Top Ten Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before They Start

9 08 2007

I figured I’d use the same title as Mike Curtis did on his blog posting today.

I’ve been on a few panels here at the UFVA Conference in Denton, Texas including a fantastic interview session with keynoter Steven Cohen on Tuesday night, but this one was really interesting. The stated topic was “10 Things Every Indie Filmmaker Should Know Before Making Their Movie. A guide to making a great film on a budget — and doing it right!” (you can see why I abbreviated it in the title of this post). It was moderated by Ashley Kennedy from Avid, Mike Curtis from HDForIndies, ad John Sterneman from Dragonslayer Post in Burbank, a facility that offers complete post services for the indie filmmaker.

Last night we all went out to dinner to talk about the panel. We had previously had one long phone conversation so we could get the ten points together, but now we wanted to get to know each other.

The top of my head exploded.

These two guys know so much about the technical world of post production that I felt like an idiot. I was worried that I’d be completely out of my depth. But those of you who know me, also know that I fight gallantly to put the storytelling aspect of film front and center. And that is what I wanted to make sure we included.

I needn’t have worried. I’ll reproduce the ten talking points below (as copied from Mike’s blog), but we ended up talking about many of them (thanks to Ashley to keeping us on track) set within the framework of collaboration and advance planning. Sure, there are ten points here, but they really all boiled down to these two. Put together the right team and let them advise you (and listen to them — don’t be an asshole) to create a thorough game plan for the entire process — from pre-production through distribution and exhibition.

  1. Put together the right team. Be sure you have the right members involved at the right time. For instance, the editor should be involved in pre-production and the producer should be involved in post. This was a far flung and all encompasing topic – this also includes getting the right team that knows the nitty gritty of their jobs and will see to all the granular implementation details to make sure stuff goes right. By default, the right team will include folks to steer you clear of certain pitfalls, warn you of expensive or limiting choices, and be able to think on their feet when contingencies are needed to be invented on the spot.
  2. Work backwards and know what you want to deliver before you start shooting. Plan your post workflow (i.e. deliver on film? HD?).
    I say this all the time to clients when they start asking about what to shoot on – I say STOP – what do you want to end up with at the end of the day? Work from there.
  3. In pre-production know what budget is for post and stick to it! Perhaps even account for more $$ in POST. Many producers end up
    spending 3x the money in post because they didn’t plan accordingly. This folds into a saying I’ve come up with – “Most indies would rather save a nickel on Friday that costs the $20 on Monday…and even if they knew they were doing it, many still would, because they didn’t have the nickel on Friday.”
  4. Don’t just try to piece the workflow together. Make sure your NLE (Non Linear Editor — like Avid or Final Cut Pro) supports your camera and the formats that you are shooting in. Be sure that your offline edit will seamless make it to the online. Know how to get final product out of the system. This one
    was all me – for a good example, see the post from a couple of days ago about Pull Trigger, Then Aim (link to follow).
  5. Have a realistic schedule from the get go. Based on your budget – know how many days you will need to shoot, weeks you’ll need to edit, etc. Many have unrealistic post schedules. As an add-on to that, just because you only have enough money for a 6 not 12 week creative edit DOES NOT MEAN that you’ll get it done in that timeframe.
  6. With so many choices – be smart about what you choose for technology, talent, location, etc. Overprepare and execute. Small projects can take the same or more amount of prep as larger projects. Small budget = use every penny wisely.
  7. Know your story! If changes need to be made – make them on set, not in post. Plot point vs character point. If the story isn’t coming together based on the shots – it can cause 2-3x increase in post production.
  8. Producers need a better grasp on the distribution process – particularly for indie film. Understand the requirements that distributors have. Avoid getting a 20 page document after QC of what needs to be “fixed” before the film is ready for distribution.
  9. Understand how to appeal to distributors. It’s always about the best story. Know whether to spend funds on name power vs. technology. Discern hype from reality – when It comes to vendor marketing. Know how to get your “name” out there.
  10. No role is unimportant in film. Even if tools have a color application – you still need a “real” colorist to do the job. Best use what tools you have (media management.)

Mike promises to go back up and go into detail on the points, so you should loop back there periodically over the next day or so. But all in all it was a great experience.

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