Experiences to inspire and/or prepare a newbie director for 25K or less?
July 5, 2016 9:50 AM   Subscribe

Let's say you're an inexperienced film director who has been granted 25K to spend on preparation for directing a short film. ("Preparation" in this case meaning, skills-acquisition, experimentation or any sources of inspiration.) Since you can't spend the money on actual production costs, what would you spend the money on? Several conditions apply, after the jump.

Difficulty: 1. None of the money is to be spent on the film's production itself, just on preparation, skills-acquisition, or "experiences that might give rise to inspiration." 2. The short film's production won't happen for another year, so it has to be spent, really, on PRE-pre-production. This can include workshops to brush up on skills, travel to locations for scouting, books, etc -- whatever is needed to prepare oneself for the experience of directing, but not really pre-production costs per se.

(For clarity's sake: this is for a film school grad, but 15 years ago without directing anything since, so skill sets are fuzzy.)

What kinds of things would you spend the money on, given that the definitions are so loose/flexible? If classes/workshops -- what kind, specifically? Thanks!
posted by egeanin to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Video editing software and a nice laptop with extra storage, just to practice. There's a good place up in Maine to brush up.
posted by sammyo at 11:00 AM on July 5, 2016

If you can't make the whole short for $25K you're doing it wrong.

How exactly can you not use the money on production? Like, why? Is it some kind of grant? If so, why did you apply for this one when you should have been applying for things that will actually fund your movie?

Knowing more about where this money is coming from and why there are strings attached would be helpful in advising how to best use it. Since I can't think of any worthwhile expenditure for "preparations" that wouldn't either count as "production" or be a waste of money better spent on production.

Computers and software are a production cost, by the way. This is why it's impossible to answer this question helpfully.

The only absolutely not production related purchases I can come up with would be total wastes of money.

Shoot the film in Bora Bora and blow the money on a very extravagant scouting trip?

Though, of course, a scouting trip is a production cost, anyway.
posted by Sara C. at 11:53 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Gonna disagree, sammyo. Edits can be done on phones now, and $25K for editing gear will be worth $12K or less after a year.

Our out-of-practice director needs to practice actual direction. Director (and presumably screenwriter as well?) needs to work with actors as much as possible. Sundance Lab is a great place to do that. The lab is free but I don't think room and board are included with a slot in either the Screenwriter's Lab or the Director's Lab that follows.

Here's an article about someone with much the same experience and circumstances, and what he did to level up to a point where he could make his first feature. I urge this director to buy/rent/borrow/steal the Blu-ray of this film and pay careful attention to the behind-the-scenes logs of how Lance Hammer workshopped constantly with his non-professional actors to flesh out the story, the dialog, the visual approach, the audio approach... everything that is wonderful about the film.

If Sundance Lab turns out to not be an option, the exercises done there can be done elsewhere on one's own dime, and that may be a good use of the money, to audition and hire actors to workshop scenes.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:55 AM on July 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This may completely break the rules whomever has laid out for you, but the first thing I'd do is make four other shorts for $1000 each. Learn by doing.
posted by incessant at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Incessant: I think making shorts as practice films w/r/t experimentation and practice with actors, before the actual shoot would be acceptable, actually. Good call.

Sara C: this grant has odd rules. It's not a "waste of time" to use the grant money for what it is meant for: skills acquisition and inspiration. The question of how to fund the actual production costs of the film itself is not germane to this ask.me question.
posted by egeanin at 12:34 PM on July 5, 2016

This may completely break the rules whomever has laid out for you, but the first thing I'd do is make four other shorts for $1000 each. Learn by doing.

This.. maybe use a small chunk on a workshop, but I would use the majority to pay the cast and crew on your practice films.
posted by starman at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Egeanin, the problem is that anyone who has already been to film school has already acquired all the skills they'll need to make a short film.

Inspiration is a more interesting line of spending, since you could chalk research (actually a production cost, but whatever) up to "inspiration", or potentially something like a long and elaborate scout. In reality, inspiration is free, or if it has costs it's things like books, museum memberships, a subscription to the local arthouse theater, etc. which I can barely fathom spending $25K on when the film itself will likely cost less than that to make.

Any info on what the short will be about? For research and inspiration I'd recommend very different things if you're thinking about a documentary vs. a narrative project.

Travel is probably the most compelling use of $25K, but if your short will be produced close to home, that's not worth doing.
posted by Sara C. at 1:06 PM on July 5, 2016

Practice - Definitely make a few other shorts and try out potential collaborators and gear and workflow (like edit software) for the final short. Try snowballing on more and more people you like to make a core team that functions well (director, cinematographer, camera operator, first AD, producer, editor, favourite actors, effects people)... Curate and foster those relationships now so you'll have a shorthand when the real film gets going. A great First AD will really make your set awesome.

Apprentice - Use a bit of cash to apprentice on a more experienced director's short. Or even pay a more experienced director to shoot a short you wrote, and apprentice with them. Or pay a mentor to come to the set of your short and talk through your technique.

An amazing first AD who has worked with lots of directors might be a perfect person to pay a few hundred bucks to come to set and be your observer then mentor for a couple days. Directing is so solitary that a First AD who has worked closely with 30 directors will likely have a broader range of on-set best practices and insights and advice than another director would. I recently worked on a set with an utterly horrid AD (disorganized, abrasive, disrespectful, frantic) and the set was a total drag- so now I'm really into finding a great AD.

Research - See films made in your area to research editors, composers, and a sound recordist whose work you like- good edits and music will elevate your film.

Gear up- Acquire a cheap car with a large cargo space- having a vehicle makes shooting so much better.
Maybe acquire some big hard drives too.
But I would not spend much cash on gear or software- better to rent it, it goes obsolete so fast.

Improve the script- Pay for script coverage from someone great if that's allowed.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 9:19 PM on July 5, 2016

The first thing that came to mind was travel, especially if your film will take place in another country or incorporate other cultures/languages. Maybe you could even take a filmmaking course in another country to get a different perspective on it. Language course? Would be helpful if you will be hiring people who speak other languages or of your film will incorporate other languages. I think this grant is imaginative with endless possibilities; pretty cool.
posted by bearette at 9:55 PM on July 5, 2016

Best answer: Skills. Go get a DSLR, start scouting locations. Find one? Grab a person (or tiny action figure) shoot storyboards. Walk into production knowing it will work.

Add on to that? Get some VO talent to read the script. Now you can edit the storyboards to the script and see if its' working.

Inspiration? Shoot 1 minute vignettes of the major characters. Now when you go to look for actors, they'll have some extra backstory.

Workshops? Do Werner Herzogs Master class https://www.masterclass.com/classes/werner-herzog-teaches-filmmaking

I'd also suggest reading Rodriguez "Rebel without a crew."

Go watch Elizabeth Warren's Ted Talk. Read "War of Art" by Stephen Pressfield.

You have a year. I'd do a film every two weeks - getting the 30 or so "shit films" out of your system. By regularly being creative - even if it sucks - you learn to be prepared for when inspiration shows up.
posted by filmgeek at 6:36 AM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

How about getting a Previz software and a good computer to run it.
posted by Sophont at 9:21 PM on July 6, 2016

Tripling the advice to make other short films. There is no better prep to make films than making films. Heck, even spend the money for other people to direct, and allow yourself to try out different roles... focus on producing, camera, even acting. Each of these disciplines will make you a better filmmaker. But, mostly, shoot a bunch of low budget projects. In addition to honing your skills, you'll also meet potential crew and bond before shooting your ultimate project.
posted by Unsomnambulist at 8:49 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

So what was the resolution?
posted by infinitewindow at 1:39 PM on June 29, 2017

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