Feature Filmmaker

Ep. 85 - Crewing a Feature Film with No Money

September 19, 2022 Anna Thalman
Feature Filmmaker
Ep. 85 - Crewing a Feature Film with No Money
Show Notes Transcript

Which crew members are most essential for your film, and which ones can you do without for your first feature? Who can manage multiple roles without being overwhelmed? If you're creating a film with a low/no budget range, then this podcast episode is for you.

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Anna:

Hi, and welcome to the podcast today. Today. We want to talk about curing a feature film. On a no or low budget production now. People talk about no budget productions. And that doesn't mean necessarily that it doesn't have any money behind it. But really low budget productions will often be called a no budget production. And that's basically just down to the bare basics skeleton of what To make And when you watch movies and you see all the credits and you see tons and tons of people, or maybe you've helped out on a big set. For Netflix or paramount or some other big company. And How many people there are on set and each department doing so many different It can feel really overwhelming. And I get a lot of people. Entering into the program and feeling like, where am I going to get all these people and all this help and what do I actually need? What role do I want to play? What is even the difference between a producer and a director. So we're just going to break it down in the simplest way we can today

Kent:

for you. So I think that most of us go to high school believing myths. And I'm going to step away from film for a second. And there's all these like weird myths that happen, which is like, everyone is doing drugs. You know what I mean? Like, it feels like everyone is doing something or whatever, and it's just super not true. In fact, usually the majority of people are not doing the things we think. Quote, unquote, everyone is doing. And I think that that's really true in film. And so. you know, Anna mentioned being on set for like big motion pictures. Now, some of you. I may have had that experience. And some of you may have not had that experience, but we're coming from this from like a. You know, you may have extra on a set or like PA on a set and a lot of us in Georgia and LA and New York. well, we'll pick up gigs like that. Right. So it's pretty normal that we'd walk on a big movie, but it's not like we have a big job and it's not like those movies are going to get us in a position to. Direct a film or, or make a film in whatever capacity. You know, Equals your dream. But, I say that right up front, because it can be really deceptive to think that all these people have loads of money and oodles of cash. And what I've realized is that even movies that are like full on union with A-listers. Sometimes, especially art films. I look very different from. Even like a, like a Nickelodeon show or something like that, you know, where you might see tons and tons of trucks for like a straight to TV release, kind 60 minute sort of quote, unquote feature films made for kids. And you're like, wow, they're just dumping money on this. And that's the kind of filmmaking that happens. That's more of like a. Like it's a job for everyone that you can just tell when you're on set that there's not a big load of passion behind this project and that's okay. I mean, it's good work for everyone involved and I'm not saying anything bad about But there's other filmmaking that's like deeply passionate. And usually it's these people that are. trying to make something happen because they're just have their heart in it. And I'm thinking of films. I think Denzel Washington, for example, is an a list actor who's really big and he's on movies that are unionized through the roof. Right? Sag. you know, the DP is going to be ASC and the director is going to be DGA. And yet. when you get on set, I guarantee you that, that film. set on fences felt like an indie film. I mean, in some ways it might meet that indie definition, but that's a very ambiguous term. But my point is, it probably felt like a very small team and they shot on film, but they shot him like this tiny shotgun Americana house that was like, period. And. They didn't even have room for lights to really fit between the houses because the houses were built so close together and they weren't willing to just build a set, you know, As you can imagine. There's not that many people that could fit in that house. And there's not that many lights that could Between the houses. And so it's going to feel a little tight and small and maybe not that crazy. Like we would imagine being on the set of like a Marvel movie, for example, And that's just one example and we might give some more examples from films we've made, worked on, or even just studied and looked at. But there's, There's crew that is absolutely essential. And there's crew that isn't essential. And that all just comes down to what kind of movie you're making. And, there are people making movies out of their own basement with green screens and there's people making movies in their backyards and. In their hometowns and there's people flying to destinations with crews of three, you know, Every story is different. So it's just going to demand different logistics. But. If you're trying to make a first feature and you're trying to do a resource filmmaking style. You can do an incredible. Amount of storytelling. Beautiful imagery. You can execute. Hollywood level imagery and Hollywood level sound. And excellent acting that can hold up to almost anyone else's. And it can definitely punch millions of dollars above its weight class. For little to no money. And I really believe Yeah,

Anna:

and I think. The basic thing you'll want to understand is that there are many jobs to be done. And as you start to break down your script and look Okay. Someone has to be in charge of getting this prop here and someone has to make sure that this location is secured. You're going to want to divide that up among you and your fellow teammates. And so it can be helpful to understand departments and what each department does. So that you could divide it up now that's not essential. It could just be that you're like Peter Jackson and his friends and they just, you know, assign it out. And who cares? What you call. The role, it's just, Hey, can you do that? And I'll do this. And we just split up the work. You can do it that informally. but it is helpful to understand departments and maybe have someone who's in charge of art. For example, that may include costume makeup props. Set dressing. It could be all of those things and on a super low budget. First feature film. Typically. You'll want at least one person per department at least. And it'd be really nice if you can get some extra help, like an assistant or a PA. Per each department. I'd say there's some essential departments. Camera. Directorial. Sound. And art are probably the ones where it'd be really nice to have a PA maybe dedicated to each of those departments to be able to run errands and help bring stuff. And just, And if you're a director. And you need a D, but again, I say that and yet you don't really need it. And with our first film, I directed and IAD. And we didn't have an ID and I didn't have any assistance. And I was also a producer. And my husband was deeping and he had one PA helping him out. And Claire white was our art production designer and she did all of it. She did. Costume makeup set, dressing, running errands on her own, borrowing her car. You know, she just covered all of that. Props. So it can be a very small team and you can make it work. It just requires a lot more preparation. And coordination. To be able to pull that

Kent:

off. Yeah. And we've in past episodes gone over like named off our crew and explained what they did, but it ranged from day to day from anywhere between my wife and I. Right. Anna and I, and the actors and whichever actors were there, which some days were one of our kids. There were days that that was, that was it. It was Anna Kenton, one kid, you know, and, and then there were days where it was, you Claire was there on And chastity was either acting or doing something to do with locations or casting or payroll, or she was kind of this line producer sort of thing hybrid.

Anna:

Prior to serial department, but

Kent:

yeah, but you can see how, like it got fluid and you kind of just knew what work needed to get done. And we don't. Recommend doing everything the way we've done it in all of our films, especially our first film, because. It was very, very stressful, but I don't think it was stressful because of the number of crew we had. I actually think that if we went back and did that film. Let's say the same story with the same logistical weight with that exact same crew. I think we would know exactly what we would need to do differently. And so the knowledge is really more valuable than. Pumping or injecting the crew was just bodies, you know? but I would say also that, talent goes a lot farther than just bodies as well. So you can get extras or you can get PAs and you can just load the set with people with untrained people, with students, with high schoolers or college kids, like, you know, like freshmen in college, people who are totally willing to work for free, who. Our blessed by the opportunity. I'm not talking about like pushing people to do stuff against their wills for no money and underpaying people, but there are people who want. To be on a set. That's an artistic, intimate. passion-driven experience where they get lots of experience and they get to be close with the director. That's very valuable for people who are still learning. And so I think it's totally. A good idea to be Frank, to reach out on whatever Facebook or other groups and say, Hey, we've got this film going on. We need PA's. And to get a few bodies on set, but a few very competent, talented, passionate people on a team can go. Really really far. And I, and I want to use an example. Of, a movie that actually had a $5 million Which you might think, why would you do that? Why would you bring that up as an example? And I'm just going to show you where that budget went. the movie I'm talking about is no man land. which was 20, 21 best picture won. Best director won best actress. I thought it was exquisite. And, And you might look at it and think, well, that actually is kind of a bigger crew. Well, when you get back, when you get to the bottom on HMDB of their extremely long credits for cast. Which are really long because they, they credit every extra it's actually a decently small Most of them. We're social actors. They were portraying themselves. They weren't professional actors. and then there's this producer list, which we'll skip. There's a few names on there, including the director of PR and actress. Frances McDormand enclosure. but I'm skipping the producer credits because those people could have been added as producers on the backend. There was definitely some, production company and studios supporting this film. those names could be coming from a lot of different places. but as far as who did the work of producing this movie was probably a majority. Closure and Frances McDormand and there might be one or two others. And then cinematography was by Joshua James Richards. He had. I think one, a C. If I'm not mistaken. Yeah. He had one AC and a gaffer. And there was a few other people who I think it looks like they may be de played. Oh no. He had a second AC I'm just reading this off. I looked over it before and then

Anna:

we'll and I know we've seen them talk about. The making of this film behind the scenes footage, where close out, talks about her team. And how small it was. And that it was surprising to some of them that this was a big budget film with a big actress, because I mean, big budget, it

Kent:

felt. For an indie person. Low low budget

Anna:

figure budget than any of us are going to have on our first

Kent:

film. Cohen's and the that's a very low budget yet.

Anna:

Yeah. But for a $5 million film. It was a very small team. And it's a passionate project. And I think that works well with passion projects, where there's a very strong vision. That's easier to communicate to a smaller team when you have tons and tons of people. That can get lost. And a lot of things can fall between the cracks or. Get lost in translation because you're going to relay. What you're hoping for is if you're a director. For the film and then each department, head's going to relay that to their team. And then they're going to interpret that how they will and find a way to make it happen. And it can get kind of watered down in all of that. Lost in translation stuff. And so I think really small teams are good for people who have a really strong vision and are trying to communicate something very specific and want to be very involved in the creative process. And that's something I want to touch on today too, is just the difference between a producer and a director. And what role you're going to play. In your first feature film, because a lot of people come into our feature filmmaker academy. And they know they want to be creatively involved in the project. They know they want some ownership on this project. They're probably not a good fit. For our program, if they don't feel that way. But they might not know exactly how or where they fit in. And sometimes you do, sometimes you come in and, you know, I want to be an actor. I want to be a DP. And I'm just going to make it happen for myself by making a feature film. And that's fine if you know exactly what your position is, you want to do. Great. Add producer to. calm a producer to that list and you're ready to go. And that can work really well. But the producer is the one who has the creative ownership. Is kind of at the top of the pyramid. Who makes the film happen? Who secures the financing, who decides who to hire in all the other positions, securing the

Kent:

financing. To Anna's point is definitely usually the producer's job, but that can also be. anybody right?

Anna:

Often. You'll see a director producer or an actor producer, someone who yeah. Maybe is involved in that process, but that's just a matter of a means to an end. Like I want to produce to get this to happen so that I can DP it because I really want to do P for example. But definitely. If you're going through the program. You're going to be a producer in a F in a way on this film, you're going to be picking your team and putting this together And so you don't have to know everything about filmmaking to do this, to find team members who do, who are experienced, who can do their jobs. And even they don't have to be necessarily super experienced. They might be just friends and family who are willing to help out and want to some positions will matter more than others. Um, how much experience they have. But. Or is hired by the producer, for example. So if you are producing a project. And you don't want to direct it. You want to do a different role. Then you're going to be hiring out a director. But you still are the top of the pyramid, so to speak, you can decide to fire that tractor, if you don't like where they're going with the vision. Hopefully. You try to figure that out early on and work together. And. And get clear on it. But then the director is the one who's going to work with all the other department heads. To create a unity of vision and make sure that everyone's on the same page, everyone's working towards the same vision and not detracting from that.

Kent:

Yeah. And so. There are different kinds of people making these films. So Anna is describing someone who maybe let's say that you have a script or an idea. And you're materializing that and you just want it to exist. You may or may not want to direct it. And by that, I mean, you may, or you may not, right? Like, I'm not saying that to like deter you from directing, you might just want to. jump on that you might have someone, you know, who's willing to do that. You may or may not have skills in camera. You know, that you feel confident I'll be honest I think it's really interesting to look at the people who. There are some filmmakers who just. They take everything seriously enough that they can reduce the crew size by a significant amount because they, and the very few people working with them do almost everything. And. And there's people who produce the right. They DP it, they edit it. So I'll point out again. The editor on nomad land was the director, the production designer. Was the DP. Like those are rare to see those jobs. Smushed together, director editor, not as rare, but those are big jobs to. Those are big hats to wear. You know, to put on the same person. And, and yet, you know, you will get even big directors that will do that, but those big directors will often like these writer, director, actors, for example, Sometimes those movies are so well-funded that they have a ton of But I've also seen low budget films. DP writer, producer, director, actor. Editor, like did everything, you know, and they look good, acting solid and. You know, thunder road is a great, case study, which was a short film that went to Sundance adapted into a feature film, which won south by Southwest, a few years afterwards. And. I'm the director of thunder road. Said when you realize, or when you're willing to do everything yourself. You know that you're ready to make your first feature. he said something along those lines. I would push back against that because I don't think it's necessary that you do everything yourself and it is possible to find and get It's okay to hire help, and it doesn't have to cost very much But, but I like the attitude that like, You know, Aye. Felt confident in my ability on our first feature to shoot it to DP. It. I don't think I'm the greatest DP in the planet. I'm not, I'm no deacons, you know? but I knew I could do. I could do it justice and I could do much better than anyone else I could afford to hire. With the money I had. And, and I knew people who were way better than me personally, but they would all cost more. You know, and so I just did it myself and I'm really glad that I did. Now. I also produced. On that side of things I never produced. I hadn't produced a short film. I guess I technically had, but I mean, not really. I hadn't really taken a personal project and grabbed the bull by its horns. And so there's sometimes roles where we have to say, can I step into this and do it myself? that's something you're going to have to judge for yourself. What are you willing to take on? What are you willing to try for the first time? And. That's it, no disrespect to the medium, you know, sometimes I think we treat the medium, like it's too holy, like, oh no, you have no right to act or you have no right to direct. Or you have, you haven't done that before. That's a real craft and you have to hone it. And, it just depends on your confidence and how much work you're really you're willing to do. In the preparation phase. And I think that maybe last statement is the most important is that. If I could go back, we've talked about this many times. The prep is the most important. So if I'm going to produce, I'm going to produce. The whole thing deeply prepared beforehand. If i'm going to dp for the first time i'm going to really practice and prepare and test. So I feel like. Deep preparation on the front end is really, what's going to enable you to do roles that you might not otherwise be qualified And any of us can do that. We can all prepare and put a lot of time into something, especially a low to no budget, passion project. So I think that that. It's something we might need to be willing to do is roll up our sleeves, learn new things and, get passionate, you know, and, and passion fuels a lot of learning. And I, and I, and it's just possible. I don't, I don't think we should.

Anna:

Give ourselves that negative self-talk that tells us that we can't do it. Yeah. And especially if this is a role that you really want to pursue in your life. You're going to have to learn it by doing it at some point. So go Do it. The worst thing that can happen is that the movie fails and you learn a ton. And the next time, you know, so much better. So it's still completely worth it to pursue the role that you want to do as a career and practice that. and don't think that because other films have so many credits and seem like there's so many people. That it has to be that way because most big directors started out with just their friends and family and a few key positions. And you can definitely make that work.

Kent:

I also would just push back against the phrase itself of the film could fail or. What does that even mean? You know, it's like failure. I mean, you can give up on But just decide not to do that, run with it all the way through the entire process of pre production production, post production. Marketing getting a sales agent, putting it through festivals. If that doesn't go very well, try some other way to sell I use it as a calling card, push it out there. You know, there's always something. Out of it at least. Yeah. There's always something you can do to just mine. As much out of the film. As an asset for your career and for, and for your bank account and pocket book and an ROI is, there's a lot you can And just keep with it. And the longer you keep with it, the more you're going to learn from it, which further. Increases the value of the film for you, you know, as learning experience, if nothing else. but it's very unlikely that it would be quote unquote, nothing else. Then the learning experience, in my opinion, if you put good passion Take your time and do your very best work. someone's gonna like it. And that someone might help you get representation at the end of your first film, it might be enough that people earn, you know, the film runs a profit, or even if no one gets easy distribution, the fact that you've made a feature film will make a difference for your career. Absolutely. Worth And good luck. Thanks for joining us tonight and send us your questions so we can address them on the next one. Thanks. Bye.