With the premiere of his self-funded, micro-budget feature-length comedy fast approaching, American ex-pat and director of The Stagg Do, James DeMarco, considers the pros and cons of making an indie comedy with no money. Enjoy! Click HERE for tickets for the world premiere of the movie TOMORROW (26/06/14) or click on the pic below.
To make it or not to make it? That is the question? The only question. It’s as simple as that. Either continue to wait for that elusive investment to arrive or to find a way to make the freakin’ thing. We just got tired of waiting.
And now, nearly three years since principle photography, I’m left to reflect on what was at times an arduous, unforgiving and nightmarish endeavor which left me humbled and heavily in debt. I sincerely hope that my experience may benefit other filmmakers who may be contemplating a similar DIY strategy.
In no particular order, here are TEN of the many lessons I’ve learned from The Stagg Do.
1. ALWAYS CHECK CVS AND REFERENCES – we’re living in the amazing time of the internet and social networks where you have access to almost anything, including like-minded aspirants who are more than willing to go out of their way to help you. This is a great thing. But it also has a downside. You never really know the person you’re dealing with via Twitter. So before you invite them to join your team, take a few minutes to check their references. Phone previous employers. Find out how they perform under pressure, because on a micro-budget film those are the conditions that everybody will be working under. Check references. We didn’t. And it cost us dearly. MORE: 10 Reasons Writers Should Put Down Their Pens & Pick Up A Camera By Adriel Leff
2. YOU DON’T REALLY NEED A LARGE CREW – less is more when it comes to a micro-budget shoot. And if you can source crew members who can multi-task, all the better. You will work more quickly and efficiently using less crew – and it will also reduce your overhead. The important thing is to hire the best people possible, especially in key crew positions, e.g., DP, AD, sound recordist and a PMD (if possible). MORE: 10 Most Profitable Low Budget Movies of All Time
3. HIRE RUNNERS WHO CAN DRIVE (if possible). Beggars can’t be choosy, but none of our runners had cars or drivers licenses, so often the producer was forced to leave the set for various errands. Not the ideal situation, especially when some of the visiting crew are pondering a mutiny. MORE: The Writer Is King (Or Queen) … IF You’re In Ultra-Low-Budget Film
4. AVOID SHOOTING IN THE BOONDOCKS AT NIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF SUMMER – the UK summers are great, but for a night shoot, not so much. Besides having to endure the normal vagaries of North East weather, we wound up with about five hours of darkness each night in which to shoot. Night shoot. In a field. In English summer. Stupid idea. MORE: 5 Weird Things We’ve Done To “Kickstart” Our Film Off The Page by Tim Clague
5. THE SCRIPT SUPERVISOR IS IMPORTANT TO YOUR SHOOT – enough said. MORE: 10 Ways To Scupper That Micro Budget Film by Matt White
6. SCHEDULE YOUR SHOOT IN PHASES – our initial shoot was 8 days (ludicrous, I know) with the knowledge that we would be shooting other scenes, sequences, pick ups and possible reshoots a few months down the road. By operating in this manner, we were able to pick up scenes that we hadn’t had time to shoot, as well as reshoot a key scene that we had cocked up on principal photography, while also adding a new set piece which the editor, producer and I came up with in the edit. As it so happens, it’s my favourite scene in the entire film. MORE: 10 Routes To Finance Your Movie, from @Raindance
7. REHEARSAL TIME IS IMPERATIVE – this probably goes without saying, but in no-budget reality you probably won’t have the money to afford the amount of rehearsal time you’ll need. Knowing that I’d have limited time to work with the actors before the shoot, the producer, AD and I decided to reserve a couple of hours for rehearsal each day before the shoot. For the most part this plan was successful, but none of us could’ve anticipated that one of the leads, a non-actor, would show up on set without having read the script. Yes, that really did happen. MORE: 5 Reasons Why Compromising Can Lead To Creativity As A Writer by Lance Nielsen
8. BEWARE OF CLIQUES – Disgruntled crew members can easily disrupt the morale of a shoot (see lesson number one). With three other productions filming in the North East simultaneously, experienced crew were a rare commodity, forcing us to look out of the region or abandon the shoot. Using Twitter, we were able to source HOD production roles that really saved our skin. On the downside, we had created two factions: our local, inexperienced crew, and the out-of-town, more experienced crew, which led to minor conflicts which at times undermined the production. MORE: 5 Tips On Making Your Crowd Funding Campaign Stand Out
9. NEVER RELY ON CAST MEMBERS TO SUPPY YOU WITH IMPORTANT PROPS – to be more specific, a car – the actor’s car which we had scheduled to use for a green screen shoot on the first day of principle photography was commandeered by his wife to go shopping, forcing us to completely reschedule our shoot. MORE: Money Talks: All About Film Budgets
10. AND FINALLY, TRY TO HAVE FUN! – remember that no matter what you do, there will always be some people, they may even be working on your film, who will secretly hope that you fail. But before you pull all the hair out of your head trying to understand this curious and illogical behaviour, it’s probably wise to remember the old saying: what other people think about you is none of your business. MORE: How To Write Your Script To A Microbudget And Not Make It Look Microbudget On Screen by Ross Aitken
So we made a feature film. Was it worth it? Yes. If I had the chance to do it all again, knowing what I now know, would I still do it? Probably not. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind and seize the moment. In these days of affordable equipment, social networks and the internet, there’s really no reason why anyone can’t write, shoot, edit and distribute his/her own film. Stop waiting around – you’re a filmmaker – go and make a bloody film!