The Movie Waffler Book Review - <i>Detour Hollywood</i> | The Movie Waffler

Book Review - Detour Hollywood

Indie filmmaker William Dickerson's guide to directing micro-budget movies.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Detour Hollywood by William Dickerson

As a film reviewer of low budget movies, I am only too aware how easy it is to make a film. As William Dickerson points out in this instructive and engaging read, the advent of digital technology has made film makers of us all, with most of us carrying HD phone cameras around in our pockets, generally mindful of the flattering angles and lighting to present a selfie best. On a larger scale, digital movie making is entirely cheaper than using film; and so, every week or so, another low budget screener arrives for me to discuss, critique, and usually, regretfully, post a negative review of. Because while new media has enabled more people the means to make a film, it hasn’t entailed that these participants have discipline or developed skills or determination to make a good film; all of the passion, but none of the proficiency. Can Dickerson provide a detour into an indie cinema more auspicious and advanced? 
Most ‘So you want to shoot an indie?’ books focus on the artistic process of film making, the practical processes of lighting, editing, composition (the most useful example is Guerrilla Film Makers Handbook, if you’re interested). However, Dickerson eschews going over old ground, instead focussing on scripting, structure and the pragmatisms of scheduling, organising and coping with the manifest responsibilities of being a director, a duty that Detour Hollywood elucidates in detail. Everyone in the business thinks they can direct. At the same time, most would never dare try, Dickerson baldly states, and after reading his book it isn’t difficult to see why; this job takes grit, and for the uninitiated, we’re about to discover just how much. Nonetheless, Detour Hollywood explicates this process in a manner that is as clear and generous as it is thorough; taking the reader through the rhythms of screenwriting, and how to prepare each ‘beat’ before shooting, to the technique of alphabetising your film’s title for maximum exposure (movies with titles that begin with letters higher in the alphabet are more successful as they appear sooner on VOD lists!).
As mentor, Dickerson is informative, but as a writer he is also truly entertaining. Detour Hollywood is paced like a thriller, with all the plot twists, protagonists (the film makers) and antagonists (circumstance in general), that you would hope for. I have only a cursory interest in the process of film making, but I was absorbed throughout. Along with the little-guy-takes-on-the-fearsome-giant narrative, Dickerson peppers his account with superb little anecdotes concerning film making, which energise the flow of the book. For example, while shooting his debut Detour (a cracking survival thriller about a guy trapped in his car beneath a mud slide), close to LAX, whenever a noisy plane would fly overhead, the lead actor made as if he was reacting to the creaking of muddy weight, ingeniously improvising to circumstance so the overdubs could match later. And there are also titbits about the industry; his encounter with '90s refugee James Van Der Beek is especially enlightening. A former film student, Dickerson also provides occasional précis of other film makers' styles and approaches, which are great- I especially enjoyed his discussion of Paul Thomas Anderson’s thematic interests.
At times, Dickerson is perhaps a little too exhaustive (come on, is there anyone who is interested in making film who doesn’t understand a POV shot?), and, often, he defaults to the advice that a good crew, and keeping this crew happy, is the most important feature of a film’s success criteria; all well and good, but what if you’re not so lucky? (Mind you, what do I know? Perhaps, sadly, such caprice is the deciding factor of a prosperous shoot). Early on in Detour Hollywood, Dickerson states that he ‘will teach you how to direct a microbudget film, or a film of any budget for that matte’. A bold claim, indeed. Only time will tell if Dickerson’s promise translates, but if every aspirant film maker read this book and took on even half the advice it offers, then micro-budget cinema would be in a more fruitful, creative place. Here’s hoping for the success of Detour Hollywood, if only if it makes the world of low budget film making more interesting, and my job a little less heart-breaking.

Detour Hollywood is available April 14th from Amazon