Communication is the Indie Filmmaking Special Sauce

The most important thing you need on a film set is Communication. On a studio film shoot, the budget allows department heads to have plenty opportunities to meet and disseminate information where it needs to go. But on an Indie set, there’s usually a mad visionary and her or his friends just trying to get it in the can. But without ‘communication,’ it’s nearly impossible.

In order to make a film, you need a clear and specific plan that’s flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen changes. When making an Indie film, this plan is usually only in one person’s head. Typically that’s the director, but if the director is wearing a bunch of hats (Writer, AD, Producer, DP, Craft Services, Grip, Set Designer, Sound, Props , Actor…,) then any help he has needs to either be very clear on the plan, otherwise, said visionary is pretty much doing it all alone.

Director – Actors need to constantly, ‘check the gate’ or review footage before moving on to the next shot or take. Director – Producers are trying to get the next shot and secure the next location or lunch. The Director – DP isn’t an obvious conflict, so long as she or he is prepared to get both the shot AND the performance. Director – Props / Set Designers/ and Grips are constantly stepping away from ‘getting the performance’ and fighting with lights, props or sets. The unfortunate truth is the less budget you have, the more hats everyone will have to wear. Likewise, the fewer ‘experts.

Three steps to circumvent the problem of ‘essentially having to do it all,’ include:

  • Communicating your vision to people about what you want. Filmmaking is a visual medium, so this might mean finding pictures, or film clips to serve as references. “We’re shooting in an office that we only have for a day. I want this desk to look like this picture.”
  •  Find surrogates and trust them. If you can’t trust the folks you’re working with to deliver what you need, that’s a sure sign that either A) you haven’t communicated the vision clearly, or B) you don’t really know what you’re doing, so you want to figure it all out as you go.
  •  Preparation.  The more work you do before the shooting days to rehearse your talent, pre-dress your location, pre-viz your whole shoot, pre-make your effects, pre-test your lighting, pre-scout the location (with all your department heads) Pre-block,…. the less you have to think about ‘figuring out’ on the day. And you don’t want to do all of this yourself… you want to work with team members to be able to hand it over so you can stay in the pocket and Direct/Act/Produce or whatever.

There is nothing better than having battle tested your team in the trenches, but if you don’t have history with members of your team, that’s not an excuse to fail.

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