The low barrier to entry in filmmaking. What an absolute pain in the arse it can be to everyone with a modicum of experience when they find themselves involved in a shoot where the Writer/Producer is enjoying his/her newity*. *(see newity def.)
After talking with my good mate Scott, who has much more experience than I do in teaching film, I’ve decided to come up with my shit list of things you absolutely have to take care of when producing your first short film and inviting others WITH experience to join you.
1. Never pre-select a location without the say-so of the director and the DP. Your favourite pub/restaurant/park bench may look good to you but do you really understand what it’s going to take to make that set-up work if you arrange and book it before you get your key personnel onboard. Just hold your horses and wait. Listen to what your DP & Director – and often sound engineer – have to say before getting all gun-ho and jumping in and reserving the space.
2. On average it’s possible to film 4-6pages of a short film per day. Without killing everyone from exhaustion and ensuring all shots and sequences are covered. You have a longer script? Cool, that’s fine. It’s more than 1 day. Or cut the script. Don’t naively think you can just keep everyone onset working flat out until it’s finished because things will get missed, shortcuts will be taken, fatigue will set-in with your actors and crew and everyone will leave grumpy as hell.
3. This goes with the above. A maximum of a 10hr day. Ideally it should be 8 but hey we all know how long it takes to get things right during setup.
4. Crew catering. Never-ever buy a load of food and dump it on the table and expect the crew/cast to ‘make their own plates up’ or make sandwiches out of the bread and butter and meat/salad that you bought for them. What kind of person are you? You want your crew/cast to stop work for food and then have to do MORE work to make their own lunch. Don’t cut corners here. Keeping your crew and cast fed and watered is one of the key jobs a producer has on set on the day. (Keeping them safe is the other.) A 10hr day HAS to include Breakfast, Lunch, Afternoon Coffee Break with snacks and Dinner.
5. There’s a lot of writer/producers out there at the moment making things happen for themselves – which I applaud and will support whenever I can. This is my own version of payback. If someone with lots of experience tells you your script is too long – you really should listen to them. As a writer you are rarely the best judge of your own work. Even oscar winners have script editors.
6. As a writer/producer you get to be on set. If you were only the writer this would rarely happen. Make sure you remember that you are onset in your capacity as Producer. Not as the writer. You can’t rewrite the script – unless you are specifically asked by the director. Nor can you pull the director to one side to chastise them because an actor has missed a word from your line. There are many reasons why this has happened – you have to trust the director to do their job. It’s why you hired them.
7. If you have a 1st AD they run the schedule and the day. Leave them too it. Or fire them and get someone who knows what they are doing.
8. Writers – you need to let go of your script when you employ a director. It’s their job to tell the story. Or you direct it yourself. There’s no middle ground here. If you are hiring a director you hire the one that you think will best tell the story you have written. You then need to leave them to get on with it. And this means letting go in the edit too. Over-riding decisions from people with tons more experience than you turns everyone’s effort into your own personal vanity project. You belittle everyone’s contribution and risk alienating yourself in the industry before you even get started. Be humble, take advice and absorb as much as you can without ego. Remember your newity.
9. Make sure you provide contracts for everyone so we all know where we stand. It protects you as much as it does your cast and crew. And if you are hoping to progress in this industry you will have to start at some point. Start as you mean to go on.
10. When you have produced contracts. You MUST abide by them. On a short film you are unlikely to find yourself being sued over a breach unless someone is hurt in some way. But your reputation from that point on is ruined. This industry works on word of mouth – that’s why everyone says it’s so hard to break into it. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And we all talk amongst ourselves before taking a job with an unknown Producer.
11. You must have insurance. Here, it’s easy: https://www.performance-insurance.tv No fucking excuses!
12. Hire the best actors you can afford. You want to know where to find good actors? Agents. They will happily respond to a breakdown as long as there is a fee for their clients. They have lots of actors – not just names off the telly but jobbing talented actors all waiting for bits and pieces of work to show their range before they too can become a name off the telly. Use agents to find good actors. It’s really very simple. Yes there are lots of talented actors out there who don’t yet have agents. But this is your first film. Shortcut your way to excellence and leave that learning curve for another film.
Note: Photo courtesy of puukibeach via FlickR Creative Commons