Pre-production & the Art of Killing Your Darlings….

The warning – everything below is based on my personal experience for this production. As always these are my ramblings so please forgive any grammar or spelling errors cause I surly did not notice them.


“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

William Faulkner

When writing a screenplay you get to live in a world of endless possibilities only limited by your imagination. When turning that screenplay into a shooting script and bringing your production to life you are now faced with the task of killing your darlings so you can actually shoot something instead of talking about what your going to shoot when you have X more dollars and Y camera and any other excuse your letting limit your ability to turn your idea in a movie.

It sounds harsh but the reality is you can shoot something festival, VOD and even theatrical worthy with a budget less than the price of a stripped down Prius. Hell you can pick up a camera from Best Buy and make something on par with Tiny Furniture or Absentia. Taking it one step further and that camera, a decent mic and a sound mixer and your miles ahead (equipment wise anyway) of the crew of the Texas Chain Saw Massacre which is still considered one of the greatest and most beautifully shot horror movies of all time. Technology made the equipment acquisition cost a shitty excuse to not get your film done.

But even with low price equipment options you still will need to hack away at your baby so you can actually get a film done. Remember you are officially in the get shit done business and not the talk about the shit you will do once the stars align and you win the lottery. Many conversations I have with fellow first time independent filmmakers revolve around the cutting process or how to get what you want to make in line with what you can afford to make. Regardless of where the money came from you should always have a strict budget and contrary to some opinion the budget doesn’t have to match the production the production has to match the budget (remember we are in the get shit done business). So with that in mind, and since I have spend the past couple weeks dealing with this matter on my own production I figured why not share the two main areas where you can cut to get your production in line with your budget and your dream onto the screen.

1)   Equipment – equipment is an easy area to cut depending on the look you want for the final product. If your filming say a Sin City like work then you need a hell of an expensive camera, a lot of hard drives and a powerhouse of a workstation. But lets say your filming something more reasonable for a small independent production, think what you want to final product to look like and then test cameras to figure out the least expensive and easiest way to get that look. For me my final look is a cross between The Shining (softer image with teal/orange effect to bring out skin tone) and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (grittier less detailed image). I also need a camera that can handle some Kubrick and Hitchcock inspired camera movements. Starting with a final look in mind I have begun having the colorist cookbook created so I can run test footage through the NLE (editing software) apply my look burn a high resolution master copy and see how it will look. A lucky break for me is I don’t want an overly vivid high resolution image as my final product (just not my preference and well hell it is my money) so I have a wide range of camera options I can test out to see what holds up to my requirements. Before moving on from equipment I will say sound is the last place you want to take that budget knife to. Sound is much more important than the image and sound is much harder to “fix in post” so good mics, a good mixer and good headphones are a must because regardless of what look you want nobody wants their film to sound like it was recorded in a bathroom stall with a cell phone.

2)   Days – really the only other place to cut is days. You can cut shooting days, you can cut our a role to reduce your total cast days but somehow if you need to cut you will need to reduce the number of days. One way to make this possible is to rehearse a bunch with a trained, experienced and dedicated cast (making the casting process so much more important than you ever thought). One reason reducing days is a huge benefit to your budget is all the costs that come with a shooting day. For our production we are shooting in California so our per day costs include: location fees, production insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, crew daily costs, cast daily costs, craft services (you got to feed them) and any rental fees. So reducing the production by just one day can bring down your cost immensely. To do this you can work in reverse, figure out how many days you can afford to shoot then rework your shooting schedule and script to make it possible to get your film done in those days (this is where you really kill your darlings). Your script will change but your story shouldn’t so you are really just telling the same story in the same way but in a much more economic and efficient fashion (you will need to remind yourself of that as the tears rain down on your masterpiece). This is a good time to revisit your equipment and make sure the camera you selected allows you to move quickly and get the high daily shot count you are going to need to get to make this film happen. You will really be working with two knives here; one aimed at your script and the other aimed at your shot list. Of course there are other areas you can cut like stunts, effects, music, set dressings, wardrobe and the like but none with have the impact of the two listed above.

The reality is if you really want to make your film you will find a way regardless of what budget restrictions you have, and if you don’t want to make it you won’t regardless of how much money you have to spend. So since we are all in the get shit done business we need to figure out how we are going to bring our dreams to live regardless of the equipment or time constraints we must endure.

I am sure I will be touching on equipment more in a later post and even plan on sharing some test footage here. So I will leave you with something the greatest man I ever knew, my grandfather, use to tell me all the time when I was a kid “It’s a shoddy workman who blames his tools.” Which I think in the current filmmaking environment is much more appropriate than what your bound to hear from pixel peeping camera forum trolls who are creating nothing but doubt in the viability of perfectly good equipment in the minds of independent filmmakers.

Next week we have our first full cast meeting and table read and I couldn’t be more excited to be moving forward with such an outstanding group of people. Make sure to follow me on Twitter at ABIPRODUCTIONS1 to keep up to date with our production Agnation and feel free to drop me a line there anytime!

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