The Indie Chronicles: 50 Things You Should Know And/Or Do Before You Make Any Kind of Film
a blogumn by R.B. Ripley
Nine months ago I made a decision to direct a short film. Yesterday, I gave final approval on the finished project. Like any protracted process, the end always feels a little anti-climactic and, as I learned, filmmaking seems to be no exception. It was just me and the post production manager in a dark theater. We watched. I handed over a check, took the receipt and the external hard drive on which the short film resides and left the studio. No fanfares, no sweeping music. No applause.
I got into my car, leaned my head against the steering wheel and smiled like the ridiculously happy son of a bitch I am: I made a movie.
Now, I’m not going to go so far as to say the decision to direct this itty-bitty short film has irrevocably changed my life, because really, that can’t be accurately assessed for some time. But the decision did change my own personal context just the slightest bit, the tiniest fraction. And already, less than a year later, I can tell that there is a difference – not just in terms of this project – but in how I approach things in general.
Rather than prattle on endlessly about how I FEEL regarding this whole process (which really, is irrelevant to anyone else and only midly entertaining if you’ve had enough to drink), I thought I’d share a list of 50 Very Important Things I learned during this project after the jump:
1. Never forget that the audience is the reason for storytelling.
2. Don’t spoon feed the audience; remember they want to be engaged in the story, not entertained.
3. Plan well.
4. Plan more.
5. Plan even more.
6. If you think you’re done planning, think again.
7. Virtually everything in a script is negotiable.
8. Be very clear about what the one thing in your script is that’s not negotiable.
9. Be ruthless with the script – cut everything.
10. A movie is told more through the image, the wardrobe, and the set than through dialogue.
11. Storyboard a script to within an inch of its life; then let the storyboard be the script.
12. Every writer should have to direct before they send out their own script to be read.
13. You need very little dialogue in film; tell the story “in the cut.”
14. A detailed budget is critical;Know where the money is going before it is spent.
15. Get comfortable with negotiating; Learn to use the phrase, “Can you offer that at a lower price?”
16. Always find a cheaper way to do it.
17. Treat your little project with the same respect you would if you were fully financed.
18. Provide clear expectations in writing to everyone you bring on board.
19. Pay people on time.
20. Schedule lightly on your first day.
21. Thank everyone for their work, every day.
22. Hire people you want to work with.
23. Hire people who are great at what they do.
24. Trust that a good cinematographer has visual ideas that are better than your own.
25. Never underestimate the power and creativity of group thought.
26. Feed the cast and crew exceptionally well.
27. A good producer never loses their dignity.
28. A good producer is worth their weight in gold.
29. A good producer wraps up production appropriately.
30. Good actors help “connect the dots” for the audience in ways you can’t begin to imagine.
31. Have three backup plans for every scene.
32. On set, a director is simply a problem-solver if they’ve done their prep work.
33. Spend time with the actors rehearsing before production begins.
34. During production reserve one hour every day for yourself; Spend it alone without your phone or computer.
35. Remember that filmmaking isn’t life-threatening, so don’t treat people as though it is.
36. Dolly rentals are ridiculously overpriced.
37. Working with Film LA is challenging.
38. Be willing to pay for permits.
39. Always be flexible because nothing ever goes as planned.
40. You can’t be afraid to try something different than you’d initially planned.
41. Laugh hard and laugh often.
42. Everyone has a marvelous story, so spend time talking.
43. It’s okay to ask people for favors as long as you’re prepared to return them.
44. Always ask questions before making statements.
45. Filmmaking is the apex of team sports.
46. It never hurts to ask.
47. Take the crew out for drinks one night early in production.
48. Behind every project there must always be someone who keeps pushing the rock up the hill.
49. Handwritten thank you notes still mean something special.
50. Always treat your significant other to something they’ve wanted to do after you spend time away from them.
So, the only thing left is to screen this project for people whom I trust and who I know want to see it succeed. That will be done in mid-October and then its all about executing the plan to submit to festivals, agents, etc. But that’s really another project altogether, isn’t it? And of course, the specter of “What’s next?” looms large. But at least now, I sleep nights knowing that if the answer to “What’s next?” isn’t readily apparent, then its sure to be found when I start searching.
And oh, what a glorious damned search it will be.