess who was on Jimmy. And all of a sudden, I was that 26 year old kid again. And it all just came crashing down on me. I was 4345. I think there are 43 at the time, grown man with a family. And I was just there again. I was like, Oh my God. And I told my wife, I'm like, go into target I need. I need to I need to do this. I need to listen to this guy. And she knew some things about us. She doesn't know the whole story. Nobody knows the whole story. Nobody knows the whole story of what happened. And I'm sitting there listening to him spew again stuff. And he's talking about trying to make movies and how the world screwed him over and all this kind of craziness. So an interview ends and I call it Boris I call Boris I can't believe he's still doing this. Because you have to write the screenplay. It's time and I'm like, I'm not writing the screenplay. I'm not going to go chase money. It's a movie about a filmmaker trying to make a movie with the mob. It's a period piece because this happened all like in the early 2000s. Like who's going to give me the three to $5 million. And I'm going to probably need to make this because it's definitely not a $3,000 movie. This is going to be a little bit bigger. And he goes, Well, you can write a book. And I'm like, Jeremy. He's right. I can write the book. And that's what I did. It was the toughest thing I've ever had to do. Because I had to go back to the darkest time of my life and live there for a year while I was writing this thing. I would cry. While I was writing some scenes because I was feeling it all again. It all came rushing back to me. I would skip chapters as I was writing, because I knew where I would have to go emotionally to get to that place. And when I was done with it, the second the first draft was done, a weight had lifted off my shoulders. But the scary part about that it was a weight that I didn't know I was carrying, is not like I sat there for 10 years, going, Oh, Jimmy did this damage me Did I didn't do that I hadn't thought about him in a decade. I really hadn't. But I realized something after the book was released. And I had this cathartic experience that I went back and analyze my life a little bit. And what I realized was, that traumatic experience in my life, had literally changed the trajectory of my entire life and career. Because every decision I made on a subconscious level, my subconscious mind was trying to protect me, because it did not want to go back to that it associated making a feature film, with extreme pain, on a subconscious level on a conscious level. I'm Tarantino, let's do this. But subconsciously, I was surrounding myself with people that would never get it done. I would throw obstacles in front of myself, I sabotage myself. And I asked myself, my God, if I am going through this, I can only imagine how many of my fellow filmmakers have done this, that they don't even know that they're doing. Whether it's fear of fear of failure, fear of success, mommy told me I didn't, I wasn't good enough. You're dumb, all of that stuff. And I finally realized that I needed to get this story out there. I wanted to get it out there to help people, to let them know that there's a choice, that you have a choice, when you're in a bad situation, you should never sell your soul for the mere opportunity to get your dream to come true. It wasn't a guaranteed dream, it was the opportunity to possibly get the dream. You shouldn't compromise yourself. You shouldn't take abuse. How many people right now as we're sitting here, have been taking abuse in this town, in Hollywood right now from their boss, their, you know, directors, their people in power, beating down the people below them. And they put up with it, why that mere chance to get to the next level to get that one promotion to get that one thing to get that Lottery Ticket Lottery Ticket that's going to take me to the next level. And I really wanted to get this story out there for that reason that reason only. And I'm going to leave you with this quote. We'll leave you with two quotes. One of my favorite quotes is by Robin Sharma, who says most people die at 20, but are buried at 90. And when I heard that, quote, it was like a gut punch. Because most a lot of our friends, a lot of people we know a lot of filmmakers will take that job to make the money, but won't do, what they're not doing what they're meant to do. They're not there to follow your dream. I am a proponent of following your dream. Because you're all here for a reason. Everybody in the world is here for a specific reason. You have a talent, you have a gift to share with the world. What that is, is up to you. It doesn't have to be grandiose, it could be something simple. But you need to find it because when you find it, then you become happy. And you're not that bitter, angry filmmaker, that we all know. And I always tell people, we all know that angry bitter filmmakers, right. And if you don't know angry, bitter filmmakers, you are the bitter angry filmmakers. So I always tell people, please follow your dreams. But be very careful about the devils that are waiting around the corner to take advantage of you on your dream. And I hope this story helps you on your journey through it. And I'll leave you with one quote by the late and great Joseph Campbell, who said the treasure that you seek is in the cave that you're afraid to walk into. Who is walk into that cave every single time the opportunity comes to you. Because you're only here for a short amount of time. Follow your dreams, be safe about it. But always, always. Go for it. Thank you guys. I hope you enjoyed that keynote that I did, guys, thank you again, so so much for all the tribe members that came out and supported and did the book signing and everything. And of course if you guys have not gotten the book yet, shame on you first of all, but if you want the book, please head over to shooting for the mob calm that shooting with two O's. And you can buy the book there and it already hit the Amazon bestseller list in certain categories already. And I'm so so so grateful to that. So thank you for all the tribe members who are buying the book. And please if you have bought the book, you've read this book Please leave a review, please, please, please leave a review on Amazon, it means so, so much the more reviews we get, the higher we can get ranked. And the more time more books can be sold and get this message and get this story out there, hopefully help some people. And guys, you know, I really felt very, very passionately about this keynote because I wanted to, to just let people know, my experience on how I literally sold my soul to the devil, to make my dream come true, or even the mere chance of making my dream come true. And it's a mistake that so so many filmmakers make, and so many young filmmakers make in this in this business old as well, for that matter. And I really hope that this talk, I hope this book really, really helps a lot of people out. So again, thank you for all the support guys. And another exciting bit of news, I will be doing the final public screening of on the corner of ego and desire at the brave maker Film Fest up in San Fran in the San Fran area where I will be not only screening the movie twice, I will be doing multiple panels, and they are giving me a full hour and change to do a keynote on how to break through your fears of making your first feature film. And again, not to sell your soul to the devil to make that dream come true. And I'm gonna do a keynote there book signing as well answering Q and A's it's going to be very, very exciting. So if you want tickets, just go over to brave maker Film Fest. This search it up in Google, I will put putting a direct link in the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/317 for tickets, but I hope to see you guys there. It's going to be awesome. And of course if you haven't seen the movie, I can't wait for you guys to see the movie. It is. It is epic. I have to say, I really do love that movie. So so much. I'm so proud of it. So thanks again, guys for all the support. I appreciate it. Have a great, great, great weekend. And I'm going to leave you with this. If you tell yourself you can't, you won't. As always keep that also going keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you soon.




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