So I've spent the last year developing a short romantic comedy called "The Serpent Bearer." After lots of writing, rewriting, planning, shooting, editing, more editing, even MORE EDITING, and reshooting "Misaligned" is finally complete and being submitted to festivals. It's been an exhausting roller coaster of all sorts of feels, but I couldn't be happier with the results. Here's what I learned along the way.
1. Be prepared for late (and early) arrivals.
Call time was 12pm on Saturday. I had planned to pick up my gaffer at the train station, so I would be home by 11:40am to greet my incoming crew. Little did I know that they sped through NYC traffic and arrived half an hour early, but I wasn't home to let them in. So they had to stare at my lawn for 30 minutes until I returned. Sorry guys!
2. Your camera CAN and WILL overheat in 40 degree weather.
We were shooting on the Blackmagic 4k outside in the garden, and it was probably the most beautiful scene in the whole film, but the camera suddenly shut off in the middle of the take, and it wouldn't turn on. It was as warm as a toaster. But it was 40 degrees outside! We could see our breath! How can a camera overheat?!?
Well after shooting 8 hours straight, I suppose these things happen. We let the camera chill outside while we warmed up inside. 15 minutes later, we were back to it. Save yourself a heart attack and turn things off when you're not using them.
3. Don't just feed your crew. Dine with your crew!
If you're shooting for 8+ hours, it goes without saying that you must feed everyone a hearty breakfast, lunch and dinner, with plenty of coffee and snacks throughout the day. But in those 2-3 days that you're filming, your crew becomes your family, and it's so important to take that time to appreciate the people around you. After we wrapped day 1, my mom helped set a nice dinner table with loads of Thai food and plenty of wine to go around. It was the perfect end to a long day of filming.
Take the time to set up a proper lunch & dinner, so everyone has the chance to relax. Because when you're stressed, you can't think straight. And when you can't think straight, you get grumpy. And when you get grumpy, your film turns to crap. And nobody likes that.
4. Sometimes, you have to be "extra" creative.
The whole film is set at an engagement party, and party scene calls for lots of party people. I called all my friends, family, aunties and uncles in the area. 10 told me they could come, but only 5 showed up.
I asked my crew to bring an extra suit/dress just in case we had to throw them in the shot. And I'm glad I did. Your DP and sound mixer may not be able to join the party, but feel free to throw your grips into the scene once they're done setting up the lights. Keep in mind, not every gaffer may secretly want to be an actor (but you never know).
5. Yes, there is such a thing as "too much coverage."
The climax scene required two wardrobe changes, so I wanted to shoot the entire scene twice, once with each wardrobe change, since I didn't know how I wanted to cut it. I was too focused on getting "enough" coverage instead of getting the coverage I was actually going to use. This is where a (good) shot list comes in handy.
I did spend several hours writing up a detailed shot list, but when I was on set, I was so intimidated by it, I ended up never using it. If I had planned our shooting schedule better, I could have saved several hours of shooting.
6. Reshoots are expensive.
Looking back a year later, I realized I had a script, a cast, a crew and a budget, but something was missing. I had an "idea" of what I wanted the film to be, but it was very loose and constantly changing. Little did I know, this would bite me in the ass later.
When we finished filming, it took 4-5 months of editing to realize our key flashback scene just wasn't working. The story that was being told in the script was not the story being told on screen. So I decided to rewrite and reshoot the scene so it fits the story perfectly. We also shot a new intro scene, and a few pick up shots I forgot to get because of the forgotten shot list above. ARGH!
A half-day shoot might not sound like a big deal, but when it comes down to budgeting your cast, crew, transportation, and pizza - it all adds up. I ended up spending my post production budget on a reshoot and had to pay for post production out of my piggy bank.
Moral of the story: Don't step onto set until you know your film, know your characters, and know your story. If that requires another rewrite of the script, do it!
7. Bad music will kill your film. Great music will bring it to life.
I spent hours scouring Reddit and Audio Blocks for music that I "thought" was a perfect fit, but it wasn't having any impact on the audience. Magical Realism is a HUGE part of the film, and nothing I was finding could bring those elements to life.
I recently started a new job and met an incredible composer right at my office! All it took was one happy hour and Sammy knew exactly what I was looking for. His first pass at the music BLEW ME AWAY! It was almost as if he stuck his headphones in my brain and played whatever came out.
Find a composer who not only understands the story and the tone of your project, but who can hear its heartbeat, and can highlight those feelings that you can't really put into words.
If you want to check out Sammy's work, clicky here: http://www.sammygallo.com/
8. Never compromise.
Your cast & crew are giving you their time and energy to make your idea a reality. Make it worth it. Get that one last take. Take that extra minute to tweak the lighting. Fix that last strand of hair on your actor's face (even if your crew starts making fun of you). Do whatever it takes to make your film awesome. Because you won't get a chance to do it again (except for re-shoots, but ain't nobody got time for that).
A big thank you to my incredible cast and crew! Be sure to check out our Facebook Page and stay tuned for more updates.
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Kabir Chopra is a filmmaker and actor who is slightly obsessed with Batman. That's all you need to know right now.