Struggling with the particular pieces of the puzzle is something I’m sure happens more often than not in indie filmmaking, even though everyone is hearing about the overnight wonders. You know, the folks who raised a million or just short of it on Kickstarter, Indie Go Go or Rocket Hub or who had a wonderfully faithful contributor in the industry, while the rest of us struggle with raising funds, keeping our team together, and putting a project together that will get us to the next step.
I knew it took work–lots of work–from several avenues to successfully complete a film (since some of our instructors from film school were passionately dedicated to providing that stream of thought) BUT, more recently, after hearing about the successful campaigners, marketers and promotion gurus in filmmaking–I became a little discouraged. My online fundraising campaigns were not successful and I actively sought information to help. Thank goodness I stumbled on to an dialogue about Internet fundraising and its merits. One filmmaker seemed particularly vehement we not all sign up for the quick success paradigm the online fundraising vehicles offer. Reading his comments literally picked me up and set me back on my feet. Lovely thing, the writer.
So now, I’ve been thinking about what to do before launching my next attack. Goodness knows there are a lot of mistakes to learn from.
So, with that said, here are five things I believe every filmmaker needs to get in order before they set foot on a film set.
1. Make sure you have A’true’ support system – And this is not people on Facebook who hit a like whenever you post something witty, or the activity friend you go to the bar or to see live music with; not the friend who calls you up to wail about every boyfriend (or friend) and not other filmmakers at the exact same stage of challenge as you. Dealing with the challenges can vex and swallow a person, so it’s difficult to pull your head and heart away to provide true support for a friend–when you’re in the midst of it. But support isn’t even the friends you talk to every now and then. The support system are friends or family who are actually interested in your well being when you’re not moving along any trial and when nothing exciting is happening. A true support system consists of people who are interested in you, because they care about you as a person thus care about your many responses to life. They are also the folks who know you well enough to know what you do when you get in tough spots or not and will respect that. So if you get fired from your own film, they won’t be expecting you to show up at their house warming two days later. Filmmaking is a tough journey; you need soldiers in your camp.
2. Focus on one task at a time – Like I want to raise $50,000 or I want to send this script to Imagine, or I want to workshop the piece with actors. Having a list of things you want to move through will put pressure on you and confuse the team you’ve assembled to help. You will also have to keep reminding people which goal you’re working on on a particular day, if you toggle back and forth. Map out one main goal to achieve, to get the ball rolling. So there should be a ‘pre,’ to pre-production, for certain.
3. Check, double check, and triple check the team you hire – And I don’t claim to be perfect at this one, at all. But who you hire will affect the outcome and if that isn’t pressure enough, resumes can be fudged–as can references. So how do you hire someone you trust? They have to be dedicated to something bigger than simply placing another production on the resume because that does not determine how someone will speak to someone else when they are annoyed, whether they are a positive contributor or a negative subtractor (gossips/non), whether they will do work that just gets by or be so meticulous they stress everyone out through perfectionism. So, I think finding people who have commonalities with the project you are working on, a mission already in place along what you aim to achieve, and even a common person you’ve both worked with is good.
4. Know your weaknesses and hire people who can fill that gap – My training is as a visual artist and I’ve cut my teeth on writing. Producing came about because who else was going to do it? But I will admit, it’s probably not my strength. I’ve learned to do it, as we all do on indie projects – because I had to and because we had no budget. But, I think the hierarchy was non existent on the project I just halted. Everyone got to “try” whatever they were interested in because I needed the help. The problem is, I’m kind of emo so when we hit the challenges it was difficult to keep people motivated as a producer.
I want to share reality as I see it (not good with a less experienced team–it scares them and your team becomes wobbly). There is value to having someone who speaks about the project in a different way, who recharges the army when you’re unable to, maybe who takes less of a hit when you do, and there are those who have been doing this for a gazillion years who won’t. Yes, those guys cost money but an experienced producing partner is worth it and getting one is probably the best place to start.
5. Make sure you have a stable job to sustain the development of your craft – We are in a recession now, so jobs are hard to come by. But having a job where the boss, managers, customers and such less than terrorize you is ideal because in these types of jobs you will spend any time off recovering from the experience. Plus you’ll need your nights or weekends to work on the film. It can be done with a job that is detrimental to your mental and emotional health, but I recommend finding another job if that current 9-5 is a profound drain. It’s just the life you have to maintain as a director /writer/producer. So if you already have somewhat ‘drama-proof’ employment–great. Otherwise, you may want to consider job-searching.