To begin, I’m not claiming to be an experienced filmmaker. I merely want to initiate a dialogue about producing independent work with very limited resources. After completing my senior thesis film this spring, I thought I would share five major insights that I gathered from the production.
The film titled Remus is about a character named Chris, who newly engaged, must introduce his fiancé to his bizarre brother, Remus—a man whom he has been avoiding for seven years. After much collaboration with writer Max Azulay, we developed a 10-minute dark comedy off of his original story. Initially, I fell in love with the characters and I knew immediately that I had to take on this project…
1) Surround Yourself With The Best Artists
The production of Remus would never have been possible without my writer, my wonderful cast, cinematographer, composer, and editor. While some people have the impression that a director is this sole leader commanding the troops, I’ve found that my job is really about surrounding myself with the most talented artists at my disposal, listening to their ideas and then picking and choosing which of their ideas I want to use.
That said I believe I took on a bit too much with this project. I served as the Producer, Director, Production Designer (the entire art department), Location Manager, Casting manager… The list goes on. Truthfully, looking back at the experience, a director must really focus on the telling of the story. By taking on multiple roles, I was often overextended and stressed out on set. When creating an environment for your actors to perform at their best, the director should be focused on them and what they are communicating.
2) Location, Location, Location
I cannot stress the importance of finding the right location. Aside from the fact that location plays a crucial role in developing your characters and your story, with a low budget project, location will inevitably serve as most of your production design. With an out-of-pocket budget of $2,500, I had to find two affordable locations that would not only speak to my characters, but also would provide furniture and background decorations to create Chris and Remus’ old house. The idea was that Remus, deeply affected by the death of their father, refused to mature or change anything about the old family home—therefore, the house had to appear dusty, old and of a past era. Finding the two locations for my film took a little over 3 months. If you have the time, never settle for a location that is “good enough.”
3) Production Design
Looking at a lot of student productions and professional productions, the aspect that often differentiates the two is production design. A good production design helps in the telling of the story, and provides your cinematographer with a place to position light sources. If you don’t have enough money for lighting and film gear, location and production design will serve as your tools. Use practicals to light if you have to. Home Depot, Ikea, Target and Walmart have cheap and inexpensive lights. Just make sure to run some tests on color temperature before you shoot.
4) Bribe Or Kidnap A Good Editor
While there are directors that believe in cutting their own material, I think the task of editing should be left to an editor. As a director, developing an attachment to your footage is inevitable and when it comes to the chopping block, you might shy away from trimming the fat. Working with Zak Stoltz, I provided him with the footage, the script, the central ideas of the piece and the themes. Then I left the room. He called me about two months later to look at the rough cut. At first glance, the movie’s ending didn’t follow the script at all, but it worked! The ending I had previously envisioned failed to communicate the message that the new ending Zak cut together succeeded in doing. While the central idea was intact, the structure was different. I believe only a good editor can help you arrive at these changes that in many cases will save your film. Without Zak, Remus most definitely would not have come together in the way that it did.
5) Film School?
You don’t need film school to tell a good story. Attending a small liberal arts school with a very basic film program, I was given very little to work with.
At our school, most students didn’t even know what an applebox was—and I swear I’m not exaggerating. Not attending film school forced me to educate myself on the process of filmmaking. With no guidelines, I was thrown into production knowing very little about how the whole thing would come together. And who knows, maybe it’s not the most brilliant film ever made but the education I received from this experience, not to mention gray hairs, was invaluable.
6) Last But Not Least… People
Making a film is all about people. If it weren’t for the extremely generous donation of film gear by Shane Hurlbut, ASC and Elite Team member Michael Svitak through Revolution Cinema Rentals, none of this would have been possible. I can’t offer much insight in this department, as I believe it’s more about the aligning of cosmic forces. Hopefully you’ll find, when perusing your next film, some filmmakers like Shane and Mikey that will believe in your project. I truly can’t thank them enough. I also have to thank my cinematographer, Bodie Orman, a member of Shane’s Elite Team, for collaborating and giving so much to this film. He was an absolute pleasure to work with and I look forward to our next project.
Lastly, I just want to include a thank you to everyone who was involved in the production of Remus. Truthfully, there is no way this would have ever come together without your help. Please look at IMDB for the full credits and look out for Remus, which will hopefully be accepted by the film festival circuit!