by Sam Mestman:
Making a movie is fucking aggravating. The following will not teach you how to deal with all the crap that awaits when you begin filming your indie movie. The only honest advice we can give you is to learn your craft, and learn everyone else’s too. The better prepared you are to communicate what you want and have reasonable expectations of how much you can accomplish on a given day, the better off you’ll be once the cameras start rolling. Stuff WILL go wrong, and it is absolutely impossible to plan for everything. But if you know your craft, and have some experience to fall back on, you’ll be prepared to improvise when the shit hits the fan. That’s why people go to film school (even though it’s mostly a waste of money), and why people spend years making shorts and other small projects. It’s so that when you really get your chance, you will not drop the ball. We do hope, however, that some of the following will help you plan for what’s ahead, and especially with some of the legal resources, prepare you in setting up a healthy, efficient production environment that will prevent you from getting sued.
- www.nofilmschool.com – These guys are great. Just tons of useful stuff coming through here.
- www.handheldhollywood.com – Awesome site that covers all the new advances in mobile filmmaking.
- www.masteringfilm.com – This might be my new favorite site. Great, well written film articles by really smart people. This is from the guys over at Focal Press.
- www.filmskills.com – A great tutorial site about all the things you could imagine in terms of nuts and bolts production filmmaking. It’s paid… but you get what you pay for. My recommendation… sign up for a couple months when you know you have some downtime, and just watch everything. You’ll learn a lot for 40 bucks a month. It’s WAY cheaper than film school.
- www.filmmakeriq.com – Great site with a lot of useful articles.
- www.filmmakingstuff.com – Another great site with TONS of useful articles. Seriously, just check it out.
- Indie sound gear – Here’s a great rundown from www.makingthemovie.com of some of the better sound gear for indies.
- State by State Film resources/film commissions – The kind people of the Screen Actors Guild have posted a state by state list of each state’s current Film tax incentive programs, and links to each state’s film commission’s website. Currently, your best bets are in Michigan, New Mexico, and Connecticut… but a lot of states have some interesting things going. However, make sure these programs are still current as States have been cutting WAY back on their film funding programs since this whole economy problem started.
- www.sagindie.com – All kinds of great info about working with SAG actors on indie productions. NOTE: this link has been temporarily disabled because it’s currently getting flagged for malware. the link will be restored when the site owners correct this issue.
- documentarytech.com – An AWESOME site for the doc crowd.
- www.cinematography.net – the cinematographer’s mailing list website… basically a giant discussion place for cinematographers to go and argue about stuff… this is where the pros go to argue, at least…
- www.reduser.net – And this is where all the Red guys go to argue.
- www.cinema5d.com – And here’s where all the DSLR guys go to argue.
- U.S copyright office FAQ – here’s a link to the U.S copyright office FAQ page.
- A whole bunch of really useful legal and organizational documents – From the www.makingthemovie.com (Love that guy) site is a link to the free paperwork section which has a bunch of sample forms and contracts you can check out. Take a look at the rest of the site too… good blog and lots of other resources.
- Film independent – Legal ease – A good blog on some of the various legal issues in the film world.
- www.ifp.org – The Sundance of indie film organizations.
- http://www.mobileofficepros.com/ – Mobile/Storage for use on set.
- https://www.cctvcameraworld.com/cameras – A great guide for beginners (Thanks to Jamie & Jennifer).
Tutorials and podcasts
- How We Make Movies – This is WMM’s own industry podcast hosted by Amanda Lippert. Basically, we find industry professionals who we really like and respect, sit em down for an hour, and get as much info as we can out of them. You can find all our episodes here.
- Purchasing a Digital Cinema Camera Package – From Nofilmschool.com, when you pair this article with the Red Camera Package below you should be be able to figure out a comprehensive, well thought out camera package for yourself. An awesome read.
- A Guide To Building A Red Camera Package – Just a fantastic, comprehensive article on what kind of gear you need to buy at multiple budget levels from Nofilmschool.com
- $5 DIY Fog Machine – http://wemakemovies.org/2011/11/diy-5-fog-machine/
- Grip 101 –
- DSLR filmmaker’s workflow
- How to shoot a fight scene
- Homemade light stands
- How to buy production insurance
- Charting your camera
- Celtx – An all in one, inexpensive pre production solution (script, storyboard, scheduling, and online tools)… a really good value that comes highly recommended from quite a few people. For beginners, you can’t really beat it. I’d start here and then expand out to some of the other programs listed below as your process evolves. Best thing about it, there’s a great free version (which you can use for screenwriting), and the full paid version is only $15.00.
- Gorilla Software – After trying everything else out there, including a lot of the cloud upstarts and services (such as Scenios and Scenechronize)… we finally gave the new version of Gorilla another look. In previous versions of this, I gave this software a frustrated “do-not-use” as it was just too damn clunky to be effective. This has all changed with the latest version. There is literally nothing on the market that is as comprehensive and interconnected for filmmakers as Gorilla 5. This is the software WMM uses for its productions currently. The new version (5.0) has fixed a lot of the clunkiness, and despite a few things that would be nice to be a little more fluid and modern, there is simply no other piece of software that allows you to manage your script elements, schedule, budget, locations, call sheets, expenses, and contacts, and have them all interconnect in one program. For cost vs. functionality, there’s nothing that comes close. The $400 price tag might be a little steep (BTW, if you do buy, keep in mind it’s not on the app store and you only get two installs with your purchase… and each additional license is another $200), but when you think about how much more efficient having all of this information is in one place and integrated, it’s worth it. The learning curve is a bit steep… but the training videos are great. Bottom line, for the small independent film/production company, there’s just nothing better out there at the moment. Long term, though, if they want to stay competitive, they’re going to have to do a much better job with making the software collaborative with other users, and figure out how to make it integrate better with tools in the cloud, as the Cloud services listed below are rapidly adding functionality, are less clunky, and will quickly be catching up to the Gorilla’s functionality. For now, though, Gorilla is the best thing for the indie filmmaker.
- Scenios – This platform really looks like it’s coming along and seems like it’s the future. The scheduling, calendar, upload, dropbox integration, and collaborative elements all seem really well thought out. Integration is really nice. If I could get it all to integrate with the budget and literally just do everything there like I can in Gorilla, I’d be sold. Pricing is $50/month (although there is a free option), so it’s not cheap. However, I’m really excited about the possibilities here, and am looking forward to the day that WMM gets to switch over to this as my full time, comprehensive production solution. I don’t think it’ll be long.
- Scenechronize – This is another cloud based solution that’s very similar to Scenios. Personally, I like the look and feel of the Scenios layout better. Pricing and functionality of both are very competitive, and you should take a look at both and decide which one will serve your needs better.
- Movie Magic budgeting and scheduling – well, they’re fucking expensive, but they’re also the industry standard. Hopefully they will gradually die out and be replaced, but right now, this is what most people are comfortable working with.
- Modern Movie Making Movement (www.modernmoviemaking.com) – This one goes first, cause it’s free. A more than 100 page downloadable pdf from some really smart people who have your best interests in mind. Seriously… just click on the link and check it out… there’s a full list of the contents there. Most cool things cost money. This doesn’t.
- From Reel to Deal by Dov Simens – Straight to the point. Practical. No bullshit. A mandatory read. If you buy one book about how to make an indie film… buy this one. Some of the stuff is a little older and outdated (especially when it comes to the digital world), but it is still, BY FAR, the most helpful production book ever written to get a true sense of what really needs to be done to make an indie film. Not only that, but it won’t make your head hurt from being over complicated like some of the other books I’ll list. $12.21 on Amazon.
- The Focal Press – Tons of production centric books by these guys. Too many to list and too many I still haven’t read.
- Sound For Film and Television by Tomlinson Holman- Sound is important. Make a movie with shitty sound and you’ll truly understand why you should have read this book. 42.38 on Amazon.
- The Camera Assistant’s Manual – Everyone who makes a living working with a camera seems to have read it… it’s probably useful. $44.95 on amazon
- American Cinematographer Manual by Stephen H. Burum – I’m not a DP and have not read this. I don’t plan to… but if you work behind the camera, you probably should.
- Lighting for TV and Film (3rd edition) by Gerald Millerson – Consensus is that this is the best book ever written on lighting. $70.15 on Amazon
- The Grip Book (fourth edition) – Basically teaches you how to be a professional Grip. $32.36 on Amazon
- The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook – These books always tend to annoy me, but I liked this one… just, uh, take it with a grain of salt. There is a lot to be learned here, especially if you’re a first time filmmaker… HOWEVER, what’s funny about this book is that they go department by department kind of explaining how much you should spend on each of these things. If you listened to all of their recommendations, you would no longer be making an indie feature! You’d have a studio budget. On the other hand, it is a nice overview of what’s involved and there is A LOT to be learned here. Great content, just don’t believe everything you read. From Reel to Deal is a much better, much shorter version of this, although this is newer. $29.67 on Amazon
Law, Contract, Budget and Fundraising
- Sasik-Moon – Here’s a link to WMM’s own legal team. Really filmmaker friendly and can really help you through a lot of the nonsensical legal wrangling. They write all the legal posts in our articles section, and are, in general, awesome. If you need Entertainment legal advice and/or an entertainment lawyer, you should talk to them. They’ve also got a nice legal resources section on their site here.
- Film & Video Budgets by Deke Simon – Indispensable. Sample budgets for various types of productions (from 5 million on down to a student short), and all kinds of explanation for what everything means and how to go about doing things. This is kind of a no-brainer if you aren’t very experienced with film budgeting. $17.79 on Amazon.
- Bankroll by Tom Malloy – I loved this book, even though part of me thoroughly hated it. It’s the part that laughs when I see Glengarry Glen Ross during the “Always Be Closing” speech, and the reason we all thought The Player was a satire. Sadly, though, there’s a way the world works, and you might as well learn how it does, and how to make it work for you. So, my recommendation is to put your inner rage against the machine to the side, and just read it. At the end of the day, this book is about HUSTLING to get your film funded, and the smart ways to go about doing it. It’s smart, it’s realistic, and it’s practical. It’s also, unlike many of the books I list, a fairly entertaining read. There’s a sample business plan in there that is both genius and totally aggravating at the same time (because, well, it’s SUCH BULLSHIT). I loved this book, and it’s indispensable if you want to even begin hitting people up for money to invest in your movie. But you will feel a little dirty when you’re done reading it. If your conscience can’t handle this, find someone who is all about this shit to do it for you. That person is generally referred to in the industry as a “producer”. Bottom line is you should read this book because it’ll teach you how to hustle, and how to do it smart. $16.47 on Amazon.
- The Pocket Lawyer For Filmmakers by Thomas A Crowell – This book is great. It clearly spells out many of the legal issues you’re going to run into from script to screen and steps you can take to prepare for them. It’s written in clear, everyday language that is easy to understand for people who are not lawyers. A great intro for all this stuff. Read this, then start researching the various topics more in depth after… there’s also a pretty good resources section in the back of the book. $18.67 on Amazon.
- The Independent Filmmakers Law and Business guide – The only book that thoroughly goes through, chapter by chapter, and explains many of of the annoying issues that always tend to screw filmmakers… such as LLC agreements, the law behind investor business plans, on down through budgeting, contracts, and all the other bullshit that we need to know, but don’t really want to know. Mandatory reading if you don’t already know anything about this stuff, and want to set up your film in the right way legally. Not only that, but it’s a 2009 release, so this is all relatively current. $19.77 on Amazon.
- Movie Money – Here’s a link to the only book I’ve found that clearly explains how studios and distributors are actively screwing you with their accounting. Learn why “gross” and “net” points are essentially meaningless terms. Learn exactly why you can sell 10,000 copies of your movie through a distributor and not see a cent. Learn why, essentially, the deck is stacked against you. It’s not the most entertaining read, but should put the fear of God into you about why you need to start learning as much as you possibly can about the distribution process if you ever want to make a cent with your movie. Not many solutions here, but at least the problems are all explained. Also, keep in mind this book is a little older, and some of these practices have changed a bit. Sometimes for the better… usually not. $15.95 on Amazon.
- The Independent Film Producer’s Survival Guide: A business and legal sourcebook – Exactly what the title says it is. This is all about the legal shit you need to know when setting up, casting, crewing, making, finishing, and selling a production. Latest edition is from 2005, though, so keep that in mind. Another pretty boring but also pretty important read. $16.47 on Amazon. This book is a lot less accessible than the Pocket Lawyer. Read that first, then this.
- Contracts For The Film and Television Industry by Mark Litwak – Exactly what the title says… a broad collection of a lot of the sample agreements that you’re going to find in this business and some explanations for how they work. This won’t replace having a lawyer, but should save you a bunch of money in billable hours talking to one. $23.10 on Amazon.
- www.larryedmunds.com – This place has a COMPREHENSIVE selection of filmmaker/production books and materials. Haven’t been to the store in person, but if you want to go, it’s 6644 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028.6644 Hollywood Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90028.
Business Books to Read
Yes, this is a filmmaking resources guide… but, these days, as a filmmaker, you gotta know the business side too. The following three books are pretty amazing, very different, and pretty timeless in their application. They also apply extremely well to the business side of filmmaking. They’re also pretty fun reads:
- To be or not to be intimidated by Robert Ringer – This book gets a bad rap. A lot of people don’t like to believe this is how the world works. To those people, I say, come talk to me after you’ve hired a sales agent and sold your first indie film to a distributor. What this book teaches you is how to deal with all of the scumbags that exist in the film business. While this book is technically about the real estate business, the concepts contained within it are universal.
- The E-myth by Michael Gerber – This book is all about coming up with a system to make your film/business run without you spending your whole life having to run it. Essentially, it’s about how to make your work/filmmaking into something that isn’t a total drain on everything else you want to do with your life.
- Lynchpin: Are You Indispensible? by Seth Godin – Seth Godin is a genius and an inspiration. He also hates the other two books that I listed above (and says why in this book). And while he may be wrong about that, he’s not wrong about much else in here. You need to read this if for no other reason than his chapter on “the resistance”. It’s some of the best advice you’ll ever get from anyone about why doing what we love is sometimes the hardest thing we’ll ever do, and why you need to get over your fears and keep pushing through no matter what excuses your brain might be making up for you. Maybe the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read as a creative professional.