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LEGALLY SPEAKING, IT DEPENDS: Pre-Production - Short Film Report 2

Christopher Schiller takes you into pre-production of his short film to shed some light on the challenges of independent filmmaking.

Christopher Schiller is a NY transactional entertainment attorney who counts many independent filmmakers and writers among his diverse client base. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisschiller.

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For those still on the edge of your seats with the cliffhanger ending I left in the last short film report, let me let you know where we are with the project as of this writing.

We're a go.

This article will be a short one since we're in the midst of re-ramping up pre-production leading to our first day of principal photography in the last full week of June. But since my last report prompted so much encouragement from you kind readers I thought I owed you a status report of sorts. Hopefully this will provide additional insight in case you're planning a short film production of your own writing or inspire you to consider it.

Sometimes, knowing your audience allows for the best results

Rescheduling is a daunting task. All the pieces you meticulously put in place have to be pulled up and reseated. There's no guarantee they'll all fit as well as they had in the first place. Or that you'll be able to accommodate the alterations forced upon you from the move. It's worse than just starting from scratch because you now have a benchmark of how far you got the first time to live up to. But you can use that to your advantage. You now know more about all the players and you know more about what they need to be able to come on board. Using that knowledge I was able to find a potential series of dates that had a good shot of getting everyone back to the party. The more you know about who you're wanting to deal with the better you'll be able to pre-allow for their proclivities. That makes it easier for them to say yes again and also gains you points in the recognition that you accommodate their needs. People don't want to feel like afterthoughts, so if you treat them as pre-thoughts (that's the opposite of afterthoughts, right?) they'll recognize the respect you have for them and their talents.

I was able to use my knowledge of my cast's needs and was able to find a new set of rehearsal and shooting dates that fit into their busy schedules. Once they were set I was able to contact each member of my small crew and confirm that moving the dates was not too much of a burden to them either.


Sometimes, delays are a good thing

Now remember when I said I'd had a very hard time finding a cinematographer who was available for the previously scheduled shoot? Well, when I realized I would be forced to reschedule I also realized that the enthusiasm that was shown by the cinematographers I wanted might give me another opportunity to try to get one of them on board. Several asked me to keep them in the loop even if they couldn't participate. I reached out to them and lo and behold, one of my previous best choices was available during that time and was willing and eager to join us.

To be honest, in our previous discussions I was aware of the schedule availability window of this particular cinematographer and that window definitely factored into the selection criteria of the new dates. There are always multiple reasons behind every decision. Prioritizing those reasons is one way of making sure the most opportunities are still open to you. Considering all potential opportunities and not closing doors to some of those unless you have to is a good way of keeping your options open. You remember my discussion about Plan B, right? (and Plan C, Plan D, Plan E, etc.)

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Sometimes, things take a while

Delays are inevitable when you are dealing with other entities, especially bureaucracies. Paperwork can take an inordinate amount of time to work its way through the system. You have to plan for that. But you also have to be proactive about following up on the process. It is easy to let something slide because you have lots of other things to focus on while in pre-production. But you need to make sure ALL your elements will be in place when you need them.

One way of keeping the paperwork stream going smoothly is making sure you remember that you are dealing with human beings along the way. The frustrations of the process are not usually the fault of the people you need to help you get through them. Being respectful and relying on their experience of having done this before is key to maintaining an effective and progressive front on the paperwork end. I am still finalizing the insurance and guild paperwork issues, but, I have contacts with good people whose job it is to help the process along so I have confidence all will be in place when needed as we move forward. I just have to remind myself to keep checking back and keep looking at my to do lists to make sure I haven't forgotten the next steps in the process when they're due.

Sometimes, change is scary, but that's a good thing

We've gone from shooting the short on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with an anamorphic adapter to shooting on the RED Epic Dragon in full frame 6K. Both are great options for shooting but each has completely different requirements and needs. The key parameter is knowing what each tool can bring to your production and making choices based on the artistic needs of the piece, not the dazzle of the technology. In the end, no one in the audience should be aware of what we shot our movie on. If they are I've woefully missed the target in hitting the audience's emotional core.

I am reminded of what Vilmos Zsigmond once said when asked if he thought movies should be shot on film or digital. “If it's film, fine. If it's digital, fine with me too. What matters is the story.” We are all storytellers after all. As long as you understand what opportunities and limitations come with the choices you make, you can tell your stories using any means available. That's the true challenge and that's a good thing.

That said, you have to realize the impact of the technology you use in your planning. Shooting on the Blackmagic with anamorphic lensing would have given me a wonderfully rich color pallet with a 2K scope DCP end result. But the camera work and placement and potential shots would have to take several technical limitations into account to achieve that. Going with the RED Dragon changes all those limitations and considerations, but, gives me new ones in their place. I need to realize and accommodate those choices to get the best story in front of an audience.

Sometimes, I almost feel like I know what I'm doing

In my experience, if they're honest with themselves, nearly all creatives have some level of lack of confidence in their own abilities. Most of the time as a writer I mire in my own doubts about my abilities. I have constant battles about whether I really am as good as I feel I need to be. One of the things this project has unexpectedly provided me is a stream of confidence boosting supporters. I really am surprised every time someone reads something I wrote, is pleased by it and wants to help in making it a reality. There really is something behind what is said about the draw of a quality project. When you take on a project such as this, the self-doubt can be daunting, almost crippling. It's a wonderful feeling to find people who actually believe in you based on what you've created and who you are in their eyes. I feel humbled by this experience. I really don't want to let them down. Will I succeed? As always, it depends.


For invaluable advice on short film ideas, download the 1st chapter of Roberta Marie Monroe’s book How Not to Make a Short Film! and create inspiring short films today.

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