Writer/Director Al Robbins Tells His Story; What's Yours?

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
March 2, 2012 1:26 PM
18 Comments
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About a week ago, I posted a call for your individual stories as artists in this business, whatever your trade is. Whether stories of triumph, tragedy, lessons learned, regrets, etc. Read that post HERE.

A few of you responded in the comments section, and others emailed me directly, as I requested.

As I said I would, I'll start posting those that I received via email, although I won't post every single one. 

The first comes from long-time reader and commenter, writer/director Al RobbinsHere's what he submitted to me, verbatim:

Great idea Tambay! I've had a few things on my mind. Over the past 4 years I've learned a some very important lessons about being a filmmaker. I'm still trying to master what I've learned. In no particular order.

1 - Don't create projects simply to please a particular audience unless you have a relative that is the head of a major studio. Create projects that you are passionate about. You will spend about two years working on it to get it ready for a crowded , competitive marketplace so it only makes sense that you be fully invested in what you're doing. It's much easier to promote something that you really beleive in.

2 - Stop worrying about whether or not a film festival or distributor will accept your project. Good is relative. With HD technology just about anyone can capture a fairly decent image but no one will watch the film if the story is lacking. Film festivals and distributors have goals and agendas. A film which has an element or elements ( star, exotic locale, hot genre etc.) which will allow them to acheive their goals will often be chosen over a film which may have a better story or acting. There also are some of really talented filmmakers out there and I choose to beleive that films by those folks should and will rise to the top but don't quit because your project was not selected. We have time to improve our skills and just because a festival does not want your film does not mean the project is dead.

EXAMPLE: Late last year I submitted a film to a festival and later got a rejection notice. The following morning I received an e mail from a small distributor who wanted to license the film. In December they saw the trailer for the film and requested a screener. I sent it to them and never thought about it again because I wanted to release the project myself anyway. I didn't sign with them but the point is that I was upset because someone I paid $50.00 to watch the film rejected it while I mailed a DVD to a company and they called me to , essentially , offer me money. If no distributor wants you film release yourself. There are many ways to do this today.

3 - I don't want to get all existential or religious on y'all so I'll phrase my thoughts this way.....After you've put in all the hard work , what the universe has for you is for you. Period.

EXAMPLE: Last year I found out about an opportunity to write and direct a film in Morocco and Washington DC which is based on a true story about a Morocan woman who was detained at JFK on 9/17/01 because her husband had the same name as one of the 9/11 hijackers. I sent a copy of my previous feature film and then forgot about it. Sometime later I had a contract and one day later the first payment was wired to my checking account. I HAD NEVER MET THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER FACE TO FACE!!!

Prior to prinicipal photography in Morocco and the DC metro area, the project entailed an expense free 10 day trip to Morocco just to get to know the country and culture and later a second expense free 10 day visit to location scout. I am not now nor have I ever been a member of any "up and coming", feted group of filmmakers. I'm rather late to the game. 20 years in corporate America before I became interested in pursuing filmmaking as a career. Yet I had the opportunity to write the script for and direct an international film about events surrounding one of the most significant historic events of my life. There are plenty of other filmmakers out there with better resumes' and films however I was given the opportunity to helm the project. Why me??

We're in post production now. The EP is very happy with the footage she's seen. I beleive it will give me the opportunity to direct other projects for hire.

4 - Don't be so quick to label critics as haters.

EXAMPLE: 2 years ago the trailer for my first feature film (Grapes on a Vine) was posted on Shadow and Act. The reviews were mixed at best. I could have taken it one of two ways. Instead of saying something like " I don't complain to you when I go to Burger King and you hand me cold french fries!" , I chose to ask those that didn't like the trailer to explain why. Some did and I made changes. The film was acquired by a distributor and released at Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Redbox and Blockbuster Video.

Last year Shadow and Act featured my web series "The Next Day" which we have since extended into a feature film which will be available on VOD in May after launch events in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. You never know where your blessings will come from.

5 - Understand that you are creating a body of work. Once you make a film available to the public it's out there. You can't take it back so you might as well release work you can be proud of. The most popular filmmakers in the world are known for one or two films.

6 - Do your best but accept the fact that everything you do may not be a "home run". Be honest with yourself. If 50 people see your film and they all have the same problem with it...it's probably the film.

7 - Good writing and casting = good directing. Spend time on the script. It's free! Cast the best actors you can find. On set you do not have time to teach folks how to act. Proffesional actors arrive on set prepared. Sometimes as a director you have to know when to just get out of the way.

8 - HAVE FUN! WORK HARD BUT ENJOY YOURSELF! If you want to go to work with a frown on your face everyday , work in corporate America!

9 - Don't EXPECT anyone to give you anything.

10 - There is no such thing as making it. This is a journey.

EXAMPLE: Spike Lee does not beleive he has made his best film yet. Just in case a few of you have forgotten , 2 of his films have been nominated for Academy awards.

I hope something I've written here will help someone.

Writer/Director Al Robbins' first feature film Grapes on a Vine starring Greg Alan Williams (Necessary Roughness, The Game, Remember the Titans) and Jazsmin Lewis (Barbershop 1 & 2) was nominated for Best Director First Feature Film at the 2008 Pan African Film Festival.

Robbins currently has two films in Post Production. Ralat (a woman is detained at JFK airport a few days after 9/11 because her husband has the same name as one of the hijackers); and The Next Day (Will and Desire' have a one night stand..and she gets pregnant). The Next Day is scheduled to be released on VOD in May 2012.

For more info: http://botnfilms.blogspot.com/?z. 

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18 Comments

  • urbanauteur | March 5, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    BIg UPs!!! AL, thanx 4 that pocketfull of sage advice, it will be used like grandma's crisco oil,again thanx;-)

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:44 PM

    My pleasure.

  • Shanea | March 3, 2012 12:52 PMReply

    This is great advice! And much needed! Thank you for sharing your experiences, Al.

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:44 PM

    You're welcome.

  • al | March 2, 2012 9:42 PMReply

    Thanks for the post Tambay! I gave you a bad link to the blog which prevented the trailer from loading. Here is the correct link http://botnfilms.blogspot.com/

  • Laura | March 2, 2012 5:13 PMReply

    Thanks. This is great advice. I've been I have been doing this for 1 year and 1/2. I am enjoying the journey.

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:47 PM

    You're welcome Laura.

  • Shawn Whitsell | March 2, 2012 4:00 PMReply

    Great stuff! Well said. Respect!!!!

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:48 PM

    Thanks for reading it Shawn.

  • Joe Doughrity | March 2, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    Good advice and continued success Al!

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:47 PM

    Thanks Joe! Continued success to you as well.

  • LeonRaymond | March 2, 2012 2:16 PMReply

    Please contact Frances Lozada on facebook -she runs a very popular Brooklyn based 1 day film fest event called CINEMA NIGHT that is catching fire. Many New York folk are there as well as Producers galore Once you show your work there, your going to be moved into that much discussed filmmakers here in the indie world.

  • al | March 2, 2012 10:00 PM

    Thanks Leon. I'm on FB looking for Frances Lozada now.

  • Darkan | March 2, 2012 2:13 PMReply

    Great advice Al! Keep pushing forward and Keep The Faith!!

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:45 PM

    Thanks , I appreciate it.

  • LeonRaymond | March 2, 2012 2:10 PMReply

    Awesome facts that I can relate to. Thanks for not making it sweet and tales of how as a filmmaker that Million dollar pay day is waiting for you!

  • lamont pierré | March 2, 2012 1:45 PMReply

    Nice job, Al! An insightful read!

  • al | March 5, 2012 6:46 PM

    Thank you.

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