1 – Call time is usually ten to fifteen minutes early. If your not early your late is what everyone believes in the business.
2 – make sure people wear proper shoes
3 – watch the trash and parking on neighboring properties. At the end of the day have someone pick up all the trash especially if you plan on returning for another day of shooting. Be sure no one parks in the neighbors parkings spot
4 – Have extra batteries. Tape. Dust pan and broom. first aid kit. flash light. trash bags lighter. pocket knife. really any extra tools are good to have
5 – Be sure to back up the footage. If it’s digital make a copy as soon as the last shot is done. I always liked to leave it copying while we started cleaning up the mess. Keep the backup some place different than the master. If there is an editor on set or a producer let them take one while the director keeps the master.
6 – Watch the time. Nothing pisses people off more than 16 hour days or longer. Be sure the location knows exactly how much time you will need. Stay on time and on schedule.
7 – Water – always have plenty of water. If you are working a long shift include snacks. This is fuel. 16 hour days require two meals. If you want to save money on food schedule short filming shifts five hours max. But short days be sure to have some fruit at least apples and bananas which are easy to eat and not expensive. Always have plenty of water. If you need to save money, buy gallon jugs and dixie cups. On long shifts remember sugar soda can cause people to crash when the sugar wears off.
8 – Keep crews small. A few talented people can be much more efficient and cause less distractions than having a ton of novice volunteers fill every crew position. As director I like to run the camera myself. I like minimal lighting using as much natural light as possible. Be sure you have a great sound guy. Replace the boom operator with a mic stand or hang the mic from the ceiling. You get cleaner sound and no boom mics in the shot. A continuity person AKA script supervisor is one of the most important positions on a no budget film if you can find a qualified talented experienced hand they can save a ton of time and energy.
9 – Don’t have actors standing around waiting for their scene. Try to schedule them when you are going to actually use them. This helps moral.
10 – Preplan. Make sure you have all the props and wardrobe on set ready to go. Have the camera setup before actors arrive. The less standing around and waiting people have to do the quicker the day will go.
If you follow this blog and like the other concepts that we talk about. I want to talk about what I believe is the most important task if you are going to make a movie with little to no money. This task that you must master is post production and non-linear editing. The reason is not only because this is the last rewrite and we know great movies tell great stories. It might be more about how an edit can make or break a movie. Just like one writer can write a scene completely different from another writer given the same task. One editor can ruin a film much easier than a great editor can make a movie work. We reference non-linear editing because it doesn’t cost a lot in hardware and software requirements.
Let us back up and talk about film productions and budgets. Even a tiny one million dollar budget. They can hire a team of editors. The name you see in the credits is the guy who was in charge. He didn’t actually sit at a computer and spend hours alone in a room reviewing footage and make cuts one edit at a time. No instead there was a team of people. One person who would just sort the footage. Someone to catalog each moment of audio and video and compare that to the script supervisors logs. Then there is someone who just designs the credits. Someone who does an audio edit. Another individual who color corrects the pictures. Then there is a folly and looping specialist. There are more than one assistant editors. And with a million dollars you can pay these people a working wage. You can have an office that everyday works out of and punches a time clock daily. All this ends up being a very small fraction of the films total budget. When you have a tiny budget and hire an editor to complete the post production this person has to wear too many hats. They aren’t getting a working wage. One person doing the job of a few dozen is going to need a lot more hours. This one person probably works out of their home or some location not being supervised or accountable to the production staff. The director isn’t going to be able to over see the edit because cumulatively it takes too many hours. In the end if the director is actually going to over see post production one working hour at a time they might as well do it themselves. In fact it would take the director less time to complete because they are already familiar with the picture. They already know the story they are trying to tell. They also have much more of a vested interest in the final success.
So to be very clear. One of the biggest mistakes film makers make when they make a small budget film is to not plan on doing the post production themselves. It’s also a great learning experience for the director to understand what shots they are missing and how the story actually pieces together. You learn more doing the film edit than you will during the entire rest of the project. If you think you are going to pay one person $5k or even $10k to end a feature film you will always be disappointed. It’s possible if you have a friend or someone you have worked with in the past they might get the job done for you on that budget. It’s not going to be great money. Let’s be realistic one person working 40 hours a week is not going to get a quality edit done in a month. They might be able to get you a rough cut. So now you have 25% of the edit done. The rough cut is the toughest part of the post production process. If they got 1/4 of post done in one month and you are paying them $5k for the edit then they just worked an entire month for $1250. That translates to less than minimum wage in some cities. After a rough cut you need to do a few more edits. Then you as the film maker will have a lot of change requests. Most editors even ones with experience will have a tough time getting a feature film edit done in less than 500 hours. Good luck getting it in even 4 months of full time work.
So what can you do? You learn how to operate a program like Adobe Premier. That would be my suggestion. There are other options the best alternative is Avid. There is also final cut and vegas video which are decent options. If you are going to teach yourself how to use Adobe the software comes with some great tutorials. If you run through the tutorials you can teach yourself to be just as qualified as most editors who work on independent films. There are also tons of youtube videos if you have specific questions. Udemy offers a few very decent courses on how to use Adobe for $10 if you catch one of their sales. They seem to run sales for everything from summer time to July 4th or Christmas. You could find a local class which is a good way. If you own a apple with their apple care you can get one one one help in an Apple Store. They also have free classes on how to use their software. Final Cut isn’t bad option. Dollar for dollar Adobe Premier is the best option and it can do everything any Hollywood production would ever need. You can pay a monthly license fee and cancel when post production is completed. The entire suite of programs is under $100 per month. You should start with just Premier so it won’t cost very much. Adobe is fairly good for Audio but for color correction most people use a free program from Black Magic called DaVinci Resolve.
Normally I wouldn’t advocate buying expensive equipment but a mac book air or mac book pro has enough power to edit HD video. Hint don’t film your first project in 4k. Normal HD requires a fraction of the speed and processing power compared to 4K. It’s also nice to be portable allowing you to edit on set or any place you want.
So get yourself a computer wih Adobe Premier and do the edit as you go one scene at a time. Try a short or concept reel to raise money. Get some footage that you have shot and practice. Do some test shots with potential cast members.
A few years ago I watched a movie called Tangerine. It debuted at Sundance and had a good buzz and I noticed one of the streaming services had picked it up. I remember turning it on and the first scene was in a diner with two transvestites talking. My first reaction was the acting was pretty good for a tiny budget film. My second reaction was watch. That window behind them is going to have continuity issues. I knew because I had produced a movie about give years prior with the same shot and window. Of course I didn’t film in Hollywood which complicates things more. I filmed in Austin. The self proclaimed indie film capital of the world. Or maybe that’s music capital. Anyway you can film in Austin without a permit and a lot of places let you in without insurance.There are a ton of amateur film peps that will work for almost nothing.
I remember that day. I wanted to kill the director. He was insisting on getting a dolly shot. We got in the location and it took about 90 minutes to setup the dolly and camera. Then the sound guy couldn’t get close enough to stay out of the shot so we had to mic the actors. They spent about 3 hours trying to get thirty seconds of screen time. Eventually it wasn’t even useable. The food arrived and got cold. Then the director struggled to get good performances from the actors after they moved the camera and wasted another hour on a setup. If you have ever worked a production. Best case is one hour to flip the camera to the other side. Then you have to hope the performances match. So basically we got less than one page in the can and had cold food. Then the mad rush to try to catch up. Then begging the manager of the location to give us more time.
I remember my words to the director. Get your establishing shot then go in for coverage. He was a cool guy and the film ended up being surprisingly watchable. Of course he had to hit up his parents for 20k more money for reshoots. And we got those over spring break. He usually was economical but he was a film school graduate and wanted that shot. The dolly move did nothing to help tell the story it was pure flatulence.
But I remember working the sidewalk outside the dinner trying to explain to pedestrians that we where filming and if they could give us one or two minutes otherwise it would ruin the shot. That usually works. Especially in Texas people are kind. The problem was there was no way to monitor the cars or control the traffic light outside the window.
Anyway the thing is when you film out a window on a busy street make sure to at least not get the traffic light in the shot. Also if you are filming out a window be sure you can get the scene before the sun rises or sets because the only thing worse than traffic lights not matching in the background is night and day outside not matching.
The point of this story is that Tangerine had some continuity issues. After the scene I asked my girlfriend if she noticed and she did not so we rewatched the scene and she was laughing so hard I think she ended up on the floor. I didn’t find it funny but she knew my struggles. Most people won’t notice small continuity issues. You might miss them filming. Remember the starbucks cup in Game of Thrones. It happens to the best of us.
What is important is story. If you have a compelling story the audience gets so pulled into the drama that they don’t even notice most of those things. The same goes if your lighting isn’t perfect or your camera work is just ordinary. The office is the most watched tvshow on netflix and they can’t seem to hold the camera still. It can work. I recommend putting the camera on a tripod so it’s still.
I also recommend filming using your cell phone. You can buy an expensive camera. You could even get a red. No one is going to know the difference. A cell phone like a new iPhone will film in high enough resolution so you can screen your film in a movie theater. Not a tiny little indie theater but a large block buster theater. I have seen movies filmed on cheap DSLR camera’s and iPhones in real theaters and the image looked fine. The problem was the camera operator or the edit. Most of the time the problem is the sound. Look at a tvshow like the walking dead. They don’t light most scenes. Of course it’s a horror show and the scenes take place at night so it works having dark sets. Zombies that come out of the shadows are scarier.
The point here is don’t invest in high end gear. They used a Canon 7D to film some of the Marvel movies like Captain America and no one noticed. You could pick up that camera used for a few hundred dollars and a 50mm lens for $100 and match that quality.
What you need is a good story and some skill at post production. Learn how to do the edit. Get good clean sound. Get a great sound mix. Master your story telling skills. You can film a great movie with little money. Limit the size of your crew. Find a few good actors who work cheap. Focus on the the things you need not what you can’t control. If you want to use expensive equipment and have a big crew. You are going to need a million or a few million dollars. Skip the special effects and skip expensive props and wardrobe requirements. Save those things for your second film when you have proven you can do it and people will actually give you money.
I’m a big fan of this 2016 film. Of course it stars Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Loved seeing them together as love interests. But I liked the science fiction of this film. I liked the concept of the story. Robinson Crusoe stuck on a space ship. The story has been done a million times but it seems like a science fiction spin is an obvious win. I also loved the cameo from one of my all time favorite actors Andy Garcia.
I found the pace of the film entertaining. I liked the simplicity of the story. It hit all the beats. I’m curious why the reviews never seemed too good. There is nothing wrong with this movie. It’s science fiction for people who love science fiction and it’s a movie that the masses can also enjoy. Proof is the box office draw of over $300 million so the film made some money.
I wanted to post it here just because it’s the kind of film that works on second and third viewings. And it seems to have been forgotten about.
There was an old EC comic book with a story “50 Girls 50” by one of the great science fiction artists Al Williamson. You might be familiar with him from his work drawing the star wars comic strip. George Lucas specifically requested him for the job.
I have a theory I want to present as the thesis for this blog. You can make a lot of money filming videos and getting them on Amazon prime. Especially if you are okay earning a few pennies per minute from amazon as people watch your film. I understand it’s very tough to get stuff on netflix. I suspect it’s tough for the studios to sell their movies to netflix because netflix would rather create their own content. The problem for netflix is their tvshows are generally worth watching but their movies are not.
I read a study today that said people spend on average 7 minutes deciding what movie to stream. The question is how do you tap into that.
The focus on this blog is going to be how to film a movie using a cell phone and become famous or at least make a boat load of money.