The basics of pre-production on an independent project, ranging from a two-man shooting team to a crew of about 50 are virtually the same. There are of course many different ways to proceed, but you’ll need some variation of these no matter your approach.
1. Secure the script
As an independent you’re likely working with material you or a friend of yours wrote, but that does not mean you should breeze past this first crucial step. Make sure the script has been sufficiently revised and solidified. Above all make sure the work is yours in terms of rights. In the event you are shooting someone else’s material, it can’t be sufficiently stressed how important it is to secure the rights (on paper) to anything you want to shoot.
If you’re planning on playing around in the “fan film” arena, read up on Fair Use/Public Domain rules in your country to make sure you don’t throw yourself into a production and find out a month later that you have to pull it from circulation due to legal objections.
When in doubt, print out release forms and have people officially sigh over rights to any material you’re planning to produce, unless other arrangements exist between parties. This may seem excessive but you will be so relieved down the road to have these in the bank.
You obviously can’t get around this part, but many independents tend to run themselves into unnecessary debt because they weren’t paying attention. Budgeting is more than attributing portions of your resources to various departments. Get someone who is meticulous and completely attentive to expenditures to devise a tight budget with an emergency contingency fund should things get ugly.
Basically you should put away ten percent right away for emergencies (which will occur) and never forget that you will need money to finish your project as well as to shoot it. Too many films still today end up in editing/post hell because no one considered the aftermath of the production.
Don’t be afraid to talk to your crew ahead of time to really clearly set down what expenses each department expects to have. Again, when assigning them their individual budgets don’t forget to save that 10% for the just in case. Be very clear also about what expenses will be covered and what crew members should expect to absorb individually.
(There is much to be said on the subject of budgeting and we will cover it in greater detail at a future date)
3. Think about the gear
Obviously the scope of your shoot will decide many of your needs in term of equipment, but you have to find that delicate balance between mobility and security. Talk at length with your DoP and grips to really prepare your action plan. If you are shooting on a steadycam or any other portable rig, consider spending a little extra so your tech crew is comfortable.
They will make good on your investment by setting up quickly and saving you precious time in the long run. Your camera ops are your priority here as they will have to move around with the gear through the whole process. Filmmaking is an endurance trial in every case, so think like a marathon runner.
To be continued.