Filming my Short: Pre-Production
This is something I have been delaying posting about, maybe because at first it seemed like such a huge thing that it couldn’t really be happening, and then I just wanted to wait until I got the location, or I got the actor or…there was always something. Still, I wanted to make sure that I shared the entire process with you, so here is a post on our progress so far:
Asking for Help
When I made “Film a Short I Wrote” one of my resolutions this year, it was mostly to try and push myself to do something I really wanted to do, but was also really terrified of. I have been writing for as long as I can remember, but other than my mom and a few English teachers, I have rarely had anyone read any of it. This, combined with the fact that the short would be no budget (as in asking people to put time and energy into something I wrote with no compensation) meant that I was pretty reluctant to start asking. It’s also why the scene I filmed last year was with only one other actress (thank you Lorraine!) and my dad was the director/DoP/everything else, because he has to love me no matter what.
All this to say that almost every aspect of filming my own short scares me. So, with my “What scares me? Let’s do that!” resolution, this year was the perfect time to go for it. I looked over a few things I had already written and settled on one I thought would be easy to film. This was possibly my first mistake, because although it is only 3 pages, it also has 4 locations, two of which aren’t the easiest to secure, but I will get to that.
Once I had the script, I had to find people willing to help me out and be a part of my crew. I felt like everyone in my network was way above doing a tiny non-union, no-budget short that I had written, so the only people I asked were the two people who had specifically offered their help in the past. The guy I asked to be my Director of Photography (colloquially referred to as a camera man) was someone I enjoyed working with on another project, but I had never seen any of his actual work, and then the guy I asked to do my sound (which is really, really important) offered to direct it for me. I only ever knew him as a sound guy, which meant I had a crew of people whose work I had never actually seen, but that I knew I liked and got along with. This might seem like a crazy way to build your crew, but when you think of it, it’s also kind of genius. I have since seen shorts that my director directed, and some that my DoP filmed, so it is safe to say that they know what they’re doing, but I also know that I can trust them. Not just to make my short the best it can be, but also to sort of walk me through it, because they know this is my first short and that I’m kind of apprehensive and…they’ve just got my back.
After they both said yes, we started having pre-production meetings. It was then that I understood that even if they had said yes more to help me out than because they loved the script, they were still extremely dedicated to making it awesome rather than just getting it over with. I had originally thought the short would be used mostly for demo reel purposes, to show a bit more of my range, but from talking with them, I am pretty sure I am going to want to send it to festivals as well.
Also, when I had chosen this script over others, I read it while asking myself “Does this work?” and the answer was that it does. However, my crew reads it and then asks me things like “What are you trying to say here?”, “Why does he/she say/do this?” and “What is the story about?” They raised other questions I had never even considered. The script has gone through a multitude of revisions because some people don’t just think about whether it’s okay, they ask themselves (and me) “How can this be better?” Which is scary at first, because it means that rather than a yes or no answer, I have actually dissected every line that I wrote with at least 3 different people to question why I wrote it and if there is a way I could have said it better. Two of these people are my core crew, but one of them is a friend from work whom I asked to read it to see if he had any constructive criticism. What I thought would take 5 minutes turned into hours of advice and emails and not just telling me how to make it better, but making me think of ways to do that, and helping me understand the technical side of things, so I could actually try and submit scripts to producers and such in the future. I was absolutely floored by how much people wanted to help me for basically nothing in return, except for my undying gratitude. Which they have, every single one of them.
Cast and Crew
My crew quickly snowballed from 2 to 7, with a lighting guy, boom operator, AD (which stands for Assistant Director, but is more like a project manager than an assistant to the director), makeup artist and assistant DoP. They were all contacted by the 2 crew members I had already found, so all I had to do was hire the makeup artist, that I had worked with on another set, so I knew she was good and really nice. Which is what I seem to be looking for in my crew
Since there was only one role that really needed to be cast off more than a picture or past experience, we decided to go by self tapes. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of responses and self tapes we got, and definitely not prepared to hear people reciting the words that I had written and bringing them to life. There were so many incredible performances, and I discovered moments that I hadn’t even thought of while watching the guys do the scene.
Finally, after lots of deliberating, we narrowed it down to 3 guys that we brought in for callbacks. I was incredibly fortunate to have the most awesome and supportive acting teacher who let me use her classroom, which actually doubles as a casting office, for these callbacks. The hard part was having to turn down the actors we weren’t bringing in, some of which I knew, because so many of them could have done a great job as my David.
The 3 we chose had each done awesome in their self tapes, but we needed to make sure they could play the other scenes as well, with some intricacies that they would have to portray. My director and I went through the scenes with them, with me sort of feeling like I was also auditioning. Especially because I didn’t audition for or book my part, I just wrote myself into it. My director joked about it, but my one requirement when accepting his offer to direct was that I get to be Cassie. In reality, it was more of a chemistry test.
If I thought narrowing it down to 3 was hard, actually casting the lead was heartbreaking. And not just because I have an almost pathological need for people to like me, which I feel like they won’t when I turn them down for a role. In the end, one of them will be our lead, another fits perfectly as the bartender, and I have vowed to write one in to whatever my next project is. Working behind the scenes definitely helps you appreciate how often getting cast has nothing to do with you or your acting or how awesome you are or how much they like you.
Locations were kind of iffy, because I wasn’t thinking that the easiest script would be the one with fewer locations. Instead, I opted for the one that needs a bar and a cemetery. There were a few promising leads, then I got a little discouraged when nothing was panning out, but my hometown came through in the end. I had to explain my story and the character’s motivations to a priest, but my guys (as I sometimes refer to my crew) went to visit all the locations last weekend and it seems like we are a go.
I have my cast, my crew, my locations and my shooting dates. All I have left is less than 2 weeks to turn this dream into a reality!
“I believe that filmmaking – as, probably, is everything – is a game you should play with all your cards, and all your dice, and whatever else you’ve got. So, each time I make a movie, I give it everything I have. I think everyone should, and I think everyone should do everything they do that way.”
-Francis Ford Coppola