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Maxing Out Your Indie Budget: “Remus” by Julien Lasseur, Elite Team Assistant & Media Manager

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.

Eli Jane on the set of "Remus"

Eli Jane on the set of "Remus"

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!

Author: Julien Lasseur

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10 Comments

  1. Great advice Julian. Especially the part about production design. That is so easy to overlook. People think, “I just need a house. Any house will do. Any bedroom will do.” Nope. It makes a huge difference. I learned that years ago.

    Thanks for sharing. I look forward to seeing the completed film.

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  2. Not the typical Hurlblog post… but content none the less. So, what’s an apple box? Robert Rodriguez says that film school conforms creative minds to the same tired drivel that Hollywood has been churning out for years. I think with the onset of affordable film gear, those creative minds will finally be able to see their vision on the big screen without thinking film school is what it takes to succeed in the industry.

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    • Thank you for sharing! I very much agree with your statement. Out of curiosity, may I ask what you mean by typical Hurlblog post?

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      • Usually there’s quite a bit of jargon and gear application that is just a little over my head, this seems more rudimentary. Thanks!

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  3. Julien,

    I’m the producer for the Interrobang Film Festival. We just finished this year’s festival, but I’d like to get in touch with you when we start soliciting submissions later this year for next year’s festival.

    Good luck with your film.

    _Aaron

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  4. Julien,

    Great post, I like the 6 six points of short film production. You are so right on location and production design. I watched the short trailer and can’t wait to see the whole short.

    -Don

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  5. Here are some personal observations I’ve made myself after planning and shooting a film in school.
    (Bear in mind these are not universally applicable , they’re about a certain style of short film that I like)

    No order

    • Take one core visual idea and expand upon it.

    • Atmosphere. Decide on an atmosphere the sequence is supposed to communicate. Storyboard and design to accommodate this.

    • Cinematographic chance. Taking advantage of the suspension of disbelief. (Example: hitting something spot on, like a difficult basketball hoop, or nailing a hard to land jump in an action sequence)

    • Let the actors play outside of the lines. (Think of the pacing in Jarmusch films)

    • Round characters. They’re not just junkies or cops, they’re real people, with thoughts, emotions, expectations, interests.

    • Credits! / Intro!

    • Music! Never leave anything unbacked by sound.

    • Destroy something. If you haven’t destroyed anything, you haven’t made a motion picture.

    • “With no sound, people would still stick around to find out what’s going on” – Conrad Hall

    • Less is more. Cinema is not reality, it works better when we view it through a veil of non-reality (prolost)

    • Frame and message, frame and message. Always point the camera at the story. Never frames that don’t say anything.

    • Not too many still shots. Move the camera if you have the means. It’s not a photo.

    • Long takes require EXTRA ATTENTION. Compose according to the extended communication requirements, rehearse until you land the end of the shot perfectly.

    • KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid

    • “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

    • Respect the planned steps. For instance, set up, blocking, rehearsal, lighting, metering, focus rehearsal, etc.
    Respect the shotlist and storyboard. In the end it proves best, otherwise you may end up with uneditable footage.

    • Exploit the set! Linger and do more shots of the same thing from different angles to express its characteristics more clearly. This saves production time, helps in the editing phase and clarifies the communication.

    • “What isn’t in the frame doesn’t exist.”

    «Film will only become art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper. »
    – Jean Cocteau

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