Renowned filmmaker and television host Del Weston is known for saying it like it is, and with his new book on independent filmmaking, Weston’s tongue remains true to his nature.
The Top 100 Indie Filmmakers In The World Part 1, now available on iTunes, showcases the world’s best independent filmmakers in a way never before seen in print or otherwise. Their hopes, their dreams, their work along with links to the people who have molded them and their craft are explored and revealed.
Before we get onto the book, how long have you been an independent filmmaker yourself?
First of all, thank you for taking the time for the interview. I began doing television and film in the early 1980’s. My first television shows were the IKBA Kickboxing Championships and the Del Weston’s World of Martial Arts Shows. I had a blast producing and directing the shows that were about some of the things that I loved. The action, the excitement, the crowds, and the immortalization of those fights – that without documentation – would be lost for all time.
From there I went on to produce my first film, Painless George, which was so bad that I think I cried for three months after the film was done. Bad, Bad, Bad. That being said, I was hooked and everything I did after that film was with the mistakes I’d already made in mind.
From there I made Reality Racing: The Rookie Challenge for SPIKE TV, The AOF Channel for NBC and Feelin’ Good. I’ve had a good run. Most recently I co-wrote, post produced and DP’d Joe Pesci’s Behind The Gate. It’s been good.
And you’ve worked for some of the bigger studios too? What projects have you been involved in?
My first real big film was Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky V. What an experience to be around those people on that set. A month to rehearse, a private trailer, Irwin Winkler, Richard Gant, you name it, they were there, and great money. Wow. The learning experience there was worth more than all of that combined. To see how the big boys worked, the hierarchy, the divisions, the sheer amount of people it took to get things done. Fantastic.
This project came after I got a role as a martial arts master in the Jet Li film, Masters. Half Asian and half American cast and crew. Confused, unorganized, Li broke his arm halfway through the production doing something stupid. Language was a problem but it was a fun film. I hear that the director Tsui Hark and the star Jet Li haven’t done too badly for themselves. Everyone else didn’t really make a splash or break out but we all had our chances and a chance is all you can ask for.
What are the most noticeable differences working on independent productions to studio productions?
There are a lot of differences because there is so much more money at risk. There are more agents, more managers, more timeliness and less forgiveness for the bullshit that can occur on an indie set where everyone may not be as professional or experienced as you need them to be.
On Rocky V, two stuntmen, Steve Santuso and Todd Champion, got hurt really badly after being paid to take real hits from boxer Tommy Morrison. I took a hit too but it didn’t hurt me. He knocked me on my ass but I didn’t get hurt. It was a dumb thing to do but they got away with it. On a smaller indie film, you wouldn’t have seen that kind of stuff. Unless the director is a complete moron, he wouldn’t risk hurting someone unnecessarily “just to get the authenticity” in a shot. But who knows, I’ve seen some pretty stupid stuff on both big and little sets.
Also, on a big film with big stars, you know you are going to be seen, distribution, SAG wages, residuals etc., so I think the performers work a little bit harder. If you do a great job, you may pick up another gig. With a smaller production, you’d better enjoy the hot dogs because that may be all you end up with.
These days, you run the AOFF. How did the festival come to be?
The Action On Film International Film Festival came after a hugely disappointing experience with the California Independent Film Festival. My second feature, Camden, which was shot on film, beautifully and with a cast of 60 was a really good film. The festival showed it on a sheet, which was taped to a wall in the basement of a winery in Northern California. I had two options, burn the place to the ground or start a real film festival that really respected filmmakers and writers. So, 12 years ago, that’s just what I did.
I imagine you meet so many independent filmmakers through the festival and that’s how you came up with the idea for the book?
No, I came up with the book because a lot of filmmakers have absolutely no idea of how to promote themselves, their work or the people around them. By the way, we have two other books in production which feature writers and actors in the works as we speak.
I love this industry. My worst day on set has been better than my best day working for anyone else. Filmmakers and writers from around the world are my second family. If everyone worked to insure that everyone else succeeded, we could blow any studio away with quality projects.
That’s one of my goals – lofty as it seems – to create a place where great films, from great people can be made, marketed, sold and then more can be made from that model. Believe me, it’s going to happen and sooner than you might think.
What’s something independent filmmakers should know, but don’t, going into movie-making?
First and foremost, it is going to cost more than you think. It’s going to take longer than you think. People you trust are going to betray you. That hot actress that you are in love with has a boyfriend and she isn’t going to fall in love with you. She says she will so that she can get extra scenes and have you cut the nudity out.
The guy at the post house is going to screw you over so hard you’ll think you’ve gone to hell and you’re dealing with Satan himself. Keep your files, ALL FILES backed up because someone somewhere is going to try to hold them hostage. Reject the urge to trust everyone you meet; they don’t like you and they think they can do a better job than you. For some reason, creative people think that they have all the answers, they need to listen more than they speak. And finally, listen to your husband or wife or your mother or your father. Not only do they love you, but they like you; even when money is not involved, they can be trusted. Those people and maybe your dog can be trusted. Cats are like you’re temporary best friend, they love you when you feed them or rub them in the right place but they’ll scratch your eyes out first chance they get.
Do you think these guys making independent films mostly go into them to make money – and is that where they’re going wrong?
Absolutely not. That’s like saying you saved up two hundred dollars and now you’re going to Las Vegas to get rich. In my experience, people know that they are going to lose money on their film. The bullshit stories you hear about Robert Rodriguez are just that. Do you have any idea how much money they spent just to get the deliverables ready to release that turd? Look at Mattie Rich. His film, Straight Out of Brooklyn, turned into Has Anyone Seen Mattie lately? Those fairy tale stories are created to keep people buying cameras, non-linear editing systems and cheap suits. They are created to raise the hopes and dreams of hot girls from the Midwest coming to Hollywood on a bus to become stars. I am so convinced that these fairy tales are just that, and that every industry have them. The only real overnight successes I’ve ever seen took twenty years to make.
Whose story do you consider the most interesting in this first installment of the book?
I think that they are all interesting and unique because every story is different. Literally, no two stories are alike. We have people represented from Australia, Canada, England, Russia, Italy, France, Iran, Ireland; the list just keeps going on and on,
One story that I find of particular interest is Stan Harrington. I watched this guy live in a utility closet in a building in Hollywood waiting for his break. Since then he has created relationships and opportunities with some of the biggest names in the industry. It wasn’t overnight. It wasn’t from chance meetings. It was from hard work and suffering. I am particularly proud of him.
In later volumes, will we hear from bigger names or will the books mostly be made up of names ‘to look out for?’
Of course. One guy I really like is Kim Coates from Sons of Anarchy. I will be speaking to him as well as Harry Lennix from Superman and The Matrix, DB Sweeney and a number of others for future installments. They are people who work from indie budgets, not studio budgets. These people suffer just like the most indie of the indie filmmakers. I love their stories and what they have done. As for who to watch out for, I think we need to watch out for all of them, they have hearts of fire and wills of steel.