Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Budget Moviemaking From Script To Screen

Right now Real Vampires is on hold while I catch up on Monster Cops. I'm still planning out auditions and working out casting, but my main concentration is on these Monster Cops episodes. Real Vampires auditions will have to wait for a week.

Just finished re-writes on the episode titled CHIMERA. I'm editing the episode called DREAD as well as planning insert shots for that. And next week we'll get all the office shots for CHIMERA, as well as for DREAD, and DEAD BY DAWN. So yes it's looking like 3 more complete 20 minute episodes before Oct. This hopefully means a DVD with 5 episodes to complete series 1. But things happen when you self distribute, so we shall see.

I'm not even going to talk about the Werewolf Episode, titled BLOOD MOON, which I have yet to do re-writes on. This may have to wait for Series 2 DVD, as I am only halfway through the Werewolf Costume.

Right now I'm concentrating on Chimera. Now that the script is finished, it's been emailed to some of the cast, and now I have to send specific pages to the rest of the cast and the crew. What do you do once you have a complete script? What needs to be done to get it shot.

First is figure out which scenes have the most cast members in it. Let's knock that out first. The office scenes have 4 to 6 characters talking at once, with many extras in the background. Time to find out if your location is available. Our office set is free next Wed, Thu, and Fri after 5pm. I may not need all those days, but it's best to plan for that anyways. Now it's time to contact everyone to see who is free on that schedule.

This is no budget moviemaking. You aren't paying anyone. So you are at the mercy of work schedules and personal problems. They show up because they want to and if they can. So plan for something to go wrong. Everyone I've contacted is free except for one actor. This person just so happened to have a lot of lines, but he has several scheduling conflicts, so that's a no go. Note: I'm not at all angry about it. Because I fully planned for this to happen, also I fully respect my actors and their own schedules. I've planned it so his lines would be easily transferable to another actor, so no major change in plot. So I call one of the other actors to let them know they have more lines.

Another problem. I have a scene between two actors but they aren't available on the same schedule. One is only free on Thursday, where the other one is only free on Wednesday and Friday. What do I do? Cut the scene. If there is an important plot point or message in that scene that is pivotal to the story, then those lines get transferred to another scene. No problem.

Now figure out what scenes you are shooting at that location. Highlight those specific pages. Start making notes on the side next to the start of each scene. The two main lists are PROPS and COSTUMES. Make a list for each scene what props are required, what costumes. Again we are no budget, so everyone brings their own costume. It's office attire mixed with police and military gear. So contact those who are in office attire let them know what to wear. Anyone in police or tactical gear, all they have to do is wear black or camo, I've got the majority of the tactical vests (yay Ebay). Since this is a multi departmental agency mixed with all military branches, For further authenticity I ask any local cops or soldiers I may know if they want to show up on set with their gear on. Many of them are more than happy to.

I've got majority of all props, but I send out an email with a list to see if anyone can fill in the blanks. Thankfully nothing is needed specifically for the storyline, just for the look, so if we don't get it, no biggie.

When I write I keep the shots in mind so I often times write in specific camera directions. Although I've shot at this location several times, prepare for anything and everything to go wrong. Maybe a room you were hoping was available is closed off. Or they painted the walls in the hall you wanted to use, and it's going to take a week for it to dry. I keep this in mind when I write out the shot list. At the start of each scene next to your props and costumes list, I right out the shot list. This is just the basic shots and angles I need to convey the action in the script.

Script Action:
"Close up of hand as it turns the door knob. The door swings open revealing the evil monster behind it."

Shot List:
- CU/LA Hand to knob. (That's Close Up / Low Angle Hand to Knob)
- XCU Knob turning. (Extreme Close Up)
- WS behind actor door opens (WS= Wide Shot)
- Rev Shot Reaction (Reverse Shot meaning shot of the actor from behind the door)
- MS Monster Growling (Medium Shot)

Mind you this is just an example. Monster Cops is shot documentary style so the shot descriptions are more complex than this. Also there are some abbreviations that I use that you may not learn in any film school. It's short hand to myself, because I'm pretty much the only person that reads the shot list.

I make a list of the basic shots (meaning the bare minimum of what I need in case I can't get what I really want), with side notes to any more creative shots that I might be able to actually get. Often times I don't have enough room for my entire shot list for each scene, so I write it out on a separate sheet and attach it to the script.

I have software that pretty much does all of the above, but I hardly ever use it. I'm so use to writing it all out myself. Also I do have call sheets, schedules, and all the traditional movie forms, but again, I hardly use them. With the exception of the releases.

Over a period of 3 days, starting at 6pm til 9:30pm, I need to get the shot list done. This is how you break it down. You're no longer following the script, you're relying on the shot list. Everyone should know their lines, everyone should have the proper costume, everything else is about getting the shots. So I double check that everyone will be there at about 6pm. And of course they are not. Some of them can't be there til 7:30 or 8pm. Not a problem. Figure out which scenes you can shoot with the actors that will be there at 6pm. Can't do it? Then figure out which shots you can get with the actors you'll have. Maybe you can knock out all of their Close Ups or Medium Shots. You can probably get their dialogue out of the way. Then when the other actors show up, you get their shots, then do the master shot, or wide shot, so we can see everyone in the same scenes.

So write out the times you need to get started, what scene or shots you can get at specific times. 6pm pages 4, 5, and 8, Close Ups of Martha, Jane, and Nathan. 7pm pages 7, 10, and 13 Medium Shots of Jones, Cutter, and Weir. And so on. Honestly, it never works. Why? Because people show up late. They drop their lines (especially me) and they get to laughing, alot. So your 6pm shots end up finishing at 7:30pm. And you have to push your schedule back. But it's fine, because it's good to prepare, because if you're not prepared you may be screwed. If everyone does show up on time and gets their lines right, and you're the one who's not on the ball, chaos will ensue. Chaos with a big group of people, in a location that you do not own. So keep your shit together.

This is everything I'm working on now. Soon I'll be contacting everyone to double check their schedule, and make changes to my lists and schedules as needed.

Other things you want to keep in mind when shooting your own scenes with several cast members.
- You can't afford to feed anyone, but a few snacks, candy, and definitely bottled water should be considered.
- Make sure there is a bathroom. This should be common sense. Also people need a place to change in and out of their costumes.
- Bring your own trashcan and trash bags. We are borrowing somebodies office. It's best to leave it the way you found it, which means keep and take out your own trash. This is true especially if you have a very large group of people in your cast and crew.

Here's my on set checklist. What I need to remember for every shoot:
Alot of this is common sense, but when you're juggling so much, you'd be surprised what you forget when you're in a rush. Making lists saves my life on a daily basis.
- Camera
- Batteries
- Plug Adapter / Extension Cords
- Tripod
- Lights
- Digital Audio Recorder
- Lav Mic
- Extra Batteries for both
- Tape Stock or Memory Cards
- Script / Shot List
- Energy Bar / Water (Gotta keep your energy up / stay hyrdated, think like you're running a marathon)
- Prop Box
- Costume Box
- Releases (Photo Release/Group Release) Anyone you're shooting must sign. It must be clear that 1) They are doing this for credit only, no money. 2) They give you permission to use their likeness and voice in anyway you see fit, thereby giving you the freedom to create what you need to. Also this helps tremendously when you're typing out the end credits.

This is all about organization and communication. Whatever your method is, whether you stick to traditional forms used in studio filmmaking, or you have your own techniques, in the end it's all about organization and communication. Make whatever lists you need to help keep you in order, and be sure you're in contact with your cast and crew, let them know what they need to know. Get them times, dates, directions to the location, details on make up and costume, and of course their script pages.

Do whatever it takes to help keep your shit together.

Monster Cops The Series
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