So you’re a filmmaker in the making, but don’t have the funds to do your first film. You have a script and a basic idea on how to make a movie. Brilliant! You sit down and put together the budget you will need to complete this film from soup to nuts. Then you have a breakdown upon seeing all the money required and decide you should have become a lawyer instead. You could go the route of fund raising; applying for grants, saving your pennies, but this can take up a lot of time with potentially little to no success.
No one wants to hear that you are an aspiring Filmmaker. The fruits of your labor are your calling card and you need to churn them out sooner than later. One option is to attempt to make a film for free-ish. This is a challenge, but not impossible as I have done this myself.
First of all, decide if you are making a short film or feature length film. This is important. You can do this with any length of film. It used to be, that a short film was more of a calling card that rarely had the potential to earn money. Feature films could win awards the same as a short in festivals, but use too have a greater possibility of being considered as a candidate for distribution. Times have changed due to many Internet sites like Spike TV, YouTube and such. It seems, short is the new long, so go with a short film if at all possible. It’s easier and potentially more valuable in the end.
Getting the word out about you and your film should start early in the game. Publicity was always important, but now it is more so than before. In our internet-connected world, word of mouth has returned as one of the most important ways to advertise, with the likes of social mediums such as Twitter. People will want to hear the story behind the story. Often it’s important to help gain an audience that will be invested in your journey and therefore, curious to see the final product.
The first thing you’ll want to do is go ahead and make that budget. Try to bypass the breakdown though. The approach I recommend is to put up a simple fundraising campaign anyway while you organize pre-production. First you want to get fiscally sponsored so that if you are lucky enough to get donations, they will be tax deductible. This is very attractive to people who may think of tossing a quarter into your pot. I recommend FracturedAtlas.org because they make the application process easy. Basically, you apply and pay a monthly membership fee and Voila you have a Fiscal Sponsor. Next go to a fundraising site such as IndieGoGo.com and put your campaign on their site and connect it with Fractured Atlas.
Set up a Facebook page so people can follow the progress of the film. People want to feel that you are exhausting your every moment and resource trying to make your film happen. If you re silent for a month at a time, they will think nothing is happening. You need to make them feel that the project is progressing even during the times you have to pay attention to your day job. A sentence a day can make a world of difference. It can be about any aspect of your filmmaking journey on this project. Including your frustration of having interrupted your flow with other obligations in your life. If the project is on your mind, it should be on your followers mind.
Make sure you post your campaign link out on all your social networking sites and mailing lists. Two things will be accomplished: Publicity for your film and potential donations. Make sure you stress that they can donate as little as a dollar.
Now after that move forward, make your film anyway. If you get some money great, but if you don’t your project is still forward motion. Look at the amount of time you calculated for pre-production, production and post-production. Now, whatever the length of time, multiply that by 5. The “Monkey Wrench Fairy” will throw a lot of stuff your way during every step of the journey. Don’t fret; this is just the Universe’s way of testing your dedication to your craft. By the way, when you calculate a budget, make sure there is a column titled: “Monkey Wrenches”.
Putting together your team can be tricky when you are not offering money. When writing ads looking for crew, remember people always do projects to get something in return. This is not a bad thing. You are making your film to get something in return. It could be for money or just the experience, but everybody wants something. So make the ad sound valuable, enticing and friendly. You don’t need to give away your film plot, but put aspects of the film that could be good for someone’s demo reel.
For example, if the film has action scenes or special effects, you want to mention that this film will have these types of scenes that are great reel material! At the end of your ad make sure to list the ‘Compensation’: “Credit and DVD of Film”. This can be good enough. See what bites you get. If you don’t get many or any responses, you may have to pad the compensation with barter as well. Don’t do this at first, because you don’t want to fall into a situation where you owe more time than you can give to multiple people. Follow through is super important, so make sure what you offer in return can be done, even if it’s later than sooner. Most people want 1] experience, 2] credit and 3] super important: footage.
You will end up doing some bartering which is actually a good thing in the end. When you offer bartering, mention your skill-set. You have to decide which skills to offer and why. You can offer services that you are adept at and would be able to return the favor at a fast pace. Or, you could offer a skill you would like to develop more, or get demo reel material in return for. Bartering can be a great one hand washing the other experience.
• Casting is the same approach: offer credit and a copy of the film. There are tons of actors who are looking for projects. The most important end result for them is the footage. Often, they experience a lot of Directors who never give them a copy of the film. So, make sure that no matter what, they end up with a copy of the film. If the project tanks and never gets finished, you must still give them their scenes, as those will still be reel material for both of you. Above all your, reputation is important! You don’t want to be known as a promise breaker.
A few time savers in the casting process are to look at actor reels and see if they can act in the first place. Although, I must say not every reel does an actor justice. I personally didn’t like viewing them because it was more important to see what they could bring to my project. There are many factors that can lead to a not-so-good performance. If you can see people in person, it’s better all the way round. Time and experience has helped me to see the real abilities behind a bad performance. If you are just starting out, viewing a reel in advance is possibly a better time/money saver.
Make your project non-union so that you can avoid a lot of complications and expenses. Make sure this status is known in the casting call so you don’t have a ton of union actors showing up who otherwise would not have. If Union actors decide to come to your non-union audition and fit a part, you will want to ask them if they have a non-union name to use for your production. There are many actors hampered by their union status, because Union jobs are not always plentiful. Make sure you are both on the same page if you decide to do a call back or cast them.
If you can hold casting somewhere for free that would be the goal. It is not unusual to do casting out of a church basement, apartment or house. Just make sure that you make the actor feels comfortable about the situation. There should ideally be at least one woman on your casting crew and she should greet people as they arrive. Everyone should conduct himself or herself professionally. No beer bottles lying about and off color humor allowed. You want people to take your production seriously and feel safe.
You’ve got your cast and you’re ready to make a movie! Weather can impede a shoot even if your production is all indoors. You might still want to consider shooting during seasons known for nice weather. People can be delayed due to inclement weather or bad weather may decide to crash your outdoor scene. May through October is usually ideal in most of America. Southern states July and August can be a bit overwhelming due to the heat and there could be more power outages due to everybody’s air conditioner running. Typically cold; snowy or rainy seasons will cause potential complications too. You have to weigh out your needs, but now worry if you can’t have the perfect scenario.
Where are we shooting? Believe it or not, you can get locations for free. State film commissions often have a locations department and some can be very helpful to you. For example, the state of New Jersey encourages filmmakers to use the state as your canvas. Their locations department has lists of places used as film sets and will pass this info along to you for free. The location costs range from big time budget down to free! There are other benefits including 20 percent tax credit program and a waiver of Sales and Use taxes. Make sure to check nearby states and their benefits to your project.
• When it comes to insurance, many filmmakers take the risk of not using it on their project. I’m not saying this is a good idea because it is very risky. But if you go this route you have to make sure all your cast and crew have a waiver clause in their release form so they cannot sue you. Then in turn, you have to think what risks there are for shooting. If you are taking the no insurance risk, you would want to avoid scenes using fire, stunts, weapons, animals, etc. I was once on a shoot in the woods where we discovered there was a high tick population. Quite a few people were bitten and gave their hospital bills to the Director. These things can happen so you have to figure out how to make the safest situation for both you and those working with you.
• Lights, cameras, equipment oh my! When weighing out what is the most important part of the whole process, one could argue that the camera is that part. It is best that you shoot any project in HD so you are not limited if opportunity rings. SD [Standard Definition] is now an old school format that no longer meets broadcast standards. Even the Internet is using HD. The good news is it’s easier to get an HD camera; even the cheapest one looks good. Each camera has their own look in some cases, but since you are trying to go as cheap as possible you may have to go with what you can get. Ideally, you want to get DP’s who have their own camera if you don’t already own your own.
You also require the rest of the necessary equipment so you don’t have a dark, silent movie unless of course, that’s what you’re going for. Make a checklist of equipment required for a shoot: Camera, lights, boom pole, microphone, gels, etc. Schools will often lend you equipment for your projects even for up to a year after you’ve graduated. If you belong to an actors’ union, they have recourses for borrowing as well. Put ads out looking to borrow what you need. It is hard to find a DP who has their own equipment, but they exist. Mention this in your ad. Also, people will do things in return for being “an extra” in your film. Just think outside the box for every aspect.
Just remember though, the most important factor is that you have good content and great performances.
• Food is a very important aspect of production. If the engines of your cast and crew are not fed, they won’t run. This may be an area you need to spend money on. You don’t have to provide elaborate spreads, but food is important. Put ads out on Craigslist, Mandy.com and ShootingPeople.org and see if you are lucky enough to find a culinary student looking for a catering credit. They may have connections to donated food. You can even ask Mom and Pop deli’s if they are willing to donate a lunch for the set in exchange for being listed in the credits and/or on the film website. Often things like Chinese food; pizza; rice and beans can be cheap and feed a lot of people. Try to avoid individual meals as they can add up. Also, make sure you are dishing out the food as people bring up their plates so one person doesn’t serve themselves a portion for 12. People can come back for seconds once everyone has had their fair share.
• Let’s put all the pieces together! First of all, I strongly recommend you learn to edit. This is a skill that will help you on so many levels especially during your first few films. It will save you a lot of money and help you to think ahead while shooting. Post-production should, in a way start during production. Get editing interns to jump on board and organize footage; do rough edits of scenes, etc. This will help you see if things are working or even missing and it’s also a good way to audition editors to help finalize the film if you cannot. Just make sure you set up how YOU want things labeled and organized and always have the work done at your place. Important: don’t let footage leave your place. You need to use a system that works for you because if you have to take over at any moment, you don’t need to play detective with your post project.
• Your film is done and now we come back to publicity! Keep building a mailing list starting with everyone involved with the film in anyway. If you plan to have a screening, this is where you want to hand out those DVD’s of the film that you owe your cast and crew. Encourage everybody to give your project a shout out to people they know. Always make them feel like it’s our film and they will spread the word.
The bottom line for anything you want to do in life is to just go for it. It will take a village to accomplish a film, but it will never happen if you don’t get the ball rolling. The road will be bumpy with many obstacles. Treat each one as a challenge you plan to conquer somehow, some way. Your film may not be how your vision started out, but that’s ok. That’s what filmmaking is about: figuring it out and making it happen!