So you want to make an independent movie? For any film where money and resources are limited (i.e. all of them) prep work is essential. How do you get started on pre-production? Well, assuming you have a polished script and financing in place, the first thing you'll need is a pre-production checklist. I've pared this list down to 10 essentials that will help ensure a successful production.
1. A BUDGET.
A budget is the backbone of your shoot, from start to finish. How much money do you have to make your film? Where is that money going to be spent? This will dictate yourproduction approach. If you have $10,000, then you and your friends are the crew (and probably also the actors). If you have $50,000, then you get a few more toys. If you have around $200,000, you're most likely dealing with SAG. If you get up into the millions, you can really start having some fun!
Do your homework on how much things cost.. Money probably isn't going to magically appear, so if you run out before reaching post-production, you'll be in trouble. Things alwayschange once you get into the shoot, with some items costing more than budgeted and some less. Regardless, try to have a plan and stick to it as much as possible. The best wayto approach your budget is to start at the end: Delivery. What do you need to deliver your film?
2. A DISTRIBUTION DELIVERABLES LIST.
Check out examples of deliverables lists for theatrical, domestic video and foreign distribution. If you think having a cut of your film on a DVD is is all you need, you'll be surprised when the distributor can't sell it because the package isn't complete. Even the smallest distribution deals may require that you provide an HD master, quality control reports, closed captioning, errors and omissions insurance, a copyright, title report, script report, audio deliverables, music cue sheet, approved stills, EPK interviews and more. If you're not prepared for this, you've most likely spent all of your money by the time you get to this point.
So how do you get a distribution deliverables list? Best way is to get one from…
3. A LAWYER.
Your lawyer will be with you from the beginning to the end. Find a lawyer who has production experience, fits your budget and is someone you get along with because you will betalking to this person a lot. Your lawyer works with you on the financing structure, the back end points breakdown, talent agreements, crew deal memos, location releases, crowdreleases, artwork releases, the sale of the film, etc.
Sometimes a lawyer can even act as a sales rep for the film. If your lawyer doesn't do that, then that is someone else you should add to…
4. YOUR TEAM.
Your sales rep is an integral part of your team and recommend bringing someone on as early as possible. After all, what's the point of making a film if you can't sell it? But you can wait until you have a cut of the film before you approach reps. First and foremost, you want to bring on the staff that will need the most prep time. Then this staff will help you crew up accordingly. For pre-production, there are two very important groups you need: your department heads and your production staff.
Department heads include the director, director of photography, casting director, production designer, costume designer, editor, gaffer, key grip, key hair, key make-up, and transportation coordinator. Production staff includes the line producer, production manager, production supervisor, production coordinator, first AD, location manager, script supervisor, and accountant.
Your team will help you put together creative direction, rental quotes, locations, schedules, breakdowns, etc. This team will help you do your homework to make sure that you are spending money on the screen, where it belongs. The more time you give them, the more options you will have available.
Even if they seem intimidating, it's very helpful to get to know your union representatives. Think of them as part of the team and not something you have to deal with. They really do want to help you make a successful film so you can keep making more. Keep them in the loop as much as possible to help you avoid potential problems down the road.
Ultimately, your job is to help facilitate communication between everyone involved with the film. The best way to do that is with…
5. A WEBSITE.
I’m not talking about a final, polished website you use to promote the movie. I'm talking about a pre-production website that is password-protected for crew to use as a virtual production hub. You can throw one together on iWeb or any website template program. This will allow department heads to have access to a crew contact list, location photos, thelatest draft of script, the shooting schedule, equipment rental house contacts, visual references from the director, color palettes, music references, etc.—whatever resources that helpdepartment heads do their jobs.
A virtual workplace is one thing, but everyone will need a physical place to be able to do their jobs, so you’ll also need…
6. AN OFFICE WITH A COPIER.
It may seem like a given, but not always. Think about where you and your team will operate from and don't forget to have a good copier because you're going to need it!
A workplace for prep is important, but think ahead to how departments will function during the shoot. Can you afford trailers? Will the wardrobe department load in and out every day at a new location? How much time will that cost? What I found is that if you spend a little more on a combo trailer with space for departments to work from, you will save time, money and headaches during the shoot.
As you explore production options and collect competitive bids, make sure you meet deadlines on…7. SCHEDULE(S).
Along with your budget, this is a large part of the foundation for the shoot. You need a schedule for prep that includes production meetings, casting sessions, tech scouts, rehearsals, fittings, camera tests, hair and make-up tests, etc.
Then of course you need the shoot schedule— the ever-changing strip board! You and the team will go through all the restrictions, budget concerns, talent schedules, department recommendations, and various notes that will affect the shoot schedule. Work with your assistant director to help make the strips as detailed as possible so you will have accuratereports.
The last schedule to put together during prep is the post-production schedule. Post-production begins as soon as you start processing footage, whether it's film processing or converting HD files into a format for editing. Creating a post-production schedule will not only help set deadlnes for finishing the film, it will facilitate the workflow between set and the editor.
Now you have all these things for the shoot so far, but how are you going to pay for them?
8. A SYSTEM FOR FINANCIALS.
Both big and small shoots should have a payment system. Usually it's a purchase order system overseen by the accountant. What if you don't have an accountant? Who handlesinvoices? How is the crew being paid? Are you using an outside payroll company? What is the cash flow arrangement? These are very important decisions that should be made very early on so your shoot can run smoothly. A crew is much more willing to show up the next day if their paychecks arrive on time!
Make sure to protect everyone and everything involved with the shoot. Make sure you have...
First, you need insurance because it is required for equipment rentals, locations and general liability. But you'll be glad you have it! On a feature film shoot, you will most likely have to deal with an insurance claim. A scratched lens, damage to a truck, an injury on set, something stolen, footage damaged, etc. Get bids from different insurance companies for competitive rates and get to know your broker. This person will make your life easier because he or she can help with special endorsements, specific wording and any other insurance related needs.
Once you prep as best you can, the production will take on a life of its own. As a producer, you make sure everything runs smoothly.
10. LAST ON YOUR LIST ,BUT NOT LEAST… MAKE SURE TO HAVE A DAMN GOOD ATTITUDE!
Trust me, it trickles down and helps with morale when things get tough. Plus, if you have a good attitude, you'll approach problems more diplomatically, hire people with good attitudes themselves, and create a better work environment for everyone. Here's the thing: Why not have a good attitude? Making a movie is a dream come true.
This article originally appeared in MovieMaker Magazine’s Complete Guide to Making Movies, 2011.