Slate Up: Five Things to Prepare Before Starting Your Film

In partnership with Film Slate Magazine, we’re publishing “Slate Up,” a fortnightly series with practical filmmaking advice and musings. New articles, written by the team at Film Slate, will be posted every other Monday.

Struggling with the particular pieces of the puzzle is something I’m sure happens more often than not in indie filmmaking, even though everyone is hearing about the overnight wonders. You know, the folks who raised a million or just short of it on Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Rocket Hub or who had a wonderfully faithful contributor in the industry, while the rest of us struggle with raising funds, keeping our team together, and putting a project together that will get us to the next step.

So, with that said, here are five things I believe every filmmaker needs to get in order before they set foot on a film set.

1. Make sure you have a true support system

This is not people on Facebook who hit the like button whenever you post something witty, or the activity friend you go with to the bar or to see live music. Not the friend who calls you up to complain about every boyfriend (or friend) and not other filmmakers at the exact same stage of challenge as you. Dealing with the challenges can vex and swallow a person whole, so it’s difficult to pull your head and heart away to provide true support for a friend—when you’re in the midst of it. But support isn’t even the friends you talk to every now and then. Your support system is friends and family who are actually interested in your well-being when nothing exciting is happening. A true support system consists of people who are interested in you, because they care about you as a person. They are also the folks who know you well enough to know what you do when you get in tough spots and will respect that. So if you get fired from your own film or something goes wrong, they won’t be expecting you to show up at their house-warming two days later. Filmmaking is a tough journey; you need soldiers in your camp.

2. Focus on one task at a time

Like “I want to raise $50,000,” or “I want to send this script to Imagine,” or “I want to workshop the piece with actors.” Having a huge mental list of things you want to move through will put pressure on you and confuse the team you’ve assembled to help.  You will also have to keep reminding people which goal you’re working on, on a particular day, if you toggle back and forth. Map out one main goal to achieve, to get the ball rolling. There should be a pre-pre-production to pre-production.

3. Check, double-check, and triple-check the team you hire

Who you hire will affect the outcome and if that isn’t pressure enough, resumes can be fudged—as can references. So how do you hire someone you trust? They have to be dedicated to something bigger than simply placing another production on the resume because that does not determine how someone will speak to someone else when they are annoyed, whether they are a positive contributor or a negative distraction, whether they will do work that just gets by or be so meticulous they stress everyone out through perfectionism. Finding people who have commonalities with the project you are working on, a mission already in place along what you aim to achieve and even a common person you’ve both worked with is good.

4. Know your weaknesses and hire people who can fill that gap

My training is as a visual artist and I’ve cut my teeth on writing. Producing came about because who else was going to do it? But I will admit, it’s probably not my strength. I’ve learned to do it—as we all do on indie projects—because I had to and because we had no budget. But, I think the hierarchy was non-existent on the project I was working on that I just halted. Everyone got to “try” whatever they were interested in because I needed the help. The problem is, I’m kind of emo so when we hit the challenges it was difficult to keep people motivated as a producer.

I want to share reality as I see it (not good with a less experienced team—it scares them and your team becomes wobbly). There is value to having someone who speaks about the project in a different way, who recharges the army when you’re unable to, maybe who takes less of a hit when you do, and there are those who have been doing this for a gazillion years who won’t. Yes, those guys can cost money but an experienced producing partner is worth it and getting one is probably the best place to start.

5. Make sure you have a stable job to sustain the development of your craft

Having a job where the boss, managers and customers less than terrorize you is ideal because in these stressful types of jobs you will spend any time off of work recovering from the experience of being at work. You’ll need your nights or weekends to work on the film. It can be done with a job that is detrimental to your mental and emotional health, but I recommend finding another job if your current 9-5 is a profound drain. It’s just the life you have to maintain as a director/writer/producer. If you already have somewhat ‘drama-proof’ employment–great. Otherwise, you may want to consider job-searching.

This post has been condensed and edited. It originally appeared on Film Slate Magazine’s website. Film Slate Magazine is a guide to the world of film and television. From craft articles to filmmaker interviews, first-person blogs to insightful opinion pieces, FSM tries to dig a little deeper to find the stories you don’t normally see from the filmmakers, producers, and actors who are making a difference. Follow Film Slate on Twitter and Facebook.

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