RECENTLY | I | CAME off a 4 day shoot on an indie film set to hit the festival circuit this year. It was the first time I had signed up to star in a film I was also Directing. Nothing that hasn't been done before (Braveheart, The Town, Citizen Kane, etc) but definitely no easy task. It's something I wouldn't recommend to anyone who can afford otherwise, but if you're one of those ballsy, egotistical motherfuckers who, like me, would rather learn the hard way, heed these words on how to ensure you get the absolute most out of your shoot schedule.
PUT SOMEONE IN CHARGE OF THE BUDGET. Generally, this is the Line Producer (LP). He/She is in the Director’s right hand (left hand being the AD). This person needs to have very specific traits in order to keep the shoot both in control, and under budget. Trustworthy and extremely organized are just the obvious; they also need to be a MacGyver of sorts when faced with a budgetary or scheduling problem. An independent, commanding, outspoken problem-solver. Note the assertion: I guaran-fucking-tee things will go wrong on set with regard to money and schedule. This person can figure the best way to handle it all on their own without bothering you, leaving you with the near impossible task of wearing the two hats you signed up for.
BE VERY STRICT WITH YOUR SCHEDULE. Don't push lunch, your crew is hungry. Don't go late, they will expect overtime pay! Don't delay the start time, you can't afford to go late!
HAVE A BACKUP READY FOR EVERY SCENE. I'm not telling you to completely change and jeopardize your story. I'm simply saying your time might run out, or the set might not be what your planned around, you might not have enough power, outlets, or space, a rig might break and take a day to replace, whatever. Have another idea in mind for some of the shots, or another style that's easier to erect, even if it's not your first choice. You don't want to waste time figuring one out!
HIRE PROFESSIONALS FOR YOUR PRINCIPAL CREW. (I'm gonna break this tip down into two parts)
You’re the Director. Which means you’ll be working very close to the DP on what angles you want. The DP needs a great AC to help with handling the massive camera and rigs. They need to know the Gaffer and Grip know what they’re doing with all the lighting equipment because that’s constantly changing and takes up half the shooting hours. No one ever bothers the Sound Engineer, they’re just expected to not fuck up – ever. Aside from PA’s and a Best Boy that was all the Principal Crew I could afford to have on my 3-day, $10,200.00 indie production. Could I have gotten away with some college students hungry for experience – probably - but, we also went over schedule by a half day costing us an additional $1,280.00 (on just the shoot schedule). Imagine how many more days we’d need if the crew needed more time to prep because they had no clue! And if you're thinking I know a little about lighting/sound/whatever, I'll help if it saves money, you're shooting yourself in your little frugal foot. You're already the Director and Star!
As I said earlier, a Director's two hands are the Line Producer and the Assistant Director. The LP takes care of everything not in front of the camera - money, paperwork, schedule, etc, and the AD is pretty self explanatory. So, naturally I figure it best to bring on my brother and best friend to fill those rolls. They both seemed best suited (6-figure money handler at a firm, my partner in crime and co-owner of the startup company). Oh how wrong I was. My LP came to me for all the answers between takes and my AD would forget to yell "ACTION!" and "QUIET ON SET!" and take pictures of the set for continuity. Its not because they were lazy, they just didn't know and were afraid to fuck up. Bottom line: they weren't seasoned, and though I can honestly say I'm absolutely 100% satisfied with how everything turned out (seriously guys, I love you both and couldn't have done it without you!) it slowed down EVERYTHING. When you move slow, you lose time, and what did we say about time? Its money! TIME, TIME, TIME! DON'T WASTE TIME!
FEED EVERYBODY PROPERLY AND ON TIME. Food will be one of your biggest expenses, but don't skimp out on it. Shoots are exhausting. They're sweaty, nerve-wracking, tempers fly and time passes way before you realize you need to eat. Give them a solid hour for lunch break with a proper meal. Fatigue will not only slow things down but it'll lead to mistakes - and sometimes a crew member might try and get away with a mistake rather than stop a take to fix it and risk getting reprimanded.
SPEND TIME WITH YOUR COSTAR AND DP. Your DP needs to know both the angle you want, as well as the tone of the scene. Give him/her a few moments to discuss it before each scene. They’ll likely tell you what’s wrong with your idea, or just suggest a better one. The same goes for your costar. Even if everything is perfect with the shot, a lack of chemistry can break the film. Go over the lines with him/her while the crew prepares the set. The smoother the take, the more TIME SAVED!
BE PATIENT AND DIPLOMATIC. Ask anyone whose worked on set what it’s like, I bet they’ll say it’s not what they imagined; far more serious, quiet, and boring. The glow of the movie business has no presence in production. It’s all business and, may I beat it into you, time is money. All too often you’ll hear stories of the tempers that fly. As the Director, everybody is taking orders from you, so be humble. No matter how hard you work to prevent it and how little of your fault it might be, mistakes will be made, time will be wasted, orders will go wrong and talent will complain. Be calm. Make your crew feel good. They’re there to help make your project a great one. Give them a reason to want to see it to the end. I promise you, they’ll be telling stories about this shoot to all their friends – don’t be the bad guy.
ONE MORE THING: MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF - MEDITATE. Sounds new-agey but it's just as important. On a fully funded production each job is given to one person, and I assure you it's not because money is plentiful. You have 2 jobs and the 2 most scrutinized titles in all the industry. No one takes more shit and praise than Directors and Actors. Unfortunately, you know this, and that's pressure. Take 10-min every morning before roll call to be alone, meditate, and thank your good graces you are where you are, doing what you love, creating art. Then clear your mind and breath.