Tuesday, September 18, 2012

So You Want to Make a Movie - Where to put the Money

You’ve caught the bug, and you’ve decided to make a movie. But where do you start? The good news is today there are fewer barriers to overcome in order to produce a film. Thanks to digital filmmaking, the costs have dropped dramatically. In reality, practically anybody can become a filmmaker. No one article can answer all of your questions or take you through the entire process; however, I want to offer you 20 key steps that will at least steer you in the right direction. Think of these steps as the big picture or the 30,000 foot view.

Step 12. - Where to put the money

Let’s start with the Director of Photography or DP. This is the most important person in your crew other than the Director. I suggest that you don’t take any shortcuts in hiring a competent DP. This is where you want to put your money. Why? Because a great deal of your production value will come from the images you capture on film and the DP’s ability to convince your audience that they are looking at a big-budget movie. Your DP is responsible for the visual look of your film. He/she knows how to deal with light issues and make pretty pictures out of nothing.

Next, I’m putting my money on the sound mixer/recordist. If you don’t capture usable audio and dialogue during the production phase, it will be nothing short of a nightmare when you get to editing. You must have someone who knows how to do this.

The next important person on my list is the Production Manager. He/she is the architect of the production schedule and is responsible for keeping your movie on budget and on time. Depending on the budget, the people I would hire in order of importance are Director, Director of Photography, sound mixer, and Production Manager. You simply cannot do your movie without them.

The other two department heads are Assistant Director and Production Designer. Even though they are essential, you can find some workarounds. The Assistant Director runs the set and is responsible for the logistics. He/she handles call times to the actors, maintains paperwork and time cards, and supervises extras. It is possible for the Production Manager to handle this position; however, he/she will probably hate you for it.

The Production Designer creates the physical look of your film. He/she could be described as part architect, part carpenter and part artist. He/she is responsible for every aspect of your set from construction to design. You need someone who is resourceful in scouting materials, props and locations that fit your budget.

Finally, one other position that probably should be paid is the gaffer. A gaffer is an electrician, who is responsible for the rigging, mounting, and construction of the camera and lighting support systems. You really need a professional for this position. If equipment is not properly set up, somebody could be hurt.

Most low-budget films are shot with 20 to 30 crew members. At the low end, I think you can get away with probably 15 to 20 crew members with a minimum of 12 paid positions. As a first-time filmmaker and producer, you will need to count on your department heads to do their jobs. You don’t need to figure everything out. They will know what is needed in terms of personnel and skills.

It is essential to how to mix experienced and non-experienced crew members together. They need to know how the team is going to be set up. Your inexperienced and volunteer crew will be “hungry”. They will want to learn and be part of the movie business; therefore, they are going to be willing to work long hours and endure hardships. Experienced professionals, on the other hand, may not be used to this environment. If they are in-between jobs and accustomed to working on high-budget films, your schedule and work requirements may be alien. It’s challenging to bring in professionals who may be willing to work at reduced rates. You have to ask yourself, will it be worth it, and can they really adapt to the challenges of low-budget filmmaking? There is no easy answer to that question.

The best way to blend experienced crew with volunteer crew is to present this to your seasoned professionals as a teaching opportunity and a way to give back to a younger upcoming generation. Your volunteers will appreciate the fact that they have access to the wisdom, knowledge and expertise of the professional crew. Your younger volunteers will also do a lot of the physical work and heavy lifting. It’s a win/win situation for everybody. And, the most important rule concerning crew is a happy crew is a well-fed crew. In other words, don’t cut corners when it comes to providing nutritious and delicious meals for your cast and crew.

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