Making your first feature film is no small task, even if you have a studio backing you. Making your first feature film independently? Now that's just crazy talk. Right?
Wrong. I assure you it can be done. It’s just harder. And it requires that you surround yourself with a group of people who are willing to follow you wholeheartedly into the battlefield of independent filmmaking.
My aim with this post is to share how I assembled my “Avengers” if you will for my debut feature Son of Clowns. These good folks, both cast and crew, came together and volunteered over the course of ten of the hottest days of a sweltering North Carolina summer.
First up, here’s the trailer for Son of Clowns:
And here are my best tips for finding dedicated cast and crew for your low budget and no budget films.
Find good people
What I mean by good people is really pretty simple. Can they act/shoot/grip well is certainly part of this. But it goes further.
When making a feature film, countless things can go wrong, and they do go wrong. Murphy’s Law really is the name of the game. With that being the case, don’t you want folks who have your back? I did. And it made all the difference.
These are people who will fight for you, staying up until 2AM to get that perfect take. Then they tell their friends about the feature they worked on over the summer. These guys surprise everyone on set with ice cream when no one asked them to. (Yes that actually happened. Thanks again Paul.)
But where do you find them?
Other people’s film sets, film meetup groups, classmates, friends with a casual interest in what you do and want that first chance. These people are self starters just like yourself. And in this case opposites don’t attract. You’ll find one another.
Long story short, these guys are your backbone. When searching for these people, understand they are the ones who will give you that special feeling when you meet them.
Be good people
This goes both ways. Be the type of person you would want working on your film.
Find ways to be proactive in your downtime. Perhaps help that friend making a short who really needs a boom operator. See what advice you can offer to college kids in film school on perfecting their thesis. Anything helps. And when you help someone else it truly shows you are vested in more than just yourself.
Don’t make it about the “big break”
Every piece of your pitch to potential cast and crew shouldn’t be about exposure, about how your movie could blow up and make them a star. We’ve heard it all before, and it’s almost never true.
Instead make it about now.
Clearly your to-be crew are interested in your project at this stage as you have assumedly already found each other. Now you need to convince them to follow you onto the battlefield that is filmmaking.
To do this? Just be yourself and speak from the heart. Instead of talking about how you just know this one is getting into Sundance, instead try speaking to why it is you wrote the film in the first place. What elements and themes did you pull from your life to tell this story. Why is making this particular film the most important thing in your life right now?
Transparency is so important. People can see what projects have potential from these interactions, especially if they are sincere.
Casting is king
Often times people tell me that finding actors for their film is the hardest part of the process. I often times find that hard to believe, I just think folks are looking in the wrong places.
Many filmmakers seem to think that the only people that can act are those with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Certainly these are a phenomenal crop.
But look local.
Search for acting classes/groups in your area, attend community theater. When you are on that friend’s set as a boom operator, get the number of that actor you see killing in every take. It’s truly those ways that you meet the best actors. You just have to search around.
And then finally auditioning… you have to do just that.
Whether you do it in person or online via Skype, I plead to you. Just make sure it happens. No matter how much you love your script, it will sound drastically different coming out of various folk’s mouths.
This will be where you start to get gut feelings about who’s right and wrong for a role. And when they are right, it’s quite a feeling. As the saying goes, when you know you know.
Know what you want
This is arguably this most important piece here. Whether you’re on set or just cramped in a coffee shop months prior doing prep, you must have a plan.
Again. Your cast/crew will pick up on this. I have worked crew for countless other directors and I always want to feel like my director has got my back. So what are you gonna do?
Have their back.
Be upfront with any issues of challenges that could come up from filming a scene. Are you trying to cram 5 hours of shooting into 3 just so you can catch the sun before it gets dark. Tell your crew. And have a plan B, C, and D too. Offer solutions and remain calm when plan A fails, because it always does.
As the director it’s your job to have the answers. Do not skimp on your prep. Be ready to lead the charge on the battlefield when the going gets tough.
Doing that will set you up for success every day of the week.
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