29 September 2011

How to Get a Positive Write-up on A Year Without Rent

The other day, a prospective film asked me in not-so-many words what it takes to get a good or bad writeup in the A Year Without Rent series. Obviously, he's worried that I'm going to show up and take some small little thing and blow it out of proportion. I don't do that, but fear is fear.

That got stuck in my head, so I came up with a list. And seeing as the series is going to turn ugly pretty damned soon, this is as good a time as any to post it.

1. Hire Good People

UP COUNTRY isn't really one of our projects (well, the production part, anyway), but we had one really, really inept crew member. He shouldn't have been anywhere near the set. Luckily, he was at the bottom of the totem pole, but I've seen producers who shouldn't have been anywhere near the set. It happens all over the place. And it isn't always because they're inept. Sometimes they just can't handle the job. Sometimes their personality clashes with the people they're supposed to be working with. Whatever the situation, these are things you (and I) should be figuring out in pre-production. Check references. Ask around. You can learn a lot about someone by talking to people they've worked with.

2. Do Your Homework

You don't always have to do storyboards. Lots of filmmakers don't. You don't even necessarily need a shot list. Or a script. But, dammit, you have to know your story. You have to know what you want and how to get it. Otherwise, you're just floundering around on set. It looks weak. And when you look weak, the sharks will find you. And when the sharks find you, I write that shit down.

3. Feed People

Seriously. Fucking feed people. There should be a craft services table with healthy snacks on it. And meals. Real meals. On-time. If you're shooting on location and the crew lives on location, then you are responsible for all 3 meals. A hungry crew is a grumpy crew. It takes very little to turn a grumpy crew into an angry crew. You don't want an angry crew.

As for beer: wrap beers are a good idea. On-set beers are a bad idea.

4. Call Sheet

The crew should have a call sheet before they wrap for the night. At bare minimum, a call time that's clear to everyone. Don't assume word will get around. People like to know if they have to be up at 6am or 10am before they decide if they want to start drinking.

But, seriously, a call sheet should have more information than you think it needs. The schedule. The scenes to be shot. The weather. Directions to crew parking. The crew is going to carry it around all day, so give them all the information they need.

5. Communication

Things will go wrong. The schedule will change. When it does, tell people. The people working on this film with you aren't your employees, they're your creative partners. Treat them as such. The crew probably knows before you do that you aren't going to make your day. What they don't know is how you're going to adjust. So keep them in the loop. If you know that you're going 3 hours over the scheduled wrap time, it's a good idea to get everyone else's buy-in. If they say "no", then they're the bad guys. If you don't ask, you're the bad guy.

You'll notice that none of these things have anything to do with your budget. Well, the food does, but if you don't have the budget to feed people, you should be making a smaller movie. This is almost entirely a list of things that involve organization or being a good boss. Management 101 stuff. And it's in your control, whether your budget is $1,000 or $1,000,000. And, really, if you can't do these things, you shouldn't be surprised when things fall apart. Because they probably will. And you definitely shouldn't be surprised when I write about your production being a disorganized clusterfuck, even if it doesn't seem like that to you.

But if you can handle that (and really, it's a pretty basic list), you shouldn't be all that worried. If you really do the work, I'm going to write about that. So man up (or woman up) and get on the schedule already.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. His feature-length debut is now available to rent on VOD. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.