The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 2

2. Keep your crew small.

No micro-budget film needs a crew of more than 5 or 6 people, and that includes the director. If you hire a line producer/production manager who wants to hire a first AD, second AD, UPM, and script supervisor. Either explain to him that he is wearing all of those hats, or fire him and find someone who actually wants to work. There’s no reason for a crew of 20 people on an indie film. There’s no reason for a crew of ten. None. Most of them stand around with their arms folded looking bored, then complain come meal time that you don’t have yogurt for breakfast. You might not be paying them, but you still have to feed them. (And crew members seriously, if there’s something you absolutely need to eat on set, buy it for yourself, and bring it to set. As I said in one of my director’s commentaries, “Get your own fucking yogurt!”) And if you’re daily food budget is say $200. Ten people (say 6 crew members and 4 cast members) can eat a lot better on $200 than thirty can. A well-fed crew is a happy crew. Last summer when six of us headed down to Chapel Hill to shoot my Archers of Loaf concert film, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?, I treated us all to a five-star meal. Honestly the most expensive meal I’ve ever paid for on a set. (That includes a set of thirty when doing FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, and people ate well on that set.) But it set a perfect mood. Everyone was happy. And still to this day talk about that meal at Lantern.

The same rules apply for all the departments. On a micro budget film your DP should light and do all camera work. If he knows what he/she is doing, it’ll still look like a million dollars. If he/she doesn’t, all the extra crew members in the world won’t make your film look any better. (I’m working on a film called BROKEN SIDE OF TIME where as the only…the ONLY…crew member on a certain scene I lit it with a Zippo lighter. It looks freaking awesome! Mind-blowingly awesome!). Design team = one person. Makeup and hair should and could be done by the actors. They can probably do it better on themselves than anyone you can afford, unless of course we’re talking horror, then you’ll need someone good with the gore and blood. Sound = one person. Throw in you, the director, and perhaps one good PA (who has some knowledge of lights, but also doesn’t mind going on a lunch run, wrangling cables, sitting in a van watching equipment, grunt work . . . and let me set something straight right now, on my sets I will wrangle cables, haul equipment, set up gear, do whatever it takes . . . there’s no room for divas in micro budget), and there’s your crew. Anyone else is wasted money and space. (Note: if you’re doing a documentary, you probably want two cameras going at all times, in which case, the design person is replaced by a second DP.)

This is the new model for making indie films. The smart model. And if people tell you it can’t be done this way, they’re either lazy and don’t really want to work, or they have no clue as to what they’re doing and don’t belong on a film set. (About 75% of the people you’ll meet making and/or working on films will fall into one of those two categories. If you’re in Connecticut make that 90%. They’ll hopefully find other career paths in short time.)

NOTE: do not hire your friends to be crew, unless your friends were crew members first, i.e. you became friends after working together on a project. Otherwise, they will either no longer be your friends, your film will suffer, or most likely both.

ALSO: just because someone went to film school, doesn’t mean they know what to do on a film set. I usually find just the opposite to be the case. Look for people who’ve worked on sets, a lot of sets. Experiences trumps school a million times over. Look for people who love movies and want to learn how a film is made. Look for a DP who wants to be a DP. A production manager who loves to manage. Stay away from people who say ultimately they want to direct, because ultimately they will want to direct YOUR film.

And note to crew members. NEVER EVER give an opinion out loud as to how an actor should deliver a line. That is SO NOT your place. (Besides undermining the director, you are now shaking the confidence of the actor.) If you have an idea about that or anything (shot, sound, lighting), and if there is time, pull the director aside and tell him/her. Also if the director gives you certain rules about behavior on his set, follow them. Make believe you’re in the army, and the director is your general. No, really. (See, this is why you don’t hire friends.) If you don’t follow the rules you’ll be court marshalled, or at least thrown through a plate glass window.

A lot more on that when we get to organization, but honestly if you have five great crew members, all there to work, none of that will be an issue.

Next up: Casting

My filmography.

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Filed under directing, film school, filmmaking, independent film, indie

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