Independent Filmmaking >> It takes a village to make a film…

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Filmmakers are a funny lot, and very, very independent filmmakers have to be especially ‘out there’ because its hard work and no money and you are really and truly on your own much of the time on each project, start to finish.

So being one of these particularly peculiar people, I know how easy it is to isolate yourself and feel a bit cut off from the rest of the filmmaking community, and therefore help. But filmmaking is, by necessity, a group activity. So it follows that a filmmaker must, by definition, be able to play well with others. Very well…

So who are the others?

And why would they want to play with you?

It doesn’t exactly take a genius to know that if you surround yourself with good people who know what they are doing you are far more likely to succeed, in filmmaking and anything else for that matter. So the trick becomes finding those really good people, and charming them into working on your project….for free.

Last year, when we had to make a film every weekend, this really became our biggest challenge and took more time to sort out than anything else.

We had all of our own equipment, but finding capable, really reliable people that you don’t mind feeding a few times a day or standing next to for hours on end was another thing entirely. Being able to believe they will actually show up, stay put, hold stuff, smile and contribute positively to the whole experience was a bet I made and lost on a few occasions.

Having said that, we had a few good, solid, reliable, unflinchingly positive and unbelievably believable people. They became our core team, our crew, and in the end our filmmaking family. They stuck with us, showing up over andover again, regardless of work, weather or funds. Amazing really, but I think perhaps they connected with our passion for the project and our love for actually making films, whatever the odds.

So these are the people you need to find, not ours of course, sorry, but your not having ours!!

Go get your own!

Where? I hear you mumble. Well, there are a few places. I started on craigslist….but make sure you keep checking your ad, and try not to mention the no pay bit. There are people who make it their purpose in life to flag any ad on the site that say ‘no pay’ even though it’s perfectly legal and allowed on the site and many, many people have to start somewhere to get experience etc. It is extremely common, and in fact an accepted part of any career in the film business not to get paid for your services as crew and cast of low budget independent projects, especially short films. This is particularly true if you are just starting out and need experience for your resume and fodder for your reel.

Try telling that to the people of the craigslist forums….oh the bitter rows I have had online! But you can’t change a person’s mind when they don’t really have one…

Word of mouth is usually the best avenue but there is also facebook, friends, family, and of course you must have perseverance, and a lot of it.

Finding people, crew or cast, does not happen overnight. You have to put ads up, ask around, ask for referrals and it will take a while, so start early and give yourself plenty of time before your scheduled shoot date or you will be holding the camera, the boom and balancing the lights on the top of you head while being on the phone giving directions to lost actors and ordering lunch. I’ve been there…

I have had some great results with craigslist to be honest, regardless of the hassle factor. I think everyone looks on there, students looking for experience and credits, crew in between projects who are bored, actors needing reel and to keep working with or without pay. Makeup people wanting the opportunity to do severed limbs and zombies or aliens or glamour, or just about whatever they don’t already have experience of, although you might have to give them a little money, they use very expensive products when they work, so they may ask for a ‘kit fee’, nothing too much usually, between $25 to $50 depending on the products used. But if you have a crew budget at all, it should be used on makeup. Wow does it make a difference! We were lucky to build a makeup collective, 8 or so makeup ladies who were available to us, most of the time it was one at a time, but several films needed at least two in the makeup department and one of my films needed 3, special effects makeup takes a long time, 6 hours on one person on that film, so plan accordingly,and always assume you will need makeup, and hair. Its similar to the location adage, it lifts the production value so much its well worth the extra time and energy and a few bucks.

One of the other brilliant ways to find crew and actors is by working on other peoples projects, you scratch my back and I’ll hold that boom for you… Its also a great way to learn about every aspect of the process and its good for the soul and your filmmaking karma, something everyone should think about as a filmmaker.

What is filmmaking karma?

What an excellent and keenly observed question…

Well, in my experience, not just in filmmaking but also in life, karma is absolutely a very real part of the universe. In the world of very independent filmmaking, when so much of the process relies so heavily on the good will of others, this karma can deliver you mana from heaven or put you well up poop creek with not even the afore mentioned boom pole to paddle with. Mixed metaphors aside, you probably get the idea.

If you want wonderful reliable crew who will stick with you and your project no matter what, you must be exactly that reliable and wonderful to others. If you promise to show up, show up. If you were asked to bring food, bring nice food, homemade is always well received, and cheaper! If you say you will do something…anything…then do it. In such very tight quarters as these, even the smallest let down has a big affect. So follow through, be wonderful, thorough, nice and most importantly reliable. You will make plenty of friends, contacts and therefore loyal filmmaking buddies this way. Remember, even though LA has a population of 12,536,426 (thank you wiki answers) its a very, very small town and everyone knows everyone. Reputation really is everything, so do as you would be done by and karma intact you will have people volunteering to help on your projects before you even send out that facebook event.

Case in point, a friend of mine, who I met through my husband who worked with her on an Chapman University graduate film and who I then cast in one of my films, has now started to make her own films. Dawn Sam Alden is an Actor, filmmaker, stunt person and stage combat expert. She moved to LA four years ago from Chicago where she ran her own theatre and combat company, ‘Babes with Blades’. (

Here’s what she has to say on the subject of crew.

“Coming to L.A., I knew very few people, and it has been a long, slow process to find my what I call my tribe. Back in Chicago, I had worked with an ensemble theatre company for ten years, and the women I worked with, although they were all very different, were all on the same page when it came to the work we made together. I knew these women had my back, and I knew they *got it*.”

Finding like minded filmmakers, with similar cinematic visions and interests is important, if your reaching for Ang Lee and your cinematographer leans toward Tarantino you might have a long day ahead of you…

More from Dawn…

“I worked on student films and independent shorts for the past three and a half years for free – donating time and talent, and keeping my eyes open. I learned everything I could, asked lots of questions, and kept notes about who on these crews I would hire if I had the opportunity. Now I have the opportunity, so I am making phone calls and sending emails to contacts I already have.

I am also a member of a couple of development and networking organizations that have helped me meet like-minded folks. We Make Movies ( is a terrific one that provides opportunity and encouragement in a variety of ways to help young filmmakers make their films. “

Finding networking groups already in place can offer you a huge amount of support, and a place to find other filmmakers who need help. I have volunteered to take behind the scene photographs on projects that absolutely have no budget for coffee, let alone an on set photographer, but in doing this I have made great contacts and learned valuable lessons in filmmaking, and also had fun. It’s a great way to get to show people you are serious, so when you ask for help they will know you are not going to waste their time.

“When you are first starting out, say yes to everything, and be prepared to work for free. Keep your eyes open whenever you are on set – watch the people around you, both to learn what to do and what not to do. Start to collect your tribe as you go.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

And Dawns advice for fledgling, very independent filmmakers?

“Don’t be a diva or an asshole. Don’t pretend to know stuff you don’t. Hollywood is full of users and entitled idiots. Don’t be one. Be the real deal. No amount of talent excuses bad behavior.”

Well said!

It is a bit ridiculous how many twits there are out there, even when no money is involved, I have crossed paths with quite a few I can tell you, but there are far more lovely people in the filmmaking world than time wasting prats, so don’t be discouraged if you encounter one or two, for they will not be long for this world….the world of very very independent filmmaking…no, not long at all.