Sunday, May 23, 2010

Why you're not a director

Your favorite film is 20 years old and you don't watch more than one or two movies per week.

You finance and distribute your own films because nobody else will and your films don't sell or get accepted into film festivals.

You have a "better" way to approach filmmaking even though you don't understand the long established methods of filmmaking.

You don't know how to effectively communicate with a cast and crew.

You surround yourself with yes-men and people less experienced than you.

You have a very poor grasp of the visual aspects of storytelling in film.

You almost always defer to your own ego over the good of the film in almost every instance.

You've never been paid to direct anything.

©2010 Chris Santucci

Friday, May 7, 2010

How to get it done (part 2)

If you manage to get to the point of having a well thought out screenplay that you bounced off more people for feedback than a half dozen close friends and family. If you have a script breakdown, shooting script, and well thought out budget. If you have funds in the bank, then you can (if you're ready to devote yourself for at least a year to the film) strike out and make a film.

At the very least, hire an experienced Line Producer to counsel you on the steps to take, possibly the people to hire, and the pitfalls to avoid in making a film (like not having insurance). You'd be best served to hire a producer IF you have something in the form of a screenplay that many regard as compelling and likely to make a great film.

If you have a script that nobody gets excited about, then just consider it all an experiment and a learning experience and have a nice day :-)

Otherwise... it's time to "prep" the film. Here, is an overview:

Forms, Insurance, Releases

Whether you're under an under-the-radar production or have an LLC set up, you need to cover your ass as much as possible. This means having ALL terms spelled out and agreed to with every single person involved with your film project whether they're crew, talent, or are providing anything that falls under the heading of "intellectual property" , real property, etc.

A "deal memo" is generally used as a contract between production and the crew, while a "talent release" is used as a contract between actors and production. There are also other forms of production contracts you should use like the "property release," when using someone's property to shoot on.

Handshakes and verbal agreements work fine when you're buying a used goat, but it's in a filmmaker's best interest to have agreements in writing with every single human being directly associated with the project. If someone says something like "Oh you don't have to worry about that. You can trust me" - DON'T DO IT. Contracts, however minimal, are meant to protect both parties in a transaction. If someone you're dealing with is leery of signing one, that means there's a good chance they possibly will back out on you if they feel the need to (or worse).

Insurance is not a luxury. Keep that in mind. Even if you have an all volunteer crew and cast, if they get injured, it's on you and possibly whoever owns the property you're shooting on. If someone's property gets damaged during the course of shooting, then in most cases it comes out of the pocket of production (you).

A general liability insurance policy with workers comp (what you want as a minimum) is actually not that expensive and it can save your life. Keep in mind that "short term" policies can cost as much as a full year term.

Hire a Crew

In almost every area of the country there are people who work on films or people who do something very close to it. They may only work on commercials or industrial videos or training videos or whatever, but these people are experienced in lighting, running power, rigging, set dressing, art direction, script supervision, sound recording, shooting footage, running a set, and even producing and directing.

In the absence of having a Line Producer, generally, you'd be best served hiring an experienced Director of Photography/Cinematographer first, because they will know suitable crew to bring into the project and are generally glad to fork over names and numbers of professional crew they themselves work with.

Contact and talk to prospective crew no matter how the names come to you and determine the best configuration of crew members. Sometimes hiring people who work together all the time is a good thing and sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's advantageous to hire friends and volunteers and sometimes it's not.

It's preferred to hire department heads and then let them name the crew they want hired for their departments, keeping in mind that occasionally (especially on big jobs) a department head will sometimes try and have a friend or family member hired for non-crucial crew positions.

Scout and Secure Locations

Where to shoot scenes is almost as important as what actors are in the scenes. Putting actors into settings where the script's scenarios can be acted out for the crew to shoot is essentially the crux of what happens on shoot days. Generally a balance is sought between what would serve the script and director's vision best, cost, accessibility, security, and the holy grail of the sound mixer - quiet.

Shooting in a noisy location can wreak havoc on shoot day schedules and create additional costly and lengthy work during the post production phase to loop dialog and recreate location sound ambience.

Shooting at locations that take time to reach will eat into potential time shooting, so accessibility should not be taken lightly. Noise, accessibility, safety, security, and aesthetics are main considerations after cost.

Audition and Cast Actors

Putting a cast together with the best possible chemistry is a painstaking process and every page of your script will hinge upon performance and chemistry. The cast is what brings the script pages to life and casting choices should also rely upon potential input an actor can provide to the director in bringing more depth to a character.

Almost nothing can destroy a film more than a weak cast so you have to take time to consider casting choices carefully. Casting the best possible actors you can afford should be your goal here and you have to leave emotion out of the process as hard as that can be sometimes.

Be aware that actors tend to sometimes have delicate sensibilities when it comes to their public persona and self image. You cannot treat actors the same way you should be treating crew members.

Rent and/or Purchase Equipment

Depending upon the duration of the production, it can make more sense to purchase equipment and resell after use as opposed to renting equipment. Renting equipment almost always means having to have an insurance policy which is an expense that should be considered, but also be aware that some rental houses will sell you coverage for something like 10%.

Better deals can be had if renting as much equipment as you need from one rental house as opposed to renting various items from multiple rental houses whenever possible. Also, it's important to understand that there is almost always room to negotiate rates with rental houses and they expect it. When these companies are busy, they're less likely to go down on rental rates, but also don't rule out owner/operators who own equipment packages and have low overhead. They like to rent their gear when they're not using it.

Prepare for Human Needs

All your cast, crew, and staff have certain things in common that you will have to allow for and facilitate. They need to eat, have a place to eat, have a place to go to the bathroom, and they need to have a method of conveyance to and from locations and possibly places to park these conveyances. Also, they'll need constant drinking water for the duration of shoot days and ideally a steady supply of various snack items.

Also, keep in mind that the humans will need to be kept warm, dry, and safe.

©2010 Chris Santucci