I guess I should start this from the top. Where it all began. I could start with my first grade Monster Squad fan fiction. Or maybe my brilliant filmmaking debut when I was 14 and made a movie titled „The Bucksport Sasquatch Project“ which starred my family and friends looking for big foot. Or maybe my freshman thesis paper on wanting to grow up to be just like John Carpenter and Clive Barker? For time purposes let’s zoom ahead to 2012. This was me:
Not a film maker, but an award-winning internationally published photographer. I shot the covers of about four magazines a month. Articles about me were almost as common as the editorials I was shooting for everyone else. My career was booming. I didn’t worry about money or projects because I didn’t have to. I was doing well. I was also miserably unhappy. I didn’t want to be a photographer, creating hollow images of beautiful people. I wanted to be a filmmaker. I resented myself for not attending film school and feeling that making movies was completely overwhelming.
So I started dabbling. Read some books, bought a camera and made a few godawful short films. I just kept at it. I didn’t release them, I spent my own money, I learned by doing. After a while I got better and I became technically savvy. Instead of going on dates I watched camera reviews and director commentaries of my favorite films. I started working with better and better crew members. Eventually I met Jade Luber and Diego Madrigal.
These two were the key components to what I needed to become an even better film maker. Jade, an indie film producer, and Diego, an up and coming DP. We’ve learned and grown together. I’ll come back to them more later. So we created a short film (runtime 21 minutes) called „Red Red“. This is my best work to date and it proved to myself and others that I could direct a full cast and crew on a 5 day project. Another subject I’ll come back to later.
So moving on. This is me in 2014:
I look pretty shitty these days right? It’s cool … I’m well aware. You may be asking yourself how I got to where I am. Well it’s simple, really. As a photographer I was working and running a business 24/7. Being able to pursue any other creative outlet was damned near impossible. So I said to myself, „Hey Ama, let’s quit your comfortable job and get a day job so you have time to write and work on becoming a director.“ So I did it. I quit my job, I now work 2 day jobs that occupy 60 hours of my time a week just to make ends meet. But the upside is I do what I’m told to do, I come home and my only obligation is writing. So that’s what I do. Four scripts in the past two years, and not much to show for it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some success. This past October I entered the „ABC’s of Death 2“-competition and was granted a place in the „ABC’s of Death 2.5“-film coming out at the end of the year. I was of course thrilled for this opportunity! Finally! Something is going somewhere with my film career! And meetings came with producers and financiers … my dreams! Coming true! Well … not exactly. To my real life horror, I saw the Hollywood clichés come alive. Sweaty men in expensive suits trying to touch my thighs and promising me the world. „Babe, you want an Alexa … I’ll get you two Alexas [a high end 4k camera by Arri]!“ Nothing came of anything. Not. A. Thing. False starts, false promises, creepy creepy dudes.
I was depressed. I became this nine-to-five version of myself. Putting on khakis and a name tag, droning through my day and coming home to go to bed. When any of my friends (all doing amazing things) asked me what I was working on I was just shrug and say „nothing.“ I’m watching everyone around me succeed and surpass me. I am happy for them truly, I would never begrudge anyone of their achievements but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a slight twinge of jealousy. My dreams were dying at double the pace. Feeling defeated, I spent a lot of time crying and really just being dead inside. What was I doing with my life? Eating french fries and wasting time.
Now, I’m really making it sound horrible, and to me, most days it felt that way but I still have cool things going on. I am the celebrity photographer at Fangoria Magazine, which is definitely a horror nerd dream come true. A few weeks ago I was shooting Jen and Sylvia Soska. If you’re unaware of who these gals are, look them up. Twin sisters who’ve been killing it as writer/directors in the horror genre. I hadn’t seen them in a few years. Four in the morning, they’re sitting at my kitchen table, politely eating some breakfast I burned for them. They ask me what I’ve been up to and I give the usual „nothing“ response and tell them quickly of how I’m getting nowhere. They tell me that sucks and we move on. We have a wonderful shoot and in the car on the way home Sylvia says to me. „You know, I’ve been thinking about it and you have such a great vision … you have to make something. Why don’t you just ask your friends to work on it? Make something you can afford.“
I tell her something to the tune of „well this is LA, nobody works for free and besides I’m super broke blah blah.“ She comes back with „People will want to see you succeed, I barely know you and I see how talented you are … just ask. What’s the worst that can happen? People say no? Oh well … you didn’t lose anything. And broke? You’re always going to be broke. There’s never a right time. You just have to do it.“ At the time I wasn’t convinced but her faith in me felt really good. When women support other women it’s a special thing.
Another week goes by … I’m scrubbing my bathroom tiles after work and crying at the same time. I got my paycheck and it sucked. I hadn’t had a day off in two weeks. I was home alone on a friday night. I was also still eating french fries. I fell asleep that night in a lull of self pity. Here comes the part where this story gets good. I woke up the next morning and something had changed. I just sat in bed for a good three hours just thinking … really really thinking. I hesitantly made this Facebook post:
I did it. I took Sylvia’s advice and I asked for help. I must have re-read that post twenty times before I posted it. But the response … more than I could have asked for. Hundreds of people offered their time and support. Emails, texts, phone calls poured in. I feel like everyone I’ve ever met reached out to offer me time, money, talent, words of encouragement. I cried for days. I cry still when I tell people about it. Everything has been worth it to get to this point and know that people believe in me and what I’m doing.
So to my long winded point: Self Funding a Feature Film. I’m doing this because I believe in myself. I’m not going to wait for someone else to believe in me. I’m lucky to have the help of amazingly talented friends. Without them, this would be impossible. This journal will hopefully serve you as a very honest and open guide to no budget film making. I will write about my adventure as it’s happening. The good, the bad, and everything in between. I hope it is at the very least entertaining.
Links for further reading:
- Catching up with Ama Lea: Introduction to a filmmaker’s diary
- Ama Lea’s Production Diary, Day 2
- Ama Lea’s Production Diary, Day 3
- Boobs! Blood! Lesbians! Ama Lea goes Giallo
- Unsettling first trailer for Ama Lea’s Neo-Giallo
- Ama Lea puts the M in Mermaid
[Photo Credits: Ama Lea]