5 Things We Wish We Knew When We Started Making Our Indie Film 'Moon Manor'
"We didn’t go to film school or have a billionaire second cousin who wanted to fund our film. We learned everything by doing it."
Hello ScreenCraft readers! We are Erin and Machete, a.k.a. the female filmmaking duo "KnifeRock." You may remember us from last year when we received the Spring 2020 ScreenCraft Film Fund! We’re childhood friends who are in the final stages of getting our first feature film Moon Manor ready for our distributor (hooray!), and we wanted to share some insights from the journey.
Our movie is called Moon Manor, and it's inspired by one of our oldest friends (literally, he's 84), James “Jimmy” Carrozo, who also happens to be our leading man! We co-wrote, co-directed, co-produced the film, and Machete edited. Rather than make the usual coming-of-age story, we wanted to make a coming-of-death story, thus the story follows Jimmy on his last day alive as he throws himself a FUNeral before his intentional death. But also, it's a comedy! To borrow a line from Ram Dass, the movie aims to explore this question: "What if the art of living is actually the art of dying?" Watch our trailer that premiered on Deadline here!
We learned a lot as first time filmmakers, like A LOT, and thus we wanted to share the top five things we wish we knew prior to making our first feature film. We've taken Moon Manor from a nugget of an idea to a script, casting, fundraising, production, editing, post during a global pandemic, and now we have a distribution deal and are crowdfunding to pay for deliverables. This process is about learning and failing upwards, and if you hit these same walls on your filmmaking journey, know you're in good company.
Raise the money you’ll need to get all the way through post
Once we’d raised enough to get through filming, we were so excited to shoot that we just went for it not knowing how we’d pay for the rest of post production through to deliverables. This is not an uncommon practice for indie films, but it has definitely caused some headaches (to our producer Bay Dariz - you were right!).
We’d hoped having the movie “in the can” would ensure we’d be able to easily raise the rest of the budget. "How much more appealing a finished film will be to investors," we thought. It turned out to merely create more stress in an already stressful process, having to fundraise while also producing pickups, getting through the edit, and finding a sales agent and distributor!
We learned people really love to be a part of making a film. We thought doing most of the heavy lifting ourselves would make it easier for others to come on board later in the process, but it actually made it harder for people to get excited about finishing the journey when they hadn’t been with us since the beginning. Don’t underestimate how much people love showing up to help make the cake, not necessarily just to eat it!
Just because you CAN edit, doesn’t mean you SHOULD
We thought one of us being able to edit would be a blessing and would save us some major costs, which it did. However, it cost more in time (and sanity)! And you know what they say about time. That stuff costs money!
So, even if you CAN edit, it doesn't mean you SHOULD. Also, having an outside editor allows you to step away and see the project you’re creating more objectively, and also have time for other things -- other work, a life, anything else really. Seeing a feature all the way to the end is already a lot of responsibility, it doesn’t ALL need to be your responsibility.
Work with the knowledge that making a movie will change you
We knew going in that our relationship would evolve through making a movie together, but we didn’t realize to what degree. We grew stronger in our professional relationship, yet sometimes our personal relationship got put on the back burner.
Make sure you’re ready for the evolution and take time to focus on both personal and professional relationships. (This is specifically for people who collaborate as friends). We have learned that we change as much as we stay the same and have deep respect for each other. Making a movie takes a toll, so to have someone to do this with is a really beautiful thing, but it takes balance.
Get thee a post supervisor
Or, at least be ready to head even more than you think you will, because once the excitement of production dies down, there’s still a LOT (like, a ton) to do before your movie is fully in the can.
We thought we’d easily be able to continue heading everything through post production until we arrived at the magical land called Distribution -- we didn't realize how exhausted we’d be. Tack on the freelance lifestyle, which means earning money by doing various jobs yet still having to spend so much time working on one project, then being confronted with new really sexy things like errors and omissions insurance, and filing taxes as a joint partnership. Add all that up and it equals that awesome word BURNOUT.
While we’re on the subject, two other jobs we thought we could get by without were script supervisor and production designer. That means we both did versions of both those jobs while also directing and producing. ("Was that candle in the last shot? Is our continuity going to be off because we don’t have time to scroll back and check?") Don’t get us wrong, we had an amazing professional team and everyone graciously wore multiple hats, but don’t underestimate the reason why there are oh-so-many jobs listed when those movie credits scroll.
Make a movie because you love the process and story more than anything
This is less something we wish we’d known before and more something we got right (yay) and wish to impart. We wrote Moon Manor in total around 11 months (writing the whole script plus rewrites), were on set shooting for 23 days, and have spent over 4 years writing emails since this whole journey began. “Professional email writer” isn’t really what we had in mind when we started down the writing/directing road, but that’s what it feels like most days.
The only thing that’s kept the dream alive is how passionately we want to tell Jimmy’s story and help change the conversation around death and end-of-life. Maybe the story you’re passionate about involves zombies from space searching for cantaloupes, your movie doesn't have to have a personal connection or involve a social issue. Just make sure it’s a story you can stay interested in for years, that can keep you going when your family and friends say, “Wow you’re still working on that?” Or if a pandemic hits and the future of festivals, theaters and the film industry at large is a giant question mark, it helps if you still feel like your story needs to be in the world and you’ll stop at nothing to reach the finish line.
In conclusion, if we can make a movie, you can too. We didn’t go to film school or have a billionaire second cousin who wanted to fund our film. We learned everything by doing it.
If there’s a final thought to leave you with, it’s to not be shy about asking your community for support. Apply for every program your project is a good fit for. When we won the 2020 ScreenCraft Film Fund (after applying three times!) it was a game changer, not just financially, but for a morale boost when we needed it most. If you want to join the Moon Manor fam in this final push to the finish line, you can find our crowdfunding campaign on Seed and Spark, and find us on Instagram. We wish you all the luck on your filmmaking journey!!
Filmmaking duo “KnifeRock” (Erin Granat and Machete Bang Bang) have been best friends since growing up in rural Nevada. KnifeRock’s work has collectively been selections of Vimeo Staff Pick, PAPER, Uproxx, Billboard, HollyShorts, LA Shorts, Austin Film Festival, Marfa Film Festival, among others. In 2019 they documented the SolSelectas caravan through Morocco for Flaunt Magazine, and were part of the social media team for the band Coldplay on their tour in Jordan, London and Los Angeles for the release of their Grammy nominated album Everyday Life. As screenwriters-for-hire they’ve worked on both features and television. MOON MANOR marks Erin and Machete’s feature film debut.