Independent Director’s Guerilla Field List
Arm Yourself with Back-Up Resources and Ingenuity
by Roger Marsh
Mix a tight budget with a narrow shoot window, and you can understand why an independent director cannot go into the field without back-up resources and a little ingenuity.
• Magic Bag. You start accumulating odd and end items in a large nylon bag, and now it’s indispensable and the first place you look when something goes wrong. Some of the items in my magic bag include a two-prong to three-prong plug, duct tape, screw drivers, hammer, nails, screws, staple gun, lens cleaner, tapes, batteries, and other items.
Think of what could go wrong and what would solve your problem in the field, and get it into this bag. Think Apollo 13, and you’ll get it.
• Legal Sign-offs. My team and I carry with us the contracts necessary for (a) outdoor-only location shooting; (b) indoor and outdoor location shooting; (c) actors; (d) extras; and (e) materials. Even in the best of conditions, there have been last-second decisions to move locations, replace an actor, and bring more extras into a shot. Sometimes the decisions are forced (property owner suddenly won’t allow something), and sometimes they are natural (it’s raining, and we’re moving indoors.) Don’t power up the camera unless everyone and everything is under a binding contract. One location destination once gladly opened their doors as a complimentary location, and shortly afterwards, demanded $50,000 before signing paperwork. One happy extra – prominent in a scene – later asked for hundreds of dollars before signing. Get the paper out of the way first.
• Communication. Shooting often changes pace when one or more element isn’t right. Assign someone (our Production Manager does this) who communicates to the larger group. When people are informed, they are more willing to give of their patience. In one delicate scene outdoors in 90-degree heat, an actor missing lines take after take, and 300 extras standing in place – it was more than important to get water to the group, pass the sun screen, and let everyone know we were taking extra time to get the shot right.
• Always Be Marketing. Wrapping a shoot often signals the end of a long and tedious process. Everyone is tired and worn out, and it’s time to pack up and move on. As an independent filmmaker, I am aware that every person behind every resource is a possible marketing tool later when the film releases. It’s easy to wrap, focus on the packing, and to concentrate on your next scene. I make it a practice as each scene moves apart to focus on the people who made the scene happen – even in the smallest way. I move immediately towards the extras or those who brought us automobiles or other necessities for the shot – and offer a hand-shake with each person, personally thanking them for their time and patience. It pays off in the long run to be a people person on your set.
Roger Marsh, director, producer, and accomplished playwright, produced his work in Chicago as Dime Novel Radio Theater. He produced docudrama, Haunted R&R Station, released as DVD in 2007; and currently in post-production with full-length DV project, Mars Attacks Mt. Pleasant. Roger has a new book hitting the shelves nationwide in March, “Ron Paul Speaks,” with co-author Philip Haddad.