Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Okay no more reflective crap! Back to business. The nuts & bolts of making a sub basement budget film. The above picture is some of the cast clowning around. I think it should be a still from my next film called “Force Four from Philly”. I had heard that it was a good idea to have a still photographer on the set, and make no mistake it is, but since we had limited amount of people I did the next best thing. I made EVERYONE a photographer. My wife and I gave everybody some disposable cameras so when ever the mood hit them or they had some down time the cast and some of the crew could take some pictures. It worked out okay, and hence some interesting and silly moments were captured on film. I’ve used the pictures for the web site, and newsletters that I’d send out to the cast & crew on the progress of the film. It’s not a bad idea, but if you can get a pro photographer so he or she can take some nice publicity photos of the cast & crew I’d say do it.

A word about the budget of the film. I’m not giving you hard numbers because it would hurt me in the long run. If a distributor someday wants to handle the film why give them more ammo on how much NOT to pay me because the film was done for X amount of dollars. Let’s just say that it was well under a million, and leave it at that. To get the film in the can as they say I had to pay for the film stock up front. Kodak only wants plastic or cash, and there’s no getting around that. Some of the actors were paid through the payroll company which took care of all the details such as taking out such things as disability, FICA, and other SAG requirements. If you go the SAG route I highly recommend doing this. There are a lot of details that you could get confused with, and it’s better for a payroll company to do it then you. After all you have a movie to produce, and accounting is not one of my strongest skills. The rest of the crew were paid as freelancers. This also entailed some paperwork, but my accountant took care of that after we were done. Yes it is a good idea to have an accountant. You cannot do everything, and since both I and my wife were busy doing other things it is necessary to seek out these people to help you. You can see now how the money flows before a single frame is even shot.

After filming was completed I had to deal with the lab, and since I was editing on film I got away cheaper. Yes I said cheaper because no matter what you think putting film to tape and then laying back the dialog track to tape is expensive. I did not have access to a digital work station and remember this was before Final Cut, and Avid Express, so film editing was the route I took. I purchased a used 6 plate editing deck, and started cutting. You can see why it took awhile to get everything done, but in the end editing on film helped me, and it saved me money. Later I would meet Tom Agnello from Agnello films, and if I had known about him sooner I would have saved much more. Tom is old school, yet he knows his shit. As he was doing my sound mixing Tom and I would discuss the expense of making a film, and since Tom has his own equipment he can produce more for less. I highly suggest filmmakers seek out Tom’s help, and services. He will not steer you wrong, and the guy is a masterful craftsman. How did I find him? Through AIVF. He had a want ad in the back, and so I shot him an email, and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Oh! Come on shoot on film, edit on film, and it’s cheaper? You’re pulling my leg right? I mean come on film costs a mint, and who mixes with their work print anymore. Don’t they do that all in video now? Yes they do, but you’ll find smaller houses that still do it the old way. It’s tried, tested and it works, most post houses have moved to the video and digital arena, but ten to one they still have the old equipment. This probably will change as the years go by, and hard disk space becomes cheaper and cheaper. Don’t get me wrong working with DV is the way to go now, but if you have money to shoot in film do it, and then transfer the film to tape and or digital. Non-linear editors are everywhere and are cheap. I’ve seen some awesome productions that were done in DV, but if you dream of shooting in film all I have to say is storyboard, make a shot list, and keep the film ratio low. It is possible to shoot as low as three or two to one, but the lower you go the fewer mistakes you better make. Keep it simple boys and girls. Don’t have too many locations in your script, and don’t have a cast of thousands, and yes get a DP to help you shoot you’re opus. Oh! And one more thing and that is to rehearse your actors. Do a lot of run throughs and you’ll do all right. Okay I’ll stop preaching about the virtues of film. I promise.

I piled a lot of work on myself after the production that usually others take care of. Syncing up dailies, logging footage, and shooting inserts were all things I had to do, and that’s why it took as long as it took. Why subject myself to all this? Well one I had no choice. Money was tight, and the second reason was that I believe in order to be a GOOD filmmaker you should at least do it yourself once in your career. That’s why I love filmmakers like Lucas, Kubrick or Lynch. These filmmakers knew the mechanics of filmmaking. They rolled up their sleeves and did the grunt work, and you have to respect that. Also I like doing the grunt work. It’s kind of a Zen thing with me. Richard Linkletter is that type of filmmaker. When I saw Slacker I was impressed at his depth and knowledge of filmmaking. Call it a baptism by fire, or a sort of gauntlet, but the technical stuff in filmmaking is what makes or breaks a filmmaker. Snobbish you say? Maybe, but I really like a person who can create something from nothing, and that’s what filmmaking is. Sure you can pay people to do the mundane, but it won’t make you a better filmmaker. It’s all part of the process in making YOUR film. Who else is going to spend hours laying down “footsteps” in you sound effects track, so you can get the right “feel” for a scene? It’s you, and I guess that’s where my stubbornness comes from.

To this date I think I can re-work some of the film, and make it a bit better, but I’ve learned what I’ve learned, and I’ve moved on. I just wish I could do more films quicker. Maybe with DV I can, but the next time I do a film it’ll be done a lot faster and cheaper. By making the first film the way I did I learned invaluable lessons, which later I’ll be able to use on my other features. A stepping stone of sorts, but one that needed to be taken.

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