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Indie Film - Pre-Production
Conspire to Create.
Production is a convoluted and complexed process, kind of like Sudoku or trying to understand ANYTHING a politician says. The way to make it (and by "it" I mean production, not Sudoku) go smoother is to plan your production in advance. This is known as Fred. Actually its legal name is Pre-Production.
You should already have the idea and the script--pretty much in that order. If not, please tell me how you succeeded in doing it backwards and see my earlier articles to get a heads-up on the previous steps of making your movie.
Now you want to get you pencil and paper, because you will be using them a great deal in this step. You will find yourself needing them for all of the lists and contact numbers you will be collecting. Also, it would be good to start keeping track of people you wish to thank at award ceremonies and people you plan to be rude to when you are famous. Don't get them mixed up!
In pre-production, you will be gathering your crew and getting all your ducks in a row. Sadly. most ducks lack opposable thumbs so you will have to fill most positions with people. You will assign your directors (film/video, sound, body noises, etc), you will be creating your storyboards, daily call-sheets and shots lists, and you will also be doing the footwork to make sure that you have all of your locations, props and craft services ready for each day's shots.
One of the easiest things to do is "create" your production company. Since you are not "big time" yet, all you really have to do is find a name and keep track of expenses (if you are planning to make money on the film, all the costs you incur may be tax deductible: this may actually require a business license though, so check with a lawyer or certified public accountant for more information). My favorite name is Miracle Productions. Then you can say, "If it's good, it's a Miracle!"
Places like Vista Print can supply you with letterhead and business cards for reasonable prices and will make you look all that more official when you are dealing with people outside of the Indie film community. Seldom do you want to write your number on an investor's hand. It just isn't couth or funny. Writing it backwards on their forehead (especially after they have passed out from too much Pinot) is still uncouth, but VERY, VERY funny. And you can bet the VIP will remember you (probably black-list you too, but you will be remembered!).
As the producer (I assume you are the producer at this point) you will be in charge of a lot of stuff! Here is a Wikipedia list of positions for which you will be responsible to fill as said producer:
* The director is primarily responsible for the storytelling, creative decisions and acting of the film.
* The assistant director (AD) manages the shooting schedule and logistics of the production, among other tasks. There are several types of AD, each with different responsibilities.
* The casting director finds actors to fill the parts in the script. This normally requires that actors audition.
* The location manager finds and manages film locations. Most pictures are shot in the controllable environment of a studio sound stage but occasionally, outdoor sequences call for filming on location.
* The production manager manages the production budget and production schedule. They also report, on behalf of the production office, to the studio executives or financiers of the film.
* The director of photography (DoP) is the cinematographer who supervises the photography of the entire film
* The director of audiography (DoA) is the audiographer who supervises the audiography of the entire film. For productions in the Western world this role is also known as either sound designer or supervising sound editor .
* The production sound mixer is the head of the sound department during the production stage of filmmaking. They record and mix the audio on set - dialogue, presence and sound effects in mono and ambiance in stereo . They work with the boom operator, Director, DoA, DoP, and First AD.
* The sound designer creates the aural conception of the film, working with the supervising sound editor. On some productions the sound designer plays the role of a director of audiography.
* The composer creates new music for the film. (usually not until post-production)
* The production designer creates the visual conception of the film, working with the art director.
* The art director manages the art department, which makes production sets
* The costume designer creates the clothing for the characters in the film working closely with the actors, as well as other departments.
* The make up and hair designer works closely with the costume designer in addition to create a certain look for a character.
* The storyboard artist creates visual images to help the director and production designer communicate their ideas to the production team.
* The choreographer creates and coordinates the movement and dance - typically for musicals. Some films also credit a fight choreographer.
You may not need a good portion of these jobs since you will probably be doing them yourself, but it's good to know which hats you might be wearing as you make your movie. Unfortunately--and you will just have to live with this--you may often be wearing a jesters hat since so many low budget Indie film producers have to wing a LOT of stuff as they go. I myself had to learn to edit video and do special video effects on my first short film.
Much of your movie will be easy enough to get through without storyboards, but there will be times that you need to get a specific, difficult scene storyboarded to make sure that all the shots are done in the manner which the director wants to see them. Included with this entry is a sample of a storyboard series from my short movie, Akumu. There is also a blank form for your use. I forget where I got this from, but it was free and I thank the person that posted it for download.
You don't have to hire an artist, nor do you have to be an artists yourself to make the storyboards. Many storyboards are done by directors using stick figures which have some kind of indication of the characters they represent. The main point of the storyboards is to show arc of motion; sound, music and character cues; and what kinds of special effects will go where in the final cut. Of course, if you are looking for funding, you will not want to hand your pencil over to Bubbles the chimp. Gorillas make much better artists.
Speaking of funding; If you are going to look for funding for the film, you will want to storyboard the film as fully as possible. You will also create a prospectus which includes your budget, business plan, and expected income. You will find the six-page blank sample budget in the pictures on this page.
Again, you may not need to use all the categories when determining a budget for an Indie movie, but this type of form will go a long way in helping you know where your budget stands and in helping you to convince a potential investor that your project is viable. Also, lots of strong liquor or maybe a few threats of physical bodily injury might sway their decision.
Take a good look at the subjects in the list. You will find that there are even sections for advertising and distribution. Always remember that a film isn't done until it is being seen by the audience for which it is intended!
Pre-production is also the time to get your shooting schedule finalized and to have all of your locations found and under agreement for use. There is the school of thought that accepts "gorilla filming" (shooting without permits or permission). This can, and has, worked in the past, but you want to be cautious with this since you may be breaking the law depending on where you shoot. Unless you are going to wait for the statute of limitations to expire before you release your movie, it may not be a good idea. Permits are not expensive in most cases, and location liability releases are easy enough to get signed. You should have the release for EVERY site and, if it is government managed property (such as a State Park or city property) you should have the permits. Remember to keep them with you when on-site! Otherwise, how will you be able to prove to the police you are allowed to be there? No one needs to have their Miranda Rights read to them, using up valuable daylight!
First you will scout the locations. Many states and a lot of cities have government departments which can help with the locations you want. If you receive help from them, you will probably pay a small fee.
Here are some things to remember for your location scouting portion of pre-production:
- Will the location be quiet during your shoot dates?
- Check with the local authority to ensure no building work will be running whilst you're filming.
- What are the acoustics like?
- If unsure, ask the sound recordist to check out the location.
- Available light
- Can you clean the windows?
- In which direction do the windows face?
- During which hours of the day do you get direct sunlight through the windows?
- Can you swap out the flourescent tubes for colour-corrected tubes?
- can you tie into the local mains power supply?
- is it OK for you to use a generator?
- check out the legal requirements for storing fuel.
- Will people mind the noise of a generator?
- where can you get fuel from?
- Will the generator run on red diesel?
- How much will it cost?
- Where can you park the vehicles so they won't be in shot?
- Check where you can and can not put gaffer tape.
- And, most importantly, does the location suit the script?!?
Now that you have your locations and know what is needed for each scene, you must get your butt into gear and arrange the shooting schedule. No, not a list of the many people that need to be shot (lord knows there are SO many), but the order in which you will do the scenes that go into your movie. You should not try to accommodate individual actors in the schedule. Tell the actors auditioning for parts what the schedule is and take their availability into account when casting. I learned the HARD way. Trying to accommodate all of the actors led to multiple re-castings and a delay of a year-and-a-half!
If you have a very hard to find type cast in your film, you might want to adapt to their schedule. Too, if you have a "famous" person willing to work for you, you may have to adapt to their schedule. Otherwise, make sure that YOU stay in charge by making a schedule and sticking to it.
Here you will be filling out the Call Sheets and script breakdowns for each scene. I have included a sample of this file also. It helps you keep track of the actors to be on set and when, crew needed, equipment needed, props needed, and several other important things to help production go smoothly.
Now it's time to audition the talent.
Set an audition and post it to all of the available Internet resources you can find (just use your BETTER judgment here, do not list a kids film in the Adult talent section--its been done (not by me though!!!!)). A great one is PERFORMERScallboard.com. You can join and submit free casting calls. You can also do this via Craigslist. I find it useful to brows as many casting sites as possible to find talent I think look good for the parts I'm casting and then invite them to audition. Even though you may not be paying with anything but a copy of the finished movie, agents are often very helpful because their talent may get a break via an Indie film and make it big. Besides, a credit is a credit, and that's a big thing.
Make sure that the auditions are in public places where people will not be disturbed. I have rented out halls, signed up for free rooms in various public buildings such as the library, and have held auditions in coffee shops. Oddly enough, the coffee shop auditions have proven to be the most successful.
Remember to treat talent like human beings--don't be emotional about telling someone that you didn't cast them, but have the kindness to contact them so they aren't wasting time waiting for an e-mail or phone call that will never come. Time is valuable to everyone, not just you. A simple statement in an e-mail such as: Thank you for auditioning. We are sorry that we cannot offer you a part at this time, but we chose an actor that better matched our needs for the part. We hope that we may have a chance to work with you in the future. Best wishes in your career!
It's simple and it doesn't make it sound like the actor can't act or anything. You just found someone that more closely fit the character. Just don't be a jerk about it is what I'm saying. Fair enough? Moving on... (jerk) Oh, don't be so sensitive!
Once you have all of the above stuff done, you will begin having script meetings with the cast. Depending on your style (if you've developed one by this time) you may only have a couple meetings or you may have a boat load of them. You may go over the script a few times and allow your actors to take it from there, or you may rehearse and rehearse until your vocal chords are raw and bleeding! Yuck! Which reminds me...You may also have to have insurance for some locations and for some scenes if there is a chance of harm coming to an actor or stunt person. Always keep this in mind.
But back to the subject at hand (or wherever we left it), you will know the basics of how the actors deal with each other and your actors will know what it is you expect of them before the actual production begins.
After all of this, you will be ready (in some small way) to begin shooting your movie. That is what will be covered in my next article. Let's hope I remember which hat to wear!
Sample ItemsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Scene One. Akumu
Short teaser. Akumu
Eyes of Forgotten Innocence
Thanks to Wikipedia for the lists covering production jobs and location search guides. You can find out more by going to Wikipedia and searching for Indie Film.