Gather your cast and crew.
From the cinematographer to the costume and set designers, everyone should share the director’s vision and be willing to invest themselves in the work. (Personal connections to film festivals or distributors don’t hurt either.) “Production is a long, collaborative process, and someone who isn’t game can be a real anchor on the whole thing,” says Stoler.
Be clear about what you expect, but also find out what your crew members want to get out of the film. “I really want to know what they are interested in doing,” Stoler says. “If people feel respected, if they’re given an opportunity to grow and stretch themselves — do something a little out of their range — then they are much more likely to give you much more and try much harder.”
Make the most of the talent around you. “The best projects are ones in which the director guides the vision but doesn’t dictate it. And that means ditching your ego and really listening to people’s opinions about what should happen,” Stoler says.
Maximize your resources.
It takes a lot of money to make a movie, so raise as much as you can. But you should also consider the other resources available to you. “First-time filmmakers, who have to do a lot on a very small budget, should think about other resources, like people who can help you and locations you can use,” Stoler says.
Prepare as much as you can.
The more prepared you are for production before it begins, the better off you’ll be. “Things will change, but if you at least go into everything with a good shot list or storyboards, it will be much easier to pivot at the last minute,” says Emetaz. If you know a scene will require elaborate costumes, you can budget time and personnel for getting actors in and out of them.
Through meticulous preparation, you can learn exactly what you can do on your budget. “It’s a lot easier to cut things at this stage than to get halfway through production and run out of money,” says Emetaz. Stoler recommends creating a spreadsheet of every 15 minutes of every shooting day, so every member of cast and crew knows where they need to be and what they need to do at all times. This level of planning will also help you know what you need to do to set up every location and determine equipment rental and insurance needs.
Budget for as much shooting time as you can because you’ll always feel short of time on set. “Expect your director of photography to underestimate how long everything will take, so add space for things to take longer than you thought,” says Stoler.
Every new shot takes time to set up, so if you have crew members, you can multitask. While you shoot the first shot, set design can work on the second shot and your gaffer can figure out how to get good lighting for it. The key is to schedule all of that and make sure everyone has the schedule. “This is the magic of the spreadsheet,” Stoler says.
Tips for a successful production.
You’ve made your plan and hired everyone (or, if you have no budget, called in all your favors). You have a schedule, locations, equipment, costumes, and props. Now it’s time to block scenes, or figure out how the actors will move in relation to the camera. While the actors rehearse, you can set up and adjust the lighting. Finally, make sure the camera is rolling and the microphones are recording, and you’re ready to start shooting your film.
“It’s always unexpected things that go wrong,” says Emetaz. He recalls trying to shoot a canoeing scene only to discover that the actor didn’t know how to paddle a canoe. “That was a huge problem no one anticipated. You’re just trying to knock off all the things that you need to shoot to complete the film, and you’re going to constantly run into problems.”
Make backup plans. Set up contingencies that account for the unexpected. “It’s really an insane battle against time, because every second is really expensive,” adds Emetaz.