2.Budgets & Breakdowns 3.Producer Stuff
4. Editing & Actors      
5. Festivals & Distributors
6. Clean Up 
7. Dealing With Agents  8.Production Checklist   
9. Digital Proletariat Home

In the 80's I finished a script I thought was really an exciting piece for my first feature, and 20th film. I had been trying for a long time to get name talent involved while constantly looking for the right unknown actors for 2 very tough parts. It wasn't until 1993 I ran into some actors I was convinced would be perfect for the parts, and that wanted dearly to do it. That chance meeting sent me on the trip of completing my first feature film.

Now that you have answered your question's of
motivation with whatever degree of satisfaction, you must now decide if you can cast the actors in the parts. In all films, casting is everything. For the no-budget guerrilla filmmaker you also have to factor in;

The discomfort the actors will have to endure.
For how long.
And will they be willing to stay with the film until it's finished?

What will you do if your lead actors have "had enough" and walk on your film? Although
there are things you can do in that case, it is obviously something you want to avoid.

Which comes first, casting or budget? A debatable point. If you've got the money do you have the cast? If you've got the cast can you really do this? Casting is an individual problem germane to every film. I can't stress more strongly the need to cast your film with actors you know are perfect for the parts, and do not proceed with the film under any circumstances unless you're thrilled with your cast, you'll only wish you had when you see it in the editing room.


Very hard to do, not so hard to start.  In whatever town you are in you must find the local paper for entertainment, contact the local theaters and agents and let them know you are casting a film.  With or without pay, what parts, what genders, what ages and most importantly, when will the first day of shooting be.  You will be surprised how many responses you get, they may not be what you want, and you may have to cast from LA or NYC, but you will get many earnest actors that will want to work on your film.  You might also want to try the internet, contacting agents and breakdown services by email across the country, but make it clear about the money, and if you are paying or not.

What many filmmakers do is divide the deluge of photo's and resume's into 3 stacks; Right type and experience: Wrong type but interesting: Hopeless.

Read the resume's and see what kind of experience, stage or film, the actors you're considering have had.  A stage actor with no camera experience might be tough for a low budget production, but don't count them out, very often it is a natural progression.

Give your actors 'sides' to read a day or more ahead of the reading, give them time to prepare and give you the best they've got.  'Sides' is a theater term from Shakespearean era named because the writers, in order that their plays could not be stolen, very often only gave their actors their dialogue, so they only had one side of a scene. 'Sides.'  Naturally you don't want to do that, but pick an appropriate scene so you can see what they've got in terms of the character.

Give them any direction they ask for, but don't offer any, this gives you a chance to see if they come to a part with what you want.  

Callbacks - call back the actors you would like to read again, give them as much direction as they want, and, I suggest recording the reading on videotape.  You might be surprised how differently an actor comes across on screen.  Ask your actor if he would like to improvise something about the part and see what they come up with.  Don't try to stick to 'type', just look for a good actor.  I've had actors blow my socks off that were just not right for the part, and I couldn't wait to get them in my film.

So, now it's cast, can you really do this? Your first step in answering that question is "exactly how much money do I have?" Not how much you think will come in, and if Bob comes through with..., or that darn genius grant should come through by... How much money and credit do you have to spend, now?

Don't ever rely on anyone else to help you with financing, don't believe anyone will ever come through with money to help you, what you have is your budget and that's it. People, investors, friends, all the hangers on have nothing invested in your film like you do, and life for them changes as rapidly as yours does. When an investors check clears the bank and you've actually spent the money, then it's part of your budget, not before. The best intentions will not pay the lab that's holding your negative because you can't pay the processing fee because cousin Bob's tractor conked out and he had to buy a new one "sorry I didn't call." Even though most reputable labs will work with you if you've established a relationship, you have to assume; THE LAB DOES NOT CARE.


Now, you've amassed your fortune, whatever else comes, comes, but you know what you have, on paper. Your next step is to figure out how much this will cost, and the first way to do that is to break down your script. A script breakdown is exactly what it sounds like, each scene is broken down into all the elements that will go into it. Even though you will probably be stealing all your locations, and using whatever happens to be on the wall as set decoration, you must break down your script in all the elements to find out what you will have to pay for, or will have to find for free, and when it has to be where at what time.

A common way to do this for filmmakers without high end scheduling programs is to get a number of colored pencils, make a key on the first page that tells you exactly what each color is for, and go through the entire script, scene by scene, and highlight each one of the elements in the appropriate color. Locations, vehicles, SFX, stunts, wardrobe, props, set dressing, cast members for each scene, camera equipment - everything that you will need to complete the scene must be part of your breakdown. For example:

Standing in the
bleak desert sun , Bob looks up and sees vultures circling overhead. Hearing a sound , he turns as suddenly a team of actors from babewatch drive by in a 62 Volkswagen with flat tires. A MAN approaches from behind, pulls an enormous gun from his waistband and just as Bob is about to speak, pulls the trigger

With the exception of 'vultures circling' you will need to bring everything to that location, including actors from babewatch, man, crew, Volkswagen, flat tires, and find a desert location that suits your shooting arrangements. You'll be lucky to get vultures circling, but you won't have to worry about it on the day of the shoot, it's something that could be a separate shot without sound and no actors. You have to know this and plan for it, but mostly, at this stage, how much will it cost? It's also wise after you've made a complete breakdown to allow a page for each scene, with all it's elements, bind it and keep it with you, or at least somewhere on the set.
celtx.com, check out this free software, this is a great chance for you to have script writing and breakdown software that works really well, however, there is no budgeting software that has been integtrated into the software.


Okay, now, you've got this enormous list of stuff to acquire for your film. Go through it carefully and decide what is absolutely necessary, what you can get for free, and what you can get rid of that's extraneous to the script, story or character. Once you have it pared down as far as you think you possibly can, up pops another question.


Where do you intend the final destination of your film? It makes an enormous difference in the amount of money you will need to finish. Most distributors will not look at unfinished films these days, and the likelihood of getting finishing funds from an organization or a distributor is not good, nor should you plan on it. If you intend your film to be seen on the screen, not on tape, you should now start making your budget, from the screen out, all the way to buying your first roll of film. You know you want your film to be on the screen, an A/B answer print costs X per foot at the lab, your script is 120 pages long and you expect it to be about 2 hours in length finished, that's 12,000 feet of film (35mm - 4,000 16mm) at X per foot for the answer print, plus X per foot for the optical track, plus X per foot for wastage and lab work, plus X per foot for the sound mix, plus X for cutting the negative, plus X per foot for the work print/transfer to video, plus cost of editing, plus X per foot to process the film, plus X per foot to buy the film at a shooting ratio of X, plus cost of audio tape stock, plus camera, sound, equipment rental, plus location-wardrobe etc. either rental/buy, plus whatever transportation costs, plus food for actors and crew - now do you see why a break down is so important?


You may be able to eliminate a lot of things as your production moves forward, but you have to plan for the things you can plan for, like processing, gas, prints-the essentials of getting your film finished to where you would like it to be seen. I recommend planning for at least a 1st answer print (a 1st answer print is the first exposure and color-corrected print back from the cut negative, a "timer" does this in the lab, scene by scene on rewinds), when you get it to the point where you might want people to see it, film festivals and markets are not interested in your good intentions, they need to see reels of film in their projectors, not your Avid output. Showing your film in the best light is important, plan for it, which means budget for it. It's not impossible to get post production financing, but it is improbable considering the amount of films being produced these days.

So, how's the budget now? Look a lot more
bloated than you thought? You've just begun. Now you know the listed prices for everything, and have based your budget around them and discovered you don't have the money. Before you do anything else I suggest you evaluate your script and your budget in the harsh light of day. If you've written a script that demands so much production, and locations, and travel and "insert reason here" it couldn't possibly be done for the amount of money you have, DON'T DO IT. Get real, if you're a guerrilla filmmaker with next to nothing you have to know that your script can't include travel to Colorado for that shot, or even across town, unless of course you can or have it for free. The money you have is your budget for everything. Maybe you need to write a script with all this in mind that you can shoot, then start from scratch again. I can't stress that enough, if your budget is so far away from what you have, DON'T START THIS FILM.


Ok, now, your budget is too big but it's in sight, not so far off you can't see the end, but still too far away to start. Now what? Now you pick up the phone and become a producer: ask for deals. It's that simple, and that complicated. Being a good producer is not an easy job, you must ask business and labor for things they don't want to give you, but you must have to finish your film. How do I choose a lab? How do I get a crew? How much crew do I need? What about Cameras? Non-linear or flatbed? ..........etc.

1.Motivation 2.Budgets & Breakdowns 3.Producer Stuff
4.Editing & Actors      
5.Festivals & Distributors
6.Clean Up  7.Dealing With Agents 
8. Production Checklist
9. Digital Proletariat Home