Making a feature-length film from scratch is a difficult enterprise, I think particularly when you have no experience in filmmaking whatsoever, and it is possible to end up with what Lisa Hackett (Buddy’s daughter) told me might become “The world’s most expensive home movie.” She wasn’t kidding, and for nearly two years that terror has resided in my mind, running neck and neck with a desire for some level of success against the odds. But I’m pleased now that the hard work put into our film “The Outside Circle: A Movie of the Modern West” is beginning to quash the terrors, and to let you all know that we were selected for a World Premier at the Thin Line Film Fest in Denton, Texas. Thin Line is a good festival, a rung or two below the big ones everyone has heard of, but it is a great place for us to show the film, a critical step in the process of securing a distributor, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Plus, it’s in Texas, where I lived for a few years as a kid, and where I have many friends I look forward to seeing again.
Starting from zero, I have learned a lot in this process. When making a feature-length film with high production value you are also building a business. The business end of things competes with the artistic end of things, and that can be frustrating because simply having an idea for an interview or a sequence must be weighed against the cost. A single day of filming is enormously expensive with one cameraman. With two it doubles. Editing costs less, but doesn’t come for free. There are costs for travel, accommodations, food, licensing, legal protection, and marketing. There are studio costs for recording original music and there are costs for sound engineering and coloring when a fine cut of the movie is developed. There are fees for festival entries and it costs money to hire an executive producer without whom your film is going absolutely nowhere. The point is, I’ve written a lot of checks, many from the funds I was able to raise (for which I am eternally grateful), but considerably more from my personal treasury.
I used to scoff at the budgets for studio movies. I no longer do that.
So the business end of things can be frustrating, and limiting, albeit absolutely necessary. The artistic end is equally challenging because although the idea for a film may be your own, it is the cameraman who must be professional enough to capture the images informing that idea. The editor must be capable of stringing together the narrative you want from those images. As a writer I am responsible for every word I put on the page. I rely on no one, and the product is entirely mine. As a filmmaker I must work with a team to build something close to the imagery and narrative in my head, but rely on the expertise of others to breathe life into them. But I am proud of what we have done together, and grateful that we avoided any on-set fiascos, and I now have a great appreciation for the genius, and fortitude, and skill required to make truly extraordinary films like Fitzcarraldo, where Werner Herzog somehow convinced his cast and crew to winch an enormous paddleboat over a jungle mountain–from one river to the next–and captured that entire vision, and real-life herculean effort–on film.
Speaking of films, I recommend dialing up GEO, Beyond the Limit from Amazon. This docu-series follows a class of candidates in Spain’s G.E.O., or Special Operations Group. They are police officers, drawn from across the country, and this series follows their selection and training. It is, in a word: great. (the clip below is in Spanish, though it hardly matters, and the series is sub-titled.)
It is axiomatic that all tactical training that is any good must involve rubber boats and cold water. If your training does not include rubber boats and cold water you cannot possibly be training for anything more rigorous than seizing a bicycle from a child. My own training involved far more cold water and rubber boats than I care to remember, but there is something in that combination that very quickly separates the wheat from the chaff, and over time builds incredible teams. The first 24 hours at the G.E.O. course involve enough cold water and rubber boats to induce the rigorous self-selection these kinds of courses always enjoy, and I will admit to some grim satisfaction watching others suffer the way we once suffered on the beaches of Coronado.
We used to say, back in the long ago, that we were training for the “unknown and the unknowable,” a phrase which was stolen by CrossFit to explain their methods, but there is a tremendous amount of truth in the notion because tactical teams require flexibility and adaptation and a simultaneous insistence on standards of behavior and performance. One learns quickly in that environment that big muscles are wonderful, but big brains are probably more important, and heart is the most important intangible of them all. Tough training breaks bodies, but one learns quickly that the mind will quit long before the body does. A human body is tough to kill–but the mind seeks comfort and will die in an instant.
For this viewer, Inspector Pelayo emerges as a dominant figure. He is the Director of Training and an incredible specimen of a human being. He reminded me of a Force Reconnaissance Marine we called Habu, after the venomous snake. Habu was the consummate professional, proceeded by his reputation as a PT God and an operator without peer, and he induced fear in very tough grown men just by standing in the room. But what he also did was inspire, and teach, and observe, and he was in a constant, and transparent, evolution of acquiring knowledge. And when you finally did something to earn Habu’s trust you felt that magic moment in your soul, and learned something very important–maybe even more important–about trusting yourself also. As I watched the series and reflected on my own experiences I was filled with some nostalgia for days gone by, but I was also reminded how important it is that the world has these men and these hard schools because they are required to defeat the chaos and the very real evil that walks the earth every day– and seeks to destroy our civilization–and every one of us. The world needs more Pelayos, and more Habus, not less of them.