Spending money in production is like standing on a street corner and throwing $100 dollar bills into the wind.
Production, the actual shooting phase of filmmaking, is without a doubt the most expensive and stressful part of the process. You require so many different elements to be in the same place at the same time and you need everything to work the way it was planned to pretty much right away. All of this costs money – even when you’re not paying your cast and crew you still have to feed them and you better feed them well!
It would also be good to note that as we had a number of stunts and things we did buy a basic gym mat as well so our actors wouldn’t be falling straight onto the ground.
Unit is one of the most important departments on any production and just because your low budget doesn’t mean you can ignore it. One of our best buys was the Urn. Brilliant thing, means you have boiling water consistently without the constant kettle noise ripping through your shot. Unit staples obviously include tea, coffee, drinkable water (as close to set as possible, preferably drink bottles or a container) and nibbles. We always supplied a toaster with bread and spreads (bread is cheap, spreads last a while and it’s filling), fruit, some form of cereal, biscuits, nuts & lollies (the key here is buy in bulk and put them in containers – your crew can’t be brand snobs if they can’t see the brand), and then at least one main meal. A constantly repeated meal was soup because it was the cheapest to buy but other cheap options include pasta salads, anything with rice or a BBQ (sausages and bread based with a salad, if you go fancy the price will sky rocket). If there aren’t many of you a couple of cooked chickens and rolls (or bread) can work out nicely.
For us the key was to have a variety of snack foods to ensure there was plenty to eat, and to make sure there were healthy options there too. Making everyone feel like there was always something there was really helpful; if people are well fed and watered they concentrate better and are less likely to disappear on unnecessary errands.
One of the largest items we packed to take with us every week was my unit kit. Here I had tried to think of everything we could need and supply it; both so people could look after themselves and so we knew all the basics would be covered. This kit was stored in multiple labelled plastic storage containers (about 6 all up) so they could be stacked for storage at locations.
The kit included:
Dishing washing liquid
Rubber gloves (disposable and reusable)
All the food items (in easy to access containers)
Emergency gaffer tape
Basic make-up supplies
Hot water bottles
Tea, coffee, sugar
Plastic Table cloths
Spare plastic bags
Dustpan and brush
Urn & Kettle
Rice cooker/slow cooker
Normal cups (labelled)
Ice & heat packs (snap ones)
A full first aid kit – extra plasters
Safety vests (fluro ones)
Obviously for it to be useful it needs to be constantly cleaned and well stocked, but if you have all of that stuff you don’t generally need to worry about your cast and crew much as their needs are generally being covered.
Being the only core crew members meant every shoot day Lance and I were responsible for bringing all the requirements for the shoot to set. The most obvious of these is the technical equipment; you can’t shoot without a camera. As already mentioned we purchased a Panasonic HVX 202 to shoot on, with our millar tripod and sennhousier boom mic. The audio equipment was the most inconsistent. We sometimes had a mixer, boom pole and radio mic, sometimes no radio mics, sometimes no mixer (Thank you to South Seas Film and Television School for assisting with audio gear hire). For lighting we generally used three lights a 1K and two 800’s. These we hired from Cinestuff (thanks Rita and Kevin). Lighting was the only consistent hired equipment and was essential especially since our camera did not perform well in low light.
Along with the main gear we had a flat screen TV which we used as a monitor, a large storage box full of power cords and RCD’s, a box of wooden pegs, lighting gloves, vivids, tape, spare batteries, craft knife, measuring tapes, a mic stand, audio cables of various lengths, a fleckie disk, large pieces of polystyrene, among other things that I can’t recall at the moment.
Costume and props also needed to be packed and we had a separate box for key props/costume. We didn’t take everything with us every day as there was always the risk something would be missing or be forgotten (the more stuff you have there the more likely it is that something would disappear). Of course packing it differently everyday runs the risk of something being forgotten and we did leave behind props or costume items a couple of times. Nothing went missing though so the system did work. Initially for the costumes I had photo costume cards that accompanied the outfits so we knew which costume was which. Eventually they were no longer required as we memorised the requirements. Having detailed breakdowns of the scenes and their requirements helped immensely with this preparation. Also having a limited number of costumes for each character obviously made it easier to remember the costume requirements.
Key learning’s to take away from our shoot:
Be organised. Over organised is better. Think outside the square about everything you could possibly need and try to have it there. Especially when you have a small crew having everything at your finger tips is a real blessing. Generally when you need something you need it right away and can’t afford for a principal crew member to disappear, even sending a runner can be time consuming and should be limited if possible (don’t forget your probably paying for that excessive use of gas). Contingency planning can seem like a bore but everyone will be thanking you for it later and you will have saved yourself a bundle.
Plan out your shots. You will probably throw the plan away but having an idea to start with can mean the difference between finishing on schedule and wasting an hour debating the line. The scenes for which we had shot lists generally worked a lot better than the ones we didn’t and once you’ve got the coverage you know you need quickly other angles start appearing that you can fire through.
Don’t do everything yourself. Well unless you’re a total masochist. You will sacrifice quality by trying to do too much and you are far more likely to burn out. You will also create headaches for yourself in post…
All those post headaches and pain killers explained next time.