Mark Potts on Film: Just Make Shit

Mark Potts!You know when people give you advice and you think, “well, that’s easier said than done,” and you get all pissy about it, and instead of focusing on the advice you focus on how hard it is to follow the advice? I do that a lot. It is really annoying.

But it is a habit I am trying to break because it is counterproductive. And it also goes against my new philosophy in life:

Just make shit.

Simple. Pure. Three words but countless possibilities. Did I come up with that while looking over a tranquil river as the warm sun set over me, basking my world in an orange-purple hue that helped me come face-to-face with my fears and dreams?

No. It came to me while talking to a group of University of Oklahoma Film and Video Studies students. In a white, barren room. The river thing would have been boring anyway. (Plus, water is scary. What’s under the surface? Who knows when some fucking huge monster is going to rise and eat me or rape me or whatever fucking huge water monsters do?)

Just making shit isn’t as hard as it sounds. The hardest part is just starting. For example, it took me a while to figure out how to start this story. I kept thinking of other things I needed to do in order to delay writing. I kept telling myself, “it’s fine to watch another episode of 30 Rock. You can complete the series in less than five days if you keep going.” But finally, I just decided to write.

And with many things you’ll do, it’ll either be awesome (like my large bodies of water side story) or terrible (like my large bodies of water side story). But that’s the point, you see? Just creating something is the point. Just exercising your brain and creative skills. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. If it’s bad, chalk it up to learning. If it’s good, then you’ll reap the rewards that come with it. But you just have to make shit.

And literally, it’ll be shit. I’ve been making films for almost eight years. I’ve made countless shorts, viral videos, music videos, and other random weird things that I don’t want to get into right now (the porno of me masturbating and crying, while artsy, just didn’t work the way I wanted it to.) But, to be honest, a lot of it was shit.

For example, no one has seen the first short film my writing partner Cole Selix and I made back in 2005 titled Charlie. It is just horrific. But, making that short helped me when it came to making my next short, Owen’s Predicament, which played at a few film festivals and got my name out there. If it weren’t for the failure that is Charlie, then we wouldn’t have known a number of things to do and not do with Owen’s Predicament.

After that, we made a 15-minute short film titled A Splice of Life. It was a comedy about a group of friends who worked at a movie theater (which Cole, myself, and all the other actors did at the time). It was personal. We were close to the story. We’d been honing our skills on the shit to use them for this story. We thought this would be our big breakout. This would get seen. This would send our names all over the world.

Then it did nothing. It played nowhere.

The point is: don’t be afraid to fuck up. You’re going to fuck up. And it’s going to be terrible. You’re going to want to quit. But you can’t if you really care about who you are.

I’m not an expert. I don’t have a doctorate in anything (but I do have a masters in Broadcast, which might be useful someday.) This is all just my life experience and observations. You can only learn so much from a book. You have to get out there and do something, get your hands dirty, and run from the cops (which is something we’ve had to do numerous times while shooting projects.)

When I was talking to that group of FVS students, I was genuinely trying to bestow upon them a fantastic philosophy. As an undergraduate, I was an FVS student and a Professional Writing student (yeah, that’s a real degree at OU’s Gaylord College.) I also wrote for the school newspaper and worked with Cole, Brand Rackley, and other friends as part of Singletree Productions, or film group. I was surrounded by creative people all the time.

But I was also surrounded by a lot of lazy people. Some lazy, lazy fuckers. It’s like they were saying, “I want to make movies, but man, it’s like, work and stuff. I’ll get to that later.”

Which was me when I first arrived at OU. I didn’t really have a drive to make things all the time. I was just really looking forward to the class where I had to make something. Then, I’d make something awesome and it would blow people away!

See: Charlie. Wait, no. Don’t see that.

There were two things that really kicked my ass. A professor and extreme guilt.

The OU FVS department gets to take films to the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in France. A professor of mine went to the festival. OU’s films were saddled between screenings of other college films from Columbia, USC, NYC, those places. Before the screening of OU shorts, people were coming up to my professor and telling him they were excited about the shorts.

Afterward, no one said anything.

When he got back, he wrote an article in the FVS newsletter about the experience. It was classy, but fairly harsh. He asked FVS what they wanted to be. Do we want to make good movies or just sit by while other schools make us look bad.

And it made me feel guilty and embarrassed. I hated that feeling. I hated that our program was being ignored. And I really, really hated the guilt. It made me feel lazy, like I was ignoring my dreams. It made me regret watching seasons 1-4 of Scrubs over and over and over when I was bored or ignoring writing. (And the added guilt of actually watching seasons 5-8 was just made worse.)

So is guilt a driving factor? Sure. So is my desire to not be made a fool again. I often think of how my professor felt after that OU film screening and it still embarrasses me. I literally think about it during every project that I work on.

If I’m doubting myself, not sure how to start something, not sure if I want to, or thinking about quitting, I just try to look at myself as an outsider.

And it embarrasses me. Damn, we’re getting deep here.

So I started making a lot of stuff. And a lot of it was shit. Probably most of it. At one point, I made a webisode series called Severe Cuddlestorm about a group of friends that were in a Rock Band (the video game) band. It was stupid, but fun. Some students made fun of it and me behind my back. At first, it really upset me. I wanted to confront them, to call them mean names (like meanie and jerk and fucker.) But what good would that do?

Seriously, what good would that have done? They wouldn’t have learned their lesson and it would have just made them happy knowing they got under my skin. Instead, I kept making the series and moved on. And that felt good.

You’re going to have naysayers. It is impossible not to. But don’t let their words stop you. Let them be their fuel to keep going. There’s nothing better than taking the high road and making an opponent look stupid.

I prioritize my ideas. I have ideas for the future, things I cannot complete now. I have ideas for the near future, things I am working on, tweaking and trying to get perfect. Then I have ideas I call, “what the hell,” and those are things I just make whenever I can. For example, I am working on finishing a screenplay for a film I’d love to make next fall, but while I do that I am shooting a feature film, and during that I am making a few shorts just to make them. I keep myself busy. I keep my mind going. You can’t graduate college, then bitch and moan about how your perfect job isn’t waiting for you if you didn’t prepare for that job (and even if you do, it’ll probably still not be waiting for you). You can’t want to be a writer all of the sudden and get upset when you’re not successful right off the bat if you hadn’t been writing already. It took us years to get any sort of recognition for our shorts we were making.

But it was the shit that got us there. The terrible shorts taught us what to do or not do on the next project. We just wrapped up our fourth feature, A Splice of Life. Remember that shitty short I mentioned, the one that played nowhere? It is the feature-length version of that. But this time, we had a budget. We had a real film crew. We had real actors, real locations, and real craft services. I ate a shit-ton of Cheez-Its.


A Splice of Life – Clip 3 – Dennis’ Phone Call from Brand Rackley on Vimeo.

But what does all that mean? Have I made it to the top? Am I to be envied? Where do I pick up my Corvettte?

What it means is that I’ve made a lot of shit and some good has come out of that. I’m still a nobody. I haven’t “made it,” wherever “it” is. I’m just a guy who has made a lot of shit with his loyal friends and was asked to tell a group of FVS students how I got there.

And it was by making shit.

We all need a good kick in the ass sometimes so consider this yours. I hope it makes you feel guilty and makes you pick up a pen and start writing (or your laptop or computer. Who still writes with pens? Hippies, that’s who.) I hope it makes you want to better yourself. Danny Boyle, director of 28 Days Later, 128 Hours, and Slumdog Millionaire was asked how does someone succeed at filmmaking. He said you have to be crazy to do it.

We’re in this together, people. Let’s be fucking insane and get to work. Don’t be afraid to make shit. It’s going to happen. If you have a passion to create, just create. Every shitty song, short film, short story, painting, whatever, will help you get better. The key is to just do it. Will it be hard? Sure. Will it take time? Yeah, it will. But shut the fuck up, ignore the part of you that is worried, and just do it.

Just make shit.


“KANE” – Theatrical Trailer from Mark Potts on Vimeo.

(c) Mark Potts All rights reserved. Visit Mark’s website to get in touch with him!

3 Comments
  1. Pingback: Mark Potts on Film: Just Make Shit Film Festival Secrets

  2. Pingback: Underground Film Links: June 26, 2011 | Bad Lit

  3. Pingback: Underground Film Links: June 26, 2011 | Underground Film Journal

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *