Micro-budget filmmaking is no joke. You have to stretch every single dollar you spend, and utilize every single minute you have, and wear plenty of creative hats.
Bottom line: Indie filmmakers are masters at minimalism. “Primer,” a 2004 Sundance darling, was shot on film for $7,000 by a handful of friends. The director, Shane Carruth, wrote, directed, and starred in his debut film. He even scored it, and edited it. The guy is a jack of all trades. His crew was five strong, and his cast was tiny too–at around 19–including himself.
Skeleton casts and crews aren’t uncommon to the micro-budget film. In fact, they’re necessary. Smart, even. My film is no exception.
There are a bevy of books and resources online that will help you navigate the bare “necessities” of indie filmmaking. One of my favorites is “How to Shoot a Feature Film for Under $10,000 and Not Go To Jail” by Bret Stern. In it, Stern outlines the bare minimum of the bare minimum, and he does so in a humorous way. I highly recommend picking up a copy (and no, I wasn’t paid to say that).
Since there are resources where you can get this information (editor’s note: check out the Film Resources section on this site), I won’t reinvent the wheel. Besides, this series is about following how I’m doing it, right? Yeah, that’s all that matters. How I do things.
All kidding aside, my fellow producers and I have put a lot of thought and time into planning the bare minimum crew positions that need to be filled on our set, and I wanted to share that with you now. Because of the size of our budget, these positions are mostly volunteer or deferred pay.
You all know what this guy does, and in this case, it’s me.
First Assistant Director/Unit Production Manager
We’re combining these two key positions into one, who will likely be paid.
Production Designer/Line Producer
One of the other producers is filling the creative role of Production Designer, but will also act as a sort of Line Producer on set, so that I can be left to direct and not be bothered with petty things like writing checks and keeping the police at bay.
Director of Photography
In theory, if I was better with the camera, I could fill this position as well and really stress myself out. However, I’m not all that great. A real cinematographer is more than needed.
First Assistant Camera
Yep, our DP is going to need an extra set of hands. We plan on utilizing local film school talent for this position.
Production Sound Mixer
If your movie sounds bad, your movie is bad.
Hopefully one with a grip truck. And I didn’t combine these positions to be insulting…I just need this person to do a lot. For a little. I know what you’re thinking… “Where do I sign up?”
I rarely see this one on anyone’s “Must-Have” list. However, I view this role as crucial in narrative filmmaking. Heaven knows I can’t track details like a good continuity nazi can.
PAs & Grips
So, the way we plan on handling these positions is by having shifts designated for each department, and recruiting volunteers to fill these shifts. This is tricky business, as any of you who have made a film before will attest. People say they’re going to show up, then they don’t. Or you plan for this, and everyone shows up, and people are left with nothing to do, so they don’t come back the next time.
Tricky, but we’ll manage.
Eight people and a handful of grips and PAs is an army compared to Carruth’s gang. However, I’m not Shane Carruth. And my film isn’t “Primer.” We’ve boiled our list down as lean as we can make it, and this is what we landed on.
Our cast will also have to be lean, utilizing up and coming talent willing to work for credit, deferred pay, and food.
Limitations like this are actually opportunities for creativity to bloom. Seriously. That’s not just optimism or a motivational poster. Creativity thrives in environments where resources are limited.
This month, we’ll be traveling to Coshocton, OH, the namesake of the film and our sole geographic resource for principal photography. We’ll be doing some fundraising, very early location scouting, and making necessary emotional connection with the wonderful town that inspired our story. Next month, I’ll write about that experience in detail.
In the comments, I’d love to hear what you think about our little list. Are we missing someone? Or is our list fat, even though we’ve done our best to trim all that away?
Danial James is a media & marketing professional who is in the early stages of development on his first feature-film. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org