The Rules of Indie and YouTube Filmmaking

I’ve done my fair share of low budget, indie and YouTube projects- projects where the budget was approximately zero dollars, the number of location permits we secured was officially zero and the number of people we paid was, you guessed it, zero. But lack of a budget is no excuse for lack of professionalism, so if you’re new to the art of extremely indie/guerilla filmmaking, here are some tips to get you started.

FEED EVERYONE
Crafty (aka snacks and water) is optional if you’ve got a really small cast/crew, but the easiest way to keep everyone happy is by keeping their tummies happy. So even a box of donuts can go a long way in making for a fun shoot.

State law dictates a meal should be served every six hours, and it’s common courtesy to follow this rule, even if you’re operating outside the law (you vigilante filmmaker, you). So that means, if you asked everyone to show up at 10am, plan to eat lunch at 4pm (then dinner at 10pm if you’re still shooting).

Avoid pizza if possible. For one thing, the pizza in LA always sucks, and for another, loading up on carbs and cheese is only gonna make everyone feel tired and icky. But, fine, you don’t have the money for anything else, I get it. At least ask your cast and crew for any food restrictions before shoot day, because this is LA and someone on your crew will be vegan. Most likely your makeup artist.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T
If you can’t pay your cast and crew, it’s nice to throw everyone a little gas money if they had to drive a ways to get to location. I didn’t always do this on tiny local shoots, but I started making more of a conscious effort, because $10 might not seem like much but at least offering lets people know you appreciate them. The filmmakers and friends I’ve worked with who gave me gas money always stand out as people who I want to work with again.

Also, don’t waste anyone’s time, so have a game plan. You should know what it is you want to shoot. Have a copy of the script on hand. If organization isn’t your strong suit, find a friend who can help you produce this thing. Another way to ‘get organized’ is to:

DO A LOCATION SCOUT
For ‘legit’ shoots, the location scout is a chance for the producer/DP/gaffer/AD to see the shooting location, make a plan to light the space and discuss the shooting schedule. Chances are, you’re either shooting at a friend’s place for free, or out in public for free. So for you, your location scout should answer these questions: What’s the likelihood of us getting kicked out? Do we need to go full-on guerilla or can we get away with setting up lights? If we DO get kicked out- what’s our backup location? What shots/angles do I want, and is it actually possible to achieve those shots in this location? This saves you a lot of time on the actual shoot day.

FIGURE OUT WHO’S IN CHARGE, AND WHO’S PAYING
If you and a friend have decided to make a video, you might want to figure out ahead of time how you guys are splitting any expenses (food, gas money, emergencies, etc), and make sure it’s clear who’s directing, who’s producing- or if you’re sharing these responsibilities equally.

I worked on a small indie shoot where a producer (aka friend of the director) CLEARLY thought he was also the director, and spent the entire time giving notes to the actors and DP, much to the annoyance of, well, everyone. Awkward. On a ‘real’ film set, these roles are clearly defined, but since everyone’s probably wearing multiple hats on your small shoot, it’s on you to make sure everyone understands what their job is.

Have some “petty cash” on hand for any last-minute emergencies. When your sound guy realizes he doesn’t have any extra batteries on set, it’s a lot easier to just hand your friend/PA $20 cash than to have to a group discussion to figure out whose credit card you guys are gonna use.

I say always save all your receipts. You might never need them- or you might. As a producer, paper trails make me happy, and they should make you happy too. Speaking of paper trails…

GET IT IN WRITING
If you call someone and they say, “Sure buddy, you can use my camera for your shoot Friday”, follow up with an email or text reiterating that info. Because sometimes- not often, but sometimes, people try to screw you over (“I never said you could use it for FREE…”) and sometimes people just forget what they said (“Wait, you need my camera THIS Friday? I thought you meant next Friday!”) In either scenario, you’ll be very happy you have it in writing so you can (gently and tactfully) prove they are wrong and you are right. 

OPTIONAL: I like to have signed appearance releases from my actors and basic deal memos from my crew members. The bigger the shoot, the more important this is. Doesn’t need to be fancy- a good release/deal memo just states the date the person is working, what their rate is (if any)*, etc. If you’re renting equipment, definitely get it in writing. Basically any transaction where money is exchanged should be written somewhere where both parties have either signed off on it or mutually agreed to it via email.

I realize this requires a little organization on your part. And I know you want to make your short film because you have a CREATIVE VISION, not because you’re trying to do any paperwork. But if you’re working with someone new (aka not your best friend or roommate),then deal memos, appearance releases and an email paper trail protects you AND them. Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way- GET IT IN WRITING.

HAVE FUN
For further explanation, see: “FEED EVERYONE”.

Hope these tips are helpful. Feel free to email me more indie filmmaking tips and I’m happy to add to the list.

Lastly, I know I don’t need to remind you of this, but don’t sweat it if you end up breaking one of these rules; they’re more like guidelines, anyway.**

KB

* The goal should always be to reach the point in your career where you’re able to pay everyone. Or, at the very least, hook your friends up with paid gigs when you can!

**But don’t come crying to me when your vegan makeup artist gets pissed that she can’t eat any of the pizza you ordered for lunch.

This blog is now on twitter: @SurviveLALAland

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“No”

It’s not a secret that you’ll hear the word “no” a lot in this industry. Well, actually, you won’t, at least not outright. No one likes to actually say “no”, which can be confusing (especially for us east coasters who are used to people saying exactly what they mean).

So before I get to the point of this blog post, I’ve come up with a handy little cheat sheet to help those of us who don’t speak LA learn the different ways people say the word, “no”:

WHAT THEY SAY
“You were so fantastic, but at the last minute they went with a name actor…”
WHAT THEY MEAN
“Sofia Vergara has been interested since day one so you have had, at most, a 0% chance of getting this part.”

WHAT THEY SAY
“It’s just not the type of story we’re looking for right now…”
WHAT THEY MEAN
“Do yourself a favor and take a writing class.”

WHAT THEY SAY
“Things are just so busy on my end…”
WHAT THEY MEAN
“I don’t even know you like that, so no, I’m not gonna take a meeting with you.”

WHAT THEY SAY
*radio silence for three months*
WHAT THEY MEAN
“I am way too scared to pick up the phone and tell you we aren’t going to hire you for this job, even though I promised it to you verbally, because I truly do think you’re a great director but the actor the network just attached wants someone else to direct but I don’t want you to hate me because I’m actually pretty insecure, plus I’m worried my boss is gonna fire me because the company is going through some internal changes, and…”

And so on.

Once you carefully examine the evidence and determine that the answer is definitely a “no”, you’re faced with the stark reality that you have been denied- again. Yet again, someone has shut the door in your face. Yet again, the dream that brought you to LALA land has slipped that much further away.

This week, I heard a pretty big ‘no’ regarding a very promising project that was coming together. I won’t lie, it was a tough pill to swallow. But I’ve heard “no” in some form or another many, many times over the past few years, and while I’m not numb to it, it also doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. LA’s a little like the Hunger Games. I truly believe if you stick it out long enough, the odds will eventually be in your favor. 

So you’re allowed to feel sorry for yourself, eat a pint of ice cream and binge-watch the latest season of House of Cards when “that gig that was gonna change your life” doesn’t come to pass, but you shouldn’t stay there forever, or for even more than a few hours.

I called my dad yesterday, and as always, he had some words of wisdom for me:

“You know Kristen, you work really hard. If you worked as hard as you do in any other career, you’d have a full-time position by now. Just like your friend Christina at that tech start-up in San Francisco…”

(I pulled the phone away from my ear and counted to ten.)

“But it doesn’t matter. The word ‘no’ doesn’t work for you, right? So keep moving. You’re doing great kid, keep it up.”

I realized, he’s absolutely right (thanks, Dad). The word “no” doesn’t work for me. Because in my mind, when I hear “no”, all I really hear is “not now”, or “not yet” or, most importantly, “give me a reason to say ‘yes’”.

You’re probably wondering, if this is a blog about Hollywood, why do I suddenly feel like I’m reading a self-help book for salespeople? That’s because, if you decide to work in this industry, chances are you WILL have to sell something. Your skills, your ideas, your brand, your looks, your confidence. Yes, making movies can be wonderfully creative- but it’s also a business, and like any business, you’re going to hear a “no” or two (or five, or ten, or a hundred) from prospective buyers at some point. And you can’t take it personally, you can’t treat it like it’s the end of the world.

Instead, reassess, alter your battle plan, and carry on. That’s what I’m doing right now. May the odds be ever in your favor. 

KB

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Identifying and Avoiding Fake People

There are a lot of them in Hollywood. Don’t become one. Interestingly, one hard and fast rule I’ve found is this: the people who complain endlessly about “all the fake people in Hollywood” tend to be fairly fake themselves. Or just really annoying.

Ugh, I’ve already wasted too much time on this topic, but if you’re new to town and you’re worried you’ll be suckered in by ‘one of those fake LA people’ New Yorkers love complaining about, here are a few warning signs:

  1. People who shamelessly name drop. A lot.
  2. People who say, “_____ is looking at my screenplay”, “_______ is probably going to star”, “We’re planning to get ________ to direct”. Any of those things may one day be true, but some folks assume that if something MIGHT happen, you get instant bragging rights. Stick to the facts, ma’am. Just because you know someone casting Clint Eastwood’s next film doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in. And just because Johnny Depp drunkenly said he ‘really liked your idea’ at a party doesn’t mean he has endorsed your production. 
  3. People who try to make their uncredited extra gig on that one TV show sound like they had a guest star role and a personal friendship with the lead (thank God for IMDB! Makes it so much easier to fact check. Hot tip: IMDB pro is totally worth the cost. I use it ALL the time.)
  4. Someone who never gave you the time of day BEFORE something awesome happened for you, but who suddenly wants to be your bestie AFTER something great happened for you.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the term ‘fake’ can often be used interchangeably with the term ‘inexperienced’. That ‘fake person’ is overcompensating because on some level they are insecure about where they are at in their career.

FAQ

Q. “I’m at a party and I’ve determined the person I’m talking to is one of those fake people you warned me about! What now??”

A. Treat them with the same amount of dignity and respect you would anyone else. Just be aware that you don’t want to work with this person. ‘Fake’ people suck because being fake is an awful lot like lying. No one likes being lied to, and you don’t want to work with someone who lies a lot.

Q. “I totally just name-dropped TWICE in one conversation. I think I’m becoming totally fake. Should I commit harakiri, end it all now before it gets worse? What should I do??”

A. Shh, it’s okay. Sometimes the Hollywood rubs off on you. I hate to say it, but I’ve definitely had a few fake moments in my life. The important thing is to call yourself out on it, repent, forgive yourself, and move on.

The bottom line:

Suffering from ‘Hollywood fakeness’ is an ailment I truly believe any person can overcome. Yes, it’s a long road back to the level of us plebes, but once you’re here you’ll finally be able to stop blowing up your own ego and focus on your work.

If you’re 100% real, great! Don’t get suckered. 

KB

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