2014 = (Hard Work + Some Luck) x Lessons Learned – Guest Blog from filmmaker Valentina Valentini
Producing in Hollywood is not as glamorous as it sounds.
I’ve had to teach an actor how to properly slap an ass, had to toss a Dorito without breaking it’s perfect triangle shape, wrangled dogs, babies and over-zealous extras, belched on cue, and sexily stuffed a hot dog down my throat.
I got to where I am today in a fairly roundabout way. I grew up in Massachusetts, mostly Northampton, Hadley and Amherst, and thought for a long time that I wanted to be a lawyer. I went to Northeastern University in 2002 as a Poli Sci major (as it’s called) only to drop out two years later.
I ended up in San Diego – because goodness knows my head wasn’t on straight – and began working at a law firm of all places and eventually landed myself back in school to finish a degree, this time in Communication because I was, well, good at communicating. I began interning at a small PR firm that represented all the films shot on Kodak, which led me to writing and learning a lot about cinematographers and their art and craft.
Eventually, PR turned into straight journalism when the writers strike was going on and no one in Hollywood was hiring. Writing I could do in my living room, I could do on my own time, and I could work other jobs to keep money coming in. After three years, I was able to focus only on journalism – writing for over 15 print and web publications – and building my clips, resume, and reach in that world.
I had this dream though, from a long time ago, that I wanted to make movies. I didn’t know how to do it or where to start, and I knew that film school wasn’t an option… I’m just not an academia kind of girl. Plus, I didn’t have the money, as I am already paying off previous school loans.
Four years ago, I was set up on a friend-date with a girl who had a dream similar to mine. She had recently graduated and wanted to be a screenwriter and director. So we put our heads together and made our first short film Save Me.
We’d spent only a few hundred out of our own pockets, shot with barely any equipment besides a Canon 7D and generally had no idea what we were doing. We made a million and one mistakes, but I learned more on that shoot than a full year in film school.
Over the next two years I worked on anything I could get my hands on or join or beg my way into. I made practically no money, still writing full time and nannying so I could earn a living.
This was my film school.
I’ve since produced seven short films, a web series, a regional commercial and two music videos, and worked on many other projects as a UPM, PA, extra, anything, just to get set experience.
I started ViV Productions two years ago, and it would be ludicrous to assume that I’m anywhere other than where I am – “in talks” with feature productions, hustling to get better-paying short films or music video gigs, constantly and annoyingly always talking about the next thing I want to do or the crazy idea I have for a documentary. I haven’t “made it.” I’ve barely begun, but I am having a lot of fun… usually.
The not-so-fun parts come when you spend $1000 submitting to festivals all over the world just to be rejected by all of them, or when you work on a short that had the potential to be funny but turns out crass and stupid, or when your family asks, “What is it you do again?”
But that film that didn’t get accepted anywhere… it’s not a bad film. There are just 10,000 other people submitting to the festivals as well. That short that turned out stupid… I learned that I won’t work with that director again. And my family… Well, I suppose when I’m walking up to the podium to accept my Oscar for Best Feature, they’ll understand what it was I was doing all these years.
For now, I was hired. I’m working on a big-budget, short film shooting in the desert at the end of this month. I’m not being paid and even pulling favors to help keep our budget down where possible, and I do feel I deserve to be paid, but when you’re on your way up the ladder I think it’s near-sighted to not go with your gut on a passion project. Most of the non-paying positions I’ve taken have led to something paying down the line. And you know who I’m going to call when I need a favor? The person that couldn’t pay me last year.
If you’re stubborn in this town you’ll never make it. If you’re ambitious and willing to roll up your sleeves and pick up dog poop, you’re on the right path. That path, at least for the time being, is certainly not clear. Maybe it won’t ever be, but my script – the one I add about 200 words to every six months – will take me back to Massachusetts. And I can’t wait for that path to open up for me.
Thank you to the WIF New England chapter for having me guest blog. And please follow me on Twitter as I fairly often have semi-smart things to say. Also, I’ll be at Sundance and SXSW in the coming months and writing for Twitch Film, IndieWire, MovieMaker and more, and will be Twittering constantly.