Wait, Why Am I Directing a Movie?

More

The first dispatch from a newbie film director who'll be chronicling his shoot for The Atlantic

Drumming director light post 1 615 shutterstock  Lou Oates.jpg
Shutterstock / Lou Oates

I never dreamed of being a movie director. And by that, I don't mean, "I never dreamed I could be a movie director." The gig was not something I ever wanted.

What's new in arts and entertainment. See full coverage

Yes, I went to pretty good film school, the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television. But I enrolled in the undergraduate screenwriting program with the intent of being not the guy behind the camera, but the guy a safe distance behind that guy and—most likely—behind a few other guys in suits with open checkbooks. That's if I was fortunate enough to find an available canvas chair with "writer" stitched on it. Despite my professors' frequent warnings about the lowly, oft-disrespected position of the screenwriter, I always felt I'd get plenty of fulfillment from being the dude who got the ball rolling with roughly 110 pages of pure, Aristotelian three-act gold. Leave the directing to the megalomaniacal control freaks and self-styled auteurs. Also, I was intimidated.

Now, 16 years after film school, I find myself on the eve of directing my first full-length feature film. It took seeing the title on IMDB to believe I am actually doing this:

imdb drumming 615.png

Films, especially independently made ones, are often love's labors that take long, hard years to make, so I won't be so self-centered as to waste this space lamenting my particular struggle. In short: I finished writing the first draft of Big Words in March of 2009 and have since gone through a few rewrites, an untold number of requests for "feedback" from people in "the industry," several flirtations with different producers and directors, one well-intentioned but ultimately fruitless option agreement for a single dollar, one self-imposed, complete script overhaul, and eventually a brief, honest conversation with myself.

I'm paraphrasing, but it went kind of like this:

Dude, it's time. You're going to have to direct this movie yourself.

I dunno, man. Directing seems hard.

Dude, seriously? This is your vision. No one is going to make this movie the way you want it made but you.

Ultimately, the part of my psyche that says "dude" too much was right. I really admire talkie films by people like Richard Linklater and Nicole Holofcener. I love movies like the Big Chill and Sideways about growing up and not being entirely happy about it. And I get a huge kick out of unabashedly nostalgic movies like Dazed and Confused and Diner. I had written a screenplay in the tradition of these films but through my own lens, that of a black man in his mid- (now, late-) 30s and mentally tethered, for better or for worse, to the hip-hop of the early '90s. Big Words is not autobiographical, but it's a rather personal story. Try as I might, I was unable to surrender control over its execution to any of the film's would-be shepherds.

The good news was that once I decided to direct the film myself, I found that other people—smart, talented, creative people—were drawn to my commitment. First, friends became my producers and investors. Then, after the requisite research, we began hiring a strong crew, attaching a great cast. Within a few months, I was deep into pre-production on an honest-to-goodness motion picture.

Filmmaking is a collaborative effort like no other. When I'm not too busy being terrified by the enormity of the task, I am being inspired and amazed by the creativity and individual efforts of all the great folks who are pulling for this project. In these columns, I hope to be able to share this experience in peculiar and fascinating detail.

That, of course, will have to wait a couple days. I'm writing this post after 11 p.m. We start shooting tomorrow, and I have a 9 a.m. call time at a local bar—to start blocking the scene and rehearsing with the actors, not to drink. I wish.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Neil Drumming is a filmmaker, screenwriter, and journalist. He is a former staff writer and editor at Entertainment Weekly, and his work has appeared in Wired, The Washington Post, Vibe, Rolling Stone, Essence, and Vanity Fair.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In