Directing an Independent Film: Too Many Balls

directing an independent film

The foley room at Chapman. source:

There are so many balls (meaning tasks) on a film project, from pre- to post-production. Seriously, balls galore. Balls that the common movie-goer doesn’t even think about or imagine because it all appears so seamlessly put together in the end.

My biggest mistake with any endeavor is trying to juggle too many balls at once. Instead of delegating responsibility and relieving myself of more balls, I try to do it all…because then I know the task will get done.

This is particularly tempting to do when directing an indie film project, because the movie is your baby. And you don’t want anyone else f***ing things up when it comes to your baby.

Trying to juggle too many balls also cuts down the cost. If you’re the writer/director/assistant director/producer/cinematographer/wardrobe stylist/production designer/boom operator/sound mixer/editor…. you have almost no major roles to hire, and this saves you money!

Wearing my wardrobe hat.

Juggling the wardrobe ball.

Downside is, you also go insane and the final product will likely be a jumbled mess (not always, but it’s probable).

For the sake of your own sanity, you have to be able to TRUST. You have to know how to be part of a team and lead a team, to have a successful outcome. You have to have the money to invest in your project, your baby, or you have to fundraise.

There’s no sense in doing something half-assed if you believe in it with your whole heart.

That said, this leads me back to Lesson #3 of the Lessons Learned post about what I know I have to do on the upcoming production of “Trees of Peace.”

#3: Hire a Script Supervisor

This particular little ball was something I thought I could do myself. I thought a script supervisor was simply used for continuity purposes, and I could keep my eye on each scene easily enough to know if something in this shot didn’t match up with the last shot.

Well, I was wrong.

Not only did one major thing get missed in a scene that still taunts the OCD inside me (and I hope anyone watching my movie doesn’t notice the flaw), but I was WRONG about the job of a script supervisor.

Yes, this person ensures continuity. But he or she does a lot more than that. The script supervisor is also basically responsible for the flow of editing in post-production. He/she mans the line script (which I’ll get to in a second) and makes sure that it syncs with the shot list, which syncs with the slate. And then he/she notes everything (whether a take was good or sound got botched by a plane flying overhead, etc) in the shot log. By doing this, the script supervisor ensures continuity between shots, makes sure no shot gets missed and that there are no holes in your footage, and enables editing to happen smoothly.

#4: Create a Line Script

This is also called a shooting script, and I had never heard either term when I walked on to the set of my own short film.

My cinematographer was like, “Can I get a copy of the line script?” And I was like, “Sure, here you go!” and he was like, “This is the script,” and I was like, “Yeah, that’s what you asked for,” and he was like, “No, I need the line script,” and I was like blank stare.

He was awesome. (He’s a talented DP named Luke Dejoras, in case you want to hire him). He gave me a speedy, on-set tutorial on how to create a line script, and what this little tool is used for. The shooting script ultimately saves time by not going through the entirety of every scene, from every shot and camera angle, while still ensuring that you get all the coverage you intended to get.

In other words, you get Scene 1 in your wide shot, your medium, your singles, your close-ups, your over-the-shoulders, etc, without shooting ALL of Scene 1 in each of these set-ups. It’s also a way for the director to communicate his or her vision to the editor.

…Soooo, I’m gonna set down the “Explainer” ball and pass you on to a great resource that teaches the whole line script process in more detail. With visual aids. In case you’re interested.

#5: Finagle My Way Into the Heart of a Film Student

directing an independent film - foley studio

Me and student, Corey in the foley studio.

On 1426 Chelsea Street I got to work with two Chapman University students for my sound editing. They had access to an AMAZING foley studio (I could have just played in that little sand pit, and with all those different doors and floors and props ALL DAY!!!!)…. for FREE.

Nearly the rest of my entire crew were film students from Cal State Long Beach. They were INCREDIBLY professional and worked with me for food and gas money only. Luke was the only one I paid (a pittance, which was what I could afford), and he put in a TON of hours, both in pre-production and while shooting.

Using these people enabled me to to get student film discounts and find loopholes wherever I could.

So, concluding these last three lessons, put down some of those balls and trust that your script supervisor, or that responsible film student, will help you get the job done better, and a little bit easier.

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