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

Recently I sent a much less experienced producer than I a well written and well received script of mine. This 1 film producer said to me, "as Mozart said in Amadeus, 'too many notes'." Heh heh. While I did not point out to her that was made up by a writer for the character of a dull witted dilettante German prince speaking to Mozart, who responded, "There are just as many notes as are needed.", I did say thank you for the kind words and wished her luck, to which she responded by saying I couldn't take criticism, and laid a few cliché's on me.

On another shoot I gave a young man the chance to be location producer, with no experience.  He never worked on a feature but guaranteed he could deliver the locations and equipment needed for the shoot.  I let him talk me into using his studio for casting, he then disappeared days before actors were supposed to show.  He then began spewing some of worst cliché's ever heard, became arrogant, started strutting around my actors while trying to get his wife and friends cast in the film, paying whatever lip service he had to and disappeared, again, 20 day's before principal. This may bode poorly for the small town he's from, but who would actually want this person on their set?

A famous screenwriter told me a long time ago, "a good producer will say "not for me, but thanks." A bad producer will tell you what's wrong, how to rewrite it and when to send it back to them." There is a lot of ego tied up in filmmaking, trust your instincts and forget destructive comments from small people, but remain open to constructive criticism. Sometimes that's not easy to do.

Don't Lie.

If you have to be your own producer you'll be entering a schizophrenic arena in which most of your time will be spent as producer, and the rest as director or whatever job you're doing at the moment. People speak to 'Producers' differently than they do 'Directors.' I imagine it's because they believe the producer has control of the money, and more power. You can use this to your advantage, I don't tell people I'm also directing unless I will be directly involved with them on the set, or unless they ask. I don't lie to people I want to work with either as producer, or filmmaker.

As the producer of your film you have to decide that you want to remain doing business with all the people you talk to who have anything to do with your film, and, maybe just as important, your next film. Just because you don't care if you ever have a big budget, the incentive for labs, crews, negative cutters, and all the people concerned with your film is the prospect of you being "the next big thing," or just having a big budget for your next film that you will bring back to the lab/negative cutter/editing house/transfer house - and all the production personnel associated with your film.

Don't lie.

Everybody has heard your bull before, and if they haven't and you "fool" them, they will feel like you've cheated them or insulted them and they won't have anything to do with you, or worse, they will try to do your film, or your next film some harm. It happens. Some people will feel like that anyway even on the biggest films. I suggest keeping your conscience clear. As soon as I hear some lame bull from weenie #16 I either hang up the phone or say no thanks. When I'm working on someone else's film in a crew capacity it's for money, like being a waiter. Would you ask an actor to wait on tables for free? Tell people what you're doing, what you've got to do it with (money), let them know the story and try to get them involved in the process. That's not always easy, but not impossible.

CASTING THE CREW

If you get people to help that know what they are doing, get them for next to, or nothing, count your blessings. Competent production people move up quickly and have no reason to work on your film if there is no money.

What would you do for no money 10-15 hours a day? Why should they?

Well, maybe because they need a credit as (?) on the next rung up whatever ladder they are climbing. A 1st assistant camera person as your director of photo, a boom person as your mixer, or, maybe the intangible; they think you have a great script and their work will be seen by a lot of people. Any of those combinations are incentives for production people to work on your film for nothing, or for very little. I hand everyone the script on all my films and tell them exactly what I have, and let them make the decision based on that. I've made some terrible mistakes which I'll get into later. Keep in mind, no one, absolutely no one will have the same energy for your film that you will, no matter what they say, promise or invest.

HOW MUCH CREW?

Deciding on how much crew you need is a matter of going carefully over your breakdown to see what kind of production equipment you'll need, and who knows how to use it. If you're guerrilla filmmaking you'll need a camera and sound, and if you don't know how to use the camera, add a director of photo. Production value is what you can steal in the way of images and locations, which certainly dictate how fast you'll have to shoot, and how big of a crew you can have. I would count on having at least a director of photo if you're not intimate with the camera, and a sound man. The luxuries will be a 1st AC to pull focus, a 2nd AC to load, a Boom person, and a Grip or Gaffer if you have lights or C Stands. Any friends or sympathizers you can get to help you are certainly a positive, and if they know nothing about filmmaking, they will learn as quickly as you.

You'll have to deal with people in mid-career and they may be glad to be there, but you may not be so glad to have them. I hired the nicest kid in the world based on his expertise as a mixer and recommendation from another mixer. We did not have the luxury of dailies and this nice kid recorded great stretches of dialogue without a limiter, over-modulating, distorting almost everything he did. If I would have seen him just once in the year following I would be in jail now. I hired a very nice guy with a pretty good reel to shoot and that I finally fired after finding out he ruined 4 days of shooting, 300 miles away by not catching an obvious camera problem, and then had to have optical's done to exclude all the production equipment he kept in the frame. This all happened on the same film, but it did get finished, and ended up on a "favorite films of the year" critics list.

LEARN TO SAY NO

My point, finally, is this: your crew is very important, if they can't prove themselves, even if they are working for free, you must get rid of them immediately and get someone that can do the job. This specifically applies to technical expertise, and on your set that will mean camera, and sound. Even the biggest films have soft focus shots where the operator or 1st AC has screwed up, but it's the second biggest failure of no-budget films. The first is bad sound. Get references. Listen to the sound reel, watch the composition and exposure, talk to the lab and the timer that timed this guys work, talk to the sound house that did this guys last transfer. Believe me, it's worth it. Personally, I will never give any technical crew personnel a chance without references, experience, and an exhibited desire to work with the director.

LABS

How you pick your lab may be the most important aspect of your film, a poor lab that processes your film in old, dirty or hot chemistry will make your negative look poor and change the whole "feel" of your film. Or, worse yet, they may lose footage, scratch it or any number of completion-threatening disasters. Talk to the salesmen at all the labs before you decide the list price at Bottom Bucket Labs is the only thing you can afford. Talk to the lab, try to make deals with them, be creative, but don't lie. Remember, they have your negative.

Some of the things to consider when picking the lab are:

1. Do they replenish or dump chemistry and at     what temperature?
2.
Do they have a screening room and if they do,     is there a charge?
3.
What have they done before and have you seen    it?
4.
Will they pick up for free?
5.
How fast do they process and print (if you     need it).
6.
Do they do film transfers to tape and if they    do both the processing and transfer can you    get a better deal?

A lot of low end labs will process your film for next to nothing, but they use
dump chemistry system of replenishing, which simply means that after X amount of footage the chemistry is exhausted and they dump it and put in new. If you happen to be at the head of that schedule, you're probably fine, if not, you're in terrible shape. Guess where they'll put your no-profit film? Also find out the optimum temperature for processing (usually 68 degrees) and find out what temperature the lab processes film, hot chemistry means shorter process time and they can process more film in a day. It also means a lot, A LOT more grain on your film, DON'T DO IT. One thing I tried was offering to pay cash, up front, before the processing began to get a better price. I don't suggest this at a shady lab, they may not rip you off, but they can. I tried this strategy at a transfer house (Video Plant) and it cost me dearly.

The lab can be a good friend or a horrible enemy, and you want everybody on your side that has anything to do with your film. The sales department, scheduler, the projectionist, assembly, and in my opinion the most important, the guy who decides how to get your film to look like you want it, the
color timer. In my last film the timer got a credit without asking because he did a great job and was extremely helpful to me at the lab. So was the timer on my first feature but I was too poor to get his name on the credits. Make personal relationships with these guys, their talent is important to your film, and if they like you, like anybody else, they are more likely to help you when you need it.

GET IT ON PAPER STUPID

Once you've gotten a deal and lab to process and print or transfer the footage to tape, get the figures on paper, signed. That way you can hold them to their deal if things change or they want to renegotiate, and legally you have recourse if something comes up. This is another reason to pick a reputable lab. Most reputable labs will never renege on a deal they make whether in writing or not.  I used a lab in LA called Video Plant, I made a deal with them, I paid them in advance, then after months of delays ran through the money and told me I could not have my negative back unless I paid them more money and then charged my credit card with an extra thousand dollars without my signature or permission.  It happens.  They did an terrible transfer, much of which had to be redone, it cost me much more money than we agreed to, and it took them forever to do it. Even if I would of had it on paper what could I have done? Sue them? They've got your negative. Choose your labs wisely.

PRODUCTION EQUIPMENT

It's money again. Two trains of thought;

1 . Hire people with their own equipment.
2. Rent your own equipment from a production house.


If you hire people with their own equipment you can pay them the rental you might have to give a production house: they make a little, you don't have to pay production insurance for the equipment. The flip side of that is the obvious; If you fire them because they suck at their job, you lose the equipment and your production stops. You do what you have to do in guerrilla filmmaking.

It's safer to rent, cheaper to hire someone with equipment.

If the DP quits and takes his camera home to play, can you get your actors back together when you finally get a camera? Will they come back? If he quits and it's your camera you can shoot the scenes until somebody else comes back on. Think survival, and money. Same goes for the sound man. Listen to all his takes at night for at least the first 4 nights. If you have the luxury of dailies (see lab above), how does everything sound and look? Get rid of them pronto if your unhappy, it won't get better, or rather it usually won't.

If you're thinking of shooting on weekends to save money it's a grand idea fraught with pitfalls. They are;

1. Actors finding paying jobs and leaving the     day before shooting.
2.
Crew finding paying jobs and leaving the day     before shooting.
3.
You finding a paying job...etc.
4.
Running out of money before the 13 weekends     of shooting are complete.
5.
Everyone else running out of patience before    you complete including the equipment house     that has already rented your camera as a 3rd     camera for Babewatch exteriors.

This kind of stuff happens all the time. Equipment houses are in it for the money, your film is not high on their list of priorities and you can't count on people who have to deal with the realities of money and living for your film, only yourself.

No one will ever have as much energy and commitment for your film as you.


If you can get everyone to commit to a schedule that consists of a week or two for principal work, shooting pick ups on weekends makes a lot more sense to everyone. The films almost done, why not?

35 or 16?

The decision to shoot 35mm or 16mm is a tough one to make. Don't believe what anyone says about saving money by shooting Super 16mm over 35mm. If you present a film in 16mm to a distributor that might have some interest and he throws in the 40k or so cost of enlarging your film to 35mm, he may tell you to do it. At that point you've a grainy 35mm print of a 16mm film that now cost as much as it would have to shoot 35mm. It's stupid unless it's your only viable option. My first film was a junkie road film shot in 16mm using my cameras, I had two at the time. I had no choice, but more importantly to me, the grainy, gritty subliminal feel of the texture of the film added to the story, rather than detracted from it.

Lawrence of Arabia in Super 8?

I wouldn't suggest that aesthetic decision. I'm not a format bigot, but, you and your film will be taken more seriously by the labs, the sound house, and all the people you deal with including the distributors and buyers if you shoot in 35mm. That's just the facts, jack. Better deals on 35mm equipment can be found and you've got a much better looking film, and if you shoot short ends you will spend not much more than you would on 16mm. Remember, if you plan on blowing up a 16mm film, you have to light the thing extensively to keep the blacks black, and saturate the colors by the time it's blown up to 35mm and LIGHTING TAKES A LOT OF TIME so you can figure to spend more money for the extra days of shooting that you will need. It slows things down, considerably. In 35mm you can get away with a lot more because the larger negative will handle the non-existent lighting, and still look good by the time it gets to the screen. If your end venue is videotape, and you never expect it to see the screen, your format doesn't matter too much. I've seen some very good looking things shot in Super 8 transferred to tape, and that's very cheap. Or, if you've got a film that lends itself to the gritty feel you can do what I did, very little if any lighting.

IF IT WORKS, DO IT

A lot of films are now being shot in video or digital(MiniDV) handicam format then transferred to 35mm for projection in festivals or distribution. If this is your only option, and if it works with the kind of film you're making - do it. Price the cost of the transfers  though, they can be very, very expensive. Keep in mind the look of what you're going to end up with. The transferred footage can look pretty good, it doesn't look like film, really, and it doesn't look like video, mostly. Some strange marriage of the two, that may not necessarily be a bad thing, just be sure it works in with the kind of film you're making, make it work for you and not against.

PRODUCTION

Even if you can't pay your crew you've got to feed them as best as you possibly can. There may be some die hard film lovers on your set, they may all be, but feed them well and keep them as happy as you can. Make a deal with the deli for free whatever for a credit in the film, and another for catering for a percentage of the net, be creative, give them a slice of filmmaking for what they can afford to give you, if they want to.

DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED BY A "NO"

It's part of the process, just move on to the next place. How about giving the restaurant owner a little part in the film while you shoot that all important restaurant scene in his restaurant while he caters the cast and crew? I met a great couple in the desert that just for the hell of it volunteered their huge motor home for the shoot. I gave the guy a real nice little part and he did a great job, it ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the film. Be creative, give people what they want in trade for what you want. I had much better luck out of town than in the big pueblo, people gave me the use of their business free of charge and I gave them credits in my film and undying gratitude. Let them know how much you appreciate what they are doing to help you, it can mean a lot to the next filmmaker that needs that location. And don't screw them, leave the place clean, the way you found it, shake everybody's hand and be earnest in thanking them Mr. Producer. If they wanted to they could kick you out, or sue your production later on.

Be A Good Scout

Scout your locations months in advance and talk to all the people you have to reach to make it a done deal. Lock down the time and the day and if you can, get a contract and you must have a release or don't use the place. It could hurt you later, and have a fall back plan, an alternate location. Getting locations to sign a paper for a free days shooting is desirable, but you may not be able to get it. Play it by ear and don't be disappointed if you can't get it, use your fall back location if you have one, or start the next scene, or do pick ups, don't waste the time worrying about it.

"Would you mind signing an agreement about the day we come in to use your bar? We just want you to feel comfortable about this, and we should each get a release."

Try that.

Tighten up your schedule to fit your filmmaker desires, financial realities, and logic of locations. If you've got a restaurant, club, bar location for one day that's perfect for 3 scenes which occur at the beginning, middle and end of your script, throw your plans for sequential shooting out the window. Use the location, make the scenes work in the way you need them to work and shoot the scenes sequentially that will allow themselves to be shot that way. Think survival.

OK. Mull that over for awhile.

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


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