On Being a Part-Time Filmmaker

I’m a part-time filmmaker.

What does that mean? Well, first I have a day job. There was a point in time when I quit my day job to try to produce episodic Christian TV content. It was well received, but didn’t pay. So I went back to a real job. So filmmaking isn’t where I make living.

Obviously, I’m also an independent filmmaker. I don’t work for a studio, or in the studio system. I don’t even work within the Christian studio system, such as it is. Instead, I make movies in my spare time. I make movies I want, but I have limited resources.

I work on movies in my spare time. I am currently 3 months behind in releasing my movie. Normally my projects are small, so I can do them quickly, in the time I have. But my current film is a feature project. It’s my first full-length feature, ever. And it’s been interesting.

My original goal was to release it by Christmas. Now, I’m working hard to release it before April. I’m close. Because I do this in my spare time, it’s hard to stay on a schedule. And the larger the project, the more that can delay you. Life is full of surprises. And no project will ever be more important than my family, so if I have to choose between them, the film loses out.

I cannot wait to release this movie. It’s the best work I’ve ever done. It’s a micro budget documentary, but the stories are good. If you have any interest in speech & debate, homeschooling or competition in general you will enjoy it. I want people to see it.

I can’t believe I’m almost done. I’ve been working on this so long I can barely imagine not spending every weekend possible editing or shooting for this project. It’s been over a year and a half of my life. As of today, it’s been 613 days since I got permission to shoot the documentary. Add another couple of months of work before that, getting ready, pitching the project, etc… That’s a long time.

Part-time filmmakers have to do most things themselves. I’m hiring out the closed captioning, but everything else in post production I’ve done myself. People say you shouldn’t edit your own films. I’d love to have that option. But because I’m part-time, independent and micro-budget, I do whatever I can. I would even do the captions, but it takes forever and I can get it done professionally for $1 a minute- or for $105 total for my film.

So the weight of the film rests completely on my shoulders. Because I value these stories, I’m doing whatever I can to tell them well. In the studio system, people specialize. They get very good at a small number of things, and work with a large group to make movies. But part-time filmmakers have to be decent at all aspects of filmmaking. We will have some things we are better at, but we have to do everything pretty well.

On the one hand, this is great because we retain complete creative control. On the other, it’s terrible because the parts of the process you are not good at are not done well. The reality is that no matter how hard we try, a one-man-band, part-time filmmaker probably won’t make an Oscar worthy film. That doesn’t mean it won’t be good, but there will be deficiencies. That stinks when you work as hard as we do.

The only thing we can do is tell our stories to the best of our ability. Stories that entertain, that inform, that inspire. They won’t be perfect, but they are important.

Which brings me to the last thing about being a part-time filmmaker, we tell stories we are passionate about. Whether through narrative or documentary, we have the freedom to pick and choose was we want to do. we don’t have to do a film to make a living. We can look for the right story, the one we want to spend our free time doing. When we take on a project it’s because we are passionate about it. If we aren’t, we will not finish it.

When I started my doc film, I was looking for a story I could tell with the resources I had available. I wanted to make a movie. And suddenly this idea popped into my head. I tried a proof of concept film, and then began work on the feature length idea. It is the largest film endeavor I have ever been involved in. But I love the stories of kids overcoming their hurdles and standing up to be judged. I loved the story about how experiences in speech & debate will inevitably impact students, and the world as the students go out- armed with the ability to think, research and communicate. And the kids are great. They are entertaining. I hope my work shows how compelling their lives were during this time.

I made “If My Judges Are ready?” because I loved the idea of it. And I wanted to share it. And when it’s done, I will be looking for the next story to tell… part-time.