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  • Oyl Miller

Keeping the Film Side Hustle going

When you work a full-time job but have dreams of building a film and TV career, it can feel daunting. It can be a special kind of hell toiling away on scripts who don’t yet have an audience. You find yourself talking to yourself a lot. Each script is a portal into another reality. And you wonder if actual reality is slipping away from you.

What I’ve learned in the past couple of years working on film side projects, is how to compartmentalize the work. Instead of betting everything on a single project, I’ve worked to build a portfolio of stories with various partners. Once we see the potential in a project, we’ll start showing it around to trusted alleys. Seeing if there is any promise in what we’re working on. Receiving feedback about what is working and what is not. Sometimes, a project really resonates, and things move naturally forward.

The main thing you have to be willing to do, is open yourself up to possibility. Especially when it doesn’t make sense. There is a project I’m working on now, that was born out of a random conversation in a cafe several years ago. Once the idea was said aloud, it became real. My partner and I have kept working on it adding various pieces and building momentum for the story’s world and characters. Now it has attracted attention and is getting closer to going from imagined reality to actual reality.

Just before writing this blog post, I scribbled down an idea for a sprawling, interconnected story featuring multiple characters. I have no reason to work on this. No one is asking for it. It just came to me. I don’t know if it’s a film or an original series or a novel. It’s just an idea. A bit out of focus, but within it, there is a spark or some potential that excites me. This is the sign that I need to keep pushing it. We all have lots of ideas every day, but when you commit yourself to recording those ideas and pushing them forward, front runners emerge.

My whole mindset on “side projects” was crystalized by my experience that led to the creation of the short film “Man In Phone,” which was directed by my friend and close collaborator Mackenzie Sheppard. A few years ago, Mackenzie and I were working on a commercial together. One day during lunch, he asked me if I ever wrote outside of advertising. I shared a few short stories I had written for McSweeney’s. We finished up the commercial and went our separate ways as you do at the end of these projects.

A few months later, Mackenzie hit me up and asked if I had ever thought about turning one of my short stories into a short film. He mentioned that he saw potential in one of the stories I had shared with him and asked if I wanted to work with him to develop it into a short film script. Over the next several months, we developed the short film idea together. Together we found ways to expand and portray the story in all sorts of ways that excited us. Through the collaboration, the basic idea was becoming stronger and more entertaining. It was such a satisfying project.

After several more months, we had an opportunity to actually film the script. We got actors attached. We gathered a crew. We dove into production. The end result then took on a life of its own as we submitted it to film festivals. It eventually was awarded at the Tokyo Short Shorts film festival, which qualified it for an Academy Award. At the festival, they called Mackenzie and I up and stage and we got to talk to an audience about our film and our intentions behind it.

From there, we had developed a template to how we can develop projects. We moved onto our next short film called “Donny the Drone” and eventually branched out into more side bet projects.

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