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


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Old March 27th, 2005, 07:11 AM   #1
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Testing for the "Movie Making" gene

I was wondering if anyone has any ideas as to how one could find out if a “movie-making newbie,” be they a potential actor, or a potential crew member, has the stamina and patience for movie making. I have come across a lot of incidents where certain persons new to the process of movie making would excitingly swear up and down that they could "hang" with the process of movie making, but then when it comes time to actually shoot, they turn into adult cry babies. I know that hiring professionals is the best bet, but for low budget producers, this is not always possible.
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Old March 27th, 2005, 09:54 AM   #2
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Chosing cast and crew is a tough problem. Money solves it. Without money, it gets harder. Because you have to offer them SOMETHING OF VALUE. (See my earlier posts on "never ever ever work for anyone for free.") Here is my personal take on selection process.

Get the best person I can afford.

Get the best person I KNOW, if they will work for "free." (I KNOW them because we'ver worked together on something, I've seen their work, I know them from some other professional context.)

Get the best person who is reccomended by someone I know and trust. (If they vouch for them, then there is an incintive on their part to keep the newcommer in line)

Then hold interviews/auditions for openings.

STRUCTURE the auditions carefully. Tell people WHEN and WHERE and HOW to show up. That's the trick. SHOWING UP is part of the audition. Do they arrive early, late, ontime, prepared, dressed 'properly'?

Make them jump through a small hoop. Ask them to read it a different way, suggest that they email you another resume, get you a different format of their reel.... whatever. A small request, that might take a bit of effort on their part to comply. NOT complying isn't a deal-breakerr, but it's an indication of what to expect.

Maybe the person has incredible credentials and experience. Your production will really benefit from their precense. Hell, YOU would benefit from their presence. But they hesitate to send you the other headshot. They don't email you the full list of production credits the next day, like you asked... until you remind them a third time. NOW you have to decide if their credentials, experience or connections are worth the hassle. Because what you will be doing is submitting to THEIR will and schedule. And don't think they don't know this, at least on a subconcious level.


Back to that "FREE" moniker. If people are working for free, they don't feel like they owe you anything, and you often don't feel like you can ask them for it. If, in the beginning, UP FRONT and often... it is stated what the return on their efforts will be... "The reel you guys are getting is going to look great!" "This will enable us to make a bigger picture next year" "Have you decided when you want to borrow my camera?" "I am reccomending you to the commercial shoot I am doing for the car commercial"... Whatever, then they are engaged in thinking about the 'deal' they have agreed to.

Anyway, that's my experience from twenty plus years of working with actors and crew members in theatre and media productions.
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Old March 27th, 2005, 12:47 PM   #3
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Richard, you and I are going to have to host a thread on the pro's/con's of working for free. Based on some recent events, I'm starting to agree with your side of the arguement.


Back on topic now...
The hardest thing I find with people who will work for free (and the ones that work for free, generealy don't have the experience to know better) is that they schedule other things on the same day as your shoot. ANyone who has worked more than twice knows that time schedules are irrelevant, if you have to work on the day, your whole day is probably a write off.
I had two actors show up at 7am, and then tell me that they had to leave by 9:30am for an audition.
Crew take off because their day job called them for an evening shift.
I've had lots of extras just take off after getting a free lunch.

The only thing I've found so far is to pay everyone, at least something, and only at the end of the day, cash.
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Old March 27th, 2005, 09:37 PM   #4
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well, I guess I should clarify that I wasn't referring to NOT-paying anyone, I was merely asking for proper screening procedures for cast and crew with no production experience. Not paying people is the kiss of death...although it can be done.
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Old March 27th, 2005, 10:49 PM   #5
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If the budget is really low, and it's a short, one or two day shoot, many more experienced filmmakers are willing to do it for free. A feature? Well, I was able to do it with at least 2 people (not a good idea--directors shouldn't be DP, based on my experience) and at most 4 (me, DP, boom op and mixer).

For my tastes, the minimum one would need in a crew, short or feature:

1. DP

2. Script Supervisor

3. Grip

4. 2 PAs

5. Boom Op

Maybe a 1st AC, too, or a gaffer, or a mixer.

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Old March 27th, 2005, 11:32 PM   #6
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From our experience, I'd say look out for any kind of obnoxious character traits, no matter how small. Anything you discern early in the process will be magnified as stress and time commitments increase, be it complaining, laziness, or general flackiness. What's that saying? I think Lou Reed quoted it on one of his live albums -- "The best lack all conviction and the worst are filled with passion and intensity." The ones who seem the most excited and animated in the beginning have a way of not being able to carry through to the end. You're looking for steady and reliable. You definitely don't want anyone who has trouble getting along with others. Still, I'm inclined to give almost anybody a shot. If you have any doubts, try them out as a grip. If they have enough commitment for a thankless job like that, you know you have somebody you can trust and gradually add to their responsibilities.
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Old March 27th, 2005, 11:40 PM   #7
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Another thing I can equate making a movie is living with someone. I never knew my fiancee loves to lay on the couch and watch TV, and she never knew how much time I spend on these message boards, websites, working on scripts, etc., until we both moved in together. And other bad habits, like me leaving the toilet seat up (not anymore).

That happens on a film set, esp. one where you work for at least 3 days in a row for 6-12 hours a day. My students are on multiple film shoots, but they're spread out, so no one sees the real ugly stuff, most of the time.

I remember being on a shoot of a friend's film. We were all buddies, it was cool. it was exactly 4 days, 6 hours each day (we all worked nights) and by day 3, the director and I were the only sane ones left. Those other guys won't ever work for us again. It was like dealing with children. UGLY children that you want to punish until they're 18. THAT BAD. Or even worse, they never show up. I saw a locally-shot short movie where they listed extras, and they also listed the "Missing Extras," the ones who didn't show up.

So Marco has a VERY good point!

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Old March 28th, 2005, 07:45 AM   #8
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Great topic! Here are a few of my stories:

Last year, I had a "Film Networking Party" to kick off development in a short film. It went great the first - people eat food and drink that I bought. Everyone has ideas, everyone says they "love" the script and want to participate. Flash forward 6 weeks later...

There were about 20 people "on board" to start. The woman who was suppose to play the "Mother" role springs on me she's moving away, and didn't tell me because she wanted the part so bad. She was "willing to fly back for the shoot". Yeah, ok...you think I can't find another "Mother" that's closer than 1,500 miles?!! So, last minute she comes clean of her lie...watch out for liars!

So much more...how about the lead male charactor whom "commited" to my film? I'm not messing around when I do my shit either - I stare people right in the face and pull an "Oliver Stone". I say, "I need you to commit to this project until death...I'm 100% serious and I need you to be there, be professional and do this because you HAVE to do it. If you are a wussy, complain about stupid sh*t or plan to bail out because of something within your control and not an act of God....tell me now and no hard feelings". I go through that because we're talking enormous efforts with indie top level people...directors, producers and writers get burned so bad by people commiting and bailing. So, anyway he's jumping up and down saying he's on board and will die if he can't play the lead. Flash forward 2 weeks...won't answer calls or return calls. I find out later from a mutual friend he has "issues" and depression that makes him unreliable. Great.

Then there is the crew...I had a DP show up and he's all into it. He's telling me it's the best script he's read in recent memory and he sees the whole thing in his head. We meet a few times working on storyboards, script changes etc....he's saying, "I've worked on so many shorts and this one has dramatic weight. It's the best thing I've worked on". The whole I'm saying, "Man...don't forget this is non-paying except for expenses." I tell everyone and get confirmation on their role and pay. So, we get ready to shoot and all of a sudden he wants to get paid...because we "agreed"? WHAT? So, get this...it turns into BLACKMAIL!!! He says, "If you can't pay me cash then I'll do it if we use a 35MM camera instead of the HD10U." That M.F.er.

Sometimes you get in with the right people and sometimes you don't. It's such a crap shoot when you start adding crew positions onto your call sheet. If you can double up the roles and minimize crew...it's a numbers game. If you have 10 people on crew - 2 will bail minimum. If you have 8 - 1 will bail minimum. Those are low numbers too. You could have 4 people on crew and lose 3 because of stupid stuff...someone's sick, or the most common.....a PAYING gig came up. When that happens you don't exisit anymore in their minds. lol

Wow, so much stuff can happen. My personal "change" that I made to accomodate this B.S. is that I am 100% self contained now. I have all the equipment, knowledge and drive to do it on my own. I only need to "hire" when I'm ready to shoot. It takes a lot longer to develop and do pre-production, but overall it's less frustrating than dealing with lots of people up until the day of the shoot. I do however have 1-2 people I work with when needed....1 is a writer and the other is my girlfriend. The writer is also a PA, so that's helpful and he's "reliable".....so far. Also, my girlfriend isn't even into filmmaking per say...just because I ask her she does what I ask. She's more reliable than anyone and she's not into filmmaking??! That's the way it goes..

By the way, look at the latest "Project Greenlight". It's amazing that this crap makes its way into even that entry level "Pro" stage. You have Wes Craven and all those other guys on this project...and what we're talking about is happening there too. This John guy they got to direct is the biggest MORON I've ever seen and he's in-charge of directing the film!! I don't care if his short was great - anyone can create something 1 time...or with enought time. He's a "high school art student"...he sits in the corner and makes really great art and people go "wow, you're so great". But, you take him out of the corner and put him in a circle of classmates and say "go boy"! He can't do it...no social skills. They picked him??? I want to get in on that whole contest. I'd get in there and say, "I'm going to give you guys so many options you'll tell me to slow down!" This John cat is sitting there like dumb-ass and he's sitting on resources we all want. ARGH!
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Old March 28th, 2005, 07:50 AM   #9
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Sorry to hear about your project, Murph! did you get the short made?

I saw the 2nd episode of Greenlight, and it made me realize something--they picked John because he'd make great TV.

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Old March 28th, 2005, 08:07 AM   #10
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I can't watch Greenlight.

Then again, I never slow down to stare at traffic accidents.


Yeah, no question the whole thing is a crap shoot. All you can do is minimize the risks. Eveyone posting so far has spoken true. (Marco, loved the Lou Reed quote, I might use it as a sig)
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Old March 28th, 2005, 08:30 AM   #11
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One thing I'd like to point out, and I'll post this up in a seperate thread, is the Indie Film Rules.

If you have a ton of actors and locations, you'll shoot yourself in the foot. Expect to add DAYS to your shoot.

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Old March 28th, 2005, 08:31 AM   #12
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Lol, I rant and rave so much on here...it's like "filmmaker therapy"! Without this site I'd probably be so depressed about these issues...instead I hear I'm not alone. lol

Heath, the short got stuck in pre-production and died a quick death. However, it has risen again and will soon walk the earth. :)

Something I have been working on seperate from film development is a television show called, "Lights, Camera...Action!" I did a pilot for it in 2002 and it went pretty good. I'm re-visiting it now because I've got lots of time to develop stuff. Anyway, in short.......this show is about "independent films and filmmakers".

I'm getting ready to send out requests for content from filmmakers. I want "behind the scenes" footage, cast and crew interviews, tutorials from filmmakers on anything they would like to teach (script breakdowns, budgets, location scouting etc.) and also products on the market. (sponsorships would include a minute rap talking about products like the Z1U or anything else latest and greatest - featured products being used on set would also be very important too!)

This show is for every single person out there into filmmaking. I want it to be more useful than other similar shows on IFC, Sundance etc. This show will be about the "nuts and bolts" of filmmaking. I'm going to put REAL world things on there. An example of things on this show will be....a basic camcorder class. What is white balence? How to do 3 point lighting? What's the difference between television scripts and film scripts? What crew positions mean? How to setup a "one man band" shoot on zero budget?

I watch a lot of shows like "Project Greenlight", "Sunday Morning Shoot Out", "Film School" (on IFC), "Action"(on AMC), "Anatomy of a Scene" etc etc. But, I don't see one show that actually gets right down to the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. They do some, but it's so spread out with filler it's hard to get through it all. I want to start out with the overview of a filmmaker...a short bio, go into interviews on their latest film, breakdown each element, get into lots of visuals from the "making of" and then get into it even deeper...like I want email exchanges (I read Walter Murch's latest FCP book and he includes email exchanges from him and the director and it's very inciteful) that talk about the trials and tribulations of the shoot, script draft changes, full specs of what lighting packages & cameras were used....tripods, tapes, batteries...everything displayed via on-screen graphics at the end of the segment. Like a cooking show tells all the ingredients. Then tell everyone to hit the website for printable versions and more info. etc...

This type of show would excite me and I'd have on experts in all areas of production. I'd even interview production assistants...lol

Anyway, I'm getting ready to go into pre-production on the show. Before I post something about it...if anyone already is in development to pre-production and would like to be featured on the show let me know. My approach is to have the filmmakers do most of the work...lol. I mean that like they send me behind the scenes video, copies of scripts, email's, crew interviews on set...etc. If you are local to New England or Los Angeles we can setup a shoot - or come directly to my studio in NH and we can do a nice sit down interview shoot. Otherwise, a down and dirty interview on set works too. Always, leave room for lower 3rd graphics and say and spell your name please. :)) :)) Contact me for more information..
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