Climbing the Creative Mountain on a Shoe-String Budget Part III:
Assembling Your Crew, Rehearsals, and a Whole Bunch of Everything Else.
WARNING: This post is extremely long but full of valuable information that will help you make your first film.
*Also, one of these images isn’t AI-generated. Try to guess which one was made by a person, and let me know in the comments. Hope you enjoy it!
Hello, again! This is the final stretch of a three-part series where I detail the process of getting started as a first-time filmmaker when you have no money, zero connections, or any skills. In the last post, I talked about budget breakdowns, pre-visualization, location scouting, and finding your cast. Now, we’re gonna talk about what to do next.
Trust me, your headache has only just begun! But don’t worry because we’re people! And as such, we’re insanely resilient and can do far more than we think. You’ll be juggling a lot and will likely be pretty stressed, but if our ancestors survived far worse, then you can certainly deal with making a short film. So, relax. You will be tested, but you got this!
Finding Your Crew
So let's assume you have a committed cast, you found your locations, did a budget breakdown, and created a first-draft shot sheet. I guess it’s time to coordinate some production dates, right? Woah, hold up! Before you do that, you need to lock down a crew. They all have busy schedules, too, which will need to be factored in when choosing a date.
Presumably, you spent a fair amount of time working on local no-budget sets. So you should know a fair amount of creators to call on. But what roles do you need them to fill? Well, let’s do a brief overview of each. Now keep in mind, everything you’re about to read does cross over to industry-level work, but this is specifically focused on what an indie filmmaker should know, and as such, it’s trimmed down considerably compared to the kind of crew you’d find on a serious production.
If this is a no-budget personal project, guess what? You’re probably going to be the writer, director, and producer of it since you don’t have enough money to hire any of these roles and because you’re the one who will be most excited about this film. So you’re going to have to take these positions, otherwise, the movie won’t get made.
As someone in this position, you have to not only write and polish the script but also manage every aspect of the shoot, from the look and feel of the piece to the logistics of getting it done. So on top of being a good creator, you also have to be a good leader, manager, and communicator. But that’s okay because no one is born to be these things. Everyone learns through trial and error, so get comfortable making mistakes.
First Assistant Director
This is your right-hand person who will help you mitigate the logistical planning and execution of your film. This is also the person you’ll be communicating with most throughout the pre-planning phase. During production, they’re pretty much the head manager on set to keep everything on track and on time so that you can act more like the CEO and focus on the vision and direction.
A solid first AD will be someone who is experienced, well-organized, can manage large crowds, is unafraid to confront people about issues, is able to problem-solve quickly, and is someone who has great foresight when it comes to potential conflicts arising. But most importantly, they will be someone who always has your back, even if they know the story sucks.
Remember, though. This role can be pricey, and you’re not working with a lot of money. So I wouldn’t lean on them too much unless you’re paying a standard rate and they actually know what they’re doing. Don’t expect them to write your shot list or go all over town for your props. For the most part, they’ll act as advisors during pre-production meetings to help you formulate a plan of action, and then on the day of the shoot, they’ll help manage the set so you can focus on the shots and actors' performances. Anything beyond that is pretty uncommon and very generous.
Second Assistant Director
This is the assistant to the assistant director. Sounds redundant, and it can be if the production is super small, but for larger ones, this role can be essential because the first AD should be close to the director most of the time. And they can’t do that if they’re busy running around communicating with different departments to make sure x,y, and z are done. That’s where your second AD comes into play.
They’re the ones who go off and help coordinate the different areas of the production team. On small productions, this gets a little murky because oftentimes it’s all hands doing everything, so there’s cross-pollination. However on larger productions, coordination really begins to factor in, so hierarchy becomes important.
Outside of production, the second AD also helps with pre-production tasks. But again, if you’re working on a low-budget set, I wouldn’t lean on them too much during pre-planning. On production day, however, they should be helping out on set by coordinating everyone based on the will of the director and assistant director.
This person’s primary function is to ensure that everything you need is being shot, from the action to the lines and that they’re being covered correctly with continuity in mind. They’re the second set of eyes for the director and assistant directors who have a lot on their plates, which means they’ll forget the little things like how the glass was half full at the beginning of the scene.
That’s a script supervisor’s job, and they can really save your ass. There’s a lot more to this role, but for your sake, just find someone who can really pay attention to details, is familiar with productions, and has a good memory.
Director of Photography
This is the person who understands cinematography and who will be shooting your film. On really simple sets, it’s often just them with their camera and lights. On more complicated sets, they’ll have a whole team to help them set up, adjust lights, and assist in operating the camera.
Most cinematographers I’ve met are really cool people. But they’ll likely be very busy, and since you’re not paying them much if anything, you can’t expect them to work weeks on end developing this amazing shot list for you. Unless you have an award-winning story that they love, you’ll probably get a few hours of pre-planning from them.
That’s why it’s super important to understand the basics of developing a shot list and learning some of the standard motivating shots like the “frame within a frame” or “breaking the 180 rule”. They know how to do these things, and if they took the time to really dig into your script, they could probably come up with the right shots for the right moments. But they don’t have that time, so the onus will be on you to lay out the groundwork for your DP so that they can help you express the right vision for your piece.
There are entire books written about cinematographers and what they do, but for now, just know that they are the ones who will be spearheading the shots and logistics behind those shots. And they will, ideally, be the ones who will provide all the gear, lights, and crew. It’s your job to make that process easier for them by giving them what they need. So learn their language and how they operate.
A camera operator is a person who sets up and operates the camera. For industry-level shoots that are big, you may have 5 to 10 camera operators or more, all with very specific jobs. But for your shoot, at most, you’ll probably only have 1-3, if any.
Cameras often require setting up and changing those setups like switching from a dana dolly to a steady cam or switching lenses (glass). That takes time, and if the DP needs to coordinate with the director, then they’ll want at least one camera operator setting that up while they work out the blocking and lighting with the director.
Assistant Camera Operator (focus puller)
This is for more complicated shoots, particularly ones where time is of the essence and you have to get a lot of coverage. Essentially, they assist the camera operator with setups and control focus when recording so the person operating the camera can focus on camera direction and framing. On less complicated sets, the camera operator usually takes this role.
This is the person who is in charge of all lighting. If the production is super small, then the DP will be doing this, but typically they’ll have someone do this because, again, the cinematographer has so much to juggle, they can’t go around moving lights left and right, let alone focus their entire attention on it. So it’s good to have someone well-versed in this area.
These are the people who help the gaffer set everything up. When we say lights on a film set, we don’t mean setting up a few lamps. We mean lifting heavy metallic stands that look alien to outsiders and setting up huge bright lights with giant battery sources. Then you might have things that need to be properly mounted on the walls, or you might have to set up giant screens in a particular way. It’s a whole complicated process that’s easy to mess up, which means you want people who know what they’re doing. If your DP is solid then the gaffer and grips they scramble together will be solid, too…Hopefully.
The sound engineer is exactly that. They capture and control the audio of your production, which is super important. Thankfully, it’s not all that complicated for most shoots, though on larger ones it can get pretty intense when working with multiple audio channels. But on small shoots, it’ll be one, which means you won’t have to necessarily hire a top-notch sound person.
However, you most certainly want someone who has a good understanding of how to run the recording equipment and who can listen out for whether the audio is too low or high along with other things like background noises, wind, boom pole hits, etc.
Boom Mic Operator
Obviously, since you’re shooting a movie, you don’t want any mics in the shot. Sometimes it might be necessary to use lav mics, which are little mics that clip onto the actors and are hidden away. But most of the time you put the mic on a pole that extends out and hovers over, under, or to the side of the actors. So, the Boom operator is the person holding the pole that holds the mic.
Pretty simple, but it can be kinda tough holding a pole in the air all day, and sometimes you have to get in awkward positions just to get the mic in the right spot. So preferably, you want someone who's strong and tall. Now, the engineer can be the boom operator if the film is super small and cheap, but if you’re doing something a little more ambitious, It would be wise to have one person focus on audio levels and the other person focus on getting the mic in the right position.
This role can be important if the shoot requires it, but if not, I wouldn’t have one because, for minor touch-ups, it's not really worth their time, or yours. Plus, chances are you’re gonna have to pay them unless they’re a friend who is super cool and willing to do it for free. So if your shoot doesn’t need it, don’t have a makeup artist.
This is a production assistant led by the second AD to do things like help people move stuff, set up craft, make sure the production space is clear, and get whatever the other crew members need. Ideally, you’ll also want them to be in charge of capturing some behind-the-scenes (BTS) pictures since they’ll typically have a lot of downtime. BTS isn’t essential, but it’s really nice to capture the good times and share them with everyone because they’re fun to look back on. Depending on the complexity of your shoot will depend on how many PAs you’ll need, but typically, it’s good to have at least two so that one can stay near the shooting location and the other can be your runner or the person who runs off to pick something up that was forgotten.
So these are the types of crew members you’ll need to find, but as you’ve noticed, it isn’t necessary to have all of these people. Some shoots can be done with just a director, first AD, script supervisor, and DP. Others can be done with just a director and a DP. It really just boils down to what’s required and how much experience you and the people who are helping you have.
Figure out what you need, crew-wise, and reach out to them to get a firm commitment. Right now, you may not have a specific date, but ideally, you have a timeframe in mind. So let them know, roughly, when you want to shoot and see if they’re available. Hopefully, they can all work for free, but that’s contingent upon your relationship with them and what they’re comfortable doing. Work that out upfront and get a, “yes” before moving onto…
Securing Your Dates
Now that you have the confirmation you need from your cast and crew, it’s time to set a shooting date. Get on Calendy and come up with a list of shooting dates. Remember, you’re coordinating anywhere from a few to 20-plus people, so sending them one date is not going to cut it. Chances are, not everyone will be able to work that day. So give them 5 or 6 different dates to choose from, if not more.
Also, try to aim for Saturdays and if you have to do a second day, go for Sundays, but anticipate fewer people on that day. Most of us have day jobs, and if we sacrificed our Saturday then there’s a reasonable chance we’ll want to keep our Sunday free. That’s perfectly fine as long as your core team is able to make it out for every shooting day. Otherwise, you’ll run into continuity issues.
So send the range of dates and lock them down well in advance. How far in advance? This depends on your skill level, how complicated the shoot is, and how busy you are. My brother and I have day jobs, so typically we give ourselves 1-3 months to iron everything out. If your shoot is really complicated, then you may want to consider adding on an extra month.
In addition to securing your shooting dates, make sure you also secure alternative dates or pick-up dates. Things obviously change over time, so you never know if your lead actor will have to cancel at the last second or if there’s a massive snowstorm on the day of your shoot. Then there’s always the possibility that you might not be able to shoot everything in a day. So having alternative dates set up in advance is a huge life-saver, especially when you consider how busy everyone is. If you pick alternative dates when the problem arises, you may find yourself holding off production for another 3 or 4 months, and that can affect continuity. Plus, it just sucks having to wait that long, anyway.
So lock your dates down far in advance and deal with all that mucky coordination before you dive into the rest. Your brain will thank you!
Meeting With Your DP and Tech Scouting
Now it’s time to meet your cinematographer and tech scout. If you can, I would have, at least, three meetings with your cinematographer. No, this isn’t set in stone. You can meet as many or as few times as you want. That’s up to you, how complicated your shoot is, how busy your DP is, and how much experience and control you have over the actual shooting. But let's assume you’re a total novice. Do yourself a favor and meet with them at least a few times before the shoot.
The first meeting should just be a one-on-one about the story so you two can really sink your teeth into it, from the whole meaning of the piece to how you want the look and feel to be. Before you meet, make sure you send a copy of the script. In fact, everyone who's helping you should get a copy of the script so you’re all on the same page.
Also, remember the part about pre-visualization from part II? Well, hopefully, you managed to scrounge together a rough storyboard and shot sheet, though it isn’t fundamental at this stage. But whatever you jimmied up, make sure you send those over, as well. And, of course, you can’t forget about the location photos you should have captured when you visited the spot.
Sending all of these things in advance will make the meeting and production so much smoother for your DP. Remember, this person is a volunteer. They don’t have a lot of time to do free or cheap work. So lay out a strong foundation for them to work on.
Another good idea is to bring imagery from other movies, graphic novels, or whatever else can best convey the aesthetics you’re striving to achieve. Saying you want it to look dark and mysterious is one thing, but showing them what kind of dark and mysterious you want from reference images is much more effective.
When meeting, I like to start a conversation about the story and what it means from a central message standpoint. What does this story ACTUALLY mean to me, and why should others care about it? This may not seem important for the DP to know, but it actually is because they can use this information and add motivation to their shots, which will ultimately heighten the emotional impact you’re looking to instill at the right moments.
After a deep discussion about the story, I then like to get into the technicals. More specifically, the shooting space, itself, a basic idea of the shots that need to be captured, and the storyboard. With these and the reference images, we talk about logistics, considerations, things we need, potential costs, personal needs or preferences, etc. Finally, we set a time to have our next meeting, which is at the location.
This is called tech location scouting. Basically, you go to the physical location with your cinematographer and, preferably, your first AD to work out the logistics even further. Being at the location makes it much easier for your DP to figure out where they want to set up lights, areas where they may need to block things out, where they can load in and store gear, or find enough power to light everything up, among a bunch of other things. Same thing with your first AD. They’re going to be scouting around the place to work out logistics on their end. So plan a time to meet at the location and work all that stuff out.
The last meeting I like to have with the cinematographer is about a week or so before the production. This is just a quick meeting to make sure everything is square on their end. At this point, of course, you want to make sure the shot list is 100 percent and that your DP has enough crew to help them capture everything on that list.
Again, you don’t have to have three meetings, and in fact, I’d encourage more than three, if you can. But at a bare minimum, I would at least have three so you can execute the film smoothly on the day of the shoot.
Meeting With Your AD
Another person you’re going to want to meet on a regular basis is your first assistant director. Again, this is your right-hand person who will help you deal with everything on the back end so you can focus better on the shots and actors' performances. Now, how many times should you meet? As many times as it takes to plan your shoot, but on average that’s around three times, just like with your DP.
The first is the initial meeting early in the pre-production process, where you talk about the story scene-by-scene, how and where you want to shoot everything, who and how many people you need in order to make it work, potential logistical issues, and some possible solutions to those logistical issues. Essentially, this is a meeting to give your first AD a sense of what you’re trying to shoot and how far along you are so that they can help you plan better.
The second meeting is when you tech location scout with your DP. It’s not fundamental, but it’s really helpful to have your AD go to the shooting location so they can understand the cinematographer’s needs and the needs of the entire set. A first AD will look into things like where the bathrooms are, potential noise issues, where people will be hanging out if they’re not at the shooting location, places for people to park, etc. Any one of these things could cause a disruption to the flow of your production. That’s why it’s good to have them out, so they can help you mitigate these potential issues.
The third meeting is 1-2 weeks out from the shooting date. This is a meeting to ensure that everything is finalized. They’re going to make sure you have things like liability waivers for the crew, catering ordered in advance, and someone to pick it up.
They’re also going to make sure you have a shot sheet, call sheet, and every other piece of document or item you need for the shoot. If you do your job well, this should be a ten-minute conversation. If you do your job poorly, they’ll probably give you a lot of last-second assignments. And while it’s certainly fine to ask for help with these things, I would still plan to do the bulk of it, if not all of it because, once again, you’re not paying them much, if anything.
Meeting With Your Cast, Read-throughs, and Rehearsals
As you meet with your DP and first AD during pre-production, you’re also going to want to meet with your cast. This is important because you and your actors need to fully understand the lines and blocking, so you’re not wasting time figuring it out on the day of the shoot. If your film is super simple, then you don’t need to meet that often, but if it’s very complicated with a lot of action, my recommendation is to meet at least 3 or 4 times to do rehearsals for at least 3 to 4 hours or more.
But before rehearsals, it’s probably a good idea to have a one-on-one with each major cast member. The meeting is for you to have a deep discussion about the story and the character they’ll be playing, but it’s also good for breaking the ice and getting to know one another, given, that it’s likely you’ll have just met.
With regards to the story and character, you’ll want to discuss things like, who they are, where they came from in life, their moral view about the World, ticks or mannerisms that can enhance the meaning of the character, what they wear, their relationships, family life, daily routines, physical weaknesses, strengths, etc. As a writer/director, you may not need to know all of these things, but your actors sure do because they’re going to try and become that character.
The second meeting should be a read-through, which will typically be about an hour or two long. This is where you gather up all your actors, put them in a room with refreshments, and have them read their lines for the entire script. Why do we do this? Because we want to work out all the kinks in the dialogue and the expressions they’ll be using to convey their lines.
Have them read through it once without any disruptions and then have them do it a second time, only this time you need to stop and direct when you see that something’s off. And encourage them to take notes on these issues so they’re reminded on the day of the shoot. Also, bring a friend to read the narration, preferably your first AD, but if they can’t make it then anyone will do. You just need someone to focus on reading so that you can focus on your cast and directing them.
The last meetings are rehearsals. Again, depending on the complexity of the shoot will determine how many rehearsals you should have. 2 to 3 meetings that run for 3 to 4 hours is a minimum standard for me, but you may want to do more. This is because you want to make sure the actors aren’t wasting time on set trying to figure out their lines and action. Work that out in advance. Super important!
Most of your rehearsals can take place in a quiet open room somewhere, but at least one of your rehearsals should be at the shooting location if you have easy access to it. If not, then that’s okay because the most important thing is that your actors know what and how they’re doing their actions and dialogue on the day of the shoot.
Also, don’t forget to have them sign the actor release forms at one of these meetings. Otherwise, they could demand that you take them out of your film later down the road. To kill two birds with one stone, get them fitted in their wardrobe as well. Figure out their sizes, figure out what you need them to wear, buy the clothes, and then bring them to one of the meetings so they can try them on. Take photos, too, so you can reference them later on if you need to make any changes.
Now, if you really want to pinch your pennies, make a list of all the clothing items you need with reference photos and ask each cast member if they have any of these items. You never know. They might already have that 100-dollar leather jacket and that can save you a lot of time, money, and energy. No sense in doing more work.
Last Few Weeks
By now you should have a fully polished script, a shot sheet, and a storyboard along with your locations, cast, and crew. You should also have had, at least, 2 to 3 meetings with your first AD, DP, and actors, which means everyone should be on the same page. So what’s left?
First, props and extras. What kind? That’s entirely dependent on the story you’re telling, of course, so I can’t give you any specific advice other than to say that you should hang on to your receipts for returning anything unused or only used once. There are also a lot of DIY videos out there and small companies that do 3d printing, so don’t assume you always have to go to that reputable prop house that rents out super cheap stuff for exorbitant prices. Look into alternative options.
Regarding extras, it’s different for every film, but here’s a bare-minimum list of things that I personally buy before every shoot, which I think all productions should have.
Some of the stuff is obvious, like paper towels or plates. But some, like a basic tool kit or step-ladder, seem like overkill, and they are, but that’s the point. You can always over-prepare and be okay, but if you’re under-prepared you can fundamentally wreck your set. Ideally, you don’t want to have to use these things, but every now and then something unforeseeable will happen, and you want to be ready for that.
So get everything for every kind of possible scenario, and think about what your specific issues might be. Maybe you need a gazebo and some hand warmers because you’re shooting in the freezing cold. Maybe you need camping chairs because it’s a dirty warehouse without anywhere to sit. Every shoot requires different things, so obtain what you specifically need for your set along with all the bare essentials.
The second thing you want to do three weeks before the shoot is to make sure your paperwork is in order. There’s the legal stuff like location release forms, actor release forms, liability waivers for everyone to sign, and any permits or production insurance you might need. Then there’s the production paperwork you’ll want multiple copies of like the script, shot sheet, call sheet, storyboard, and sign-in sheet.
This is because multiple people will be using the production paperwork to help everyone stay on track. The one exception is the sign-in sheet. That’s just for people to sign in so you can verify who was actually on set. Several months down the road, you’ll be editing the credit sequence and forget who to give credit to.
Now, your call sheet doesn’t necessarily need to be made three weeks out, but at the very least, make sure it’s done and sent out a couple of days before the shoot. A call sheet is a two-page document that communicates all the important things that everyone, across the board, will need to know, such as the address, the first AD’s number, the shooting schedule, and so on. Here’s a template that I use (here’s page 2).
The third thing you should focus on right before the shoot is catering. Do it 2-5 days out. Figure out what you want to feed everyone, and if that requires takeout, call them in advance! Do not assume that Subway or some mom-and-pop restaurant will just magically make a meal for 20 people in 30 minutes. They’re busy, too, so make the order at least 24 to 48 hours in advance but not before asking everyone what their dietary restrictions are.
The rest of your catering should be pretty straightforward. Breakfast can be something as simple as coffee and bagels with fruit, and the rest of the day, in between breakfast and lunch, you can provide tons of snacks like nuts, chips, drinks, etc.
The fourth and final thing you want to do is follow up with everyone who's going to be on your set. Make sure they have everything they need, they know what’s going on, and they’re still good to come out on that day. You’ll be keeping in regular contact with your first AD, DP, and actors throughout the planning, but that may not be the case with other crew members like your sound engineer or PAs. Follow up with them as you get closer to the production day just to make sure there aren’t any loose ends that need to be tied up.
Now the day has finally come. Congrats! You made it to production day. So what should you expect? Well to get an idea, let’s start with the basic landscape of an indie production set. There are essentially three main areas:
The Production Area, where everything is shot.
Base camp, where everything non-film-gear-wise is stored and where people can go to relax if they’re not working.
The place where the DP and grips store their technical gear…Yeah, I’m not sure if there’s a fancy name for this, but if there is, please leave a note in the comments. I’d love to know!
On the day of production, you, the first & second AD, DP, and grips will all show up at least a couple of hours before you plan to capture the first shot. With more complicated setups, you might need to show up several hours in advance (4 or 5 hours). But that doesn’t mean the rest of the cast and crew have to be there. In fact, you want to make sure everyone shows up exactly when they need to because, no surprise, people hate wasting their time on set, doing nothing.
But typically you’ll show up an hour or two with your DP, ADs, and grips before everyone else, so you can start setting up. This is called, “load-in”. Your first AD should inform your second AD where basecamp is, and then have them set it up. This includes setting up breakfast and a place to spread out all that paperwork for people to take and sign when they walk in (liability waivers, sign-in sheet, call sheet, etc). They also need to find a place to store wardrobe, props, and all the extra stuff you gathered like a medical kit, basic toolset, napkins, etc.
While this is happening, you, the DP, and the first AD will discuss the initial set of shots. So you’ll be in the shooting space figuring out logistics, such as where things will be set up and what will need to be moved. That’s why tech location scouting in pre-production is important because you want that conversation to be a 5-10 minute recap, not an hour-long conversation.
Once you’ve figured out what you’ll be shooting, first, then it’s just a matter of unloading all the necessary gear, setting it up, and getting your actors ready for the first scene. Until your actors show up and get settled in, help the DP and grips. This isn’t a studio production. You don’t have to stay in your lane!
Now, when should everyone else arrive and what should they be doing? In terms of time, I would suggest having them out at least an hour before you plan to capture your first shot. In terms of what they should be doing, that depends on who they are.
PAs should be assisting grips, actors, and the 2nd AD with all the little random things, like taping black, can liners to block out a window or removing the glass pane on a picture frame. Your second AD should be managing and helping everyone to make sure the team’s ready to shoot on time. So they’ll be running around making sure actors are in wardrobe and makeup, all paperwork is signed, following up with the first AD on when they’ll be ready to shoot, etc.
Sound should be setting up their gear to capture audio, the camera crew should be getting the camera ready, the makeup artist should be applying the necessary things on the actors when they’re in wardrobe, and the script supervisor should be reviewing the screenplay and coordinating with the director on what’s being captured first. They should also be taking photos of the shooting space to keep an eye on continuity.
As you can see, load-in and setup can have a lot of moving parts. That’s why communication is key, both before and on the day of production. Have those necessary meetings with everyone, and fill them in on everything they need to know so that on the day people aren’t coming up to you with a million questions. They're coming up to you with a manageable amount of questions. And that’s what you want because while everyone’s running around, you’ll be with your actors coaching them on blocking and lines. But you won’t be able to do that if you’re too busy managing a crew that is uninformed and ill-prepared.
Once you figure out your blocking, coach the actors, and get everything set up, you’re basically ready to shoot. Typically, it takes about an hour or two to cover each block of shots because you’re going to want to do multiple takes for every angle. But, of course, the more complicated the shots, the longer it will take. Furthermore, there are always disruptions that delay shooting.
Sometimes, random noises will pop up and everyone will have to wait until it goes away or figure out how to get rid of it. Sometimes, there will be technical failures or other times, it’ll be a boom mic in the shot. You get the point. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong, so if you think you can capture, “x” number of shots in an hour, add in an extra hour to the plan for safety.
With the exception of lunch, it’ll pretty much be like this for the rest of the day, with half the crew standing around waiting to assist when needed. An important note: Not everyone needs to be in the shooting location all at once. In fact, you may want a lot of them out if the space is too small. That’s why basecamp is important, so some of your cast and crew can chill out over there instead of in the place where you need absolute focus.
Another important note: Don’t be afraid to yell.
No, that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be rude and berate people when they screw up. I mean, yell when something needs to be said. If you’re shooting and hearing everyone at basecamp, yell, “Quiet on set!” When you’re ready to roll, yell to get everyone into position. If things are moving too slowly, don’t be afraid to nudge people into action, even if it means interrupting a casual conversation. Just…Do it, respectfully, but certainly with urgency.
One thing I’ve noticed on sets is that the more people think something will be easier to shoot, the more relaxed they’ll be, but when that happens, more minor mistakes occur, and that can really eat up time, which will make that easy shoot, much harder. So even if it’s an easy shoot, always come in with the expectation that it’s going to be hard, and set the tone so that people are relaxed BUT also alert and ready to tackle the shoot.
Final note: Be prepared to chop off some limbs. By that I mean, you may get to a point where you have a few hours left but not enough time to cover all the shots. So assess what you’ve covered during lunch. That way it can be anticipated and planned. If you find yourself entering this danger zone, then you need to work with your first AD and DP really fast to figure out what shots you absolutely need versus what shots you can get rid of.
Continuous shots on a Steadicam or gimble are harder to block out and get the actors to do in one fell swoop, but if you’re able to prep fast enough, it can significantly streamline your time because you’re consolidating multiple shots into one. Wide shots are also your best friend in these scenarios. If you’re pinched for time, you could always get rid of the close-ups and just shoot everything on the wide. It won’t be as engaging, but at least you’ll get the coverage you need.
This is why planning is super important so you can avoid this scenario. But if you run into this problem, solve it quickly. Otherwise, that last hour will be absolute hell, and there’s a good chance you’ll really mess up, which means you’ll need to plan for another shooting day. That will add a lot more money and logistical planning to your shoot.
Once you finally get your last shot (the martini shot), you’re finally done! Or are you?
Surprise. Now you have a giant mess to clean up, especially if it isn’t your place and you have to get out of there soon (a hard out). There’s random gear, trash, and props sprawled all over the place and all the furniture was moved around so many times, you can’t remember where everything goes.
That’s why it’s important to consider your loadout and plan wisely. Just make sure your PAs are keeping trash under control and your grips are packing up gear that’s not needed an hour before the last shot. It might be rough if it’s a small set, but in between takes, they can easily start packing things up so you can get out of there quicker.
That’s pretty much it. Of course, you’ll have to coordinate with the DP to send the footage, so make sure you have a big enough hard drive that’s not gonna crap out on you, and ideally, it wouldn’t hurt to back it up to another. I’m sure your DP can back it up for a bit as well, but yeah…Don’t wanna lose that.
This is the end! We’re finally here! Post-production is definitely the least stressful part of making a movie…Unless you find out you royally screwed up. Then, it’s quite stressful. Otherwise, you got it in the can and you can now take your time to edit the piece together. Yeah, that’s right. You’re gonna have to edit this yourself. You may luck out and find a friend who can piece it together, but don’t expect them to do anything too complicated because it’s time-consuming.
However, if I were you, I’d really take the time to learn how to edit. You can use Adobe Premiere Pro, which is the industry standard, but Davinci Resolve is great and it’s free. I’m not gonna go into details about editing because it’s such a vast subject all on its own. So I encourage you to check out the thousands of tutorials online if you need help getting started on the technical stuff.
But I will say this. Organize your files! Seriously, you’ll be dealing with a lot of different ones and that can get overwhelming, very fast. When I start a project, I first create 7 individual folders and sub-folders arranged like this:
000. Premiere project (Project file goes in here)
001. GFX (GFX is short for “Graphics” - graphics, animations, etc all go here)
AE projects - (After Effects projects go here)
AE renders - (After Effects renders go here)
GFX - (all graphics go here)
002. Audio (all sound files / music, etc goes here)
Music - (music goes here)
SFX - (Sound effects go here)
VO - (Voice over files go here)
003. Exports (where exported files go)
004. Documents (all relevant documents such as shot notes, etc go here)
005. Final Deliverables (final exports go here)
006. Footage (footage goes here)
007. Color (anything relevant for color correction goes here)
Then in my editing program, I try to match my bins (folders created within the editing program) to this structure. That way it’s easy to find files. Before importing your footage, name the bin 006 Footage, 002 Audio, etc. Then, import your files to the specific bin. This will ensure that all files are correctly associated with their folder on your hard drive.
It’s also helpful because if you have to pass it off to someone else to edit, it’ll make it easier for them. Creating a solid, organized foundation before you begin editing will set you up for success.
Once you go through the grueling process of editing, you’re left with a movie that’s, hopefully, really cool, but maybe it really sucks. You’ll never know until you show the World. So put it in a few festivals, show your friends, throw it out on Youtube, and share it with random people online (unless it gets accepted into a major festival, then quickly take it off so you’re not disqualified). There are a bunch of different ways to distribute your first film, and maybe if you’re a freak of nature, you’ll end up at Cannes. But don’t count on it.
More than likely you’ll get it in a local festival at best, and at worst, you’ll have a private screener, which will be fun, but it certainly won’t launch your career. So you’re gonna have to get right back up on that horse and ride again and again and again. Then, maybe one day you’ll get your lucky break. But either way, you’ll learn a hell of a lot that can translate beautifully into other things. So it’s never a lost cause to make a film…Just don’t take out a mortgage to make one!
So that’s pretty much how you make an indie no-budget film from beginning to end when you have no money, zero connections, or any skills. It was a huge effort to write all of this in the middle of building a new iteration of Story Prism. So I sincerely appreciate everyone who is tuning in, and I really hope this inspires others to go off and make their first movie, especially writers because there are too many of you who are really smart and gifted.
You should be pushing yourselves to create your own thing so well that it forces us to pay attention to you. It’s fantastical, but hey. This industry is fantastical, so you just gotta embrace it and throw your fate into the winds of chance while making sure you have a parachute, just in case!
That’s it, for now. As always, best of luck in your writing endeavors!
P.S…Did you guess the image that isn’t AI generated?
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