How to Get Hired, and How to Get Fired on Independent Film Productions

 

Victoria Westcott – Movie Producer, Business Owner, Former-Teacher, Blogger

 

I’ve learned a lot about hiring & firing in the independent film world. But first, a bit about me:

I’m an inner city school teacher turned recruiter turned entrepreneur turned producer. What that means is – I graduated from university at Queen’s in Canada and went straight to teaching grade 5 and 6 in the toughest schools in London, England (Brixton & Hackney for those of you who know London). After a year, I was hired to recruit teachers from around the world, and eventually opened up Classroom Canada – my own teaching agency where I recruit Canadian teachers to work in London. Classroom Canada taught me everything I need to know about business, social media, and ultimately – how to hire & fire people.

My sister, Jen Westcott and I were born on the same day but three years apart. She’s a photographer turned screenwriter. Our first film is her 12th feature length script. In 2009 she won Praxis, which is Canada’s Nichol – and that win changed everything. I went to the Praxis party with her and realized that I wasn’t alone in recognizing her skill & talent. This girl’s a screenwriting star, and not just because I think so!

So, this year we decided to join forces and make a movie together. I run around asking people for money and then tell people we don’t have any (that’s the job of a producer right?), and Jen writes, and re-writes, and re-writes some more. She’s storyboarding now, getting ready for our 10 day shoot in April. She’s the writer/director and I’m the producer. We’re perfectly matched and balance each other out.

I hire the cast with our Casting Director’s incredible help and Jen’s final say. I hire the crew, again with Jen’s final say. I also fire people. That’s probably the hardest part of my job, but since I’ve been recruiting teachers for almost 7 years now, I’m kind of used to it. I had to fire a teacher just yesterday.

So, here we go – my two cents on getting hired & fired on independent films:

How to get hired:

First off, you’re not doing anyone any favours. So while you may be working for free, and you may be working ridiculously long hours – you want the credit. That’s why you’re working on the project. So whether you’re a make-up artist or a gaffer or an incredible-but-undiscovered actor, you want that credit at the end of the movie to say your name. Sure, you’re in love with the film, the concept, the writer/director or producer. And we love you too. But you’re in it for the credit and so are we. So don’t treat it like it’s you doing us a favour. Be honest, be grateful, be reliable.

Offer your services for free. We’ve had about 10-15 people email us and offer to volunteer on our movie. That’s amazing! If teachers did that, I’d be one happy recruiter. But we only took 2 people up on that offer: 1, a stills photographer who is building his portfolio & is a pro and an all round good guy and 2, a production coordinator who graduated from film school but hasn’t worked in film in a few years as she was side-tracked by her rowing career. I liked the photographer, so that was easy – and since Jen was a pro-photographer it wasn’t a big risk for us to take. We knew we could always pull out her camera if he sucked (which he does not – he’s excellent, in fact! Yay us!) The film graduate needed a break, and I liked that she’s an athlete. She can have a goal and see it through to the end. Score! We know you’re broke. So are we. And you deserve to be paid. Of course you do! But if you’re just starting out – then offer to volunteer.

For actors – we held our auditions in a posh hotel in Vancouver (using my air miles by the way!). We had a waiting room near the lobby, where I met the actors, had them fill out paperwork & took their headshots. My sister was in the hotel room with our Casting Director, Kristina Agosti. I brought each actor upstairs to the room at their call time. This gave me about 5 minutes with each actor. They assumed I was a PA and I didn’t correct them. It was like I was an undercover boss! I told Jen & Kristina if there was anything obnoxious about the actor, because we refuse to work with jerks, and it really helped them make decisions. Likewise, when someone was really cool – I’d tell them. That’s how Duncan Polson was hired. Jen created a new part just for him because he was just so dang enthusiastic about the movie. How could we not love this guy? Plus he can act. Score!

Check out this photo by our amazing photographer, David Bukach, of our cast & crew after filming our kickstarter campaign. We wrapped 2 hours early, or so the cast & crew thought anyway. According to my schedule we wrapped right on time, but that’s the kind of thing I learned while teaching in inner city schools – underpromise, overachieve and plan every little detail. Happy cast & crew = happy production.

Here’s the result of that day:


How to get fired
:

1. Forget the first rule above. Treat the producer & director like you know more than them because you’ve done a couple of shorts. You’re doing them a favour, and your experience on a few film sets is so much more valuable than theirs. They pay you, and you miss your deadlines, show up late, can’t
be assed to help out. After all, you’re very important and they should be kissing your ass. Um…yeah.

You’re fired!

2. Be a dick. For example, promise to do something, complain the entire time about having to do it…and then not do it. FIRED!

3. Sometimes you get fired not because you’re a dick, but because you just don’t fit the part. It’s not your fault – you’re a really, really great actor or a really, really great member of the crew. But sometimes, it just doesn’t work out for whatever reason. This happens all the time – in Hollywood and in indie-world. It sucks. But there it is. So be cool. Be gracious. We’ll use you again in another film, and maybe we’ll even create the perfect part for you just because we liked working with you so much.

What do you think? Have an experience of hiring, firing or being on the receiving end? Please share your thoughts!

For more information about our current production, check out www.lockedinagarageband.com and our kickstarter campaign here.

My blog: www.sistersmakemovies.blogspot.com