9 Lessons for Beginning Filmmakers
These are some of the lessons that I have learnt on being the set and some I learnt from my students. When you are on various film sets, observe and learn from other crew members how they navigate on the set. You can learn a lot from yours and others mistakes but don’t forget to tweak it the next day. These rules apply to beginning filmmakers and professional filmmakers.
Provide good food and on time
This is extremely important that the crew has healthy, clean food and water is available for all on the set on time. Stick to a filling, healthy breakfast and lunch with 4 hours in-between the meals. Cutting corners with food is not a good idea. I had worked on a difficult outdoor location on my second film set where the weather was hot and humid. Kraft services did not have electrolytes to replenish the crew. A lot of the crew members fell sick. Other crew-members had to do overtime and change roles. This was not a happy crew. Remember your crew should have access to water all times. A filling healthy food will make a happy crew.
Filming on location is brutal
If you are shooting outdoors the production crew needs to pay more attention to weather. It is very hard when there is huge temperature dips between the day and the night. Please do enough research on weather patters and the how the locals handle weather. We had to night shoots at the beach and it got chilly in the night and it was not fun for a lot of us. List on the call sheet extra clothing, insect sprays, boots etc that might be required for a specific location. Check the weather and the location safety in advance. There is strong chain of Command
On professional sets there is a strong chain of command. In the assistant directors department listen to the 1st AD, in the camera department listen to the DP. I cannot stress enough that it can be rough on your first film but as long as you are ready to listen and be humble it will work out fine.
Do not schedule over 12 hour days
If it is a short film and shooting over 3 days this can be managed maybe (but not recommended) but if it is a feature film and spread over few weeks this can be very difficult for the crew. Remember some people jobs are very physical and they need the rest. This rule applies for both professional and new filmmakers. A crabby, overworked crew is a terrible idea.
You cannot Replace a bad Script
Remember Script is everything! It does not matter how much money you have but if you have bad script moral of the crew members start to sink. Spend effort and time on a good script. Get good opinions and hone down on a good story!
Prep, Prep and Prep before production starts
Spend at-least good 5 to 6 months on pre production ( for a feature film), get detailed storyboards, get detailed shot list , getting locations and camera tests and work on casting . This will be time well spent and you will save a lot of money. For a short film I would suggest 7-8 weeks minimum not including the script.
Expect to Learn!! and you will on the Job
Nobody knows how to do things the first time till they start doing it. Listen , observe and pre-empt. Like any other job you will realize the structure that each department has and what you are expected to do. You will figure out as it goes. Trial and error and fine-tune. I was a 3rd Ad on features, as I got better at what I was doing I could pre-empt. I would go ahead and get the actors in position or tell them the scene and talk to them while everybody is tweaking props or lights on the set.
Good Audio is essential
Take the time to get good audio. Do not leave everything for post-production. You do not want to waste hours of your time trying to get clean audio in post- production and call back actors to deliver their lines again. I have seen this especially on student film sets they would always say ‘‘lets take of it in the post’’ – and this is bad news. Most of the time the films had to be reshot. Audio is serious work and you need to take the time to get it right during production .
Let every scene go 30 seconds longer
Don’t say cut as soon as the actor is done saying their lines. Sometimes, Indie films are on micro budgets and you have long scenes and you do not have the luxury of retaking scenes over and over again. Let the camera run 30 seconds or longer past the scripted words. This will give you some magical moments.