I think the biggest mistake an indie filmmaker can make is to move from preproduction to production before you’re ready. You’re essentially creating a fictional world down to the last details. From actors to props to locations, set dress, wardrobes, weather conditions down to the last stitch of clothing… you are creating a separate reality that has to have continuity and integrity. The amount of work it takes to create this separate reality is truly mind blowing and humbling.
When you see a group of people pouring their sweat and hard work into creating this reality, you realize the importance of preproduction. The importance of really nailing down the script in front of you to the specific locations and materials at hand. If there’s even one single flaw in your plan, if one location makes itself unavailable to you, one actor that decided to not show up… your entire separate reality is challenged. And it’s challenged at the worst possible time, when you’re supposed to be shooting, not securing locations and actors. This also speaks to the necessity of compensating your talent. Otherwise, they have no real obligation to your production and can flake out at anytime.
But back to preproduction… I’d rather spend 6 months or a year securing the necessary pieces of my separate reality, and know that everything I need is 100% secured, then rushing into production before you’re ready. And I’m talking legal contract secured. Get it in writing that you have permission to use this location. Get it in writing that your talent will be there on set for the dates / times specified. This is your chance to make sure that every element of your production is tangible and secured in your possession to the best of your ability.
The importance of a shot list can’t be overstated. It’s the visual / verbal road map of your film. It connects all of the pieces into a unified whole. It allows you to verbally and visually experience the film before it’s been shot. I think the great filmmakers can really truly “see” their final product before it’s shot. If you can visualize the core structure of your film, you can make it a reality. If you can’t visualize the film before you shoot it, then you’re not ready to move into production. If you can’t assign a location, props, lighting breakdown and talent for each shot, you aren’t ready to move into production.
When that 10 days, or two weeks, of production comes around, it’s going to be hard enough to make sure that your plan is executed. And if you’re still creating the plan, and securing new locations, actors, props or anything else, then it will only compromise the final product you want to create. In the event that things start to go awry during production, you can get to the point where scenes will be cut, shots will be missed, and ultimately the integrity of your separate reality will be challenged.
In the event you’re unable to capture all the necessary shots during production, you’re looking at having to recreate that entire reality again, from scratch. The hard work that’s been poured into the set design, lighting, rehearsals, locations and crew working will all have to be recreated. Sometimes this isn’t possible and the film has to be cut and major plot points rewritten to match what was actually shot. There will always be challenges and adaptations necessary when creating an indie film, but the artistic integrity of your film’s vision can only be properly executed if it’s been properly planned. Once you move into production, your time is limited, resources are fixed, and you can only attempt to faithfully execute the plan you laid out.♦ End