First rule of Independent Filmmaking – keep the camera rolling!

Very Independent Filmmaking – Things Can and Will Go Wrong


“It is unwise to be too sure of one’s own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” 

― Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks Mahatma…

Does this mean that the bigger my mistakes are, the larger my intellect?

I’m deciding that it does indeed mean this, and therefore that I am correspondingly enormously wise…

All the preparation in the world can’t prepare you for everything, that said, it is a good idea to be prepared to change everything you have planned to do on the day of filming, at any moment.
Don’t be afraid, without the room to screw up, artists can hardly be expected to create can they?

Not that I am suggesting anarchy, but it’s never ceased to amaze me just how many of my ‘brilliant idea’s’ have come from trying to fight my way out of a corner, mostly that I have painted myself into…too many metaphors?

One short film I made a couple of years ago, during the 52 films/51 weeks project personifies this.

The film in question, ‘Scent,’ was base on a short story my husband had written about a man catching the ‘scent’ of a woman in some ancient middle European city years ago and pursuing her in order to distill her into a perfume….fairly gory stuff to be sure. So I took the idea and adapted into a short screenplay about a woman who’s scent transformed a man into a beast as he pursued her through a city at night. It was supposed to be very romantic, although it still sounds a little gory !
Either way, it was one of my favorite films of the project, and I spent time getting the concept just right, auditioning for the perfect couple and hunting for locations in North Hollywood with magical possibilities.

Cut to the night of the shoot.

I found the perfect leading man, Patrick, truly perfect and already a little hairy.

The women was also an major find, Shawn, a statuesque beauty, strong and striking, equally perfect!

Everything began as planned, although we were shooting at night, the call time was late afternoon for wardrobe and makeup etc. I had a large cast, 10 actors, 8 crew. the more people you have on set, the more potential problems, but all seemed fine.

Then we started shooting and although the first few scenes went well, when we got to the first scene where he transforms a bit, more animalistic, more hairy and a bit growly and I realized that we were not going to get the look I wanted in the time we had to shoot, so unless I wanted a campy version of my idea I had better think of something else.

So I did, I pulled aside my fellow filmmakers and boldly said, “this isn’t going to work.” After the panic in their faces had subsided, they agreed and I talked to my actors and reworked the concept with them and moved on.
My decision was rewarded with one of the best shoots we had for the entire year of filmmaking, the best cast and an lovely soundtrack from a wonderful composer in England to boot!
And it even rained, so the North Hollywood streets looked like a gorgeous filmset, lights reflected everywhere, all lavender and green and gorgeous!

I think the fact that someone got murdered across the street from where we were film, literally murdered, with a gun, reinforced my argument for shaking things up.
So once we made sure that no one was bleeding, we continued filming knowing that any minute the police would probably shut us down as they cleared the area.

First rule of filmmaking – keep the camera rolling!

Which brings me to the most important potential pitfall in filmmaking-

Death, or something like it…

You’re on set, in the middle of filming, everything seems to be going according to plan and suddenly, out of the blue and completely beyond your control or ability to anticipate, something catastrophic occurs that changes everything.

I get strangely calm at these times, perhaps because my brain partially shuts down which gives me a calm appearance, but is actually a stroke like induced stupor. I don’t know, I’m not a doctor, although I have watched a lot of ‘Scrubs,’ so I nearly am. Either way, the calm does seem to help, so go with that. Then move on. Jumping up and down and shouting a lot may seem like fun and even the correct response when it feels like all your hard work and cash have gone to waste because there’s an earthquake and you’ve been red tagged, or your leading lady is in anaphylactic shock, or your location cancels that morning, or, indeed, someone gets shot across the street from where you are filming. But all that noise and energy can startle people, especially actors, so unless you are prepared to just walk away and cancel, try to remain calm.

What do you do? I hear you ask, politely.

Well that all depends on the disaster of course, but generally my advice to you would be, be safe, be calm, take advantage of the opportunity to let life spontaneously effect art and keep filming.

I have had to deal with bullets, no actors, no location, no money for food, broken cameras, no transportation, the sudden appearance of a toddler, death, heartbreak, and biblical sized rain storms. Yet somehow it all magically worked out in the end. Films were made and lives were changed.

Well, at least films were made, I’m still working on the life changing thing…


Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros
Author: Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros is a British writer and filmmaker living In Los Angeles.