Preproduction: How to Make Sure You're Ready Before You Walk on the Set

By , posted 18 September 2010

In the world of independent filmmaking, it's easy to assume that more money can make any problem go away. But most filmmakers - independent or mainstream - will readily admit that nothing derails a project faster than being unprepared before the production begins.

It's tempting to think that the $20,000 budget that you've scraped together through loans, personal savings and credit cards - and possibly an illegal act here or there - will trump readiness. It's not true. So many films don't get made because of poor planning, or just assuming that you can make it up as you go. Granted, it's much easier to shoot now with digital as opposed to film, but it should be fairly obvious that you can't just turn on the camera and film until the battery dies. Because the work that you've put in during pre-production will help in post, when you're editing, looping sound, or trying to figure out how the boom ended up in all of those shots.

Who's Working on Your Film?

Are they dependable? Fellow film students are one thing, but if you've got money in a production, you're going to need to have a reliable crew, a crew schedule, and stick to it. And your shooting script and shot sheet should be accurate and up to date and readily available to those who need it. It's also wise to have people that you can collaborate with and who will give you an honest opinion. Many independent filmmakers have a singular vision when they're writing and getting ready to shoot their movie and they may not readily accept different ideas.

Things change, of course, but being as professional as possible will make things go much more smoothly. And if you're not paying the cast and crew, it's still a cardinal rule to feed everybody.

One thing that Josh Banville, who completed the documentary "A Life Taken," found out was to not include names of people who didn't actually participate on his film. In an effort to make his film seem less like a one man production (which it was), Banville gave his father (who did loan him money for a computer) credit as a producer. The film told the story of how a Boston man was wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to prison, and eventually the city subpoenaed Banville's rough cut and hard drives because Shawn Drumgold, the subject of the documentary, filed a lawsuit. They also served a subpoena to his father.

"I had to explain to them that he was in fact not a producer," Banville said.


A lot of independent films suffer because they look like independent films. They use limited locations, and the ones they use always somehow end up being familiar looking apartments or abandoned industrial sites. Guerilla filmmaking can be fun and interesting-- provided that's the look you're going for. But you might not want to put that cop that happens to be chasing you in your movie, just because he wound up in the frame.

Rocky Yost, a longtime independent filmmaker, has gotten the most out of limited funds while using multiple locations.

"So many low budget films, are 80%, 90% three rooms," he said. "If you go out every once in a while and get an exterior... Everybody asked me, 'how in the hell did you do all that (have multiple locations, and a courthouse for the climactic scene of his film, "Lilly's Thorn,") and what did it cost you?' I made a $200 donation to the courthouse." The key is, if you have a serious production, many cities or towns will work with you. Contact your state's film office to get pointed in the right direction.

A key to not wearing out your welcome while on location, Yost says, is to "not run into their house forty times with the crew; do not wear them out with bathroom trips." He says to always bring your own Porta-John.

Read the rest of this article at Film Slate Magazine.

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