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TOM'S BLOG - Some Thoughts on Independent Filmmaking

Making an independent film without the backing or support of a studio is perhaps one of the most difficult things an artist can attempt. Filmmaking is often a huge collaborative effort and requires that the person at the helm understand the process inside and out. Coordinating a team of crew members and actors, sets and locations, meals and craft services, contracts and permissions (and that's just scratching the surface) is not for the faint of heart. 

This page is a compilation of my "Director's Notes" and will be added to on a regular basis. These notes are from a variety of programs I offer and will also be in my upcoming book about making an independent film. 

I hope you enjoy them. (The newest posting will always be at the top)

You want to look your best.

If you are cast as an actor in a production, depending on the size and scope of the project as well as many other factors, there is a very good possibility that there will be a hair and/or makeup person on set. If the producer or coordinator for the project in charge of actors doesn’t tell you this information, you need to ask… “Will there be hair and makeup on set?”

If hair and/or makeup will be on set, the default for most actors is that you arrive on set with NO MAKEUP on and that you do nothing with your hair. You should wash your face and hair but do nothing cosmetic to either. If you do come with any makeup on or any product in your hair, the makeup / hair person will likely have to undo and redo everything and this will just add time to the shoot. If you adhere to this policy you can be reasonably sure that, at least as far as hair and makeup is concerned, you will not be responsible for the job going into an overtime situation.

When I am producing or coordinating, I ALWAYS send this information out to my cast. I have been on shoots in the past where actors have disregarded this recommendation and it has, on several occasions, caused us to go into overtime which costs the production money.

Here’s another important point for actors to keep in mind. If there is a hair and/or makeup person on set, it is THEIR job to reapply any makeup or make any changes to your hair. It is not YOUR job. Your job is to act. The hair and makeup person is on set to do …. hair and makeup. Let them do their job and you do yours (and ne’er the twain shall meet).

For example, NEVER help yourself to the lipstick in the makeup person’s kit and do your own touch-up. A really good makeup artist will have his/her own method to apply lipstick which will not allow for contamination of the lipstick in the kit by being used directly on the mouth of several actors. 

When in the role of an actor, I don’t want to be exposed to any possible contamination by being made up with the same brush or lipstick tube as another actor. There are too many contact-types of skin disorders that can be transmitted in this way and I want to avoid them at all costs. A careful and thoughtful makeup artist will be mindful of the exposure issues and will do everything she or he can to keep you safe.

Of course, as with any rule, there are always going to be exceptions. However, until you hear what those exceptions are, you should always err on the side of safety and professionalism. 
To reiterate, your face must be CLEAN with NO MAKEUP at all - nothing, nada, zip. Also, your hair should be CLEAN with NO PRODUCT at all - nothing, nada, zip. 

"How do I start my screenplay"  

I recently responded to a young filmmaker who was wondering how he should start his screenplay. I thought I'd share my answer to him on my site. Here goes... 

If your question is of the “proper formatting” variety, you should definitely invest about $25 in David Trottier’s wonderful reference, “The Screenwriter’s Bible”. You can find it on Amazon and it is well worth the investment. 

It is a phenomenal book that will help you with the “technical” aspects of writing a screenplay including how to kick the whole thing off - e.g. EXT. VAN’S WRITER’S ROOM - DAY.

Next, are you planning on writing something that you can produce yourself? If so, assess what assets you have available to you that will allow you to shoot this thing for a reasonable (or more importantly, achievable) budget. There is another great book by Robert Rodriquez called “Rebel Without a Crew” and in it, Rodriquez talks about the making (and selling) of “El Mariachi”. Talk about making the best use of his assets!! This is also a “must read” for every aspiring indie producer. 

If you are looking for advice on actually starting the story out, that is a much different animal. And this is all on YOU.

What kind of story do you want to tell? Is it a personal story? From whose point of view is the story being told? Why is this particular story something that I, as a viewer, would want to watch?

Take your idea and flesh it out. What is your story about? (e.g. “Jurassic Park” - Dinosaurs recreated from DNA found in hardened resin run amok on a South Sea island.)

Once you have a general story idea, start to expand on it. Who are your characters? Make each difference and distinct. Make them all three dimensional. Give each one a personality with strengths and weaknesses. Give each an ideal that he or she would go to the grave to defend. 

Why is each character in your story? What is your inciting incident? What starts your characters on the journey you want to write for them? Why is their particular take on the story so important? 

This is basic 3-act screenwriting…

Act One - get your characters up a tree.

Act Two - throw rocks at them and watch how they react.

Act Three - get them out of the tree.

Take your time writing your screenplay. Don'
t rush it. Outline it first and start to know the story yourself before you even start writing. Know where you intend to go with the story but be open to any detours that the story might want to take once you start writing. Sometimes these things develop a “mind” of their own and you become simply the conduit that allows the story to exist. 

Once you have a first draft, put it away for a while (give it a week or a month). Then go back to it and try to read it as if you did not write it. How does it read to you? Do you feel compelled to read on? Where are the spots where the thing falls apart or where you lose interest? Does the dialogue ring true to you? Read your dialogue out loud or, better yet, get in touch with a couple of actors, buy them dinner or a pizza and have them read it for you. Does it work? Does it feel real? If not, rewrite. 

Start your scenes as late as possible and get out of them as early as possible. Don’t waste valuable page time (and eventually screen time) with a scene or some dialogue that does not move the story forward. It’s all about getting to the “next” thing without boring your audience. 

As William Goldman (he wrote "Princess Bride", "Marathon Man", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "The Ghost and the Darkness" and also one of the best books on screenwriting ever - "Adventures in the Screentrade") writes, "sometimes you have to murder your darlings". In other words, no matter how good you think the writing is, if it doesn't move the story forward, you have to get rid of it.

If your screenplay doesn’t keep you interested, it will never keep an audience interested. 

Write lean and trim and trim and trim until just the meat remains.

Don’t try to duplicate what Aaron Sorkin or Quentin Tarantino write. They are singular writers with a clear and distinct voice and they are doing the best with their work. Of course they can be inspirations but only Sorkin does Sorkin best. Only Tarantino does Tarantino best. 

You should write as yourself and try to develop your own voice. That's what Sorkin and Tarantino did and look where it got them. 

Rinse and repeat. 

To be a successful screenwriter, you will need to write a lot. Start to develop a body of work. This way, when you get a chance to pitch some ideas to a producer, you won’t be done with your meeting after the first idea hits a brick wall. Be prepared for “What else do you have?” The ONLY way to do that is to write. Write a lot and don’t get too attached to the work. 

Here is another great piece of advice. Set aside some time every day to write. Sit down at your yellow legal pad or your typewriter (yeah, some people STILL do a first draft on a typewriter) or your computer screen and friggin' WRITE. 

Make it part of your daily routine. If you do this diligently, it WILL become part of your daily routine and then it will be just like showering or brushing your teeth (you DO brush your teeth daily, don't you?). If you do this right, It will become hard to NOT sit and write every day. And then, before you know it, you will have a body of work that you can take out and try to sell to producers (or better yet, just produce yourself).

It’s a long slog but it will be worth it in the long term. Just remember, there is no shortcut to success in this business (unless you’re really lucky and your uncle is Steven Spielberg - that could help a lot).

Logline / synopsis - Wha???

A couple of weeks ago, I had a question from a visitor to my website. He asked if a logline and a synopsis were the same. In the most basic of terms, they are. Each is a description of your film. The differences between them are subtle but important. 

First, the definitions. A logline is a short description, usually no longer than 10 or 15 words, which gives the reader a very basic introduction to the story you are telling with your film. If you are a fan of the TV Guide, the descriptions of movies in that publication are loglines. 

A synopsis is a longer and more detailed version of your logline. It still tells the story of your film but is designed for a deeper dive into the actual story. I find it very helpful to have several versions of my synopsis that vary in length between 25 and 500 words. I recommend a synopsis of each the following words lengths - 25, 50, 75, 100, 150, 200, 250 and 500.

A synopsis will be helpful in the early stages of your project. A well-written synopsis should be in your business plan as you go in search of financing. It’s also helpful to have this in place for when a conversation about your project begins. Your synopsis should be carefully written with proper spelling, grammar, and punctuation. In addition, you should know your synopsis and be able to deliver it verbally. This has been especially important in the finance phase of my projects. Some people just don’t want to take the time to read a synopsis. Even more likely is that you might run into someone in a public place and you may have 30 to 45 seconds to pitch your idea. Because of the frequency of this sort of pitch opportunity, I like to have a well-rehearsed elevator pitch which includes a bit about my experience, a very brief synopsis, and a call to action for the person to whom I am speaking. 

You want to entice someone to request a written business plan and the best way to do that is with a very brief introduction to your next great project.

Once the film is completed and if you decide to submit it to some festivals, the varying lengths of your synopsis will come into play. Each festival to which you submit will have some requirement of a synopsis to be included in the submission process and the word count of that synopsis will vary widely from one festival to another. So the best approach is to have all of them written out early in the process. One of my least favorite things to do was to have to write a 250 synopsis on the final day of a festival submission. Oh, and some festivals will want both a logline AND a synopsis and some may even request several synopses of varying lengths. But if you do as I suggest, you will be well ahead of that curve. 

If you are planning on pitching your finished screenplay to producers instead of producing it your self, a well-prepared synopsis will be very important as you start to line up pitching opportunities. Your verbiage for your pitch will come from one of your synopses.

I'm a producer. I ain't no friggin' grip.


Recently I spent a few days working on a local project. It wasn’t a “film” project (by that I mean it was not something you may see at your local cineplex or on Netflix). In fact, it was a promotional film for a client in the healthcare industry and I was hired by that company’s marketing firm to help out on the production of the piece. I wasn’t the producer. I wasn't the director. I wasn’t the DP. I wasn’t an actor. 

I was a member of the grip/electric crew.

And I was happy for the work. 

For anyone living in a part of the country where there is not a lot of “film” work being done, working in a variety of positions on smaller projects is a great way to make some money doing something you love but even more valuable is the chance to continue your “filmmaking” education on your way to becoming a producer while collecting a paycheck.

I believe that a good producer understands the jobs of every person under his control on the set.There are some producers out in the world who will say that they don’t have to know how to do all the other jobs on the set. They will maintain that their job is to hire the right people and let them do their job to the best of their ability. There is some truth to that. As a producer, you DO want to hire the best people and allow them to do their jobs. 

But I think that a good producer should have a solid grasp of what each crew person on the set does. When I work as a producer, I still need to have some understanding of what an HMI is (it’s a high-intensity light source using an arc lamp instead of an incandescent lamp and it is often used to simulate daylight conditions). 

As a producer, I should have some idea of the importance of providing craft services (the snacks that are available on the set between meal breaks) and hiring a good, knowledgeable caterer. 

As a producer, I should know the difference between a 35 mm lens and a 200 mm lens (and should have some idea of why and when each should be used).

So, to circle back around, working on smaller jobs gives me that opportunity to work, watch, listen and learn. When I am working as a grip, I can ask the gaffer (at an appropriate time) “What is that device called and why do you use it?”

It’s amazing how much better you will be at your producer job when you start to understand the tools of the trade and the reasoning behind the use of those tools. So swallow your producer pride, put on a pair of gloves and work in the trenches as you learn how to be a great producer.

Do it right first. 

Making a film - any film - will require a lot of patience, a lot of perserverance, and a lot of attention to detail. The best advice I can give first time filmmakers is to do it right first. Taking "shortcuts" often results in much more work down the road. For example, hiring or engaging a script supervisor in the short run might increase your total budget a bit right from the start but will save you tons of time as you move from the shooting to the editing process. Try not to cut corners to save a nickle and end up spending many times that nickle in the long run. You'll thank yourself at the end of the process.

One-Man-Band Shooters Tip. 

This is a post for the “one-man band” videographer shooting an event, a play or other theatrical production that has an established series of entrances and exits.

I shoot these kinds of events all the time and I typically do it as a single operator with two cameras. I like to have the capability of being able to edit a nice, clean, multi-angle version of the production so I do this very simple trick.

In the case of a theatrical production, when I go to watch the dress rehearsal and familiarize myself with the show, I also record the entire event with a wide shot camera which will catch all the entrances and exits. Then I go home and watch the taped event with a digital audio recorder in hand. I “narrate” the entrances and exits and note when I should be shooting full screen or a tight single, two-shot, three-shot or small grouping. I will go so far as to describe action on stage as it happens in my wide shot video.

When I go to shoot the actual production on subsequent nights, I plug one audio recorder earbud into my ear inside the headphones I use to monitor the live or house sound for the event. I start the playback on my audio recorder about 5 or 10 seconds in advance of the actual event so I can hear myself explaining the action that will be occurring on stage (based on the recording from the dress rehearsal). A technical note - I also know how to fast forward or pause my digital audio playback in the event the live show I am recording lags behind a bit or is moving more quickly than the dress rehearsal did.

In essence, my audio recording is serving as my “director” as I shoot the live event. As long as the pacing stays the same (or relatively close), I know, from watching and recording the show just the one time, when events on stage will be happening. Of course, I also go back as many times as is required to get a good recording of the event. I do this as much for the performers as I do for myself as I want them to have the best record of the best overall performance they offer. The bonus is that it also gives me a chance to learn the show more completely each time I shoot it. I use this technique when shooting plays as well as dance and music recitals. 

It works like a charm and I save a ton on extra camera ops. And in most cases, all I really need is two cameras - one for following the important action and the other (the wide shot) as my “go to” camera in the event I miss something happening elsewhere on stage. 

No Pay But Credit and Copy.

A lot of first films are made as a “no-pay, IMDB credit and copy” experience. There is nothing wrong with this. We all have to start somewhere. However, it’s really important for the no-pay filmmaker to follow the “rules” of filmmaking. There is a common misconception that a no-budget film allows you to get away with a lot of shortcuts. You really shouldn’t. Even with a low or no-budget indie film, the extent of your preparation will be reflected in how smoothly your days go and how well you stay on schedule. 

Sometimes it happened that the more money there is available for a film, the more waste there is. Conversely, the less money, the less waste as long as you, as the producer, are very well organized and ready to go. Follow all the steps just like you were making a bigger, financed film. 

For most people agreeing to work on a no-pay film, it’s going to be a learning experience more than anything. Show your cast and crew that you respect them by taking the time to figure out how to make the film correctly and ensure that the learning experience is valuable for everyone on the set.

Time Flies. 

I just spent a day producing a live, one-time special event. I had a crew of two camera ops. I also operated a camera as well as presenting 24 short film clips via Apple's Keynote presentation program that I had worked on for roughly six weeks. The day of the event (which kicked off at 6:00 p.m. and went for six hours) started for me early in the morning the day before. And yet, when it was time for the MacBook to fire up and the cameras to roll, I wished I had had more time to prepare. No matter how much time you have to get ready, it's almost never enough. My point? Don't dally when you are producing an event, especially if you are relying on other people to do their jobs properly in a timely manner. Sometimes that just doesn't happen. Plan your day(s) carefully and factor in extra time (if you can do so). Oh, and one other thing - when it comes off without a hitch, it's incredibly satisfying. Don't forget to enjoy that moment.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow - is the location. Good luck finding it.

As a PM, PC, AD or just a person who is sending set or location directions to cast and crew, make sure you provide directions which are easy to understand. Include information like the actual address, turn-to-turn mileage numbers, prominent landmarks (if they will be helpful) and any road construction issues that might be encountered. Also, please check the address to make sure that it can be found using a GPS device (and if it is not detectable via GPS, let your team know that).

Follow the Rules Until You Can Break the Rules

I mentioned reading the work of other screenwriters in preparation for writing your own screenplay. Accepted formatting conventions change slightly over the years but the basics remain the same. As you read the screenplays of other writers, you will discover that they may have used techniques that may now be out of favor. Keep in mind that once you are a successful screenwriter with work that has been produced, you will have a lot more leeway to write the way you want to write. Until then, try to stick with the current, accepted "rules" of screenwriting so as not to give readers or producers a reason to pass on your work. Also remember, for every "rule", there are exceptions and there is nothing to say that you might sneak in the door by taking some big writing risks. But in general, I believe you would be better served to stick with what is working currently until you're on the "inside". 

I am going to mention this now and I will mention it again... As a writer, you would do yourself a great favor by investing in an amazing screenwriter resourse, "The Screenwriter's Bible", by David Trottier (http://www.keepwriting.com/). It's full of samples, tips and "rules" for writing your screenplay in the proper format. It's WELL WORTH the investment. (Oh, and I only mention this because it's good stuff. I get no kickback or any other payment for this, financial or otherwise).

No Garbage Bags

It's always nice when an actor gets booked on a shoot and is asked to provide sizes or to arrive in advance of the actual shoot for a costume fitting. However, many shoots do not supply wardrobe for the actors and it is incumbent upon the actors to bring their own wardrobe. 

If you are ever asked to do this, here are a couple of tips... 

1) Make sure your clothes are clean, fresh and pressed. 

2) Bring your clothing options in a garment bag or suitcase that will not wrinkle your clothes. (I have actually had actors bring their wardrobe in a garbage bag - believe it or not. That's not professional and it's definitely NOT a good idea). 

3) Bring plenty of options and when I say "plenty", I don't mean 2 pairs of pants, two shirts or blouses and only the shoes you wear to the set. Of course, your wardrobe will be dependent on the role you will be playing and you will likely get some guidance from someone from the producing team or company hiring you. Still, within the parameters provided to you by the company, bring PLENTY of options - 6 or 7 shirts in a variety of colors and styles, an equal number of pants, skirts or dresses, several belt and shoe options, sweaters, some tee-shirts if appropriate, sport coats, blazers or suit coats - again with a nice variety of colors and styles. You will end up bringing a lot of clothing but when I am the director, I absolutely LOVE the actor who brings me a ton of options that I can play with, especially since I can almost guarantee that at least one actor on the set is going to arrive with not much more than the shirt on his back. 

Cell Phones Are Essential

It's important to not only check your emails for messages from your contact on your gig (AD, production coordinator or production secretary, etc.) but also to make sure your contact has your cellphone number in the event of a truly last minute change. Equally as important, you should have your contact's cellphone number in case you are somehow unavoidably detained. It's all about effective and efficient communication. 

Check Your Email Regularly

You've booked a commercial, an industrial video, or a role in a film. Congratulations! Over the next several posts, I'm going to post some recommendations to make your gig go more smoothly. 

Today's tip... If you are communicating with the producer via email, be sure to check your email frequently up until the time you leave for the shoot. There may be a last minute change that comes to you in an email. Also, it's very important to reply to every email you receive so your contact on the shoot knows you got the message. The last thing the producer or production coordinator wants to have to do is call every cast and crew member on a shoot to make sure that each received the latest cast or crew updates. Make their job simple (and give yourself the best chance of being hired again or recommended to other producers - reply to ALL contacts and/or correspondence.  

It's the Same, Only Different

There are feature films, shorts, industrials, music videos, commercials and instructionals. There are narratives and documentaries, live action and animated. Docudramas and reality projects. There are ultra-low budget films and big, bloated tent pole blockbusters. And they will all benefit from the same sort of careful planning and preparation I am writing about in my blog posts. The degree of prep is going to vary depending on the size and scope of your project but by approaching all your work in a similar fashion, I believe that you will increase the chances of successfully completing your film (and not being completely crazy at the end of it all).

Feeding Your Crew - the Real Reasons

Filmmakers are control freaks - get used to it. In a recent blog post, I wrote about feeding my cast and crew. Although this idea applies to a variety of different projects, in this particular post I was talking about a film set and a 10 to 12 hour shoot day. 

So why is it so important to feed my cast and crew? When I hire cast and crew for something like this, those professionals become my responsibility for the time they are on my set and I have to keep them happy, fed and on the set (rather than hopping into their car to go get Big Macs, donuts or other meals that have a high potential of making them sleepy midway through the afternoon). I want my team energized, rested and ready to go when the time comes. 

Also, imagine what might happen if I let my actors or crew leave the set for lunch and something unexpected occurs... they have a car accident or get stuck on the highway for two hours in a traffic jam. In addition to the potential for human suffering, this sort of event could shut down a production (see "Safety Concerns - IMPORTANT STUFF" and "Guerrilla Filmmaking - Is It Worth the Risk?" in this blog). 

My cast and crew arrive on the set and do not leave until they are released at the end of the day. As the filmmaker, you need to take control of the entire situation.

By the way, when I am working on a film, the talent is not just the team of performers but also the DP, the AD, the gaffer and boom operator, the hair and makeup person, and any other member of the crew. Crew talent doesn't necessarily get all the attention for their work. In fact, the less obvious the camera work, makeup, hair, sound and set management is, the better they are all doing their job. 

Guerrilla Filmmaking - Is It Worth the Risk?

Let's revisit the post entitled Safety Concerns - IMPORTANT STUFF again because there are more lessons to learn from this. 

The news yesterday was that the director, Randall Miller; the producer, Jody Savin; and even the executive producer, Jay Sedrish, for the Greg Allman biopic, "Midnight Rider", have been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing. 

Even though this particular film does not seem to be, at its base, a "guerrilla" film, it brings to mind this idea that making films without following the rules is somehow more exciting or romantic than making a standard "by-the-book" film. And look - I get it. Everyone has done something that goes against the rules and it can be exciting. But when you have millions (or even thousands or just hundreds) of dollars resting on the decisions you make and, even more importantly - in fact, of the utmost importance - you have the lives and safety of your cast and crew relying on your smart and reasoned decision-making, you MUST make the RIGHT DECISIONS.

Accidents happen. Mishaps occur. Unexpected things arise all the time. So, as a producer mounting a film project, you have to anticipate every possible problem and solve each before they occur. 

Getting permits to shoot legally on a property that isn't yours is boring and "by-the-book" and maybe it means you're no longer a guerrilla filmmaker. However, knowing all the ins and outs of the location at which you plan to shoot is just smart filmmaking even though it's not necessarily "exciting". And the up-side is that your shoot is much more likely to go off without a hitch and you limit the chances that someone will be injured or killed. 

As boring as obtaining permits can be, imagine how excruciatingly boring having sufficient and appropriate insurance is going to be. Or hiring qualified security for an exposed public location. Or arranging for a paramedic or EMT to be present on a potentially dangerous set. But that's your job as a producer. Own it or don't but if you decide to ignore those important questions and issues, you may expose your crew, your cast and yourself to unreasonable and dangerous risk. 

Screenwriting 101

Want to be a screenwriter? So does every valet parker, waitress and movie theater popcorn pusher in LA. So, What are you doing to become a screenwriter? For starters, you should be writing - every day. Make it part of your routine. Second, you should learn HOW to write in proper screenplay format. 

I also recommend obtaining screenplays for your favorite movies. Get them in "Screenplay" format (and not reprinted in a non-industry way) and read them. Watch the movie from which the screenplay was made and follow along as the movie unfolds. See how the writer "designs" the page. 

Also, you would do yourself a great favor by investing in an amazing screenwriter resourse, "The Screenwriter's Bible", by David Trottier (http://www.keepwriting.com/). It's full of samples, tips and "rules" for writing your screenplay in the proper format. It's WELL WORTH the investment. 

Step One: Getting Started

I'm working on a comedy short that I plan to shoot in late August / early September. As I have mentioned in this blog before, there are hundreds of steps that must be completed in order to have a successful shoot. I will comment on each of those steps as I move through the process over the next couple of months. 

Step one: I have to have my screenplay in good shape before I start my breakdown. I'm going to discuss it with my writing partner. We'll go in and tighten up all our scenes and make sure our jokes are all current and all still work. We will cut out the fat and make sure we're starting all our scenes as late as possible and getting out of them as soon as we can.

In the meantime, one of the producers will start investigating funding sources and start to build a plan to find money - maybe private investors, maybe family members, maybe a crowdsourcing site.

It's all very exciting. 

Typos Happen


Earlier today, I posted an update for my upcoming seminar and accidentally posted the wrong month (June instead of July). 

That was bad (and could have made readers think that they had missed the seminar). I didn't notice it.

A friend noticed it and sent me a message about it. I looked and couldn't find the typo. I wrote back to him. He sent me a screen shot. 

STILL couldn't find it. 

He sent me ANOTHER screenshot with the error circled in red and an arrow pointing to it. I FINALLY saw it.

My point? As the writers, we are often so close to what we have written that we don't see the mistakes or automatically gloss over things like missing words. The best way to fight this is to have someone else proof your work (and only once. They may fall into that same dilemma on a subsequent read). Develop a nice cadre of "readers" you can trust and who have an understanding of proper grammar and punctuation and entice them to read your work. It's worth the pizza or six pack to have them as part of your support system. 

Safety Concerns

Based on the recent news about the death of a production assistant on the Allman Brothers biopic and the involuntary manslaughter charges filed against the producers and director (which could result in a ten year prison sentence), now is a good time to mention this.

As a producer or director of a film, you are responsible for the safety of your cast and crew from the time they step onto the set until the time they leave. 

You can't have too many safety checks. You can't ask too many questions regarding all aspects of the shoot. You need to know about every potential safety issue that could affect the lives of your cast and crew.

In addition, although insurance is often overlooked, especially in first films or indie films, you MUST make arrangements for coverage to protect everyone and every location in your project (workers comp, medical, E&O, et al). 

Do your due diligence and protect your team, your project and yourself. 

Investing In Your Career

When considering classes, seminars or training, don't look at the expenditure of money as a "payment". Look at it as an investment. 

It is exactly that. 

Just like going to college or a trade school, you are making an investment in your career. It doesn't matter if it's a class like my upcoming "From Idea to Audience", an acting class or a workshop to learn the nuts and bolts of filmmaking equipment, they are all investments (and tax deductible). Stop hesitating and get started on learning the craft from the pros. 

Sure, It's a Brilliant Scene But What if it Doesn't Fit?

William Goldman (screenwriter of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Marathon Man", "The Princess Bride") once famously said that, as a screenwriter, you must occasionally "murder your darlings". You may have written a brilliant scene or some scintillating dialogue but if what you wrote does not move your story forward or serve the greater good of the screenplay, you may have to eliminate it. "Murdering your darlings" is a difficult thing to do but it might just improve your screenplay. 

How Do You Eat an Elephant?

There are thousands of little things that need to be done in the process of making a film - writing, formatting, scheduling, budgeting, casting, scouting, crewing, managing a set, feeding your crew, getting releases, maintaining appropriate insurance, protecting cast and crew, transporting cast and crew, editing, sweetening, conforming, scoring, submitting, promoting, negotiating - and that's just the beginning. 

Don't try to eat the filmmaking "elephant" all in one bite. Take your time, do your research, be thorough, be concise, check and recheck and double check. 

Remember, slow and steady wins the race (and completes the film). 

The Filmmaker Workout

Get in shape. Once you start the process of making your first film, you are going to be working long hours, dealing with a lot of people AND a lot of little problems. Being in good physical condition is going to help a lot. Of course there are plenty of filmmakers who aren't in the best of shape and they get their films done just fine. But why take the chance? Get on a decent, healthy diet and some sort of exercise program. You want your film to look as good as possible. Why not start out by looking as good as you can possibly look? 

Introduction to Due Diligence

Do your Due Diligence. By this I mean cross all your "t"s and dot all your "i"s. 

Independent filmmaking is a minefield of minutia and, unfortunately, the one thing you forget to do could be the one thing that trips you up. 

Get all your permissions, have all your releases signed and GET INSURANCE. It's all a pain but it's all totally necessary.

Filmmaker or Control Freak - or Both

Being a filmmaker (producer, director - whichever term you like to use) requires that you be a bit of a control freak. There are so many threads that go into making a film and if you aren't controlling all of them, you are headed for disaster. From a carefully crafted story to obtaining all your documentation to providing good eats on the set, you have to control it all. The result will be a project you can be proud of - and then you can go out and try to sell it.

No, MY Dad is the Best

Have a great Father's Day. 

Knowing What You are Talking About

Each area of specialization on a film project has its own vocabulary. As a filmmaker, although it is not necessary to know, for example, how to change a lighting element in an HMI or the mechanics of being an excellent focus puller, you must know the basics - you must understand what people are talking about. So, in the above example, you should know what an HMI is and why it is used... you should know what a focus puller does and why he positions himself where he does. 

Knowing the difference between a stinger and a mult, understanding the reasons why proper screenplay formatting is so important, knowing what to do at an audition when the CD says, "Slate"... this is all part of the vocabulary of film and you have to know this stuff if you want to call yourself a filmmaker. 

Aesthetics of Screenplay

Knowing how to "craft" a screenplay is just as important as your initial roadmap. "Crafting" involves concepts like writing down the page, understanding and utilizing negative or white space on your individual pages, and writing in the active present tense. 

If you don't know what those terms mean, you'd be better served to learn that BEFORE you start writing. 

No One Really Writes a Screenplay in Five Days

Okay, maybe some people do but it's definitely the exception that proves the rule. When planning to write a screenplay, you should start with a roadmap of some kind - a beat sheet or an outline. You need something to lead you through your inciting incident, your plot points, your challenging-to-write second act and, of course, your resolution.

Keep in mind that screenplays typically don't get written overnight or in a week or a month. 

You'll write, you'll rewrite, and then you'll put it away for a while so that when you go back for yet another draft, you can read the manuscript with "fresh eyes".

Patience is truly a virtue when writing a screenplay. 

Food and Snacks

Feeding your cast and crew properly, on time and providing them with a nice variety of not just meals but delicious and healthy craft services will go a long way towards keeping everyone happy. And believe me, a happy crew makes for a happy director and eventually leads to a better final outcome. 

The First Shot

The first shot on any film production is very important. It can help set the tone for the rest of the production and you can get things off on the right foot by doing one simple thing - if at all possible, plan for your first shot to be an easy shot. One that you can get in one or two takes (and preferably one). Going from "Action" to "Cut" to "Print. Let's move on" gives your cast and crew a sense of accomplishment right off the bat and it feels good, especially since we all know the rest of the shoot won't likely be so easy. 

Take a Day Off.

Give yourself a day off during the week if your budget can afford it. I get it - sometimes you have to work a seven day week due to actor or scheduling issues but, if you can, take one day off a week to decompress, get away from the set and breathe. You, your cast and your crew will be back at it again on Monday but I recommend giving everyone a day to relax (and Sunday is a nice day to do that).