frontier insider

You’ve finished the script, so the hard part is over. Time to have some fun.

Don’t have much money? That’s okay. I’ll explain what you can do cheaply– and what you can’t.

First, some production basics. You may have heard people say in the entertainment business “Time Is Money”, and that’s more important than you think. What if you run out of money before you’re done shooting? Or have no money left to pay an editor? That’s why it’s very, very, important you have a strict, streamlined shooting schedule.

If you don’t get the scene right that day, and you have to shoot it the next day, all of a sudden you find yourself behind schedule and over budget.

This is a big problem whether you have 1,000 dollars in your whole budget, 100,000 dollars, or even 1 million. Explaining this first because you’ll want to have a shooting schedule that you know you can adhere to. Whether you’re shooting on the weekends, or 12 days straight, know exactly what you’re shooting for the entire project. Have every single thing you need written down. Rehearse how the actors perform, and also know exactly which camera angles you will be using. This is called a shot list. What you don’t want to do is find yourself trying to figure out how to move the camera around, because that will eat up half your day, and as I explained, once that happens, a domino effect of falling behind will cause you to run out of time, money, or both.

The most popular software for shooting schedules is Movie Magic.

For an indie film or pilot, you should comb through your script and make sure you need what’s on the page and nothing more. Every scene should move the story forward or tell us something new about the hero. I don’t care how clever and funny the scene is, if it doesn’t fit one of the above requirements, delete it. You don’t have the time or money to shoot it just for the heck of it.

Now that you’ve got exactly what you need from the script, let’s look at it again. Start with location. How convenient or not is it to shoot there? Shooting outdoors at night requires a decent lighting kit and someone skilled in how to make it look great. If you have that in your budget, fine. If you don’t, move that location indoors. Maybe your scene is two people in a restaurant. You’ll have to get extra people to sit at the surrounding tables. Do you really have a bunch of friends who will sit around for 9 hours while you film all night? Maybe you have a coffee shop a friend works at, and the owner said you can shoot there when it closes. Great! But if you don’t, guess what, that scene of a first date should be rewritten so it’s two people having a picnic in a park instead of a fancy restaurant. It probably won’t change the story, but it will save you a lot of production headaches.

These days, you can shoot a scene on an iphone, and it may actually look intriguing. I prefer an HD camera that you can change the lens on, and you can rent those for a decent price. I won’t go into specifics here, as that is a whole article in itself. However, if you have a decent Director Of Photography, he will have his own equipment. That’s their skillset, and they take pride in making each shot look beautiful. If you don’t know any cinematographers offhand, you can post on craigslist or upworks. Film schools are a great place to look. Young cinematographers are eager to build up their body of work, so you may be surprised to find you get somebody who is very talented for 100 bucks a day. If they’re established, they’ll want to paid much more, and that’s something you have to negotiate, depending on your budget.

The biggest mistake I see with first-time filmmakers? Bad audio quality. An edgy, raw indie can look that way, but it CAN’T SOUND THAT WAY. Putting that in all caps for a reason. If the sound is echoing, or hard to hear, or goes in and out, your entire movie comes across as cheap. At worst, it’s unwatchable, like listening to a phone call with a bad signal. At best, people sit through the movie wondering what it was about the movie that made it seem kinda low budget in a bad way. Solution here is to hire a sound engineer. Sure, you can be untrained in photography, point a video camera these days, and it might end up looking pretty cool. However, the technology isn’t the same with audio. You can’t use the microphones on your cellphone to record people talking without it sounding terrible.

If you have to pay one person on your set, hire a sound guy (or girl). They’ll wire microphones to your talent, and also have someone holding a boom mic over them. You must do this, or your indoor shots will sound like people talking in a bathroom and your outdoor scenes will have a hiss from wind you didn’t notice the day you shot it.

You can search for an audio crew by posting job ads on craigslist or upworks. If you are on a tight budget, look to local film schools. Hire someone who knows how to operate it.

Hiring the right actors requires some homework. There are plenty of talented actors, but not everyone is made for every role, no matter how talented they are. You may have a friend in acting class who’s great at many roles, but if he’s not right for a role in your script, don’t cast them. Hold auditions. Have talent read with one another to see if there’s chemistry. If you wrote a love story, and it doesn’t seem like the guy and girl are meant to be together, your entire movie won’t work.

Most likely, if you’ve written this for yourself, you already have the best person for the leading role, you. Many indie filmmakers write roles for their friends, which is great, assuming your friend can act. Make sure they can. You’re not doing anybody a favor by putting them in the wrong role.

Don’t feel compelled to hire a wardrobe department. I have tremendous respect for their talents and efforts, but on an indie film with a tight budget, you can have a friend make a list of what everyone is wearing in each scene and ensuring those outfits are consistent.

Strongly suggest hiring a hair and make-up artist. It reassures the talent you want them to look great, and of course you want them to look amazing in a close-up for the sake of your movie. If you’ve ever been watching a cheap movie, you’ve probably seen the actors have shiny faces; that’s a result of big lights on normal skin, which has oil in it. Make-up artists apply the powder that makes people look amazing under glaring lights.

Lastly, a good editor is worth the investment. Budget dictates who you can and who you can’t afford, so I’m stressing to put as much money aside for this as you can. A good film can become terrible if the editing and pacing is off. A good film will be transformed into something amazing if the editor is really good at what they do.

You’ll want a proper post production house to lay music in, get the sound clean, and color correct the look of the final cut. This will take some shopping around, and you can negotiate what you need done and what you don’t. Please make sure you have legal rights to the songs you use. Can’t stress that enough. It’s a headache making sure the songs are cleared, so most people buy pre-cleared songs. Of course, if you can afford a composer, they will bring original music to it that you own outright.

It’s always been standard practice for film crews and cast to be given free meals. This sounds peculiar to people who haven’t worked in this business anymore. I had a funny situation on an indie film I was producing, wherein the investor, who was spending 250,000 dollars on the movie, wanted to know why he was spending 2,000 a week feeding 25 people every day. His exact words were “Tell them to bring lunch in a paper bag or let them go get a cheeseburger!” I had to explain that you certainly don’t want to wait around for people to come back from lunch, and more importantly, it’s a courtesy that says to your cast and crew “Hey, great work, meals are on me!”. This is true of multi-million dollar studio films, true for movies with a budget of 250 grand, and it should be true for the pilot you’re shooting for 1,000 dollars. Arguably, most important for the lower budget movies wherein cast and crew are either working for 50 bucks a day, or free, by all means, the least we can do is feed them, and feed them well. Don’t buy McDonald’s, make sure you have enough money to get decent food, a good selection, and a snack table at all times.

While I’ve given some hard and fast rules, there will be things that happen that are out of your control. Situations like that, best suggestion I have is to maintain a positive attitude. Corny, but true: mood of a set starts at the top and trickles down. If you’re anxious and shouting, everyone will be miserable. If you’re smiling and supportive, everyone will be happy to be doing what you’ve always dreamed about: Making your own movie or TV pilot!

Once you have a final product you’re proud to show people, we’ll talk about the new, wild world of distribution, and how your show can be seen by millions of people instantly.