Preparation for an indie project is crucial for finishing on time and under budget. The budget is finite (in most cases) because you cannot go to the studio and ask for more money. You have to get it right the first time. In Robert Rodriquez’s Rebel Without a Crew, he credits detailed preparation as to how he shot a feature film for $7,000. Without preparation, you will be figuring it all out on set, a time-consuming and expensive process.
There are three major components to prep: people, places and things.
People (the Crew)
Most indies originate from a writer, director, and/or producer, who are usually responsible for creating the project and raising the money. Once the budget is locked and the money has been transferred, the team needs to be assembled to start preproduction, affectionately called “prep.”
- Hire people you have successfully worked with in the past
- Get recommendations
- Review their IMDB credits
- Review their resume
- Search the Internet (blogs, LinkedIn, Facebook, articles, awards)
- Interview them face to face
- Check their references with a phone call
The first people hired in production are the line producer and/or unit production manager (UPM), depending on the size of a project, it might be the same person; a locations scout/manager; and a first assistant director (first AD). They are the core production team that collaborates on defining the logistics of running the project. On the creative side, the casting director, director of photography (DP) and production designer are the first ones in to help develop the look and feel of the project with the director.
The line producer/UPM sets up the union signatories, applies for permits and tax credits (if applicable for the city/state/country that you are shooting in), negotiates with vendors, hires and manages department heads and support staff, sets up payroll, defines workflow, and manages cash flow, cost reports, and petty cash.
The locations scout/manager does a breakdown of the script, defining all locations, and builds a database of possible shooting locations to show the creative and production team. In addition, the locations scout/manager sets up location and tech scouts, negotiates rates with location contacts, and manages expectations with cast/crew and the location owner.
The first AD breaks down the script and creates a one-liner schedule; a day out of days (DOOD), which is a detailed report of how many days each actor will be working; and a scene breakdown that includes talent, background estimates, art, stunts, hair/makeup (HMU), SFX and wardrobe.
To ensure that the schedule always reflect the budget, the first AD and line producer/UPM work closely together. When these two people have a good rapport, your prospect of finishing on time and under budget increase tremendously. If a first AD doesn’t schedule things properly, it will end up costing the production in overtime for cast and crew, second meals, and additional staff.
From prep to production there is constant communication between the line producer/UPM, first AD, and locations scout/manager. Things can change at a rapid pace (e.g., weather challenges, trucks breaking down, locations going out of business), and these three people work together to make the production run seamlessly, and hopefully, joyfully, if you are lucky.
Now that you have your team, you need somewhere to shoot. Check back for a follow-up post on indie film prep and places.
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