If only i knew then what i know now

If Only I Knew Then What I Know Now

If I only knew then what I know now…….I suppose that could apply to most anything in life or business but it is oh so true when making movies. I seem to recall saying out loud “our crew is so excited about being on set and making this movie with us I know they won’t really care what we serve up in craft services” (aka the free food). Hah! You want a full blown mutiny? Just try offering up substandard food to your cast and crew. I guess I never worked in an environment where meals were part of the remuneration package so I just didn’t know. It may not seem like a big deal when you are planning your shoot but it is these kinds of details that can derail the whole thing. I think it was Napoleon that said “An army marches on it’s stomach”. Boy did I ever learn the truth on that one. Craft services is definitely not the place to cheap out.

Pizza might be okay when watching a football game with the guys but when you are asking people to stay up half the night in the rain for not much money you better provide something substantial to eat that makes them feel they are appreciated. Hot food and a nice variety of it is essential to keep the spirits up with the cast and crew when you’re asking them to keep going way past a reasonable time on those long shooting days.

That is just one example of the tough lessons you learn when you are new to the business of making movies. What else was there? Let me see…..fade to flashback. Oh yeah, “we really only need one or two production assistants. I know they work cheap but what will they do all day? Stand around that craft services table probably.” Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong. I know now that it is not possible to have too many PA’s. They are the oil for the movie making engine. Without them forget it, everything would take twice as long to get done. Have lot’s of them, give them cell phones and put them to work. You’ll be glad you did.

Having carpenters available is another one of those lessons that had to be learned the hard way. When you don’t know any better you can’t imagine what you could possibly do with a carpenter. Aren’t we supposed to be making a movie after all? Those film school productions were shot with whatever was on hand, you never built anything. But looking back they looked like the cheap crap that they were. Gee, I wonder why. If you are trying to create a believable scene then you have to create it. It’s just not possible to shoot everything on location using just what happens to be there. So having someone who can build it for you is essential.

Of course set decorators do a lot of the scene creation but they fall short when it comes to putting up that fake wall you need behind the next set or moving a door so that it opens the other way. That just isn’t the type of thing they can do. Remember these people are more like interior designers than builders, great with colours and patterns and not so much with plywood and table saws.

Another little detail that took us by complete surprise was that the crew members expected to be paid at the end of every shooting day! Who new? I, in my ignorance thought we would finish the shooting schedule, figure out the payroll and issue checks accordingly. Apparently it’s just not done that way at least not in the independent film world. I was brought up to speed by some the crew who related horror stories of working tirelessly only to find out at the end that the production had run out of money and there was nothing left for the crew payroll. So I scrambled to find enough cash to keep everyone happy.

While planning our shoot schedule we visualised being able to shoot maybe 7 or 8 scenes per day. I suppose this might be a reasonable assumption if all the scenes take place in the same location with more or less the same actors. But if it entails moving everyone and all the camera gear, lights and sound equipment well you can just forget it. Setting up in a new location takes hours. Lots of them. Even if it is just down the hall or around the corner. Having the electrical guys move the generators and all the cables can take eons. And if you are planning on having the next shot with the camera on a dolly you might as well resign yourself to not saying action until the next day.

Planning is your only defence against these and all the other pitfalls. Experience is the best teacher of all to know what plans you need to make to cover all the needs that come up while shooting a movie. I know that when we start to make plans for our next film I will be bringing all the lessons learned from the best film school of all. The school of having been there and done it.

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