THE TO DON’T LIST
During our independent filmmaking journey, we’ve created a “To Don’t” list. Basically, a list of mistakes we’ve made, or have seen others make in the indie film world. We thought it might be helpful to share this with you, so you can avoid some of these pitfalls.
But first, a little bit about us. We started in theatre and moved into writing and producing for film and television. We formed our own production company, LITTLE DOG PRODUCTIONS, LLC, in 2006. Under that banner we’ve produced short films, Internet series and independent features.
So lets get started with the list:
1) DON’T LET YOUR EYES BE BIGGER THAN YOUR STOMACH
Make the film you can afford. We’ve worked with countless producers whose ideas were too grand for their minimal budgets. The projects suffered as a result.
The first thing we do when we start to develop an independent feature is create three “asset” lists for the film. 1) “Things We Own.” 2) “Things We Can Borrow.” 3) “Things To Buy Or Rent.”
After you have your lists, come up with your story and plug in the assets. For our film, WAGES OF SIN, we knew we wanted to make a period thriller. First we outlined our story, then we went to our lists of assets. We started with a friend who owns a ’64 Ford Falcon that we could use for free. Doug also owns a ’64 BMW motorcycle. We knew using those vehicles would help us establish an interesting time period. We then went back to our lists and began incorporating more assets, such as props, locations and costumes that we owned, or could use for very little money. These elements greatly enriched the characters and plot, without changing the basic story, or increasing the budget.
2) DON’T FORGET – A FRIEND IN NEED IS A FRIEND INDEED
From our various projects, we have compiled a list of talented people who have worked with us in front of and behind the camera. All have given 100%, no matter how much we were paying them.
From that list we have built a “family” — people we like to be around and can always depend on.
When you work with the same people regularly, you develop a short hand language. It speeds up the process and makes the work go much more smoothly.
We always try to create a working environment where everyone is treated with professional respect — not to mention, fed well. People get sick of Subway sandwiches every day. Remember, a crew is more likely to work for short money, if you treat them nicely.
3) MONEY IS THE ROOT OF ALL SUCCESS
Pay everybody something. If not in cash, then barter, or percentages, or deferred. Be creative. If necessary, make deals with your crew that will allow them to leave your shoot for a higher paying job, as long as they find somebody comparable to cover their position.
4) I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT
Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t understand”, or, “I don’t know what that means.” People will tolerate you not knowing about a specific aspect of filmmaking, but won’t put up with somebody who pretends to be an expert.
5) MONEY HONEY
How do you raise money to make a movie? Answer…. Don’t be intimidated.
Develop a business plan. You can find samples online and through independent filmmaking organizations, like Film Independent. A business plan forces you to honestly examine the cost of your movie. It also shows potential investors that you are a serious professional. Remember investors may not be as passionate as you are about the project. They need to be convinced.
Once you have your business plan, ask everybody and anybody for money – friends, relatives, your hair cutter.
The only exception to the rule is, don’t waste time approaching struggling filmmakers. They are generally in the same financial boat as you, which is dismal.
Consider placing a minimum on investments. If you don’t, you will create a bookkeeping nightmare. For small investors create a “special thanks” category – where they each get some acknowledgement, or a possible gift, i.e. t-shirt, poster, autographed script — but no financial involvement in the film.
6) DON’T TRY TO MAKE “CITIZEN KANE”
Chances are, your first film, and possibly even your second feature will not be works of art. This is just a sad fact of life. The projects should be something into which you put time, effort and creativity. Like a child, they should be loved and nurtured, but not become an obsession.
Each film is a learning experience. Remember you are in it for the long haul.
7) DON’T SHOOT YOURSELF IN THE FOOT WITH SCHEDULING
If at all possible, shoot your film as one continuous entity — Not every third weekend, or when you can borrow a camera. People will loose their energy and interest, and scheduling will become impossible.
Simplify the shoot if you have to in order to make the schedule more realistic: Compress the shot list. Limit coverage. Rehearse with your actors before you begin shooting.
Expect the Unexpected. If it can go wrong, it will! On WAGES OF SIN, we had an antique chair that was destroyed by one of the actors on the first day of shooting. Unfortunately, we had already established it as a principal set piece. What to do? Panic? Kill the actor? Run away? All were considered but rejected. To quote Orson Wells, “ Out of desperation comes inspiration.”
We decided in the next set-up, the actor should cast aside the broken chair. He would then slam the other actor into another chair. To our amazement, not only was the problem solved, but also an exciting new dramatic moment was created.
8) DON’T THINK YOU’RE FINISHED AFTER IT’S SHOT
So, you’ve finished your movie. Now what?
If your uncle runs a major studio — problem solved.
If not? There are other ways to get your film noticed.
Film Festivals. One good source to help you navigate through the hundreds that are available is WITHOUTABOX. This Internet site will help simplify the submission process. You can now even upload your film to the site and save time and money.
When your film is accepted at a festival, if at all possible, go. Remember you’re trying to sell your movie and you are its best salesperson.
Once at the festival, you need to talk to everybody – filmmakers, staff, volunteers, reviewers, distribution people.
See as many movies as possible. Stick around for the Q and A’s that follow the screenings. It’s a fast and painless way to connect with fellow filmmakers and also introduce yourself to them.
Go to the after parties. If you’ve seen a person’s movie, talk to them. Nobody gets tired of hearing that they made a great film.
Ask for business cards. Make notes on the back of each one – Who? What? Where? This is very important for follow up.
And most importantly, wear a jacket with lots of pockets — One for your own business cards. One for cards you receive. One for postcards announcing your screening. One for a notepad and pen.
9) DON’T BE SCARED OF NEW TECHNOLOGY
People love to use cutting-edge technology to make films, but are often intimidated or unaware of how to use it to promote their movie.
For starters, create Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.
Set up online interviews. Find sites that will review your film. This will give you and your film credibility and free promotion.
However, don’t forget the old standbys: Postcards, business cards, stationary, logos and posters.
If you have enough money in your budget, rent a small theater and screen your film. You can invite cast and crew, reviewers, potential investors and distribution companies. This is a fast and efficient way to create buzz without a huge outlay of money.
10) DON’T LOSE YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR
Pretty simple. Take what you do seriously, but never take yourself seriously.
And our last parting thoughts —
Don’t burn bridges.
Don’t make yourself crazy.
Don’t bankrupt yourself.
See you in the movies.
Sam Ingraffia & Doug Burch
Doug Burch – Writer/Producer/Director
Mr. Burch pursued a Bachelor of Arts Degree at Baylor University, majoring in both Fine Arts and Theatre. He has written, directed and produced feature films, plays and short films including Solace, which recently won “Best Shot Film” at the Queens International Film Festival, in Queens, New York.
Mr. Burch also co-wrote and co-produced the independent feature films Atlantis Down, and Wages of Sin.
He also directed the feature film Wages of Sin.
Mr. Burch co-founded Little Dog Productions with Sam Ingraffia in 2006.
Sam Ingraffia – Writer/Producer
Most recently, Sam co-wrote and co-produced two independent feature films:
Atlantis Down, a Sci fi/Thriller that was shot on location in Virginia and North Carolina. The film stars Michael Rooker, (JFK, Days of Thunder), Dean Haglund (X Files), Greg Travis (Watchmen, Halloween II) and Travis Quentin Young.
Wages of Sin, a character-driven Thriller. The film stars Travis Quentin Young, Katharine Everett and Lauren Martin.