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10 DIY Production Tips That Will Save Your Ass

10 DIY Production Tips That Will Save Your Ass

Here are 10 tips, tricks and ideas to consider when setting out to make your own personal DIY cinema. Consider these options to shoot your best Cinema 2.0 film.

READ MORE: Essential Tips for Micro-Budget Features

1. Shot list everything. Storyboards don’t help most microbudget productions.

Shot lists are an easier and more adaptable way to work in smaller microcinema productions. You run the risk of trying to shoot the storyboards only once you have pretty pictures to obsess over and you must learn to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, opportunities and even locations. Don’t limit yourself. Keep a running total and check them off as you go. Use an app like Shotlister to keep on track. Go here to find out how to use this smartphone powerhouse. 

2. Create set-ups list based on shots.

There’s a lot of confusion between filmmakers on this one. Every time you move the camera, you have a new set-up – but you may use several shots from the same camera position in the edit just by changing the lens or the edit structure (eg. getting two shots from one set up in a dialogue scene between two people, each person gets a close-up and usually a tighter lens for emphasis. They will be used four times minimum with only two set ups). Microcinema requires you work quickly. Twenty set-ups a day is a good number to hit. Do more if possible. You’ll thank me.

3. Look at your time allocations for each day.

Watch the clock like a hawk and time out your day to the minute. Use your scheduling software to estimate times to shoot each scene and publish this on your daily call sheet and production paperwork. Nothing like a public statement to keep you on time. Have a good 1st AD if you can get one. An Assistant Director can make your set run smoothly and organize all of the various departments – but if you can’t get one, you have to learn how to schedule the day accordingly.

READ MORE: Attention, Filmmakers: Essential DIY Filmmaking Tips

4. Use a shot numbering system for your slate and stick with it.

I prefer Scene Number and then an Alpha Numeric Code on the slate (plus Take number) for each set-up within a scene (e.g. Sc. 34, Take 1, Sc. 34, Apple, Take 1, Sc. 34 Baker, Take 1 and so on. Again, film production software helps you create a shooting script and the onset camera/continuity department (often one person on our micro productions) keeps us honest – and does the slate as well. Avoid following an edit order and number your set-ups based on your advance breakdowns and pre-planning. Prior preparation prevents poor performance.

5. Avoid dolly and crane shots (unless you have time).

Camera sliders and doorway dollies are used on my productions as we often have very little time for more elaborate crane shots. Not that they cannot be done, you just have to plan for them.

6. Pan, zoom, handheld and sticks are cool.

Please have a motivation for your camera action or movement. Avoid chasing actors in search of coverage. Block and plan in advance using paper and careful consideration before you get to set. Shoot the film in your mind and get it out on paper however you can. Share this plan with others. Don’t keep everyone guessing. Be open to changes based on time, weather and equipment malfunction. Be open to suggestions in advance from your camera operator if you have one.

7. Rehearse and revise often.

Before you begin spend time with the actors blocking, staging and reading the material aloud. Get into performance and character study. Have drinks discussing their stories and character flaws. With no clock ticking on non-union talent, schedule rehearsals as often as your cast and you can to build your relationships before you hit the floor. It will pay off huge dividends.

READ MORE: 7 Best Apps for Filmmakers: Pre-Production

8. Pay what you can to cast and crew.

Take care of gas, buy them a coffee, spring for a communal pack of cigarettes, take care of tolls, pay for parking – be a mensch and make sure that all know you appreciate their help. We are our deeds – and they way we treat others makes a huge difference. Practice gratefulness.

9. Have production meetings to discuss your intentions.

I like having casual cast and crew get-togethers before we shoot. Nothing like a communal dinner, a slideshow or themed screening to acquaint everyone with your goals, ideas and influences. Spend time answering casual and detailed questions and have parting gifts of updated scripts, paperwork and illustrations of your influences and film designs if available. Take pictures of everyone, allow your actors to post about the event on social media and tell the world you are getting started

10. Rehearse cast as required (and get to know them).

Book time to work with pairs and groups of actors as possible. Spend time examining the text, making discoveries about characters and just hanging out. Arrange for a full read-through of the material before you begin just to hear the words. It’s a nice icebreaker and helps keep everyone focused on the tasks soon at hand. The more you know the cast, the easier it is to communicate your intentions. Rehearsals in advance equal success when shooting.

Shooting DIY Cinema means working smart AND hard. You have to take advantage of what you don’t have – and stop whining about the latest gear, big-budget or trust fund movie your friend worked on. You wanna make your own cinema? #PrepRight. #DoTheMath. #AdvanceToGo.

Julian Grant is an award-winning filmmaker and tenured professor at Columbia College Chicago. Over the last 20 years he’s created motion picture, television and independent feature films for a variety of distributors. Now, Julian’s actively teaching and lecturing about micro-cinema, DIY filmmaking and is available for consultation and lecture opportunities. This post was original published on the Raindance blog and has been republished here with permission.

READ MORE: Why You Should Make a DIY Film That Matters

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