Friday, 17 July 2009

What, you ask, is involved in getting an independent film project off the ground?

Most people have the impression that creating a film is an insurmountable task of logistics that can only be scaled by professionals. At least, that's how I felt when I first arrived at college, which is why it took me most of the four years just to shake the feeling that I was being embarrassingly silly simply for trying.

Organizing a film on any scale is a dizzying amount of work, but it can be done if you have the dedication. Like any independent creative project, half the struggle is with yourself, and your determination not to back down in the face of people who think you're crazy, folks who don't show up on time, and Spontaneous Epic Failures (including scheduling, camera equipment, furniture, important costume elements, and the weather).

So, what's been involved with the preproduction of Chatterton so far?

Script: I've written and revised a 14-page script (in screenplay format). This script, which is what the actors will study to learn their lines, consists mostly of dialogue and stage directions.

While the actors study that script, I'll be working from an entirely different one. First I printed the basic script. Then I highlighted each distinct location, and numbered each distinct shot in the margin, even for the most trivial of b-roll inserts. I marched straight through the script, numbering the shots in the order in which they will appear in the edit, with a few exceptions. I like to number shots from an editing perspective because frequently, in my mind, I see the pacing of the cuts in a film before I envision each distinct camera angle. Then, when I go back to edit the footage, the slate at the beginning of each shot identifying its number will help me figure out where in the film it goes.

That's just the beginning of the script break-down. Next, I made a list of each location used in the film, and the characters who appear in each scene. As I schedule my actors, I'll learn who's available when, and that will guide the order in which I choose to shoot scenes. Shooting order will be governed by location, cast and camera position, to require the fewest moves as possible and also to avoid wasting cast members' time.

Once I have a feel for schedules, I'll make a new, third script in which I reorder the numbered shots according to shooting order. I'll keep a copy of the second script for reference; by looking up the shot in the narrative script, instead of the shooting script, I can remember what's happening dramatically in the shot.

Lights, Camera, Action: Equipment is always a headache to acquire. In some cities, there are creative-alliance-type organizations that offer relatively cheap rentals; other venues include small studios that sometimes make extra money by renting out their equipment, or schools, if you have access to one that will allow you to borrow their equipment or rent it for a low cost. I'm borrowing equipment for my shoot. This includes lights, light stands, c-stands (all-purpose stands useful for many things, including hanging lights, microphones, or flags), tripod, high-hat (a tiny tripod for scenes shot on the floor, on tables, or other tricky spots), dolly (a rolling platform or set of tripod wheels for moving shots), flags (large boards covered in cloth used for blocking light and wind), microphone, mic cables and a boom, the camera, and recording media.

Finally, location scouting can be nerve-wracking at first, especially if you're shy about telling people about your film as I was during most of school. But most people I've found are excited to hear about a film and tickled to be able to help, so after overcoming my own timidity, I discovered that sharing my story ideas actually helped. I learned two endlessly valuable things to keep in mind during any location scout: how many electrical outlets are there, where are they and how much wattage can they support before they blow a circuit; and where are the closest bathrooms? The last seems silly until you're on a set. And then it becomes very serious.

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