There comes a time in every filmmakers ‘career’ when things go awry…
Things happen, as they always do; equipment gets damaged, people fail to attend call times, footage gets lost or destroyed, wardrobe disappears and people/companies retract their cooperation. All of these things will happen at some point in time during a filmmakers career, especially when you are an independent filmmaker.
What can be done to help prevent this?
Sadly, this is and is not an easy question to answer. Honestly, the bet defense is to have contingencies for as much as you can. This is an easy suggestion to make, but for a micro-budget filmmaker it can be the last phrase that you want to hear.
Equipment is the easiest but usually the most expensive alley to tackle. Try to have a backup camera in place as a “Just in Case” precaution; same goes for lighting and props. Things do break and depending on what type of film you are making, some equipment may hold a higher risk than others (keep this in mind).
Cast and Crew
This is always a tough one to combat; having a well rounded and multi-faceted crew never hurts. As for actors and talent; this is far more difficult. The phrase “You get what you pay for” usually holds true in this aspect. Seasoned or well ‘respected’ talent are typically very professional and will almost always be on location promptly in lieu of call times. If you are using amateur or aspiring talent; whether they are friends or acquaintances, you have to prepare for no-shows or late arrivals.
Filming locations, if outside a sound stage, carries it’s own issues and risks. Regardless of where it is, who the property owners are or if the property is abandoned, it is always best to try and do things “by the book”. Honesty is always the best policy when approaching someone for attempting to film on location. Let them know if you plan on running primarily day time or night time shots; always let them know if you are planning on firing any type of weapon or explosive device (we will cover more in lieu of weapons/explosives in a second); contracts are always good and so is insurance.
Contracts and insurance helps protect you (as a filmmaker) in more ways than one. It’ll help you secure the property [in writing] for the duration of your film schedule. It also shows the agreement that you and the property owner has in writing in case they change their mind. Many properties and locations will require you to have insurance to protect their property; this is always a good idea. Without insurance you have to worry about possible law suits and the possibility of having to pay large amounts of money out of pocket.
Weapons and Explosives
Always always check with your local law enforcement agencies before running any scenes with weapons and/or gunshots and explosions. Typically, you will have to warn and alert any and all neighbors in the area where you are filming. You definitely don’t want dozens of police showing up thinking that it is real or neighbors calling 911 to report gun fire. It is safest to call the local police chief first, inquire what their requirements are, then afterwards (a good two weeks in advance to your shoot date) fax/mail memorandums to all of the residents surrounding you as well as the police department.
You can setup your memorandum in Word however you would like it, but I would suggest that you BOLD certain key areas so that it catches the reader quickly. I’ll upload a “demo” Laythrom memorandum if you guys and girls with to follow it as a template. [I’ll put it up here once I get back to the studio.]
Lastly, I will cover the logistical tips for Wardrobe and Props. If you are trying to save some cash (and have the talent use their own wardrobe) that is fine; just make sure that they try and keep everything the same throughout filming. It is also handy to take photos (progressively) throughout filming of your talent wearing their wardrobe; it gives you a media to quickly refer to for continuity reasons. If you are starting to stock pile clothes for wardrobe, make sure that you tag (somehow) everything with a code that you can also catalog in excel. Example, we have several military “BDU” tops of different sizes and colors; each one has “LMI” written somewhere on the top as well as the code “BTD #1”. The code (this is just for us, yours can be however you want it) stands for the following: B=BDU, T=Top, D=Desert Camo Pattern, and 1=The number of that top in sequence. All of this is put into excel along with all of our other props and wardrobe. If we assign it to an actor/actress, we can then put their name down next to the line that corresponds with the item we give them. It’ll help prevent mix ups and loses later on.
We hope that some of this information can help other filmmakers, especially the ones who are newer to the game.