[Editor’s Note: Jay’s illuminating look at what goes into making a fan film continues! See other installments here.]
“Shooting a Film is Basically Problem-Solving”
That quote comes from our cinematographer, Lukas Colombo, and based on my experience with this short film, it’s 100% true. Three and a half weeks ago, Nathan Scheck, Marianne Haaland, Christen Haaland, and I decided to produce a 5-minute short film–a fan film called Star Wars: Rivals. Despite numerous challenges, we were able to shoot the film last Sunday. I’m extremely excited about it. It’s currently in editing, and we’re planning to submit it to the 2016 Star Wars Fan Film Awards contest. But, all along the way, we ran into numerous problems that needed solutions. I thought I’d create a list of the things we ran into, including some that almost shut us down. If you decide to do a short film, here are some of the things you might encounter as well.
Problem #1: Finding a Production Company
Yes, you can just use your iPhone, which solves this problem right off the bat. Or, maybe you’re already a legit filmmaker. You’re good to go. But, for most of us, you’re going to need a team of folks to help you make the movie. You need equipment, staff, and expertise. We chose Moai Films (check out Lukas’s demo reel—it’s sick).
Problem #2: Getting Buy-in.
If you want a strong product, you must get everyone to buy into what you’re doing and why. Our goal was very clear upfront: we want a deep story, professionally done. We were not going to put story aside just to have a cool lightsaber fight. We were also not going to scrimp on quality. Those two things had to be at the forefront, which means everyone needs to buy into that in an extremely short period of time. Fortunately, we put together a team of professionals that loved the story and who are all Star Wars fanatics (like us). We all agreed that we wanted to make a film that was super high quality.
Problem #3: Storytelling is Collaborative.
Over my 10+ years in writing, I have come to an important conclusion: the best stories are told collaboratively. Writers need people to bounce ideas off to make the story even better. I had already done several initial drafts that had been reviewed by my friends (including Nathan). They loved the story I was telling. But, when we hired Lukas, he assigned Benjamin Anklam to be our director. Ben, Nathan, and I began to further refine the script together, and it got even better.
Problem #4: Teamwork.
Imagine a bunch of people coming together who might not really know one another very well. Now, get them to share a vision for a project (in about a week) and execute it. My recommendation is that you communicate early and often. Also, trust your collaborators. Explain what you need, and trust other people to help you get it.
Problem #5: Pick a Location Early.
You can’t just shoot a Star Wars film anywhere. It has to resemble another planet. Based on my proximity to Hollywood, you would think that there would be a ton of great locations. There are. But, many of them require permits that can be difficult to get. And, our local parks have a lot of regulations that are very tough for small budget crews to adhere to. We didn’t secure our location until two days before the shoot.
Problem #6: Trying to Stay On Schedule.
Because there are so many problems, it’s almost impossible to stay on schedule. We could only afford to do a one-day shoot, but that meant cramming everything into an extremely short period of time. Needless to say, we incurred overtime charges, but we got it done.
Problem #7: Shooting Disasters.
You will almost undoubtedly encounter some sort of major setback. We encountered two. One, we got kicked out of one of our locations (it’s a long story). Fortunately, we had the footage we needed and the people that kicked us out helped us find a great alternate location (NOTE: be nice to people, don’t be a jerk, because they just might help you in a time of crisis). Two, we lost a key prop. Which meant we had to change the script on the fly.
Problem #8: Finding a Great Cast.
This was actually not much of a problem for us. I knew Marianne was a great actress from having worked with her before. Since we’re in Los Angeles, there are a ton of actors and actresses. But, it can still be hard to find the right people who are willing to work with you. In addition to Marianne, we were able to find Maddy Curley and Brandon Byrd, both amazing performers.
Problem #9: Funding.
I had to set a budget early on. I chose a number I thought it was achievable. Honestly, we were barely able to raise the funds. We had generous donors (one in particular), otherwise we would not have been able to make this film with the quality we wanted.
Problem #10: Leadership.
If you’re working with people you don’t know, it can be very challenging to lead them. A producer basically leads the production (delegating the shoot to the director, of course). I had to make numerous compromises, hard decisions, and uncomfortable choices that I wasn’t sure would work. You have to strike a delicate balance between authority figure and creative collaborator, and that can be very challenging. There were several places where I was able to do that, and several places where I failed.
Filmmaking is hard. It’s also a lot of fun. Go into it knowing that you’re going to face adversity, but set your mind to accomplishing the goal and adapting to the situation as it unfolds.
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In my next post, I’m going to share photos from our actual shoot! Stay tuned…