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Techniques for Independent Production
The challenges of creating Digital Cinema and other narrative forms.


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Old December 14th, 2008, 09:27 AM   #91
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The problem with renting is that if your actors/locations free up tomorrow at 4am, you can't just drop and go... you have to take the time to rent (impossible where I live on a weekend as the nearest rental house is a 4 hour round trip)... or clear the time with the pro sound guy.

At the budgets being discussed in this thread, time=money. You need to be much more flexible with time to get locations and talent who have to keep money coming into their businesses/pockets....so you need to be able to work around their schedules. Having the equipment on hand and ready at all times is the only viable option for me personally.

----------------------
response to an earlier posting:
With non-actors, you can get convincing and compelling performances, it just takes a goodly time longer than it would with a trained professional actor. Lots of takes, lots of time, lots of tape which means lots of footage to go through.
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Old December 14th, 2008, 09:43 AM   #92
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To paraphrase Robert Rodriguez, write around what you have readily available, props-wise, locations-wise, etc. Whenever I've had a lack of money, I got really creative. Heck, some of my greatest ideas came to me when I was trying to go to sleep, or about to wake up, and I had a story, production, editing, etc., problem to solve, and it would hit me.

I recommend these two books to help you out:

Feature Filmmaking at Used-Car Prices, by Rick Schmidt

Rodriguez's Rebel Without a Crew

heath
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Old December 14th, 2008, 01:29 PM   #93
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Originally Posted by Cole McDonald View Post
TAt the budgets being discussed in this thread, time=money. You need to be much more flexible with time to get locations and talent who have to keep money coming into their businesses/pockets....so you need to be able to work around their schedules. Having the equipment on hand and ready at all times is the only viable option for me personally.
Not when you're talking about $5,000 wireless lav mics, it isn't. It doesn't make sense to buy all the equipment you could possible need, not unless you intend to recoup that investment by renting it out. That is why I said that you need to get people (hired or volunteered) who have their own equipment, or have access to cheap rentals. The sound guy for my last short works at an equipment rental place and could either borrow equipment "to test it out" or rent it cheap.


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Old December 14th, 2008, 01:44 PM   #94
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you can always rent from out of state and have it shipped. A friend of mine did that recently, and saved a bundle, even with shipping costs.

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Last edited by Heath McKnight; December 14th, 2008 at 01:44 PM. Reason: Added info.
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Old December 14th, 2008, 04:04 PM   #95
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The point of ultra-low budget filmmaking is not technical perfection. The point is great storytelling, that a studio would never produce, that is technically reasonable. A big part of making a well-made ultra-low budget film that will get through the quality control protocols for distribution, is know when, where and how to compromise.
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Old December 14th, 2008, 04:47 PM   #96
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Well said, Lori! I don't think I'll ever do another dogme 95-style film, like I did on my flick Skye Falling, but I will always look to saving money.

Beg or borrow gear, and make sure you have at least 3-4 good lights. I like Arri a lot. Don't forget diffusion; DV and HD cameras hate harsh light, unless that's what you're aiming for.

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Old December 14th, 2008, 05:08 PM   #97
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Not when you're talking about $5,000 wireless lav mics, it isn't. It doesn't make sense to buy all the equipment you could possible need, not unless you intend to recoup that investment by renting it out. That is why I said that you need to get people (hired or volunteered) who have their own equipment, or have access to cheap rentals. The sound guy for my last short works at an equipment rental place and could either borrow equipment "to test it out" or rent it cheap.


J.
It took me 2 years of intermittent weekends to shoot a feature with a volunteer cast/crew (based on their schedules) who were in it just for something creative to do. These are the same people that would have built something or done community theater just to fill their time anyway had they not been doing this project. All were friends and as we were starting pre-production, we weighed our budgetary needs.

If this were the only project I'd ever planned on doing, I'd have considered renting every weekend for 2 years to have the equipment available, but the decision was that we wanted to start doing more and learning the craft. So we approached it as hobbyists. I jumped at a chance to get a better camera than I was going to use for alot cheaper than it would have been normally, but it wasn't for the production, it was for me. I got a $25 clearance/open-box microphone I randomly camera across at Best Buy. I made everything else I needed for the project.

We learned as we went knowing that we wouldn't make one project, fail because of our lack of knowledge (which we assumed would be the case), and give up. Our approach to scheduling and making sure that everything we got for the production would be free (I was the camera operator who volunteered my personal cameras to the production...and my audio equipment). We purchased the equipment as we could along the way while doing research for the technical aspects of making a feature. Buy what you can and upgrade as you go. Know that you will be making dozens of shorts at the no-budget price point. Learn from your mistakes!

If you go into this expecting to make a big budget thing first time out the gate ("I'm going to be the next Kevin Smith/Rodriguez/Whomever"), you set yourself up for failure. This is an ongoing learning experience that will pay off eventually if treated like any other job with skills being fostered and expanded and lessons being learned. You can pay to go to film school, rent equipment or just buy your own. Which ever works for you, but I don't think you need a $5k sound system to make a feature film. If you buy your pieces/parts with the intention of them working together, your $100 Microphone will plug into your $2k camera with the rest of the $$$ going to insurance and food for the cast/crew. Make the rest from scraps and found locations. Get donations from local businesses in exchange for full card billing a the end of the movie. Find a way to guarantee their ads/cards will be seen by people sitting in the audience (i.e. show the film places). Everything is open for negotiation. Contact the local newspaper and let them know you're attempting to make a film with no budget (make sure the script and your attention to detail warrants the attention). Local newspapers are starved for local interest content...all they put in the paper is AP newswire stories this day and age.

Run your advertising like a punk band in the 70's. Fliers on campuses, take the door fee and give concessions to the theater. Keep the seats cheap. Make a break in the middle of the movie for people to get up and go to the concession stand. Figure out how to market this product. At these prices, the standard, film festival entry will not get you the success you're looking for, you have to go out and make it yourself, just like you are doing with the movie!

A $5k movie budget doesn't allow for a $5k microphone, set your sights lower. Adapt, think through the process. Get your cast/crew/produciton company to help pitch in with $$$ if they are into getting into this through non-traditional methods. You'd be shocked how many creative people live near you who are looking for an outlet for their creative urges! They would normally spend their monies on stuff for their hobbies, just have them redirect it to a common goal.
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Old December 14th, 2008, 05:15 PM   #98
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Cole,

Great stuff, man, great advice, too. When you're movie's done, don't give up on it and jump into the next film. Get it out there, put it online, screen it, submit it to some fests (good luck, because features are hard to get in, but not impossible), etc. DON'T LET IT DIE! I let one film die years ago, and I'll never do that again.

Films are made to be seen, even if you think they stink.

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Old December 14th, 2008, 05:35 PM   #99
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Cole,

Great stuff, man, great advice, too. When you're movie's done, don't give up on it and jump into the next film. Get it out there, put it online, screen it, submit it to some fests (good luck, because features are hard to get in, but not impossible), etc. DON'T LET IT DIE! I let one film die years ago, and I'll never do that again.

Films are made to be seen, even if you think they stink.

heath
Yep! It currently stinks. I ended up with 47 hours of footage (movie's budget so far - $250 for tapes... that's it).

I'm re-editing, it'll end up about 30 minutes rather than the original 75-90mins we were shooting for (remember, dialogue only scenes in a script usually mean the script needs work :) - how's that for brutal honesty). I've got a 45 minute cut now that's about 3/4 of the scenes edited (the rest are just placeholder cards)... and I burned out (time = money, it was all my time in post production... oy vay!). So 2 years have passed and I'm starting to look at it again after 4-8 shorts/year (we've come a long way baby) to improve our process, our writing and our story telling abilities. I've got so much dialogue to cut out it's not even funny.

Our initial goals were simple: Make a feature length movie that could be submitted to film festivals... that means permissions signed, an original story and finished... only the last bit isn't done right now. Once I've finished the edit and submitted it to a single festival, I'll have achieved my goal for the project. Everyone working on it had fun doing it and most have come back for the work on the shorts... the ones who haven't haven't because of the time investment it takes.

If you're interested, here's the current painful to watch cut of it... most of the conversations are cut together a line at a time because the actor's often hadn't even read the scene before showing up on set (day jobs etc... most of us were on call IT staff while shooting, so we had to be able to respond to support calls at all times as well)... So I tried to get them to read 2 lines at a time and react to the one form the other character appropriately so I'd be able to overlap the shots in editing. I encouraged them to just fix it in the singles and have the ability to go back on their own and redo their lines until both I and they were happy with them (lots of footage to go through, but it worked - to the extent we were able to with the skills we had at that time... I'd love to see what we could do now)

http://yafiunderground.com/Video/AJ-2007-05-25.mov (don't bother critiquing, it needs help the way it sits currently - but I'll take whatever you choose to dish out anyway, never know what'll end up in the final cut of it)

I recommend downloading and watching pieces and parts of it. There's nothing other than assembly editing done here (and it's only 3/4 done). It's certainly not Rush Hour 9, but it's in the can and cost $250 to do... so I see people scoffing at the $5k at the top of this thread and don't understand, because it's been done.

The argument could be that I should count the equipment I've purchased as part of the budget... but if you were to do that, the suggestions to hire/coerce people to help out who bring their own equipment bring the same cost assessments with them. This gear is mine, not line items. I still have it all and have used it on a dozen or so shorts... in addition to this feature and some student projects that I've helped out on... and numerous other events and gigs and borrowed it to trusted associates to use for their stuff too.
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Old December 14th, 2008, 05:44 PM   #100
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I'll check it out later, but yeah, if it's a short, make it SHORT. I have an unreleased, never-finished feature I did over 7 years ago that I turned into a 15 minute short. It works, but the film kinda stinks. Oh, well... I'll probably put it up online one day.

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Old December 15th, 2008, 04:27 AM   #101
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Starting from scratch, I could shoot and get through post with $8k worth of equipment. I'd need a production budget for actor salaries and SAG expenses, insurance, location and permit fees, catering, some production design, costuming and maybe make up. But even buying the equipment, I could spend less than $35k and produce a feature that distributors would assume had cost hundreds of thousands to make. I'd enjoy the challenge of making a good feature for $10k and the goal would be to have good enough sound that a ton of work didn't need to be done by the distributor once the film was picked up. So many films get hung up on sound.

I produced a feature length adaptation of the Merchant of Venice. We used a Sony F-900 for shooting but kept the budget under $50k. Paramount was going to pick it up and they thought our budget was $2 milllion. It can be done. It requires thought, planning and the appropriate script. But as I said, making a high quality, low budget film is all about knowing when, where and how to compromise.
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Old December 15th, 2008, 07:30 AM   #102
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Story, a great cast and crew, and good equipment are essential.

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Old December 15th, 2008, 08:32 PM   #103
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A $5k movie budget doesn't allow for a $5k microphone, set your sights lower.
I have a pretty good Azden shotgun that does the job in most situations, but this was on a very busy street. The cafe was perfect, the sound conditions were not. One solution was wireless lavaliers, and fortunately the sound guy who volunteered had access to some very nice pro equipment (and knew how to use it). I wish I had a set like that, but the purchase price is money I could invest in the production instead. even the rental ($50/day) is better than buying, and the results (sound we can use instead of doing ADR) are priceless.

One of the challenges of no-budget filmmaking is knowing when to spend a little money to get a lot of results.



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Old December 15th, 2008, 11:08 PM   #104
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Keep your eyeballs peeled too... we found some eggcrate foam that was going to be thrown away (it had been used as large scale packing material in shipping). We use this as a portable sound booth/sound blanket... and it does a pretty good job of eliminating ambient noise behind a subject or killing echoes off hard floors. Feather Duvets also do a good job of muting ambience as do woolen blankets folded in half over a stand... or just about any reasonably dense material.

Using what's at hand saves tons of money, not just in writing your script... but in making your production kit as well.

Everything on a set was made by someone in the industry at one point or another... based on an immediate need with junk that was laying around at hand... then it was packaged and bulk manufactured and given a $4000 price tag and everyone thinks they need one to shoot with. To get the costs down, stop thinking like a consumer and start thinking like those folks who made the thing in the first place.

As far as actors... I've never used SAG actors (no offense to any SAG members here, I simply don't have the access/budget/desire to jump through those hoops). I've always gone with aspiring actors who love to act. Universities/community theaters/renaissance festivals are all littered with folks who will get in front of your camera with a crappy script and no hope of distribution and take chalk sandwiches as payment thanking you for the experience on the way out the door.

1 out of 1000 are actually good actors if directed well. With good enough direction, you can trick just about any of the other 999 into giving a good performance. Tape is cheap, keep the cameras rolling without telling the actors you're doing so and try out stuff as rehearsal when cut has been called (tape still rolling, crew knows it's not true because they've been briefed independently that "cut" isn't really "cut". Make sure to stay out of frame while giving the direction and having them try other things. You'll get surprising performances when non-actors think the camera isn't rolling.

Real actors cost more but take less time to get the results you can cut with. They come prepared and know the characters and don't need as much guidance through the material and character building. They cost money, as always in my philosophy on microbudget cinema, Time=Money. You can use time as currency if you're able to invest the time. You'll even be able to get good salable results doing so if you spend enough of it.

Keep in mind that the Italian Neo-Realist movement used tons of non-actors because they just looked like they fit into the environment being filmed (Rome: Open City - Rossellini - 1945). That film cast "real actors" in a few key roles, but the vast majority of the cast were non-actors.

Taking the time to light creatively with stuff you have at hand (scrap wood painted black to use as flags, aluminum foil to use to direct the light out of fixtures you have sitting around)... This is, however, one of the two areas I'll actually say it's wise to spend a little money, lights and microphone. These are the two things that should be done starting at a certain level of quality and really shouldn't dip below that imaginary line. Careful lighting staging and framing will help hide the fact that you're using an old, midrange miniDV camera.

Set design, costuming and makeup will bring a production value to your shoot that most indies lack (note the -ie ending rather than the -y ending. For me, Indy filmmakers make large budget films with name actors outside the studio system with the hopes of achieving distribution. Indie filmmakers fill that niche between guerilla filmmaker and indy filmmaker).

Spending an unreasonable amount of time on the script is tantamount to making this succeed!!! With 99.999% of Indie films next to unwatchable (mine included) due to incomplete writing - I won't say bad writing, just a rough draft rushed into production without brutally honest critique - spending the time up front when a dozen people aren't sitting around waiting for you to fix a problem with the dialog as the sunlight wanes on your shot (personal experience - lesson learned).

The hardest part of making films this way is keeping the drive going throughout the seriously protracted production/post-production process. You need to surround yourself with motivated people who will kick you in the ass when you run out of steam... or take over while you rest for a bit.
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Old December 18th, 2008, 01:32 AM   #105
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Everything on a set was made by someone in the industry at one point or another... based on an immediate need with junk that was laying around at hand... then it was packaged and bulk manufactured and given a $4000 price tag and everyone thinks they need one to shoot with. To get the costs down, stop thinking like a consumer and start thinking like those folks who made the thing in the first place.
You mean like the CPU-controlled electronic firelight simulators that do the same job that a grip with a $4 dimmer do? ;-)


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