Rolling with the Punches: First Feature Film Requires Entrepreneurial Spirit, Resilience
Writer and director Andrew Oh on The Book of Job, SMU Meadows 2017-19 Summer Film Production project
Creating a feature-length film is no small feat, particularly when the project is independently written and directed by a student. With no financial backing from a major production company, no outfit of hundreds of workers, and limited time and resources, recent Meadows graduate Andrew Oh has learned why entrepreneurial skills can make or break a film. Oh has produced numerous class film assignments, most of which run from five to ten minutes and use a crew of one to ten people, but a 90-minute feature is an entirely different animal. “This is the biggest thing I’ve worked on,” says Oh. “It’s the culmination of my four years at SMU.”
With a cast and crew of about 50, Oh’s film The Book of Jobis both written and directed by the 2018 B.A. alumnus and is the fifth film to be chosen for SMU Meadows’ Summer Film Production (SFP).
The Summer Film Production is a student-run, biennial program that offers film students the opportunity to learn what it takes to make a feature film or TV series pilot. The process is highly competitive and begins with student submissions of their own original scripts, which are whittled down to a select few by the SPF Committee. Once script finalists are chosen, notes are sent to the scriptwriters and revisions are made before writers resubmit their work and await the announcement of the selected script. Script selection, preproduction, filming and postproduction all take approximately two years of demanding work and resourcefulness.
While working on The Book of Job, Oh gained greater clarity on what it takes to make a film and the importance of entrepreneurship in the filmmaking business. Doing extensive research and having a general knowledge of film is important, says Oh. “And preproduction is key. The more work you do in preproduction the easier it is to make the film.” Months of preproduction for The Book of Job included selecting the production crew, raising money, casting actors, marketing and promotion. Oh had the final say in all creative decisions.
As part of SMU Meadows’ emphasis on entrepreneurialism, Oh and his team of three producers – Alli Barta (B.F.A. Film & Media Arts ’20), Al Bouchillon (B.F.A. Film & Media Arts ’19), and David Fice (B.F.A. Film & Media Arts ’19) – had to create a budget and raise funds for the film. Fice created a fundraising page on Indiegogo and, between Indiegogo and direct donations from family and friends, raised$26,396.98.For the remainder of the project, Fice’s primary role was to handle the finances. He kept receipts on set and made sure there was enough money to last through production.
“You usually still have to pay for the same things you would pay for in a class film assignment,” says Oh, “but on a feature film it’s on a much bigger scale. You still have to pay for food, which is the biggest expense. You’re gonna have to anticipate you might need to pay for a location and get a permit for that. We’re used to not having to spend money on equipment because we’re able to use the gear in the Film Division’s equipment cage, but for the feature we had to spend some money on extra gear. There are a lot of similarities going from a short film to a feature film, but yeah, you have to take into account that you need more money.”
While trying to be as economical as possible, setting realistic expectations on where to allot money for each department was crucial. When it comes to budgeting, Oh says a lot of it is anticipating what you can do to save money. “For things like production design, costumes and props, you need to figure out which things you can probably get for free just by asking or borrowing, which things you should get used, and which are specialty items that you will probably need new.”
While Professor Troy Perkins serves as faculty advisor, the film is completely student-run. “Day to day we don’t really report to anyone, but we have resources, like Professor Perkins, to check in with,” Oh says. To be successful in filmmaking, basic knowledge of how all the departments work is necessary, regardless of what position one holds on the crew, whether a director, producer, grip or gaffer. “Knowing what goes into each department, from camera to sound to production design, really aided me in understanding what’s required of making a film,” says Oh.
When asked to give his greatest lesson learned from the experience, Oh says, “Things will go wrong and you won’t have control over some things. In some ways you need to embrace the chaos instead of trying to fix everything since perfection is an unobtainable goal. You just need to learn how to roll with the punches and adapt.”
Read more about SMU Meadows Summer Film Production, “The Book of Job” feature film and the SMU Meadows Division of Film and Media Arts.