Images by: Chan C. Smith
Writer: Crystal Joy
Shooting my first short film was extremely daunting. It was a crew of only two people so I bounced between being the actress and helping out behind the camera -the hats I wore exceeded expectations. I moved throughout the day as if I knew what I was doing when in fact I knew nothing at all, but because I was the creator of the project and the lead I had to be confident in my decisions. By the end of that shoot, I learned a boatload of lessons, and it was because of all the mistakes that were made. One of those mistakes consisted of having to go back and reshoot scenes because we forgot an integral prop that was significant to the story. That put us behind schedule by several hours. However, my biggest mistakes have been the stepping stones for my greatest lessons. So what have I learned thus far in my filmmaking journey? I’m glad you asked.
- Be prepared to wear more than one hat. There’s no going around it when you’re an independent filmmaker. You have to fill in wherever help is needed, especially if you want a completed project. Some positions you’ll learn as you go along, but it’s the best experience you can receive. It may feel intimidating, but by filling in those roles you will understand all of the technical aspects of filmmaking.
- No matter how much you prepare, things will still go wrong. You will be surprised at what can happen the week leading up to shooting and even the day of. A sim card goes missing, a crew member or actor pulls out, catering delivered the wrong order, a camera stops working, a lense is misplaced, you lost a location, an actor is late, how about all of the above… On the same day? You weren’t expecting things to go disarray, but they did. What’s worse, is that you didn’t plan for it, but how could you? So what do you do? Keep calm, figure out a solution that best fits that situation, and move forward.
- Allow people to do their jobs. A contradiction to #1, it’s imperative you understand this. On the set of my second short-film, I had a rather large team, and that’s because the vision was bigger. I had to trust that the crew I hired not only knew their job but had the capacity to work under pressure. I couldn’t make that film by myself. Let people wear their hats so you have the freedom to wear yours. There will be so much for you to delegate the day of filming and it can feel overwhelming. If you have specific positions filled, let the crew members do their part.
- Be transparent on whether it’s paid or unpaid. This point can go in several directions, but there’s a difference between indie and industry. While you’re working as an independent filmmaker or any other position, there is a large chance you won’t always get paid for your work, especially if you’re just starting out. (Not saying you shouldn’t, just highlighting the distinctions.) The ideal situation is to pay people and get paid. Shoot days can be typically long, so if it’s in your budget to compensate, then please do so. This should go without saying, but if you’re not paying crew or actors their daily rate then have that discussion beforehand on what you can and can’t afford and what they will get out of it. If you don’t have the funds to compensate…
- Feed people. Next to renting equipment, this is where a large sum of your budget will go. When I first started off I wasn’t being compensated, but I was definitely getting fed and that made a big difference. Half the time, it was the only reason I said yes. Don’t be cheap in this department. If you’re shooting a full 8+ hour day then feed people breakfast, lunch, and dinner with snacks in between. You have to sustain your energy while shooting, and nobody wants to work on an empty stomach. If you can’t afford catering then get resourceful. Request food donations, have a family member cook a few of their best dishes to bring to set or get in the kitchen yourself. If you know someone that owns a local restaurant offer them a credit in the film in exchange for a discounted package on catering services. Put energy into this, because this can be a factor in people working on your set or not.
- Offer your services to the very people that worked on your film. This is how you build relationships and get potential work (and experience) in the future. Most importantly, if you weren’t able to pay someone for a job you can return the favor and work on their project. I like to call it artist trade, others might see it as “looking out for one another.” People want to feel appreciated, so make sure you reciprocate the help and support when it’s shown to you.
- Have fun. In spite of all the work you have to do and the mishaps that can happen, still enjoy the process. Laugh hard, find those moments to have fun with your team, and celebrate the fact that you took a major step towards achieving your dreams-rejoice in that.