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13 Golden Rules of Indie Filmmaking

With today’s affordable digital technology there are virtually no excuses anymore for why you can’t make your film and get it out there to film festivals or uploaded to portals like Real Big Hits for industry buyers to fund or purchase.

We complied a list of tips, DIY techniques for indie filmmakers with the help of some great resources from Indiewire, Raindance, No Film School, Guerilla Film, Indieboogie and Movie Maker.

Follow these 13 golden rules and we promise the road to making your film will be a whole lot smoother.


 

1. Shoot on weekends

3 days rental for 1 day. Most suppliers of camera and lighting gear will cut you a one day rate for a weekend. Pick up Friday and return Monday. Check with rental facilities to see if they offer this option. Negotiate.

2. Beware of Product Placement

Beware of any logos and brands in the background of your location. You are creating a fictional story and those brands should be given the choice as to whether they want to be a part of it or not. You have 2 options:
Talk to the legal department of those companies and ask for permissions (you’d be surprised how many say yes when provided the context).
Or, create your own ‘fake’ logos and signs.

3. Use thrift shops, Ebay and discount stores for props and wardrobe.

Shop online and dumpster dive at local thrift store for all props, set decorations and wardrobe. Revise script to allow for minimal wardrobe changes. Keep your costs low by borrowing needed items. Rent props if you can. Trade, swap and barter with other film folk for needed gear. Augment sets rather than build them. Often one key item is all that is needed to define a space. Detailed props can go a long way to establishing verisimilitude.

RealBigHits_Kopturevskiy

Filmmaker Viatcheslav Kopturevskiy Thrift Shopping for his film ‘Coney Island Queen’

4. Homemade rig is not always the smart choice

Sometimes building your own rig is not more cost effective than spending the money on a professional tool. Often, the biggest advantage to making homemade tools is not the savings in money — it’s that you can tailor the tools to your project’s specific needs. Conversely, it’s simply ridiculous what some companies charge (and what some people will pay) for the most simple tools that could just as easily be homemade. If you know how to use a sewing machine, or know someone who does, you should not be paying $50 for a sandbag.

5. Edit while you’re still shooting.

shooting and editing simultaneously can have its advantages, like saving time and money, as well as noticing if you need to do a quick pick-up. According to Indie Filmmaker Kevin Smith: “Whenever I’m not shooting, I’m in the editing room with my footage. While the crew is taking 15 minutes to an hour to set up the next shot, I’m behind the Avid, putting the flick together.”

6. All great work is preparing yourself for the accident to happen

Be prepared. Anticipate work slowdowns, actor delays, crew concerns and acts of God (and Satan!) There will always be problems. Don’t act so goddamn surprised when things fall apart. As a producer, my job doesn’t start until there are problems. Embrace the chaos. Know that how you react to a problem makes all the difference.
Like Sidney Lumet said “All great work is preparing yourself for the accident to happen.”

7. Don’t ignore or cheap out on sound

Before you even start your scheduling process, be mindful of your plan to capture good sound. Take notice of the type of locations you are considering. All of these elements are helpful in determining the practicality of a location. A location not only has to look cool on camera, but sound cool as well.

RealBigHits_Sound

If you’re shooting a talky picture, spare no expense on the sound recorder. Without special effects or stars, your dialogue is the selling point of your flick. Relying on ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) to save your film’s soundtrack is a recipe for disaster. Therefore, it behooves you to hire the best sound recordist/mixer you can afford. Same goes for your boom guy/girl: Don’t cheap out.

8. Have your cast provide their own wardrobe and reimburse or replace if needed.

Actors have lots of clothes. Ask them to provide you options. Reimburse or replace items if they are to be bloodied or destroyed. Purchase multiples for any wardrobe destined to be trashed or used for run of show. Bag all items. Clean as required. Label them and keep in separate wardrobe bags per actor. Keep track of continuity on all paperwork, call sheets and label bags with corresponding info.

9. Overestimate Budget

Filmmaking is a costly process, with plenty of overhead. Consider giving yourself a generous safety net of funds that you can fall back on. With expenses such as transportation, permits, props and food, it’s easy to undershoot the total cost of the film. Spend money on what is absolutely necessary – and that’s it.

One way of minimizing total cost is condensing shoot days. With fewer shoot days, there will be less money spent on transportation, food, and equipment rentals. Group scheduled film based on your location and actor availability. Break down your script and shoot out actors and locations as quickly as possible. Don’t return to a location that you don’t have to. Don’t bring back an actor you can shoot out in a day. Film every scene required at a specific location in one day as soon as possible. Leave the scene clean when you go.

10. Feed people well or it all falls apart.

Pizza is not an option. Healthy, energy laden meals are essential. Cases of bottled water and an industrial strength coffee machine are essential items. Make sure that you have a film team that recognizes you care. Have Vegan, Veggie, and allergy free food for all. Check if your team are allergic to specific items. Feed everyone on a regular basis or pay the price. Make that one person’s sole responsibility.

11. Organization equals success

Use film software to make your job easier. It works wonders. There’s lots of great tech out there now. Pick up Celtx or the ShotLister App to organize your shoot. Buy Gorilla Software or Fuzzlecheck to dig deeper and totally streamline your schedules and productions. Go pro with Movie Magic Scheduling and Budgeting. Organization equals success. Don’t wing it. Ever.

12. Limit Credits

If you’re a small crew on a low budget, you’ll probably be wearing a couple hats. The writer is producing the film, the gaffer doubles as the art director, and even the PA has to tag in as an extra. Everyone’s positions get intertwined — but don’t worry! This is perfectly normal on a small shoot. However, in the credits, be sure to limit yourself to three roles at most.

I know it’s tempting to give credit where credit is due, but view it from an outsider’s perspective: How many no-budget short films have you seen where the director’s name appears about fourteen times in the credits? Alright we get it — you produced it, edited it, assistant directed, operated camera AND did hair & makeup. To anyone outside of the crew, this screams one thing: no budget. Cut your losses and decide “what do I really want to be known for?” If it’s writing/directing, only give yourself those two roles. If it’s producing, then you’d be caught dead before we see you on hair & makeup.

13. Location scout as you are writing the script.

Location scout and secure before you write or rewrite your script based on the actual shootable locales. Rewrite for clarity, geography and filming availability. Try to make each location work as two distinct locales. Can you film more than one scene there? How can you avoid unit moves? Every time you move the crew and cast you lose time. Less unit moves equals more shooting time.

RealBigHits_Mor Shamay

Filmmaker Mor Shamay and her crew on the set of The Sirens, Wading River, NY.

As Julian Grant of Indiewire points out: “DIY filmmaking doesn’t have to be bare bones brutal. By planning, prepping, watching every penny and being flexible enough to deal with the everyday perils, you can be an efficient microcinema unit. On all my pictures, we eat well, trust one another and there are no surprises as we know well in advance what to expect and what our responsibilities are. Your job is to communicate, to collaborate and to care for your team and it will pay off onscreen every time.”


 

*Article credit to IndiewireRaindanceNo Film SchoolGuerilla FilmIndieboogie and Movie Maker.

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