I’m often reminded how, at every level and budget, filmmaking is an immensely difficult undertaking.
It challenges you mentally, physically and can put stress on every part of your life, but in doing so, you learn a lot about your creative self. This journey isn’t more accurately illustrated than in David Lowery’s incredibly detailed Online Production Diary.
When you consider how many films Lowery has done over his 12 years since starting the diary, and the surprising turn his career has taken (from indie-filmmaker to blockbuster director), it's become a sort of bible for filmmakers.
While its function was originally just to document, it now can be labeled as a full fledged learning tool. At its worst (or most depressing), it shows what sacrifices you have to make to be a filmmaker and at its best, it preaches some of the most important lessons that any of us will ever learn. Lowery’s ability to speak about how it is to work on a multi-million dollar production with a $50,000 perspective is invaluable.
For me, the lesson that is absolutely the most essential is that no matter how much money is spent on a shoot, you’re never going to have as much time as you’d like. As Lowery puts it, “I know that if we only had a few weeks to shoot the same script, we'd be finishing it too — just as if we had 150 days, we'd still be running out of time.”
Emily Buder at No Film School has comprised a great list of 17 invaluable filmmaking lessons that you can learn from this production diary—and thank God. The diary itself is too long for anyone to really ingest and understand in one sitting.
Check out this list, and let us know, what’s the most valuable thing that you learned from Lowery?
Pete's Dragon – Official US Trailer
17 Invaluable Filmmaking Lessons from the ‘Pete's Dragon' Production Diary
Via No Film School:
Pete's Dragon, which opened last Friday, is Lowery's first foray into Hollywood. Save for a few technocranes, Robert Redford, and a 70-day shoot—almost three times as long as production on Ain't Them Bodies Saints—the Pete's Dragon production diary serves as a testament to both the immutability and dynamic nature of the filmmaking process. As Lowery notes, on both Day 1 and Day 70, there is hardly a chasm between making a micro-budget indie and a blockbuster; at the end of the day, filmmaking is a marathon.
Many days on Pete's Dragon are riddled with the usual challenges: inclement weather, not enough time, crippling fatigue. Lowery demonstrates a dexterous problem-solving ability, navigates threats to his vision, and works effortfully to maintain his resolve. Over the course of 70 days, the director's diary manages to chronicle the entire spectrum of emotions experienced while making a movie. Day 21's entry simply reads:
“Too tired too tired.” On Day 49, Lowery asked, “How do we still have more of this movie to shoot?” But these sentiments are punctuated by moments of triumph, large and small: “Way back when we first pitched our take on this project, we described the images we shot today. It looked exactly right.”
Here are some of the valuable takeaway's we gathered from Lowery's documentation of the filmmaking “marathon:”
1. Shooting an indie ≈ shooting a blockbuster
Lowery began his production diary the day after he graduated high school. On Day 1 of production on Pete's Dragon, he wrote, “Back then, I’d have been surprised and thrilled to know this is where I’d wind up. A handful of years later, I was so entrenched in auteurism and fierce independence that I’d have been surprised and mildly aghast at the suggestion that I’d be directing a Disney film a little ways down the line (and a remake, no less)!”
But it took no more than one full shooting day for Lowery to conclude that, when in comes to process, shooting a blockbuster isn't all that different from shooting a micro-budget indie. “It didn't feel all that different from when we were shooting St. Nick six years ago,” he wrote, referring to his $12,000 debut feature film, which screened at the SXSW Film Festival.
“As soon as you treat your special effect like it costs $60 grand per shot, it stops being special and starts calling attention to itself.”
2. There's a reason to shoot anamorphic
On Day 3, Lowery drew attention to an important benefit of shooting anamorphic. “We covered the heck out of [a location],” he wrote, “and still didn't have time to get a few of the wides that I had planned, but I guess who needs wide shots when you have anamorphic close-ups?”
3. When possible, edit as you go
Lowery is, by all standards, an overachiever. During production, he commits to watching two movies each weekend and reading at least one book. (During Pete's Dragon, he read the 700-page Of Human Bondage). But perhaps the most impressive hallmark of his dedication is Lowery's commitment to editing during production. This practice helps him fill in the gaps before it's too late.
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(cover photo credit: snap from No Film School)