How to Build a Crew for a No-Budget Short

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You want to make a short film, so, you text a few friends and ask for their help. Then, you reach out to others in your network to see who might be interested and slowly start to build your team.

But did you know that HOW you go about building your cast and crew will have either a positive or negative impact on the overall production experience AND the final film?

It’s true.

Let’s say that when you first contact people you simply ask, “Hey, want to help me make a film?” and they say “Yes.” Then you approach 10-20 more people with the same pitch and they all say “Yes.” At this point you’re feeling pretty good. You have enough hands on set to help out with everything you’ll need during production.

Except…

When everyone arrives on set for the first day of filming no one is EXACTLY sure what they’re supposed to be doing, what they were supposed to bring, who they’re supposed to be helping, and what their essential function is. You have enough people on set to get the job done, but confusion reigns because specifics are unclear. This can affect morale, slow the shoot down, and ultimately compromise the production quality of the final film.

Now, imagine you build your volunteer crew another way? Instead of asking, “Do you want to help?” say this, “I’m producing a short film and we really need someone who can oversee continuity. Can you do that for us?”

ASSIGN POSITIONS

Give EVERYONE a specific job to do, so he/she will know exactly what to prepare for, what to bring, and what to do while on set.

HOLD MEETINGS

The number of pre-production meetings you schedule should be in direct proportion to the scope and complexity of the shoot. You don’t need to meet every single day (Remember, these are people volunteering for your film, so be respectful of their time), but you do need to meet to review on going action items and to ensure every one is on the same page. For my latest short film Hangry, I met with my crew four times prior to the shoot.

PROVIDE A SHOT LIST AND PRODUCTION SCHEDULE

The crew likes to know what’s going on so they have an idea of what they’re working toward and what needs to be accomplished each day. Take the time to make a shot list and production schedule and distribute both to your crew.

SCOUT

Set aside time for a tech scout with your key department heads. This will give them the opportunity to see the space and ask any logistical questions pertinent to the shoot, like where to load in and store gear, what’s allowed/not allowed while in the space, where will all departments set up, etc?

Just because you may be working on a no-budget short doesn’t mean that the set can’t be (or shouldn’t be) professional. Everyone’s experience while on set will be much more positive if you go about preparing the right way.

Have any thoughts to add? Leave them in the Comments.

Casting Call For Short Film 'Hangry'

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Right now I’m in pre-production on a new short film that I’ll be directing for The Memphis Film Prize. Hangry is a comedy about one elderly man’s attempt to right a lunchtime wrong. The shoot is scheduled for May 4-5 in Collierville, TN. In addition to an actor to play the main role of The Reverend, I will need extras to portray staff and residents of the nursing home location. If you would like to participate, please use the sign up link below or send an email to hangrymovie@gmail.com.

7 Keys to Running a Professional Film Set

Thomas Edison once said, "I never did a day's work in my life. It was all fun."

This is the way I feel about film production. It takes an incredible amount of time, work, commitment, and perseverance, even for a short film (I've already worked about 18 months on my current short film Big and Tall). Despite that, I take great joy in the process. And I want those who work with me to have that same kind of joy. That's why I'm a firm believer in having fun while on set. Steve Jobs once said, "The only way to do great work is to love what you do." After all, if you can't enjoy yourself while working on a film, why do it in the first place?

However, I also believe in maintaining a professional set, especially on a low/no budget short. Why? Because most of the time the cast and crew are working for free. A set that runs smoothly and efficiently shows that the director respects everyone's time. People will be less likely to work for a director whose sets are chaotic and disorganized; sets where everyone is sitting around and no one is really sure of what's going on.

So, if you are currently working on a low/no budget short film, here are a few tips on how to run a professional set:

  1. Establish clear roles for your crew. Give everyone a specific job on set and make sure they understand what you need them to do. Do your best to avoid situations in which crew members have to wear several different hats. Not only will this slow down your shooting day, but it also means that details are likely to be overlooked and that your crew will be completely burned out by the end.
  2. Let everyone know what's expected of them. Take the time at some point during pre-production to let your entire cast and crew know what your approach is to directing. Let them know what you expect them to do while on set. Every director is different and your cast and crew will appreciate you taking the time to make everything clear for them.
  3. Create and distribute a production schedule and shot list. You don't have to draw storyboards (although they are extremely helpful), but you do need to write out a shot list for every camera set up you need during your shooting day. Then, send this list out to the cast and crew (especially your 1st AD, cinematographer, and producer). Here's a resource to help you create and organize your shot list, if you need it. This will keep your cast and crew informed and will give them clear goals for the day.
  4. Write up call sheets for every day of the shoot. Your production schedule will give everyone a general overview of the entire shoot, but daily call sheets provide more detailed information about the day ahead - weather, specific call times, location addresses, etc.
  5. Maintain constant communication. Set up a secret Facebook group for your cast and crew. Or use a team communication tool like Slack. Throughout pre-production and production, post scripts, shot lists, announcements, photos from your location scout... everything. The more you keep your cast and crew informed, the more excited they'll be for your project and the more invested they'll feel. Also set up regular face-to-face meetings where you can bounce ideas around, receive feedback, and address concerns and questions.
  6. Treat everyone as a valuable asset to the production. Take the time to compliment everyone for their time and effort. Thank them for their dedication. Tell them how important they are to the overall success of the film.
  7. Feed them. I saved the most important one for last. Never, ever let your cast and crew go hungry.

What other tips do you have for running a professional film set. Leave them in the Comments section below.

Recommended App for Film Scheduling

Image courtesy of  IndieWhip

Image courtesy of IndieWhip

I'm currently in pre-production on my next short film project Big and TallWe are scheduled to shoot later this month and I just finished the shot list and production schedule using the ShotLister app.

I don't know how many of you currently use, or have used this app, but I encourage you to take a look you haven't had the chance yet. I found it incredibly easy to use.

From the welcome screen, you can create a new project.

Once the project is created, you can start adding scenes, specifying the location, whether the scene is interior or exterior, the page of the script on which the scene takes place, how long the scene is, and which cast members are needed.

After the scene is created, you can then add specific shots within each scene, specifying which camera will be used (on a multicam shoot), the focal length, the gear needed (sticks, steadicam, dolly, etc.), which lens will be used, and any other notes you need to add.

When you are finished adding your shots, you can arrange them for your shooting day. Just tap and hold on each shot and drag it to reorder it.

Once all of your shots are ordered, tab over to the Shoot Day section and start adding individual scenes into your shooting day.

You can then specify how long each shot will take, add in time for set-ups, lunch, company moves, etc. You can also set your call time, sunrise/sunset times, and your wrap time. 

When you have added all your scenes into the shooting day, ShotLister will automatically tally the number of pages, shots, and camera setups you have scheduled for the day.

ShotLister is available for iOS and Android and costs $13.99. You can also purchase a Pro membership, which unlocks additional features, like the ability to import storyboards to your shot list.

What has your experience with ShotLister been like? Do you have any other app recommendations for filmmakers? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.