6 Low-Production tips for beginner filmmakers is a kick start advice for any aspiring TV Director/Producer.
Whether you're a seasoned filmmaker or a fresh graduate, every successful director needs to organize his shoot, so that execution is as smooth as possible. This article outlines 6 low-production tips for beginner filmmakers. The simple reason this article is geared towards starters is that professional filmmakers have each developed his/her own procedures and methods already through many years of experience. Follow these 6 Low-Production tips and you'll be on your way to become an informed and disciplined Filmmaker. For the purpose of this article, we assume you have a low budget, 3-4 people crew, 2-3 locations, 1-2 days shoot and a production team of no more than 5 people. This production guide is designed for simple TV productions with limited timelines.
1- It's All In The Attitude
On set, as chief of Orchestra, you must remain calm at all times. This gives a positive feeling that everything is under control, even if sometimes it isn't the case. Don't yell, scream or panic under stress. Some directors lose their temper if something insignificant goes wrong, and that demoralizes everyone. Especially when there are actors, always take them aside and give them directions, be patient with inexperienced crew. In fact a director who yells and panics is a bad one. With common sense, intuition and a chilled out attitude, you'll be able to get what you want and even more. You won't be able to squeeze out your creativity and come up with solutions with a bad attitude. Lead a healthy lifestyle, drink plenty of water, especially during outdoor shoots, sleep early and get on set early, grab a coffee and meet your assist for the day's brief.
2- Sketch Up A Production Plan
If you don't have a full production team, you're running low on funds or acting as Director/Producer, write up a 2-3 line synopsis based on your story. Stay away from writing stories around events. These tend to become news pieces which are not covered here. Choose your production titles wisely. Avoid single word titles and suggest more precise titles such as "Saluki breeding" or "Equestrians of Dubai". This will help create the backbone of the story. Be wise in your choice of topics and choose stories based on people. People have stories to tell, people's lives are dramatic by nature. It's hard to find an interesting story around an economic convention but it's much more interesting if your story is about a lebanese born filmmaker for example. Profile films, awareness and exciting breakthrough ideas work best.
- Try and get your Synopsis approved by your client.
- Meet with your researchers and discuss how to develop your story. Background research begins.
- Approve contributors (or interviewees). Coordinators to book contributors.
- Develop your treatment: The director's treatment is an essential part of every production. You don't have to be long, try to resume your approach of the story and include technical details in 2-3 pages max. Treatments should include: Angle/story description (Clear definition of objective of film). Main scenes structures (Exact scenes are hard to predict, these are usually modified on set after initial recce). Questions writeup. Location list.
- Researcher/translator converts treatments to desired language, for client approval.
- Client approves treatment.
- Director scans a list of special gear/crew needed (underwater gear, arial crew etc.), days needed.
- Discuss your schedule/call sheet with your Production coordinator.
- Shot logs/tapes/receipts handed over to Production Manager.
- Tapes delivered to Post-Production House. Director briefs editor(s).
- Presentation of first offline to Director/Production, then to client.
Write-up Correct Angles
In your treatment you will reserve a small space for your angle. An angle is a short descriptive paragraph that resumes your story. First make sure you avoid treatments that present mainly background information, loaded with less needed figures and statistics. Your client wants to see a director's perspective not a research paper.
It is never enough to reiterate that angle write-ups should not be written around events and any angles that are void of human elements should be avoided. For instance "The XYZ aviation academy in Dubai is one of the leading aviation colleges in the UAE" is not a good leader. Angles should be carefully written around a person within a certain context, which is the aviation academy in this case. For instance "Nadia is an aspiring pilot student at XYZ, how did she manage to break through the norms and penetrate a male dominated field?" There. You can immediately feel the story and it's much easier to go from there and develop the story.
3- Location Scouting.. or not.
If you're not working on typical setups, most locations you'll go to are for you to "explore" on the day of the shoot. Organizing a recce visit prior to shooting date is crucial, but some low productions or deadline sensitive projects skip this step and spend as much time back in the office pre-producing the film. If a recce is out of the question given tight deadlines or distance, you will need a few hours to accommodate, scan and quickly decide what and how to shoot. This is not a sign of lack of confidence or experience weakness. Still, expectations are high and if you are to produce creative material, this is a challenge that you should be happy to take on, as long as everyone involved, especially your client on low budget, understand that it is in fact a challenge, which means it doesn't always work in your favor. Interview locations need to be improvised taking into account the time of day, lighting, ambient sound, background etc. and this does take a few moments of quick reflection to gather all the data. Again this is not sign of lack of confidence, at the contrary, if anything it's a sign of professionalism.
4- Production Crew
Low Productions often run with a minimal crew. It must be understood that this does add extra distractions to you as a director who instead of setting up for the next scene, is actually helping the cameraman with his tripod, not because he asked you to, but because you know this will save you valuable time. No matter what the size of your production budget is, you will more often than not need one or more helpers to carry equipment from scene to scene, setup up tripod and bubble, setup the director's monitor, get food, clean, carry and fix lights, carry cables, find electricity, connect gear, charge batteries etc. The cameraman should not do all this, because you'll be spending time discussing shots and directing the frame without worrying about beef or veggie sandwiches. And definitely not the sound guy or the driver who does not have enough experience. Give your crew specific instructions or how to take advantage of the golden hour for example. Always be helpful and mindful to your crew. Limited and tight budgets compels you to walk an extra mile or two, if you must help out re-directing traffic or retouching your interviewee's makeup, then so be it. Bare in mind this is an exception and not the rule.
5- Communication Is Key
Always have a can-do attitude. Your general attitude towards this is to say "sure i'm on it" then figure out a way to do it. Not only that, but always suggest ideas and productive workflows. You might want to suggest to your production manager instead of sending multiple schedules as email attachments for example, to create a shooting calendar in outlook and send it to all to "subscribe" to from your Mac's iCal application. Ask your production coordinator to make sure you have helpers on set to carry equipment around. Constantly bug your team for extra info, always ask and double check. Create a personal pre-shoot checklist that you follow before every shoot. Coordinate with your researchers at all times. Hold quick meetings with your production coordinator about your treatments, ideas and angles. Even if you were just CCed in an email conversation, be intuitive and quick in taking action. Look up your location on your GPS and inform everyone about it. Made a few calls to found out if your cameraman has an underwater diving license for instance. Call up your location's PR person and ask about any special permits you need, like filming a few students taking off and landing, which is sometimes not originally planned. A lot will be happening a few days before your shoot date, so be prepared and do whatever possible to bring the best out of every story.
6- Prepare Your Arsenal: iPhone Apps For Filmmakers
Our last tip is about our beloved iPhones, and their use as an extra tool for your shoots. The iPhone App market has grown tremendously in the last couple of years, and for us filmmakers, there's also "An App for That". Websites such as these offer a huge range of useful apps to complement your efforts during production, sometimes with a hefty price tag. Stuff like Storyboard Writers, film and TC calculators, Production budgets, Action Logs, Clap Boards, Light Meters, Sun Positioning apps etc. are all fantastic tools that will surely transform your iPhone into your own personal assistant on and off set.
After all, as a director, expectations and responsibilities will easily pile up, and it could quickly become a frustrating experience if you're not disciplined and organized, and above all, calm.
I hope these 6 low-production tips were helpful. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share it with your colleagues, team or classmates. Good luck with your career and don't forget to drop a comment.