Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Nigel M Smith
October 25, 2011 3:47 AM
3 Comments
  • |

Here's the Third Winner for Christine Vachon and Ted Hope's Masterclass

Christine Vachon and Ted Hope.

T.R. has been selected as the latest winner to receive tickets to Christine Vachon and Ted Hope's first-ever Statesider masterclass in producing, Killer/Hope Masterclass: Get Your Movie Made, Make It Well, Make It Great, Get It Seen & Survive to Do It All Over Again.

Want to win your own pass? Here’s how it works.

• Ted and Christine pose a series of questions about your filmmaking experiences.
• You post your answer in the comments.
• They select their favorite answer from the responses.
• The answer’s author gets a free ticket to their class.

The class will be held at Cantor Film Center in New York on November 5 from 10a-4p. Tickets are available for $150.

The next question is:

What was and what did you learn from your most difficult film production experience?

Tell us your answers in the comments.

And here’s the winning answer to the question, "What will you do differently on your next film?"

At the risk of being dramatic… EVERYTHING! I’m coming off a filmmaking experience where the main take away is, “Well, at least we learned what not to do.” For this response I’ll narrow it down to THE RIGHT BUDGET, ADEQUATE SUPPORT, MARKETING/KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE and IT ALL STARTS WITH THE SCRIPT.

I co-directed a micro-budget feature that made money back for its investors but had things been done differently it could have done so much more. A writer/producer approached us about being directors for hire (back-end only) on a “found footage” movie that would boast a big cast and multiple, enormous locations. He convinced a production company in LA to co-produce and be an equal investment partner (they are also an international sales agent). The total budget was $60,000 so they didn’t have much to lose.

Our financing fell through in the fall of ‘08 for a project we’d invested a lot of time in. The opportunity to direct again overruled all rational thought. To stay on budget we did not pay our tiny crew. The sound mixer and special fx make-up artist got an equipment/kit rental. Our amazing DP was a good friend whom we’d collaborated with on our 1st feature. He provided his Canon 5D. The rest of the crew were unpaid assistants. We broke up multiple shoots by location, always needing time regroup. After the first shoot we cut a teaser that the producers brought to AFM. We sold multiple foreign territories before production was complete. The footage looked amazing. This was going to pay off! Now my cautionary tale gets scarier than our scary movie. Another teaser playing at AFM had the exact same premise as ours! We wanted our teaser on Youtube but were told whoever picks it up will control how it’s marketed. Our producers have experience selling movies. Our previous directing credit was a family drama that barely played at fests plus many years experience working on reputable films (2 Killer Films and my partner worked on an HBO movie produced by Ted Hope). We lost the Youtube fight. Our competitors posted their teaser and now have a million plus hits. We went on to complete 3 mini shoots with just a 5 person crew including ourselves. We weren’t done when a major US fest invited us to screen our unfinished film. The producers turned them down. That festival then invited our competition to screen instead. They got a US distribution deal and you can find their movie playing VOD in time for Halloween! Our original teaser was put on Youtube late this summer. We get more rip-off comments than anything else. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE IMPORTANCE OF CREATING AN ONLINE PRESENCE AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE SO YOU CAN CONNECT WITH YOUR AUDIENCE.

KNOWING YOUR SCRIPT and its AUDIENCE is just as crucial. Our producers wanted a horror film because they had experience there and it’s a safer bet with no budget and unknown cast. The NY producer who sold the idea planned to write while we prepped. It took four months to get a 1st draft. We pushed forward even though the pages we were getting were rough and truth be told, not very scary. Telling distributors it’s horror helped sell the movie but eventually you want an audience to embrace it. This is especially true for a small movie where the best case scenario is a platform release. The script was completed so late there was no time to amp up the scares, improve the dialogue and make sure it all made sense! Now it’s opened abroad and surprise, horror fans are let down. The poster promises one thing and they get something else. I’m biased but I think we delivered an eerie, supernatural thriller with some fun, impressive performances and great photography. With a strong script and directors who can dedicate more time to directing we could have had a success.

We’re back to financing our own project starting with a script that has undergone countless tweaks and rewrites. A thriller that has challenging characters we hope will attract some great talent. We’re shooting in a state with great tax incentives (instead of where the story takes place). It will be a micro budget but we’re raising enough to pay our crew a living wage including us. You can’t be deep in prep and shooting while holding down another job to pay the bills. Get support, collaboration is vital. Even though you can just point and shoot with today’s technology, pay attention to lighting and composition. You’ll have a product that looks much more valuable than what was put into it. We’re building the website for our next feature now even though the project is in development. Something we regret not doing last time is documenting behind the scenes (a blog or post BTS webisodes). This time we’ll make sure it happens. We love the whole process which is why we do it. Now in control we’ll do it right.

You might also like:

3 Comments

  • Julie Diane | October 31, 2011 9:55 AMReply

    Most difficult production experience? I am racking my brain to think of one particular experience that comes to mind, but I can't put my finger on just one. When you are an independent producer you need to prepare yourself for the challenges that lie ahead of you. What is an independent film without of great monolith of obstacles to overcome? I suppose my M.O would be to push the barriers, and then keep pushing. Plead for that one extra hour in a location, and then keep asking. For example, a short film I produced about 3 months ago involved a scene with a couple having an argument on a front porch of this gorgeous Victorian house. I did a location scout, a tech scout, and sat down with the location owner to go over what they are getting themselves into (God knows I've made the mistake about not exactly telling the location owners what a film shoot is all about). Well, this location owner did not tell his OCD wife that a film crew would be coming to their house that night. We planned to shoot until 12:30 am, at the latest. It was about 6:30 pm, she wanted us out at 8 pm. Boy did I have a night a head of me. For the entire shoot I needed to plead, plead and plead some more, about letting us stay that one extra hour...and when that hour was up... I bit the bullet and would ask again. There was no way we could find another house at this point. We had our insurance, equipment, and schedule set for that night- and with a shoe string budget, there was no changing that. Well, we left the house around 12:30 am as planned, with the location owner literally sweeping me out of her house.
    Ever since that night, I cannot stress how prepared I like to be when going into a film. Prepare a film like a battle. When it's a situation where you just can't throw money at the problem, be prepared for anything to happen. Have location back ups, actor back ups, and be very, very honest with your locations owners. Most importantly, fight for your crew, your director, and most importantly, your script. Try not to compromise unless it's the last option.

    I am a Senior in film school and from producing successful and sometimes brutally unsuccessful short films, I say to myself, "why do you I want this as my career?" but then I see the footage and I know exactly why, I see it play on the festival circuit and I could not be more proud of the result.

  • Julie | October 28, 2011 5:34 AMReply

    The most difficult lesson I learned was, you're going to have to compromise. Sometimes very quickly, and all of those great lines that you wrote... they may not make it in, because something just happened, it changed everything, and you have to keep that production going or you're sunk.

    Working on a 9 episode web series with friends who happen to be actors, and who believe in your project, is fantastic. I was very lucky to have the cast that I worked with on 8 for Vegas.

    Unfortunately, with such a large cast, there will be holes that need filling. Friends of actor friends... they ended up not being reliable, which is fine. So, I went the Craigslist route. I've purchased things on CL, I've dated people from CL, I've sold things on CL. I'd never hired anyone on CL.

    So, I put out the word that I was looking for a woman who wanted to do comedy, the more physical the better, explained the plot, gave details... and I received 3 emails.

    Two of them were not what I was looking for, but the remaining one had promise. She sent me some online videos she had, working with a comedy group, and they were pretty good. So I met her.

    Nice. Attractive. Not an outgoing personality, but that was ok, it was a first meeting. I gave her the script, showed her a fundraising short we'd shot, and she was interested. She met some of the cast a day later, things were going well, and so I was satisfied.

    The first day of shooting was a nightmare. We weren't that well oiled cinematic machine, yet, but we got the shoot completed. I was exhausted. The cast had left one by one when their day was over, and I went home thinking that I had a lot to learn, but was excited about the following weekend's shoot.

    Getting home, I wrote an email to everyone and thanked them for their work. Praised them, told them next week would be easier, etc.

    The first reply I received was from the woman from CL. I'm paraphrasing here, but she basically said that she was concerned about the production. She said it was amateurish, and she didn't think she'd be coming back unless she saw the footage from the day. She didn't think she would be able to use any of it on her reel.

    I had seen the footage, and while it wasn't the best in the world, we had useable footage, 8 more weeks to go in production, enough money for re-shoots, and I'd only just gotten my feet wet. I understood, then, that my friends had patience and tolerance that no stranger would hand over as readily, and I knew that even if this actress would have seen the footage and said that she would continue to work, I would not be able to trust her to do so.

    So, I fired her. A main character in this web series, and I had to let her go.

    First, I was nervous. I had a replacement, maybe, but she wasn't an actress, and I was almost out of options. At this point, 60% of the footage we'd just shot was now useless. So, I met with her, explained the situation, explained the character, and she said 'Sure, sounds like fun.'

    It would be impossible for me to explain how someone who isn't an actor can get up, do the impossible things you want them to do ON CAMERA, and be fearless and your friend, all at once. I simply couldn't believe the takes we were getting out of her.

    Being able to compromise, seeing the entire project and saying "OK, I can make that work,"... that's the thing that I learned that was most important.

  • Lizbett Perez | October 26, 2011 2:48 AMReply

    I've had several difficult productions. Here's what I learned:

    1. Don't be an a-hole. Seriously! Don't. Specially when you have a small budget. Don't think because you're paying someone $50 a day, you get to be rude. Do you know what that person's usual rate is?

    2. Pay your crew, even if it's a symbolic gesture. If you have people who are willing to work for free because of your relationship with them, that's great. If you have interns. Make sure they're learning! Involve them in the process.

    3. Have a back up for key positions. I've seen people bail out at the last minute because they found a gig that pays them a better rate. Don't hate the playa' -- just have a backup. I know crew who have their own backup in case they're called for another job.

    3. Feed your crew. That coffee in the morning? Small price to pay to have your crew on set earlier and not walking around looking for a Starbucks.

    4. Transparency. Not everyone needs to know everything, believe me no one wants to. But people need to know any information that will impact their job.

    You don't have to publish the budget but some of your key crew member must know the budget, at least their Dpt. budget.

    I had a boss who did not like share information. Everything was in his head. We all had to know the master plan that he would not disclose. Crew had to go behind his back and share information. Why? Who knows. As a Director or Producer why would you want people going to you for any little thing? And when you have a small budget and are already doing 100 things, don't you want your crew to be resourceful?

    I really like to know that everyone has they information they need to do their work.

    5. If you are the "decider" make sure you set the tone.

    I realize that Director and Producers all have different styles. I heard you can have a horrible hostile set and end up with a Masterpiece. That hasn't been my experience.

    if I am in a position to set the tone I doit very early on. It only takes on cantankerous person to just bum the hell out of everyone. One person gets snippy with the Director, everyone feels they can do they same (I've seen it).

    Be assertive. Be clear. Be respectful. Be considerate. Be open to suggestions but know when to call the question.

    Understand that for some people it's a gig. They don't love you, they don't love your script. They have work ethic and will do right by you. Do right by them and run the set with professionalism whatever your budget is. Respect call times, meals and wrap times. People will want to work with you again.

    6. Yes, make your movie, by all means tell your story. Be the next Robert Rodriguez (Did I just date myself? ugh!).

    I don't like to burn bridges. It's hard to get a good crew together and it's even harder to get good vendors. So yes, there is always room to negotiate and some times you do need to be shameless, but respect peoples work.

    7. Prepare. Days before my last gig as Line Producer, I was so calm. And then I freaked out thinking that maybe I forgot something. I must have done something wrong, no way are we ready. We were. I was fortunate enough to have an awesome cast and crew. We didn't even have a meeting which I usually find scary. But we communicated constantly via email. We had a grid on google docs (love it!).

    I know that when working with small budgets we think we'll just improvise. And that may work for some people. I know some great mad scientists. But I rather prepare. Yes, things will go wrong, but why not avoid some headaches. I'm obsessive about paperwork, location releases, SAG and Non Sag agreements, Crew and Volunteer agreements, Equipment agreement, Insurance...now I sound like Bubba from Forrest Gump. But if your working so hard on getting your film done, don't you want to be ready for distribution?

    Preparation gives you room to mess up, play around, get inspired to take a risk. Do you want to be worried that you're running out of time? Not shoot the coverage that you need. Settling for a not so great shot 'cause you're about to get kicked out of a location?

    Preparation is even more important when you have a small budget. Not everything can be fixed in post. I don't care what anyone says.

    8. I will never know everything. I don't have to, I have an iPhone. There are many people who to love to share what they know and want to help. Sometimes you need to swallow your pride and just admit you don't know.

    9. I don't have to do everything either. I used to try to do so much own my own. Show that I was willing to the gritty work. What happened is that sometimes I would drop the ball on something that was my job to do. So awkward! I have learned not only to delegate but also to use my time wisely.

    10. Don't get bitter, don't hate, don't blame. Not worth your time or energy. Figure what went wrong and now you know for the next time.

    There's more but this is already long winded.

    Thanks!