Updated: Oct 9
If you're like most aspiring filmmakers, you're always looking for a better way to run your film production. But it may seem like you're always missing an added ingredient that would kick your production into high gear.
I know it can be frustrating because it seems like you don't have the proper insight, foundation, or resources to get your production off the ground.
Yet, living in uncertainty is just a part of the process for a novice filmmaker. You may even sometimes feel imposter syndrome kicking in. But let me say this...
You're doing just fine, and everyone starts from somewhere. Even experienced filmmakers live in uncertainty at times. Shooting a film is such an unpredictable business.
"You just have to roll with the punches."
That's a bonus tip⬆️ on running a successful indie production.
PS: Some of these are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I may get a commission for recommending the product to you.
Running an indie film production requires intangible managerial skills, technical know-how, and a creative mindset. If that's you, then read on…
So, here's the good news: I created an 8-step guide to help with the intangibles of running a film production. These steps include:
Step 1: Be Positive & Have an Optimistic Outlook
Step 2: Preparation Meets Opportunity
Step 3: Creating a Pre-production Schedule
Step 4: Conducting Routine Production Meetings
Step 5: Assigning Tasks
Step 6: Always Reverify Everything
Step 7: Change is Inevitable
Step 8: Stay Healthy
Now, let's take a look at each of these steps in a little more detail…
Step 1: Be Positive & Have an Optimistic Outlook
This first step seems pretty simple, right? And, it IS if you start your film production with the right attitude. You're probably thinking, "Is this really a step?" Absolutely! You'll soon learn that so many beginner filmmakers let their insecurities from lack of experience impact their emotions. 😥🙃😤😢😧
Look, I've definitely been there. On my first feature film project, "Because I Love You," I had the worst attitude. I always thought somebody was trying to get over on me. And some people WERE; however, I let those negative emotions impact my behavior with the people who weren't. Not a good look.😏
My lack of experience made it difficult for me to assess my responsibilities and the people I was dealing with. There were so many elements that had to perfectly align with the production, such as hiring cast & crew, finding locations, leasing equipment, etc., that I sometimes doubted my abilities.
Plus, I didn't give myself much development or pre-production time. I could have alleviated a lot of my doubt if I just would've taken my time.
I'm not going to lie, y'all. I was just really excited to make a movie. I let my excitement dictate my decisions. Bad move! Another tip from me…
"Don't let your excitement impede your sense of responsibility. Stay focused on preparing for a successful film production."
The best way to remain positive is to prepare yourself during pre-production and don't panic when something inevitably goes wrong. That's just the nature of the beast. So, keep a level head and slay that beast when it arises.
Knowing there's always something you may need to fix is half the battle. It actually becomes a fun little game, knowing you've conquered every issue that came your way.
Step 2: Preparation Meets Opportunity
It would be best if you considered pre-production as "quality" time. This is when you have the time to nurture your baby. As I mentioned earlier, if you properly prepare during development and pre-production, it would alleviate all of those insecurities that impacts your positive attitude.
You will move with confidence because you will know that you prepared your film production for success.
Development and pre-production time can differ on each project. It just depends on the complexities of the project.
For instance, if you were creating a movie like Avatar, you will need a lot more time in development and pre-production.
The primary reason for Avatar's 15-year development is that the technology of the late 1990s simply wasn't good enough to cope with the demands of James Cameron's concept, amongst other reasons. To learn more about the lengthy development for Avatar, read this article.
Now, most—I mean, NO indie filmmaker will be producing a $237million blockbuster movie. So, for this blog article, we will stick around the micro-budget range for discussing pre-production prep. Again, the amount of time needed for prep depends on your story concept.
Do you have multiple locations to scout?
Do you have action sequences to storyboard and coordinate?
Do you have a ton of people to cast? (Please don't!)
A story set in one location with only two characters is less demanding than one with several sites and multiple actors. So, keep that in mind when creating your pre-production schedule.
Let me share with you three tips for making this step go more smoothly...
Tip 1: Limit locations
Tip 2: Avoid complex set design and construction
Tip 3: Avoid complex stunt sequences
"Achievement is when preparation meets the opportunity to excel at delivering a top-notch, quality product."
Step 3: Create a Pre-production schedule
Now that you understand how imperative pre-production is let's create a schedule to ensure you maximize your effectiveness and efficiency during this period.
For this step, you need to use the shoot date as your final target.
It's vital that you create deadlines for securing cast, crew, equipment, insurance, unions, locations, etc. Working from deadlines helps keep the film production on track.
One word of warning:⚠️ Any delays due to poor planning and time management can cost the production. 💰
If you're just getting started in the film industry, google calendar works just fine for scheduling pre-production activities. Using production software like Celtx, Movie Magic or StudioBinder would be beneficial for more demanding movie productions as you grow and learn.
Step 4: Conduct Routine Production Meetings
At a minimum, conduct a weekly production meeting. A weekly production meeting is an excellent way to keep track of everyone's progress.
But remember, that's just a minimum. It would be best if you kept in constant contact with key creative staff. During this period, you should hold meetings with the following:
Director – discusses the creative vision.
Director of Photography – discusses the visuals, lighting design, and equipment needs.
Production Designer – discusses set design and the look and feel of the Director's vision.
Costumer – discusses wardrobe needs.
Property Master – discusses props needed.
There are several other creatives you should prepare to meet with during pre-production. Keep that in mind when formulating your schedule.
Step 5: Assign Tasks
Delegation is key to running a smooth operation. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and one person cannot do it all. Although, on micro-budget films, we tend to wear multiple hats. However, those hats tend to run somewhat in the same lane.
However, those duties makes a lot more sense than the producer also trying to be the cinematographer on a project. It would be a little difficult for the producer to pull that off.
A cinematographer has to remain on the set shooting the picture. They don't have time to stop shooting to take care of the logistics for production. That's a catastrophe waiting to happen.
Plus, time is money. The more time you waste trying to do it all, the more money you burn.
Step 6: Always Reverify Everything
Always double-check, triple-check; you might even want to quadruple-check. You can never assume anything is completed. If you assume that something is done, there's a 50-50 chance that it's not. Can you bet all of your micro-budget on that possibility?
So, here's a story about when I didn't double-check a location…
I needed a location that had a green screen cyclorama (cyc) for my first feature film, "Because I Love You." A Cyc is a walled background with a curved surface that's used to create a set with no distinguishable beginning or end.
I googled for locations in the Houston, Texas, area that had green screens on-site. I found a website that showed a terrific place with the perfect green screen cyc, or so I thought. I didn't scout the location because the picture of the green screen was amazing. Ha!😏🙄
When production showed up at this location, I was dumbfounded. There was no cyc. It was just a green screen made of fabric. Now, I precisely needed a cyc because I had a ballerina who was supposed to be twirling around on water. She can't TWIRL on fabric!
All eyes were on me.
What did I mention earlier? DON'T PANIC! Or at least not outwardly.
I immediately got into-- gotta save this production day mode. I quickly remembered that the film school I attended had a cyc. I called in some favors, and viola—I saved the day! Whew… I was sweating bullets.
Tip💡: Don't ever put yourself in that situation. You never know if you'll be able to make that save.
Now, some crew members may think you're micro-managing them, but you're not. You're just thorough and efficient. Someone always forgets to do something. So, double-checking is just being cautious. It's all about how you go about doing your re-checks that would determine if you're micro-managing.
Step 7: Change is Inevitable for Film Productions
The process of shooting a film is an evolution. You have to keep that in mind. There are no hard and fast rules to developing, shooting, and delivering a film.
You may start with a perfectly planned schedule, but then all of a sudden, you can't get a location on a specific date. So, you change the schedule. But then an actor can't shoot on that date. So, now you have to make another adjustment to the schedule. That dance goes on and on until you finally have a locked schedule, sometimes right up to the shooting date.
But, hold up! 🛑 Your schedule can still change in the middle of principal photography because a location owner decides to pull out of their deal.
Yep, this has happened to me. The super producer had to put on her cape again. Hahaha!
All jokes aside, this can and will happen along with so many other scenarios.
The script, schedule, budget, casting, locations, and so on will go through many changes. Just be flexible.
Step 8: Stay Healthy
Yeah, that's a step. Especially, during the years of 2020/2021, when a deadly pandemic has its grip on the world.
Putting together a successful indie film production can be stressful, taking a toll on the body and weakening the immune system.
You want to be healthy when you're in production. You don't want to nearly pass out on your set. True Story!
I was directing a short film, Karma: The Tale of a Woman Scorned, when I started feeling faint. My body was overheating, and I couldn't quite breathe.
I hadn't eaten all day and barely drank any water. Plus, the production lights burning in that small bedroom just made it unbearable. My body couldn't take it. I was going down.
It was a cool breezy night, so the crew opened a window to let the breeze flow in the room. I literally crouched on the floor near the window so that I could take in the cool air.
Don't let that be you. Take care of yourselves so that you can be at your peak, optimal condition.
You cannot slow down or postpone production because you're not feeling well.
Time is money!
So, there you have it – a quick and easy 8-step process for running a successful indie film production. If you apply the tactics you learned, you should be able to pull off an independent film production. Just to recap…
You've learned how to be positive and have an optimistic outlook.
You've learned that you should allow enough time for development and pre-production.
You've learned that you should create a pre-production schedule.
You've learned that you should conduct routine production meetings.
You've learned the importance of delegating responsibility.
You've learned never to assume a task is done—always double-check.
You've learned that change is inevitable and to be flexible.
And, you've learned the importance of staying healthy.
Now there's just one thing left for you to do – take action! And do it today, because the sooner you get started, the sooner you'll get your film production off the ground!
An excellent exercise for you would be to create a start-up projection of all the development activities to be performed and when they will occur. Generating a start-up projection is a great way to organize your film's production schedule and keep interested parties abreast of all actions. Here's a worksheet to help get you started: Start-up Projection Worksheet
Remember, this is not a pointless exercise. Planning for your film production begins in the development stage. This exercise would be one of your first steps towards figuring out your production strategy.
Oh, and let me know how this exercise works out for your project.
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Of course, Diversity in Cinema Academy has many other resources that I love to share with you, but I wanted to keep this blog strictly about the eight steps of running a film production.
If I had to pick two resources I couldn't live without for starting my film production, it would be these two tools.
Tool #1 - Voice and Vision
Tool #2 - Microsoft 365
Aside from the tools above, I also use many other resources to help me prep for a movie production. Some of them are FREE and some are paid.
You can check out some of the other resources that I love using on Diversity in Cinema Academy's resources page. You can view all of the resources for Filmmakers, Content Creators and Screenwriters from the links provided.
From filmmaking tools, to content creation tools, to screenwriting tools... they all can be found in the tools section of Diversity in Cinema Academy's website. I highly recommend that you check out our tools store! :)
If you like it, please help me to share the resources link with a friend. I would really appreciate it!
Okay, that's all for now. I hope that you have found the information I provided helpful!
Enough information, start preparing!
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