If You Want to Make Movies, Make Your Own Luck

After waiting seven years to make his second feature, Blood for Dust, Rod Blackhurst has some thoughts on how to avoid the sophomore slump.

There’s a canned response on any panel, op-ed or interview with independent filmmakers about how they got their films made. And that response is valid; I won’t dispute that. There’s a desire to speak and believe something that sounds inspiring and can be boiled down from a complex series of events into something digestible. Something an aspiring filmmaker out there can hear or read and then feel emboldened to pursue their passions, at whatever the cost. And maybe we need those details, perhaps now more than ever with the duress of the industry constantly impressed upon us.

I am talking about the notion of DIY. Do it yourself. Don’t let gatekeepers hold you back. Don’t let anyone who is not creative prevent you from being creative.

And I get it. Trouble is, once you do that, you often find yourself right back at the feet of those forces.

Rod Blackhurst during the making of his debut film, Here Alone.

In 2015, I made a film for no money called Here Alone. We did it all ourselves. Bespoke production structure, raised our paltry budget through begging, borrowing and stealing, called in every favor in the book, and didn’t let anyone keep us from creating. And it worked. The film premiered at Tribeca, won the Audience Award, played all over the world. I sold the movie, signed with agents and did the water bottle tour around Hollywood. All of that felt great. Validating and real. I found myself sold on the myth of the Hollywood dream. Or I should really say, the myth for most of us. Work hard, do right by people, create something great and you will be rewarded.

I was. For a minute. Got some heat. My producer Noah Lang and I formed a studio, Witchcraft Motion Picture Company, and generated some projects with important people. Dreamed up some big ideas and schemed on even bigger plans. And met a whole lot of folks who I never would have imagined I’d get the opportunity to meet. I felt bona fide. Maybe I was one of the chosen ones, too. Maybe all those years spent struggling were in the past.

But ultimately, it took me a long time to realize that I too had become beholden to the forces I had pushed back on for so long.

Kit Harington and Josh Lucas on the set of Rod Blackhurst’s Blood for Dust. (Photo by Rod Blackhurst.)

Now here I am with my sophomore narrative feature. A dramatic thriller called Blood for Dust. A film I am fiercely proud of for what it says about not only the world, but also me as a filmmaker.

However, it took me seven years to end up back on set for another feature. Sure, I made a lot of great work in between – couple of TV series, commercials, award-winning short films, the first two Witchcraft anthologies – but I’d be remiss to not mention how despairing it sometimes was and the toll it took not only on me, but on my beautiful family.

The series of events that took place to get me here – second feature film in hand, ready to be released – taught me something I had perhaps overlooked. Something that I didn’t give nearly enough credence to in how things happen. How the alchemy of being able to make anything actually works.

It taught me the power of luck and chance.

Cinematographer Justin Derry during the making of Blood for Dust. (Photo by Rod Blackhurst.)

I hesitate to say those words, because we creatives have a prejudice against them. It implies that you had no control and that somehow the universe merely conspired to give you an opportunity. But I don’t see it that way.

As Harvey Dent says in The Dark Knight, “I make my own luck.” I hold that truism dear to me now, despite those darkest hours where I perhaps felt more like Bane …

Luck and chance have holistically been a great force in my life and career. I perhaps now more than ever have come to respect their power and necessity in what I do. Whether it’s meeting my producing partner Noah Lang on the internet, only to find out he lived two blocks away from me in Brooklyn, to meeting Michelle Branch while I was touring as the T-shirt guy for the Fray (you read that correctly), whose house we then used for my short film Night Swim (which we developed into a Stephen King beloved feature that’s now available on VOD). Or on a whim emailing our agents at UTA who had just signed Kit Harington (bless Deadline for letting me know about that) to see if maybe, just maybe, he’d take a look at the script for Blood for Dust. For the latter, seemingly bad luck even came into play as an ultimate force for good, because had I not been dropped by my former agents, I never would have signed with my current ones and so never would’ve met Kit. And perhaps I wouldn’t be writing this piece at all and still toiling away on how to make film number two.

Anyway, Kit did want to take a look at the script. And well, he liked it. And he wanted to meet me. And for whatever his reasons were, he said yes. That was on April 19th, 2022. Two years to the day before the film’s release.

You can’t doubt luck’s power. But you also can’t be reliant on the phone ringing and luck finding you. You have to go find it and make yourself available to it.

Noah Lang, Rod Blackhurst’s producing partner, on the set of Blood for Dust. (Photo by Rod Blackhurst.)

I like to think I am good at setting myself up for circumstances to come together. If I can find my way into a room, I think I am a pretty convincing person. At minimum, I am an honest one and someone who speaks candidly and from the heart, perhaps to a fault. And I feel that’s a positive thing, because everything that has succeeded and happened for me has been a result of that attitude and personality. I am building things on the back of the virtues I try to embody.

Sometimes luck finds people regardless of whether they embody those same virtues or not. But if you go looking for it on your own and embrace the need to seek it out, you can meet it along the way.

Blood for Dust is a film about the American Dream, the haves and have-nots, the desire to be a better person when you could be forgiven for your wrongs, and the need to find ways to escape your circumstances. And there’s some guns and drugs in there for good measure, too.

I set out to develop this story with my stalwart collaborator and brilliant writer David Ebeltoft, because I had a lot on my mind and as a filmmaker, there’s only one way to interrogate and say those things. Through craft and story.

Our protagonist, Cliff (played by Scoot McNairy), is someone defined by circumstances. Some of those things he is responsible for and some he is not. I take responsibility for my mistakes like Cliff does and I work like hell to be better for having made them. But I also avail myself to my belief in luck and never shutting the door on who you’ll be in five years.

Scoot McNairy and Kit Harington in Rod Blackhurst’s Blood for Dust.

So the sophomore slump was certainly real for me. It took me years longer than I had hoped to make another film and ultimately, I wish I could slap the Rod from 2016. Like Cliff in Blood for Dust, I got sold a bunch of bullshit and for a while I thought it was gold. But when I learned it wasn’t, I went right back to the river to find it myself with the lessons learned along the way.

If I had to boil down what I am trying to say, it would be to be prepared for the bullshit. And don’t buy it. Look, you may get truly lucky and have it find you all on its own. It happens all the time, but that truly is for a privileged few and better to be pleasantly surprised than heartbroken (as I often was) when it doesn’t find you at all.

Hard work still matters. Just as much as craft, dialogue and tone. You can weaponize it so that when a chance falls in your lap, you are ready to seize it. A chance that you set yourself up to find.

So go find your luck. Because unlike so many things in life, luck actually wants to be found. That’s a pretty good line.

As Ricky, played by Kit Harington, says in Blood for Dust: “Maybe we should get that engraved in brass, put it on our desks.”

Featured image, showing Scoot McNairy, Rod Blackhurst and Kit Harington on the set of Blood for Dust, is by Justin Derry.

Rod Blackhurst is a Nashville-based filmmaker. His latest film, the thriller Blood for Dust, starring Scoot McNairy, Nora Zehetner, Ethan Suplee, Amber Rose Mason, Stephen Dorff, Josh Lucas and Kit Harington, is in theaters and on digital now. His first fiction feature, Here Alone, won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival and was released theatrically by Vertical Entertainment in March 2017. His first documentary feature, the Netflix Original Amanda Knox, premiered at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.