BY SHAWN WHITNEY
If you’re a first time filmmaker, you’re probably going to be like us and not think about wrapping out production. Oh, I knew in my head that this would come but I wasn’t thinking about it until we hit it. It’s not surprising: we’ve just been through 12 days of intense filming, the euphoria has ebbed and the hangover from the final day’s wrap party has finally subsided. We’re ready to move into post-production with our editor.
Not so fast. Production ain’t over just because the camera’s stopped rolling.
Especially if you’ve used free crew you can expect that lots of things will be left incomplete. They’ve given you the gift of their time and commitment for two or three weeks but it’s hard to sustain that for the paperwork, file prep, etc. – the boring stuff. People need to return to their jobs, move on to other projects, etc.
Not you, oh intrepid filmmaker.
If you know this in advance you won’t be as freaked out and stressed as if it hits you as a surprise that you’re going to end up being the janitor of sorts – cleaning up after the wedding and putting out the trash. Remember, this is your film and your project – you wrote it, directed it, maybe co-produced it. You will be with it through post-production, scoring, mixing, etc. And you will then send your baby out into the world of festivals (if that’s the route you choose to go), screening events, online distribution, etc. Your crew were mostly only with you for the production and the premiere (we are trying to include as many crew and cast as are interested in the pre-release marketing phase of the film also, which I’ll come to in future posts).
Here’s a bit of what to expect and how to approach it to keep your sanity.
1) Expect a lot of fiddly little bits of BS that have to be dealt with and don’t be surprised when there are.
2) Remember: your crew was free or cheap. Savour the contribution that they gave to your film don’t begrudge that their contribution came to an end before you would have liked in an ideal world (i.e. one in which you could pay them so that they would stick around and could pay their bills).
3) Data file management is an excruciatingly boring, time intensive and absolutely necessary task. It’s also fraught with lots of potential pitfalls – especially if you’re not using (i.e. paying) professional data wranglers and assistant editors. We had troubles with our hard drive docks and we had confusions about the file organization system, et al. It happens. And each day’s worth of footage took basically a day to file, rename, synchronize the sound to it, and put it on a timeline for ease of use by our editor. That didn’t even include outputting ProRes format files, which would have added days (weeks?) to the process. What’s the upshot? Martha, our on-set data wrangler, had to return to her job and there were at least four days remaining of syncing sound to video and creating FCP timelines with the synced files organized. I work from home where I read a lot of scripts so I can do a lot of the work while I’m doing my paid job. You may not be so lucky if you have leftover data wrangling. Expect this to take days and days of tedious work if you’re not lucky enough to have it go completely smoothly during production. Give in to it, think of it as meditation and try not to lose your temper (I confess that I punched my monitor ever so lightly yesterday because the syncing process puts so much demand on my processor that I couldn’t do anything on my laptop when I needed to).
4) Paperwork – yes, I mentioned this before and yes it never ends. Expect to be missing contracts for ACTRA (if you went with union actors as we did) and deal memos, that you’ll have location agreements to get signed and music licensing that needs to be worked out. We also have some photo clearances to deal with because we used an actor’s headshots and the headshot photographer may not have licensed the actor to use them in a film.
5) Returning equipment. Some stuff may be rented (we didn’t rent anything – one less thing to deal with) or borrowed from family and friends and needs to be returned. You’ll be surprised at how many places you got gear from. We have lenses from three different friends, one camera body, plus a bunch of gear – lights, tripod, gels – that Alex, our DP, brought to the shoot.
6) Selling Gear. Part of the reason that we didn’t rent gear was because we figured that it was cheaper to buy stuff and then sell it afterwards, even at a loss. Well, now you will have to take photos of the gear and post it on Craigslist, Kijiji and eBay. So far we’ve sold our three piece lighting kit plus extra CFL bulbs as well as one of our spare HDD docks. But we have to sell our shoulder rigs, on camera monitor, a 28 mm lens, and more (we will post all this stuff for sale on the blog in the next couple of days.) It’s extra work but probably will end up saving us thousands of dollars. And we can buy new gear the next shoot again – since it’s probably going to be at least a year between this shoot and the next, why keep the same stuff around gathering dust?)
7) Thank you notes to everyone. Hey, people volunteered their time, the least you can do is write them a little note thanking them for their hard work. It’s also just nice – the art of thank you letters has been lost (by everyone except Kathryn’s family who write thank you letters for everything). I used to be skeptical but people really appreciate it – take the hour or so to do this, especially if you want to work with these crew members again (people remember being appreciated just like they remember good food). We also thanked our cast and even the actors who came out to audition but whom we didn’t end up hiring.
8) Keep up the momentum. If crew and/or cast were enthusiastic about the shoot and the film project, invite them to your next production meeting to help out with the marketing work during the post-production phase. Audience building can never start too soon.
9) Organize a proper wrap party once everything is squared away. It takes a village to raise a film, and villages need celebrations when they reach milestones. If you’ve managed to shoot a feature film on next to no money, that’s a very big milestone.