Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's not just a job. It's a major pain in the ass.

I don't think any filmmaker who has ever produced a low budget feature length film on a normal 2 to 4 week shoot schedule would characterize the experience as being "pleasant."

When you're under-manned and under budgeted, it almost always happens that the crew ends up performing multiple functions and getting very little sleep. You can make up for lack of funds to a large extent by spending time prepping. When you have millions in the budget, you can throw money at problems left and right. You can shoot 30 setups a day because you have the manpower. You can afford to hire the best of the best crew, actors, and personnel who ALL know the drill and have all the necessary tools at their disposal.

When you have a few grand, or a few hundred grand to use in making a film, things are very different. At almost every step of the way, you have to make allowances and cut corners. You will have a small crew, some or all of whom will be entry level. You will be limited in everything you need - actors, locations, crew, equipment, food, transportation, props, and especially time.

Not having time on a film shoot is a killer. It means, you have to either go without coverage and/or you have to limit your total setups. As such, the one place you can afford to spend time on the film is in prep when you're not paying a crew, actors, and for locations. The last place you want to be is on location with a crew standing there, actors standing there, and a property manager standing there looking at their watch while you and your team try and figure out what went wrong with your shoot schedule.

On a small budget, you need to maximize what little you have by planning well. Part of planning well is starting out with a sound foundation that will help ensure a high degree of success. If you tattoo these 4 items on the back of your hand and heed these words, you will be WAY ahead of the game:

1) Tailor your script to your budget and abilities.
2) Get a "real" producer.
3) Prep, prep, prep.
4) Keep it simple.

1) Tailor your script to your budget and abilities.

First of all, don't allow yourself to be stretched. If you can honestly ask yourself if you have the ability to make a film (as a filmmaker) that many people will want to see and answer in the affirmative, then seriously think about taking Harry Calahan's advice and come to know your limitations. By really knowing your limitations, you will be better equipped to deal with making decisions about who you need to help you make your film.

2) Get a "real" producer.

If you've never made a film before or have never made a "real" film before (with a budget), don't even think about it unless you (at the very least) sit down with a professional freelance narrative film producer and go over the key things you will need to do in order to put every dollar of your budget on the screen. You may have a PhD or you may have years of experience as a brain surgeon, but that will not help you to make a movie. Trust me, you cannot apply other skill sets to film making unless you have a good understanding OF the film making process first. And, YOU are not going to reinvent the wheel and invent your own way of making films and of course, why would you want to? Get advice from a producer, OR get a producer on board. You can and should at the very least hire a producer as a consultant to edit and create a shooting script and then a budget and THEN ideally hire an Assistant Director to create a shooting schedule for you.

3) Prep, prep, prep.

Prep separates the men from the boys so to speak and will make a HUGE difference in the outcome of shoot days. When you visit locations beforehand and go over how you intend to shoot scenes and determine the how and the why and the when of not only lighting and shooting scenes but also considering the time frame and the fact that you'll have a mass of crew and actors, you will save yourself a LOT of headache later.

4) Keep it simple.

Don't stretch beyond what you are capable of. You DO NOT want to find out what you're made of on the set of your film. Trust me. If you have a limited budget then you have to have a script that is limited in ALL the things that cost money. If your script has any of these elements in it and you have little to no money, think again:

A) Blood
B) Fights
C) Car chases
D) Kids
E) Animals
F) Explosions or ANY practical effects
G) Vehicles of any kind
H) Extreme weather
I) Winter
J) Bodies of water (shooting on or in water)
K) Many locations
L) Large cast

copyright (2008) Chris Santucci