How We Made (And Sold) A Feature Film — While In Film School

Joshua Barclay (Associate producer/script supervisor/grip)

On the first of January 2014, a group of know-nothing film students from the School of Visual Arts (SVA) drove a 15-passenger van into a small New England town during a blizzard featuring sub-zero temperatures. The goal: shoot a feature film in 12 days . . . and sell it to a major television network.

I was one of those know-nothing film students, and, 18 months later, I’m happy to report that we achieved the goal. We sold our movie to a major television network!

We were responsible for every facet of the production process. From producing to casting to raising money to shooting to post-production to sales, we, mere film students, were tasked with it all.

This post is to help you — film students and amateur filmmakers — be truly independent. I’m here to tell you that you can, despite what anyone says, make and sell your own movies. This is for anyone that truly loves filmmaking and wants nothing more than to make it into a financially viable career path. This is for anyone that doesn’t want to graduate to the title of barista, server, or retail specialist.

This is the story of A Fatal Obsession, and the story of how we did (what everyone said was) the impossible. While making this film, honestly, we messed up. We messed up a lot. We were almost shot (with a gun), run over by a train, and had to coax a retired police detective into giving us his cruiser for several shooting days. But our story, hopefully compelling and educational, should make you aware of how we did what we did, and teach you what to expect with your first feature film.

Let’s get cracking. After all, you’ve only got four years (maybe less) to make a name for yourself.

(This is part 1: Preproduction. I’ll be covering production and postproduction in later posts.)

Brian Perry (Sound Mixer), Anna Chiappetta (Boom Op)

WHY EVERY FILM STUDENT SHOULD MAKE AND SELL A MOVIE

There’s a particular question I hate more than any other. One you will hear over and over again throughout the entirety of your young life: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What’s with the whole waiting till you grow up thing? Does this mean you should be passive and inactive until you become an adult? I use this quote to highlight a stark reality: When you graduate from film school, nothing changes. That’s right. If anything, you acquire a soul-crushing amount of student debt and a piece of paper that gets less respect than Rodney Dangerfield (sorry for the dated reference, kids).

If you want to be a “professional” filmmaker, act like one. While at SVA, my editing professor, Kamil Dombrowski, would remind us constantly, “If you want to be a screenwriter, write. If you want to be an editor, edit. Just be that thing — by doing.”

It’s very hard to be taken seriously as a filmmaker, a profession deemed unrealistic by society. You have to prove all of the pessimistic, loud-mouthed doubters wrong. What better way to do that than by crafting a movie and selling it yourself?

My production company (a company I co-founded with James Camali and Ronnee Swenton), Out Of Shot, has done some amazing things over the course of the last several years. We sold a feature length script featuring comedian Nick Swardson, got hired to work on feature films, created music videos, and shot a commercial for a nationally recognized restaurant. And honestly (maybe you feel the same way), nobody really gave a shit. One of my favorite rappers is Notorious B.I.G. He has a song called “You’re nobody till somebody kills you.” A similar idea is true for Filmmaking: You’re nobody until somebody buys your film.

After we sold A Fatal Obsession, the credibility that had eluded my film comrades and I was finally in our grasp. We’re now able to meet face-to-face with producers and investors. What’s more, we’re not meeting them as “film students;” we’re meeting them as professional filmmakers whose company has a proven track record. The bottom line: We can, with full confidence, ask for money to make a movie . . . and get it. And you can expect the same success . . . if you make and sell a film.

(At the very least, making a feature film will teach you more about filmmaking than 100 years of film school.)

(From left to right: Ronnee Swenton, James Camali, Kevin Tewksbury, Joshua Barclay)

HOW DID WE GET THE IDEA TO MAKE A (LIFETIME) MOVIE?

During the beginning of my junior year at SVA, a highly-ambitious freshman contacted Ronnee, James, Kevin and me (Out Of Shot Films). His name was Richard Switzer (producer). He’d seen one of our short films and was impressed by the production quality. He went on to explain(what we thought was crazy at the time) his grand strategy: Make a low-budget movie, using mostly film students, and sell it to the Lifetime Channel. I asked Richard how he came up with the idea. “I saw an article about a low budget indie that sold to Lifetime. So I thought if I could get people like Tracy Nelson and Eric Roberts, actors that’ve starred in Lifetime movies, why wouldn’t Lifetime buy my movie?”

If you’re laughing right now, don’t worry, so was I. After growing up with a mother whose Sundays consisted of cleaning and watching Lifetime, I can tell you two things. First, the movies are cinematic clown shoes: exaggerated and ridiculous. Second, men, despite the buffet of domestic violence depicted in the stories, aren’t that bad.

Richard was way ahead of the game, whether he knew it or not. See, everyone in film school has the same goal: Get into Sundance. According to Indiewire, Sundance Receives around 9000 submissions a year. Out of those 9000, only 200 are chosen for exhibition (yikes). Rather than fight with a giant pack of filmmakers, Richard wanted to go around them.

Too many film students want to go from film school straight to the top of the industry. What they don’t realize is, by taking incremental steps, you’ll actually get to your goals much faster. My favorite author Shane Snow has an awesome quote about how to quickly ascend the ranks of your given profession: “You only need to be in office for one day to be a senator, and senator’s can run for president.”

By making and selling a Lifetime movie, something far easier than making the Sundance list, we would be positioning ourselves as “young professionals,” not “aspiring young professionals.” My last sliver of advice on this subject: Get in the building first. Then try to rule the world.

IT ALL STARTS WITH A STRATEGY

Richard Switzer (Producer)

There are some questions you need to ask yourself before making a movie: Who is your audience? Where does your audience consume content? What are the types of movies that your audience enjoys?

Richard, a film student whose attention to detail and awareness of market trends were surprisingly advanced for someone so young. Simply put, Richard analyzed every single movie Lifetime had bought from the 90s to the present. This analysis of Lifetime movies built the strategic foundation necessary to make this film more than a fanciful, teenage idea.

After his analysis, Richard discovered patterns in Lifetime’s movies. Usually, there’s an abusive, conniving, relentlessly evil husband who is the bane of a woman’s existence. This element was taken into account. The premise for our film, just as clown-shoes-y as the rest of Lifetime’s movies, revolves around a man whose jealousy and alcoholism leads him to an evening of domestic violence. His wife and daughter leave him. And in a far-fetched attempt to get back in their lives, he goes through a full-body, reconstructive surgery. Very creepy. Very Lifetime.

The next step in defining/satisfying your target audience, perhaps one of the most crucial in making a sale, is finding your lead actors. In our case, we needed to fill two leading roles. So, naturally, Richard looked through IMDB, at every actor and actress that had ever starred in a Lifetime movie. One name stood out like no other: Eric Roberts. Eric, now mostly known for being Julia Roberts’ brother, was nominated (long ago) for an Oscar, and, most importantly, has played the lead in many Lifetime movies. It was clear: Eric was our guy (how we acquired talent will be explained later). The very same tactic was used to find our female lead, the star of our film. After sifting through several actresses that had had lead roles in Lifetime movies, our choice was made. Tracy Nelson — a beautiful, talented, and warm women whom I’ve come to admire — was selected based on her appearance, age, robust experience as an actress, and, of course, her Lifetime experience.

At this point, we had our target destination for the movie, the Lifetime channel; the premise of our story; and two (possible) leading actors.The first phase of our strategy was in place. Now we had to raise the money.

Lorenz Gmek (Gaffer)

RAISING MONEY

How do you raise money? This question not only perplexes many film students, it down right frightens them. Don’t be scared, students. If you can write a script, set up lights, and work a camera, surely you can procure the funds necessary to finance your dream.

Remember the strategy Richard devised? That whole target audience spiel that I just gave you? Well, boys and girls, that’s how you get money for your movie.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: People want to invest in good ideas. I asked Geno Camali (Executive Producer; serial investor) about how you, film students, should approach raising money for a film: “It all begins with a mental approach, recognizing that, if you do have a great idea, you’re not creating an awkward, uncomfortable situation by asking someone for money to make it a reality. I’m always — emphasis on always — looking for great ideas to invest in.”

START WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY

Richard started pitching his idea to family, which led him to an independently wealthy family friend. Being prepared and having a strategy, Richard was able to quantify, in dollars, the financial success of previous Lifetime movies. They made large profits. And since our movie had all the elements associated with those financially viable Lifetime movies — the story, the feel, and cast — it’s only natural to presume that a replication of that success was highly likely.

Also, let’s face it, everyone wants to be in show business. When Richard explained to the investor, an older gentleman who’d made considerable money in real estate, that Eric Roberts and Tracy Nelson would be in the movie, he was all ears. The movie was real in the eyes of the investor; it had all the ingredients for success. It just needed a little push: an injection of some money. After some consideration by the investor, the answer was “yes.” Money was secured, but the movie was far from being completely financed.

One of the big reasons why you go to friends and family first, simply put, is because people outside your inner circle are more likely to invest only in something that already has momentum. Nobody wants to be the first one to commit to an idea. It feels too risky. With that being said, friends and family, those most likely to support you, should provide the money necessary to build momentum and alleviate the anxiety of the next investor you pitch your idea to.

And this is precisely how we raised our money. After Richard secured the first investor, we went to other investors, and when we approached those other investors and told them we already had a backer, they became territorial, wanting to be the sole investor instead of a partner. It sparked something like a bidding war; nobody wanted to be left out of this great movie idea. In their minds, it had to be great because it already had a financial backer. When all was said and done, we had ninety thousand dollars for our movie.

I know what you might be thinking: “My friends and family don’t have any money.” Well, luckily for you, there’s a solution to your dilemma.

CROWDFUNDING

Crowdfunding works. My Out Of Shot comrades and I raised ten thousand dollars on Indiegogo. In addition to that, I’ve been to Indiegogo’s office in SoHo, and I’ve even interviewed John Trigonis, Indiegogo’s film-campaign specialist. This interview should help you, covering everything you need to get started on your quest to raise money for your movie.

I asked John Trigonis what he thought film students should know about crowdfunding: “Crowdfunding has become such an integral part of the moviemaking process, not only for funding but for community building around a film, and in months and years to come, there won’t be a single indie darling produced without a little help from the audience that wants to see them brought to life, for them, and now by them.”

So, if you don’t have friends and family who can get the momentum started, look to the general public. They can give you the necessary push. They can also fund your entire movie (filmmakers are, right now, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars).

Tracy Nelson (Lead Actress) James Camali (Director)

CASTING

Eric Roberts and Tracy Nelson were both hired via phone. Richard called their respective agents (everyone’s contact info is available on IMDB) and made an offer. I won’t harp on this too much. Look, if you have the money, and a reasonable movie idea, there’s a good chance you can get who you want (within reason, of course).

Aside from our two leads, Eric Roberts and Tracy Nelson, we needed to cast for the entire film, a giant task when you have almost no money for actors. It was already October and shooting was scheduled to be only a few months away.

Luckily for us, Tracy Nelson had an insanely talented daughter, Remi Moses, who was willing to (coincidentally enough) play the role of Tracy’s daughter in the film. But we still had several large roles to fill.

OUR CASTING PROCESS

We lied to everyone. That’s right! Instead of holding an audition for a “student film,” we held an audition for a “Lifetime Original Movie.” I mean, hey, the movie was being made to sell to Lifetime. Close enough.

Billing our audition as a Lifetime movie proved to be a very good move. I held the audition, along with Richard, in a 5th- floor classroom at the School Of Visual Arts. People started arriving as early as 8 AM, which, having been through dozens of “film student” auditions, was unheard of.

All day long, actors came and went. It was late afternoon and the quality performers I’d expected still hadn’t walked through the door. Then I saw a face I recognized, that of a beautiful man named David Winning. I’d worked with David during a stint I had as an intern and knew he was very, very reliable, both as a performer and a professional. Then another familiar face waltzed in, Mike Digiacinto, a guy who played the lead in a short film I wrote a year earlier. Mike was shocked to see me; after all, this was a “Lifetime” audition. But after I told Mike the situation, he was on board. “I had already done a short film for James, Josh and Ronnee, so I was familiar with them creatively and knew they’d have a clear vision.”

After assessing the talent pool, it was decided. We were going to go with whom we knew, worked with in the past, and whose ability was tried and true. My advice to you, look to your past, at the actors and actresses you’ve already had a pleasure of working with. Those are the people to remember. Many of them, just like you, are dying to prove themselves to the world and will share your passion and vision.

Joshua Barclay (Associate Producer; grip; script supervisor; very white guy); David Winning (Actor)

HOW DO YOU CAST (IF YOU DON’T KNOW ANY GOOD ACTORS)?

You’ve never had any luck with actors in the past — what do you do?

SEE HOW ADAPTABLE THEY ARE

Any ol’ actor can memorize a monologue or read from a sheet of paper. Filmmakers tend to forget this. Which is why, all too often, actors that perform well in auditions fail to make an impression when the lights go up.

If a particular actor or actress stands out to you, give them a lengthy audition. Ask them to improvise a scene with you; if they’ve been seated, asked them to stand; see how well they can adapt to your demands. By doing this, you’ll get a better understanding of the performers’ limitations.

(Don’t discover their limitations on set.)

GET TO KNOW THEM PERSONALLY

Just like with your crew, you need to be able to trust your actors. You can watch an actor perform a thousand times and it won’t bring you any closer to knowing whether or not you can trust them. Spend time talking with your actors. Learn about their family, where they’re from, what their philosophy on life is — look into their soul. Knowing who your actor is as a person is a hell of a lot more telling than simply how well they read the Tennessee Williams monologue you handed them.

Is your actor willing to push themselves as hard as you, the filmmaker, to do whatever it takes to make a great movie? You better get to know them and find out.

ASK THEM TO INSULT YOU

One of most interesting things James and I have been doing after auditions is, right before the actors leave, we ask them to insult us. That’s right. We say, “Insult us. Hurt our feelings.” Most of the time, possibly out of fear of losing the job, actors become frozen, unsure how to respond to the question.

James and I ask this question for several reasons. First off, It takes actors out of their comfort zone, forcing them, under pressure, to confront us. Secondly, I wanna know how clever and perceptive the performer is. Are they aware of who and what is around them? How well? Lastly, I’m looking for actors that won’t bullshit me and tell me what I want to hear. I’m looking for someone that will crush me underneath a brunt of deep, brutal insults. There needs to be a way for me to gauge your honesty and what better way than asking for a personal insult.

WHERE WE SCREWED UP

As an unproven filmmaker, you are in no position to hand out favors. Several of our actors (you can see the performances in the movie) were given roles strictly because they knew someone. It hurt our film tremendously.

I get it, your buddy Tommy, the only guy that stood up for you in high school, wants more than anything to be an actor. Too bad. Cast every single role with people that deserve it. After you’ve made a name for yourself, cast your friend Tommy, but now’s not the time.

On our set, those that were cast out of a favor hurt the performances of those that deserved to be on there. There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a great actor whose performance is being compromised by a “favor” actor. It happened on our movie. Don’t let it happen on yours. Actors and actresses work extremely hard at their craft. It’s not fair to compromise their performance because of your shitty casting.

(From Left to Right: Ronnee Swenton (Producer/Director of Photography); Lorenz Gmek (Gaffer); Josh Hogan (Key Grip); Joe Pellegrino (Assistant Camera)

CREW

Your crew, your filmmaking brothers and sisters, are the lifeblood of your movie. When it’s freezing cold and your hands sting every time they make contact with a C-Stand, when you’re tired and your stomach is rumbling because the last thing you ate was a handful of cashews, that’s when fatigue, doubt, and fear starts to creep in. In those moments, you’ll look to your crewmates for the energy to press on. If you look around and see people willing to fight through pain and discomfort, you’ll do the same. And nobody displayed this will to fight more than Max Seiler (1st AD; human alarm clock). “Luckily we were young and ambitious. I’m certain that those 12 days shortened my lifespan by a couple of years.” Now, I don’t want to say that all of your crew members should be willing to shave years off their life, but they should be willing to do whatever it takes to finish the movie. And if that means less time on this planet . . .

I’m sure you’re wondering how we found passionate filmmakers like Max Seiler. The answer is quite simple: Look around you. You’re in film school.

The majority of our crew was handpicked from the School Of Visual Arts. We looked for two attributes: talent and trust. The former should be relatively easy to find. Everyone knows, after watching countless in-class projects, who the best kids are. But you can’t just hire your crew solely on talent alone. You need reliability you can trust. What good is talent if you’re an unreliable quitter? Low-budget features are an extremely grueling endeavor. They push you past your comfort zone, test your will, and force you to confront the limitations of body and mind. Max echoed this sentiment when recounting his on-set experience: “By the last 4 days, we still had roughly 60 scenes left to shoot. I gathered everyone and explained that, schedule-wise, we would just have to shoot until we were done, however long that may be. I addressed a scraggly group of stressed, barely conscious filmmakers who were on the brink of collapse, but also on the verge of pulling off the near-impossible.”

When assembling a crew, ask yourself a few questions. Is this person reliable? Pretty easy to figure out if you keep track of class attendance and whether or not they complete assignments completed in a timely fashion. And most importantly, are they passionate?

If you can manage to assemble a talented, trustworthy crew, anything is possible. Very few character details go unnoticed in a school environment. Use your better judgment and you should be fine.

Remi Moses (Actress)

HOW WE GOT A SCRIPT

We needed a screenwriter whose name had graced the credits of a Lifetime feature. And, quite honestly, with the abundance of screenplays and screenwriters out in the world, finding our script was very easy. Richard posted an ad on Craigslist. Responses poured in. Around 100 people contacted Richard, including George P. Saunders, writer of several Lifetime features. We offered him 5 grand. He agreed. We received a script several weeks later. Now it was time to break the script down.

BREAKING DOWN THE SCRIPT

A script is more than just a creative template to be followed by the actors and director; a script provides you with all the details necessary to schedule your shoot, understand what props and wardrobe are needed, what locations to lock down, etc. This is where all the particulars of your movie are uncovered.

Using Final Draft Tagger 2, I went through the entirety of the script (many times), color coding the various elements. For example, all of our vehicles were highlighted in baby blue, props were highlighted in brown, and cast members were highlighted in blue.

After the script was broken down in Tagger, we saved the Tagger file, then imported it into Gorilla 5, an industry-standard scheduling software. Now, thanks to Gorilla 5, we were able to see the granular details — number of scenes per location, number of scenes per actor, and the kinds of props needed for each scene — necessary to schedule our movie.

(If you want to learn how to use Gorilla software, click here: Gorilla).

After breaking down the script in Tagger and Gorilla, we knew what props, costumes, and set pieces we needed to bring our movie to life.

Art courtesy of Chris Klumpp

THE OTHER (VERY IMPORTANT) JOBS

Sometimes as filmmakers, especially student filmmakers, we try to do every little thing ourselves, but sometimes it’s best to find others for help. When it comes to props, yeah, we can look at the script breakdown and go hunt for props, but why? The time it takes to bargain hunt could be better served creating shot lists, blocking scenes, and worrying about the artistry involved with your movie.

Another piece of advice: Respect all the various jobs involved on a film set. I see filmmakers, more than I’d like to admit, thinking they can do script supervision, production design, or makeup and wardrobe without having any experience. So, without falling victim to our own ignorance, we employed some help, which proved to be invaluable.

PRODUCTION DESIGNER

When you’re trying to sell a movie, there’s a standard. I’m not saying it’s necessarily a high benchmark, but a standard nonetheless. You can’t forget this.

Locations need to be furnished. After all, the audience needs to believe our characters really inhabit the environments in the story. A sure way to destroy this believability is to have bare, unfurnished bedrooms, empty spaces in rooms, not enough personality in a house, etc. Having a good production designer will add the “life” and realism each locations needs for credibility.

Through the recommendation of several classmates, we hired a production designer. Her name was Amber Cicardo, a School Of Visual Arts graduate and all-around awesome human being. The great thing about her, and all good production designers for that matter, is that all we had to do was give her a list of props, a nominal sum of money to pay for said props, and she did the rest. In several weeks, because of Amber’s awesomeness, we had 99% of the props necessary to bring our story to life.

Amber Cicardo (Production Designer)

COSTUME DESIGNER

Our wardrobe was covered by the lovely, talented Allison Pearce. Based out of Brooklyn, Allison had weighty experience in the Indie film circuit. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to keep her on set for the entirety of the shoot. So instead of ruling her out, which would have been a huge loss, we hired her on for the first few days of shooting — to train someone else. Jenny Thompson, a close friend of mine for the last 12 years, was hired to be her understudy, with the expectation of being fully responsible for handling wardrobe.

By hiring (an easy task when you’re in film school) a production designer, makeup person, and a costume designer — jobs that Ronnee, James, Kevin and I had no experience in — we were able to lessen our workloads and move forward.

Briana Remas (Makeup)

LOCATIONS

CONTACT A REALTOR

Our production was to take place in Southeastern, Connecticut. And we knew (because we broke down the script) all the kinds of locations we needed. But, how the heck were we going to find and lock them down? By contacting a realtor, that’s how.

Our location manager, Kevin Tewksbury, picked up the phone and contacted several realtors in the area. He started each conversation with a “show-biz lie” — “Hello, my name is Kevin Tewksbury, I’m trying to find locations for a Lifetime movie.” Once again, we never offered the complete truth, which is that this movie, at the time, had no affiliations with the Lifetime Network. But there was no alternative; if we told the truth, that we were merely student filmmakers, forget it, no one would have been interested.

But because we advertised our film as a Lifetime movie, realtors were more than happy to show us around. (Remember, everyone wants to be in show business — even realtors and homeowners.) The realtors treated us like kings, taking us to many locations, including large, beautiful waterfront homes, the kind that increase production value tenfold.

The realtors would introduce us as professional filmmakers looking for locations for a Lifetime movie. Not a bad intro. This kind of introduction gave us leverage. Keep a few things in mind. Many of the properties were for sale. For the property owners, the prospect of having your home flash across a television screen was an alluring one. After all, it would end up on the Lifetime channel, for possibly millions to see. And second, perhaps the most important thing to remember when locking down locations, people love money. Yeah, we were movie professionals, but more importantly, we had cash. Property owners, particularly those of whom selling in obscure areas like southeastern Connecticut, are desperate to generate any kind of income.

After several weekends of being shown properties all over the area, we found our locations, got contracts in place, and secured them for the shooting dates.

Jenny Thompson (Wardrobe)

WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A LOCATION

  • Issues concerning sound | Be sure to take note of any problems you foresee concerning sound. If there’s an airport close by, that’s a note to take. Is the location close to a main road? Write it down. What about a large, noisy, unmovable exotic fish tank? That could be a big problem. Keep sound in mind whenever you’re looking at a location with substantial amounts of dialogue. Take pictures of every concern you have. Send those pictures to your sound person.
  • Electricity| Take note of all the outlets. Know their number and position. Also, make sure the location can handle the electricity needed to power your lights. Nothing will destroy your shooting schedule like blowing the breaker, especially during a night shoot.
  • Take pictures. Lots of pictures| When it comes to your locations, know every nook and cranny. During the shoot, you will need to know where your staging area is, where to keep talent and craft services, where hair and makeup will be done, etc. Lighting schematics and ideas about blocking are also dependent on your familiarity with your locations. Take lots of pictures and you should be alright.

TELL THE LOCATION OWNER WHAT THEY SHOULD EXPECT

Through my years as a filmmaker, I’ve noticed a consistent pattern: Location owners seldom understand what they’re getting into when they agree to let filmmakers use their space. Jonathan Sessions, a very talented gaffer whom I worked with on a feature film in Michigan, once told me, “When you give a film crew permission to shoot on your property, you’ve just invited the circus.” Keep this in mind when dealing with location owners. Simply put, tell property owners what to expect from your production. If you’re not upfront, the owner could get pissed. The last thing you want is an angry location owner kicking you off their property. Be friendly and upfront with your location owner and avoid a problem.

Kevin Tewksbury (Associate producer; location manager) Max Seiler (Assistant Director)

COMMUNICATE WITH LOCATION OWNERS… OFTEN

In the introduction, I mentioned that we were almost shot (with guns). Out of respect for the gun-wielding men — close friends who let us park in front of their business — I won’t say too much involving the incident. Let’s just say, when a pack of ski-mask-wearing men jump out of the back of a box truck, people might think they’re being robbed.

Now, here’s the thing: These gun-wielding men knew we were coming. But they didn’t know the vehicle we’d be arriving in and, perhaps the biggest reason for their fear, our location manager failed to remind the location owners we were coming. Don’t assume that an arrangement you made with a location owner several weeks ago will be fresh on their mind today.

In fact, not only should you be communicating with your location owners regularly, you should be trying, in earnest, to be friends with them. Location owners will oftentimes become nervous or unhappy about having large groups of people on and off their property, carrying in and out large pieces of gear, and using all the outlets. It’s also important to know that their dissatisfaction can come from out of the blue. Let’s say a grip scratches the wall with a C-Stand and nobody, including our tired grip, knows about the scratch. But the location owner, observant, on edge, waits till everyone leaves to assess the property and notices the scratch. Now, because you weren’t there to reassure your location owner that this scratch was a mistake that would be rectified and that you do in fact care, you and your crew, scheduled to shoot in that very location the next morning, are told that you can “no longer use this location.”

If you lose a location, particularly after you’ve already shot there, it can spell absolute disaster, ending your dream of making a movie. Avoid this at all costs by treating your location owners like friends, calling and texting often, and even taking them out for dinner or drinks.

During our shoot, we faced a huge problem: We booked a location till midnight. After that time, we were told we had to get out — no matter what. Unfortunately for us, we were running behind (surprise) and the star of our film, Eric Roberts, had scenes essential to the movie still needed to be shot. Fully aware of our impending doom, our location manager, Kevin, took it upon himself to make sure we were able to finish Eric’s scenes. “For me, it all boils down to one fact: People who like you rarely want to see you fail. Knowing we were pushing time and testing the patience of the action owners, I made conversation with them at the first sight of their annoyances. I did this to let them vent, but also to acquire a sense of where their heads were at. I offered to take them out. A few cocktails deep, their honesty was transparent: they intended to terminate the production if it ran past midnight. So I shifted the conversation, making it personal, discussing myself, Josh, James and Ronnee in a way that would raise their curiosity. It worked. They not only dominated the conversation but filled it with questions about the talents of my three beloved creatives. By last call, they were fine with us going shooting past midnight.”

Location owners are literally the gate keepers to your production. By communicating with them regularly and showing that you actually care, they will grant you the leniency needed to maximize each and every location.

Geno Camali (Executive producer; serial investor)

GEAR

As film students at the School of Visual Arts, we are fortunate to have access to a panoply of professional-grade equipment, and we took full advantage. But don’t, not even for a second, think we had an abundance of gear. Honestly, we probably had just enough.

As film students at the School of Visual Arts, we are fortunate to have access to a panoply of professional-grade equipment, and we took full advantage. But don’t, not even for a second, think we had an abundance of gear. Honestly, we probably had just enough.

We used mostly 1K open faces bounced off of foam boards of home insulation we bought at Home Depot (4-by-8 feet). For some scenes, we employed Muslin sheet to form a book light. We had practicals hooked to a $200 DMX kit. Any sunlight or moonlight was primarily from a 1.2 HMI, which shattered during a rainstorm. We ran (while it was in commission) the 1.2 HMI off of daisy-chained Honda EU 2000 generators.

We rented our camera (Red Scarlet), lenses (Zeiss ZF photo lenses), and sound gear (Sound Devices 744T, several lavs, cables).

(If you have any questions about the gear we used, or just gear in general, email Ronnee)

Tracy Nelson (Actress) and Mike DiGiacinto (Actor)

THE END (OF PART 1)

I hope this post was helpful to you. If not — please — email me: josh@outofshot.com

Ask me questions; tell me I suck; any engagement is encouraged.

Next post (which will be more informative and interesting) I will be breaking down our production process, which was a fucking nightmare.

Thanks for reading. See you again soon.

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