Making Hollywood dreams more than fantasy

Lights, Camera, Action! Those three words have defined the film industry since its beginning. Many film buffs have a dream of becoming the next Steven Spielberg or have the dream of writing a film as iconic as a Quentin Tarantino blockbuster. Fans would kill to be on the set of their own films and hear those three iconic words and then feel the rush people get when something they have created comes to life.
Michael Heffernan, a new up and coming film maker from the Bay Area, decided not to sit and wait for his creative goals to come into fruition. He decided to give it a shot and try to find his big break. It took Heffernan awhile before he realized writing was what he was meant to do.
“I’d say my dream is to be able to tell stories for a living,” Heffernan said in an interview. “When I was a kid I had a million different dreams. [To] be a paleontologist, play baseball in the majors, go on tour with my band, but I think everyone discovers their true purpose at different stages in life. Telling stories feels like my purpose.”
However, film has always been in his life, from watching different films, to writing his own, to even producing them. Heffernan needed one idea to light the creative spark that could lead to a career in the film industry.
“I knew I had to get off my ass and make a film when I started approaching my 30th birthday. I heard an interview with Quentin Tarantino where he said ‘All filmmakers will have made something before they’re 30’,” Heffernan said. “Now, I have made ‘something’ before. I’ve directed music videos, commercials, and a short film for another writer, but I didn’t consider any of that ‘something’ Quentin was talking about.”
Heffernan’s most recent project is about a group of high school kids in the ‘90s who are trying to make a name for themselves in the punk music scene. Heffernan takes ideas from his own life and experience in the music industry.
“My background is in the underground music scene. All of my contacts are friends in bands or people involved in music. ‘Punk Kids’ is about a band in high school. I’m speaking to the people in my world, but hopefully the message in the film appeals to a broader audience,” he said.
“Punk Kids” is based on one specific moment in Heffernan’s own life. His friend invited him to watch his band perform in Oakland. Heffernan remembers seeing the lack of audience and appeal all throughout the club. It seemed like the whole place was asleep with no interest in the music. However, Heffernan could hardly explain the joy he felt when he saw three teenagers moshing up in front of the stage.
“To me, a jaded older dude from the scene, this was a shitty show. But the look on the faces of the kids in the band, and their friends moshing their hearts out, made me think of the early days and what being in a band was really about. So that night I started to make the outline for ‘Punk Kids.’”
Even with the perfect idea, there still comes many hardships within this industry. In order to create a memorable indie film, it needs the proper cast, crew, script, and equipment and with that comes a key factor: money.
“One big struggle in independent filmmaking is financing. I got funding for ‘Punk Kids’ by reaching out to the people in my life who have seen my journey and believe in me. They saw me make videos for years and fully commit myself to writing screenplays,” Heffernan said. “I promised them that if they helped me finance my first film, I would put every ounce of my heart into it. My plan is to use the first half to make a crowdfunding campaign and raise the money to complete the rest of my film.”
Another hardship of this industry is finding the right audience that wants to see your creation. Not only do you want to impress your target audience, but you also need to attract a broader audience in order for your film to gain the publicity it needs. Your project needs to be something people can believe in. Even Heffernan has experienced some trials when it came to the early stages of his film.
“I have limited experience in the film industry but a hardship I’ve faced is trying not to make what people consider a “niche” film. Typically, filmmakers consider the broader audience if they are trying to be financially successful,” he said. “It’s a delicate balance for me because I want to tell stories that are close to my heart, but I also want to tell stories for a living.”
During the creative process, the creator may find out things about themselves that they were not aware of.
“Before I started writing scripts, I made music videos for my band and other artists in the Bay Area. Putting together the storylines in these videos made me realize that the storytelling aspect of filmmaking was what really satisfied me,” Heffernan said. “I wanted more, so when I decided to write a screenplay, I didn’t take on any new projects so I could focus only on this new journey.”