How NOT to Direct a Television Pilot with Dave Bullis
Before I get any hate mail I wanted to let you know that our guest today reached out to me and offered to do this episode. So I didn’t ask a fellow filmmaker to come on the show and tell us all how not to direct a television pilot. Dave Bullis is a director, writer, and podcaster. He approached me with this idea and I said let’s do it. The more truth bombs I can lay on the IFH Tribe the better.
Game Over (GO) was a TV pilot Dave filmed a few years ago about five employees at a video game store struggling to get to the next level in their lives. He went through hell making it and his stories even surprised me. Dave also decided to write a length guide to help filmmakers shoot their own projects.
There’s much to be learned so listen up. Thx Dave for your honesty and candor. Below is the FULL Pilot of Game Over.
Below is the FULL Pilot of Game Over.
LINKS AND RESOURCES MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- The Dave Bullis Podcast
- Dave Bullis – Twitter
- Dave Bullis – Facebook
- How NOT to Shoot a $50,000 Short Film
- This is Meg – Feature Film
- Tailorsound.com (IFH TRIBE DISCOUNT 15% OFF – (Just type HUSTLE anywhere in “Post Your Brief” section)
- Martin Scorsese Film Directing Masterclass
- Werner Herzog Filmmaking Master Class
- Aaron Sorkin Screenwriting Master Class
- Kevin Spacey Acting Master Class
- FreeFilmBook.com (Download Your FREE Filmmaking Audio Book)
Dave Bullis’ Guide to Mistakes to Avoid When Shoot a Television Pilot
At that point, I had directed a student feature film and over ten short films but I wanted to make something that I could not only be really proud of but something that would also challenge me. If you listen to this episode, Alex and I discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of shooting a television pilot. In this article, I want to complement the interview by going over some tips on how to build a team and finding locations, two of the biggest hurdles for filmmakers.
Building A Team
Earlier this year I read the book, Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willink, a retired Navy Seal. While this book focuses on leadership and discipline within the military, you see a lot of cross over into the creative space. At the end of the day, if you’re the person in charge everything good and bad is your fault. If you hire a person and they end up not working out, it’s your fault. If they break a lens, and you can’t film, it’s your fault. Why? You hired the person. Embrace the ownership.
Get contracts. No matter what. There are tons of templates for free on the internet if you can’t hire a good entertainment lawyer
Your network is your net worth. The ability to reach out to people for resources is key. Build your network before, during, and after the project is done.
Don’t let personal relationships affect professional relationships. Don’t hire your friends just because they’re nice people.
Hire slow, fire fast. Take time to find your core group of people. As the old adage goes, “if you want to know who your friends are asked for a trip to the airport or ask them for help to make your movie”, but I’d advise you unless your friends are actually in the film business don’t ask them to help out on set.
When do you fire someone? One thing I learned from working with producer Marc Bienstock (Glass, Split, The Visit) is the philosophy of, ‘everyone gets one mistake’. If someone is constantly making mistakes part ways with them because that’s just the mistakes you know about. There’s no telling how many other mistakes they’re making that you don’t know about.
Ask for references. For some reason in the entertainment industry, people don’t ask for references like in more traditional industries. Always ask for a few people who will say good things about the person you’re thinking about hiring.
Hire a Producer first. Hire someone better than you. How do you do that? By giving someone an opportunity. If you know of a UPC who wants to go into producing, that’s your opportunity. They then can show others what they can do in this role. Also, it’s incentive for them to put all their effort into the production to make it really good.
Don’t hire anyone just because they have an amazing camera package. I did this once. His attitude was piss poor and he refused to show up for production meetings and refused to read the shoot lists. He showed up the first day completely in the dark, and I’m sure you can tell… it didn’t go well. (
Personality is everything. You’ll be working with this people for long days and its when things get bad that all problems come to a head. Everyone can lose their head in times of crisis and problems. Real professionals stay calm under pressure.
Don’t hire anyone because they name drop – Great this person once bought a latte in front of Harrison Ford at a Starbucks but that doesn’t mean the person can get him to look at the project.
Don’t hire for social media numbers alone – Make sure there’s so actual engagement there and they follow the person for their acting or art not because they post modeling shoots
Build a team with complementary talent. I know in the modern DIY age everyone wants to be a one-man crew to save time and money but you need to build on your strengths, that’s what gives you a USP or unfair advantage.
Problem Solving. People who create more problems then they solve need to go as fast as possible. The Art of Problem Solving is the ability to solve problems without a greater or equal problem.
What do you do if you don’t have any contacts? Make them. I constantly am talking about how Twitter is the best networking tool out there. Find people in your area by doing a quick search. If there’s no one in your town/city, keep expanding your search. Reach out to your nearest film office. Drive to a film festival. There are no excuses anymore not to be out there meet like-minded people.
Expectations vs Reality – Make sure that everyone knows their job, and everyone’s expectations are lined up. You may get into Sundance, you may get into a local film festival.
If you’re not having fun, don’t do it – Remember this is all supposed to be fun
“If I ran a film school, I would teach them how to pick locks, and forge a shooting permit.” – Werner Hertzog
Locations to me are the biggest problem spot of any filmmaker. You have an idea and look to find the perfect location to film but it can be very tough depending on where you live and the kind of project.
On Game Over we shot 95% at the studio, and then one shot at where I worked, and then one shot we completely stole. No permission, no knowledge from the people there – nothing. It was a part of a large building complex that looks (funny enough) like a strip mall. We shot at the far end away from everyone else, and only a handful of people noticed and not one person said anything to us. Did we get lucky? Absolutely. Was it risky? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
When you’re planning to shoot your film, the locations you have the most access to are;
- Where you live
- Where you work
- Where you frequent – these are the independently owned bars, restaurants, etc you go to. It doesn’t always work but it sure as hell helps
You can write a script around what you have access to. This will help keep costs down, and you’ll have more control over the project. But if you did want to venture out, and give the project more production value, here’s how I’ve always pitched places from prisons to bars to restaurants to banks (and yes I’ve filmed in all of these places).
Before you get started
Three things to remember when approaching people.
- Be professional
- Kill with kindness/gratitude
- Offer value
These three concepts are what have lead me through a lot of doors.
Getting Your Foot in the Door
So you’ve found a location you’d like to shoot in, now what? If you’re already on a first name basis with the location owner that’s already a huge door open, and really its just a matter of pitching about shooting there, and whether or not they’re open to it. But lets say you’re not friendly with the owner, how would you go about filming there.
Nothing beats a face to face meeting. They can get a better sense of who you are, and vice versa.
Don’t start by asking to shoot there right away. Build a relationship. As you go into a business strike up a sincere conversation. Tell them how much you like the location, how much you like their product, etc.
If they say no, don’t take it personally. Thank them for their time and consideration, you may be able to film there at a later date.If the business doesn’t offer to let you film there for free and you don’t have the money to pay, it’s a student project. Embrace it.
It’s hard to sell your project when you have to ask for a free location.
The email or phone call needs be great because this is your first impression, and once you make a bad impression it’s almost impossible to recover.
– Greeting (Professionalism + gratitude)
– Body (Offer value)
- Why would they give you permission?
- What are you offering them (money, press, etc)?
- If they’re pitched constantly how you will be any different?
– Signature (Professionalism)
Add your contact information (phone, email, title, etc)
If you reach a secretary, always respect the gatekeeper. Always.
If you reach a voicemail, leave a clear and concise message. You don’t want to sound like a vendor. Most businesses are hit constantly by salesmen, and you need to stand out.
Other Filmmaking Locations
No Man’s Land: There’s a reason so many Star Wars fan films are made in the woods. These are areas in the middle of nowhere with nobody around.
Abandoned structures: Buildings and factories. Most of these are locked off BUT some are available to shoot in. Look for signs that are really weather damaged (sun bleached, etc) because these places have been vacant for a while (or the realtor keeps reusing the same sign but I digress) and a building costs money to upkeep whether it’s operational or not, means they’re losing money each month.
So if you were to approach them to film at there location you could have an opportunity. And take this advice for other locations too. See a storefront that looks unkempt? Nobody cutting the grass? All of this is an opportunity.
More Location Tips
– Most places will ask two questions;
- Is there nudity?
- Is there gore? (fake blood, etc)
Approaching a location yourself during business hours might be tough. When you know a downtime, walk in and introduce yourself, and leave them with your business card.
Making sure you leave the location as you found it – don’t be a jerk and leave trash. You’ll never be able to shoot there again, and also ruin it for other filmmakers.
Sometimes its best to walk away. – Don’t continuously try and bug people.
Over promise, and over deliver. – Promote the location on social media if they have a channel, talk to them up the local press if they cover your project. One time I was able to get a battlefield for free by donating to a charity of their choice.
If you have any questions, comments about this article or Game Over or want to pick my brain or just want to send me some hate mail please feel free.
For the art and love of filmmaking – Dave
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