Independent Filmmaking – Learn all you can from Difficult Shoots.

Beckets War, 52 Films/52 Weeks, 2011

I have had some tough, tough days on set. 

For lot’s of different reasons.

But most of the time there are three major reasons why a tricky shoot can become an uphill battle, start to finish.

1 Being unprepared.

Or, more honestly, thinking you are prepared because you think you know what you are doing, or have done it a million times before so what could go wrong, or leaving everything till the last minute because that worked so well last time, or just being an idiot.

You can never, ever, ever be over prepared. I have mocked those who spend hours on shot lists and call sheets and lock locations ten times, or call actors in the morning to wake them up or label everything, color coding with electrical tape, or have twice as much tape/SD cards as needed, and I have been humbled by their attention to detail and how that made everything else run smoothly and effortlessly because we were prepared…Think of it as a rehearsal…for every department.

2 Relying on people who couldn’t give a toss.

No one, not even Santa, can be relied upon. Just assume that you have to do everything yourself, and that’s the bottom line really. In Very, very independent film, where there is little money and less of everything else, finding a person who would be willing to put their life on hold for nothing more than the possibility of your dream being achieved on film is going to be difficult, nay impossible. So stop expecting it….you will be less disappointed with humanity in general and less likely to not have everything you need on the day, or to have a nervous breakdown wondering why everything isn’t exactly the way you want it…

3 Carrying something onto the set with you…and I don’t mean cheap Ralphs donuts…yuk.

We all carry around junk in our brains, nerves, regrets, arguments form the night before, intricate plots for terrible revenge…or something like that. But you can’t bring it with you on to the set…its like poison, which coincidentally a major part of the revenge thing, but I digress, again. We have to leave all that stuff in our heads at the door, because if you don’t, it will get so completely in the way of everything you do that you may as well not show up at all. This is especially important when some of that ‘stuff’ is directly connected to someone who is also on set with you, which often happens, as we work with the same people all the time, and our spouses etc. It can be done of course, I am witness to that, but it’s tough, and the film suffers…a lot. So shake it off in the parking lot grab a delicious Yum Ym donut, or two, and get on with what you were put on this earth to do…

Here’s a film we made, during out 52 films/52 weeks extravaganza, that was wonderful to make but definitely had its own set of difficulties, all of which where completely unexpected by, oddly. But I still love it completely and utterly of course.


Beckets War was a particularly favorite story of mine, from the stories I had selected for the year of filmmaking.

I had held off actually writing the script because I didn’t think I was going to be able to shoot it. Too expensive, too difficult to find a location and many other reasons. But I had some bad news and had to go back to England for a few weeks and I needed to shoot an extra film before I left to cover for the time I would be away….so I said “what the hell” and chose Beckets War.

First problem, not enough time to prepare the script. I had it in my head for so long that I don’t think I really got it down on paper well enough. I knew what it was about, I was directing it, so thats fine, right? Wrong. It wasn’t a terrible script or anything, it just needed to be better and the actors needed more of an idea about their characters. I had my two favorite actors, Patrick Zeller and Bill Watterson agree to play the roles, even though Bill was shooting something else and Patrick had a brand new baby and no sleep. So I was very lucky with them, and then I had enormous help from a friend of another actor who wanted to get involved in filmmaking himself and was an ex marine, Paul Meixner. He advised me on the army stuff and even got a ton of props and wardrobe for the shoot, out of his own pocket, which was wonderful of him and really made the film look amazing. I also had the idea to shoot at night, helping in the suspension of disbelief that we were yards from a front line in some war torn country somewhere and not my back garden in a tent….Cue the flood lights manned by two volunteers sweeping the tent like searchlights. North Hollywood helicopters added to the sound effects as did the chirruping crickets. I made spaghetti and lots of coffee and off we went.

It was a wonderful shoot, smooth and sweet and everyone was brilliant….But…as I sat in my dad’s kitchen in England editing it, I realized that something was missing, a heart to the story, a reason why we were there witnessing this one moment amongst many others that these men had spent together, there was no why…So I made it work, and I still love it for lots of different reasons, but it could have been better, or different, or something else. I have heard so many directors interviewed over the years who have the same kind of regrets about their films, and I still plan on going back to recut it and fix the many things that need fixing. I suppose its meaning to me, as a film, and as my moment in time, was not what I saw on film. But maybe that’s the difficult thing about writing, directing and then editing something, you have three different perspectives and three different expectations, something’s got to give…I certainly learn a lot from the whole experience, just like I do with every film.

But there it is, in all its flawed glory. Such memories it brings and such love.

These short films that we make, all of us, they are an opportunity to capture those brilliant moments in life that we recognize so clearly amongst the rest. In a few minutes we can remind everyone what is important….those few minutes that stay with us forever. A car ride somewhere with your lover, the first time you wore roller skates, disastrously helping someone move, a magical, magical pizza, or watching TV with your dad, something you’ve seen a hundred times.

It’s these fleeting moments that mean everything.

Even the difficult moments.

Especially the difficult moments…

Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros
Author: Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros

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