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By Hammad Zaidi | March 20, 2012

I’m so damn tired this week, because I just completed a road trip that encompassed 3,458 miles across 10 states in six days. The point of my taxing schedule was to shoot scenes on a budget for a film that I’ve been shooting since 2001 – a film that not so eloquently mocks my existence. Now that the picture is finally in its home stretch, I thought I’d chronicle its eleven-year journey with you. However, I’m going to do so not only as an indie filmmaker, but also as a distributor strategizing its marketing campaign and release. Since this is going to take more than one article to lie out and strategize, this week I’m going to give you the genesis of the film.

In The Beginning….
In the spring of 2001, I trekked far north to Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, just below the Arctic Circle, in order to begin filming a mockumentary about my life. When I say I “trekked,” I mean I drove. Actually, we flew from Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC, and then rented a GMC “Yukon” and drove from Vancouver to the Yukon. The distance was about 1,900 miles, so we planned on getting there in two days….

Unfortunately, two days turned into four and a half to five excruciatingly long days each way, because nobody told us most of the roads were non-paved gravel (which meant that we couldn’t drive any faster than 45 or 50 MPH on them). That, of course brought us to our first lesson learned:

Always Consider Outside Factors When Planning Your Shoot
If we knew that trip to the Yukon in 2001 was going to take five days of driving each way, I’m not sure if we would have done it. Then again, maybe it’s good that we didn’t know any better, because it allowed us to capture some magical footage, and experience 23 bears (yes, we counted) come out of hibernation.

Looking back on it now, I’m surprised that Hertz didn’t come after us for keeping their SUV for far longer than we had rented it, not to mention that we cracked the windshield and stained the plush leather seats. Maybe Hertz did put an APB out on us, but couldn’t find us since we were (literally) lost in the Yukon. In any case, our “plan” was to head up to the great white north with a script I wrote in three days, but without any firm locations to film our scenes. Although some of what we captured is “pure indie film magic,” I’m sure that if I planned it better I would have saved some money and a hell of a lot of headache. Then again, it wouldn’t have been as fun or as funny if it were too structured….

“Hype” Is Not A Four Letter Word When It Comes To Promoting Your Film
Knowing that indie films already have two strikes against them before they come up to the plate, I knew that getting noticed or including an element that would get noticed is crucial to any indie film’s success. Thus, I had to get people excited about my film before I actually completed it. So, I wrangled two crucial elements, a cameo from an Academy Award winning actress Olympia Dukakis, (which we shot in Carmel, California) and a national radio interview in Canada (that was shot at CBC North in Whitehorse, Yukon).

In the case of Olympia Dukakis, I met her at the Nashville Film Festival, told her what we were doing, and asked her for a cameo. She said she’d consider it, but wanted to read my writing first. A few weeks later, while we in the Yukon filming, Olympia called our hotel to notify me that she would do the scene. Then, a few months after then, we filmed her cameo in Carmel, California, and then spend the evening watching Olympia act in the play, “The Cherry Orchard.” While the experience of getting an Oscar winner to do my little movie was amazingly lucky, it also serves as proof that doing so can be done. Thus, when it comes to getting top-notch actors in your low-notch-budget, it’s more about your script and story then it is your financial offer to the actor.

Regarding the radio interview, we got it because the Dawson City International Short Film Festival put us in touch with a Canadian radio host and TV anchor that thought our journey (or plight, depending on how you see it) was interesting enough to report on. The key here is that we never hired a PR company to get us this coverage. We just utilized a positive relationship with the local film festival in Dawson City to help us down the road of potential success. The lesson here is that keeping positive relationships with everyone you meet can only benefit you personally, and sometimes even professionally.

Location, Location, Location!
One thing I did to (hopefully) get the film noticed is that I filmed in a part of the world that isn’t normally captured cinematically.  While Dawson City is one of my favorite places on the planet, it is really far north and is not the easiest place to get to. I thought when I revealed where I was shooting, it would spark interest. Luckily, I was right, because 11 years later, the fact that my little film is shot in random parts of the world is still a point of interest. Thus, don’t be obsessed with setting every script you write and every film you make in Los Angeles or New York. Be original, and be true to the places that inspire your creativity the most. Remember, John Hughes set every one of his films in Chicago, so there’s no reason you can’t highlight a town that you love in your future creative works. Besides, you’ll get your best deals when shooting at a place you love, because your admiration for the location will come through in every location negotiation.

Okay, people. Now that I’ve set the plate about the origin of my film’s journey, next week I will bring you up to speed about how I’m finishing the film eleven years later and strategizing its roll out. Until then, I thank you for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.

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