Here at Lunacy Productions, we’re experts on two subjects: indie film production and bourbon. We try to approach each of our projects with the same craftsmanship, patience, and attention to detail as all those master distillers in our home state of Kentucky. In fact, creating an independent film is quite similar to creating a barrel of small-batch bourbon.
In honor of Bourbon Heritage Month, here are some filmmaking lessons we’ve learned from the bourbon-making process.
It all starts here, with your ingredients. Different distilleries use different mashbills (ratios of corn, rye, and barley), to create their distinctive flavor. Better ingredients will lead to a better product. Similar care must be taken when selecting and revising your script. Make sure you perfect your recipe, because it’s hard to turn a bad script into a good movie. The most important bourbon ingredient is also the simplest: water. No how good your recipe is, without water you aren’t making squat. In film, this indispensable component is money. You don’t always need a lot, but you always need enough.
Once you’ve assembled your essential ingredients, it’s time to cook! In filmmaking, this means cooking up your shooting plan. Where are you going to film? How long will the shoot last? What kind of team will you need to assemble? Turn up the heat and really scrutinize your project in pre-production. A half-baked plan will fall apart down the road.
Yeast is a microscopic fungus which converts grain sugars into alcohol. During the fermentation process it’s the yeast that actually does the work of making bourbon. Accordingly, bourbon distilleries carefully manage their yeast strains, as some are better than others. Like yeast, your cast and crew will be charged with actually making your film. You’re going to need to find collaborators that are talented, affordable and, most importantly, easy to work with. And just like those distilleries, when you assemble an effective team, you’ll want to take care of them so you can use them again and again.
In distillation, the liquid is heated until the alcohol becomes a vapor. That vapor is then condensed back into raw whiskey or “White Dog.” This is much like the editing process, when the director and editor sit down with the film and distill it into the strongest story it can be. This often involves cutting and reordering scenes, deconstructing and reassembling the film to improve the overall logic and flow of the story.
Distillation leads to a potent and clear alcohol that isn’t quite bourbon yet. The color and flavor are added by storing the alcohol in charred barrels for several years. The final cut of your film should also be potent and clear, but there are still several steps in post-production that add the flavor and color. Sound mixing, visual effects, and color grading will transform your movie from “White Dog” into true bourbon. You can’t rush this process, but hopefully it doesn’t take several years!
Large distilleries will use machinery to fill their bottles, while smaller companies may be forced to fill them by hand. If you make a sale to a major distributor, they will help you package your film and bring it to an enthusiastic audience. If you self-distribute, all is not lost. You can still find an audience and make a profit. You’ll just be doing the bottling by hand!
The process is over, but now you get to share your accomplishments with the rest of the world. You’ve created something rare and special.