I have a big family, and we're all very close. As kids we'd spend our
vacations together, fifteen cousins (I was the eldest) sitting around
our grandparents' house in Colorado for several weeks with nothing much
to do. Being too young to either understand the epic familial conflicts
of our parents or drive to the mall, we spent our time making movies.
And as the years passed, our library grew. From the frothy comedy of
Aaron and Adam's Excellent Adventure to the effects-driven
grandeur of Space Vampires, from historic epics such as Robing
Hat, Prince of Nothing to the hard-hitting documentary
Blood on the Sand: The Olga Gruben Story, we pushed the boundaries
of teen filmmaking. We made blood squibs from ziplock bags and cherry
Capri-Suns. We took vintage gowns from our grandmother's closet, put
them on stuffed bears and threw them off rooftops. We woefully underused
our one female cousin, Bethany, for which I'd like to publicly apologize.
Sorry Bethany. And at the end of the vacation, after cutting it all
together record-pause style from camera to VCR, we corralled our tipsy
parents in front of the TV and had our screening.
When it came time to make my first feature, a strange little detective
movie called Brick, I was 29 years old. It had taken seven
years to find the money, get the cast and crew and pull it all together.
In that time I had directed plenty of shorts, but in a way I felt like
I was hopping straight from the level of those family movies to shooting
a real film. I had never worked with a cast of professional actors.
I had never directed a full crew. I felt confident in my ability to
visually tell a story, and as frustrating as those seven years of limbo
had been, they gave me plenty of time to plan every detail of what this
movie would be. But still, going into it, a part of me was terrified.
The big revelation for me was that everything I needed to know about
the logistics of making my first feature film, I learned from making
those family movies. You think it's tough keeping a low-budget feature
crew happy and motivated each day on set? Try working with nine-year-olds
you're related to. How about knowing exactly what camera angles to cover
a scene with? Piece of cake, we used to edit our family videos in camera.
Getting kicked out of a location or busted for not having a permit?
Child's play, if you've handled explaining to your grandmother what
her Chanel couture gown is doing on that bear.
As proud as I am of the finished product and of everyone's work on the
film, the thing I'm most proud of from my entire experience making
Brick was the atmosphere during the shoot. In all the best ways,
it felt like a natural extension of those family movies. If I'm lucky
enough to keep making films, no matter what the budget, I hope every
one of them captures that same feeling of a vacation during which we
all decided to skip the mall, raid some wardrobes and make a movie.