View Full Version : Shooting a feature for several months

06-28-2004, 05:18 AM
I'm planning to direct my first feature later this year. I'm planning to shoot on weekends and evenings over a period of a few months reather than shooting all day for a period of a few weeks. I know Brothers McMullen was shot this way (eight months, if I remember correctly). But I was wondering if any of you had shot a feature this way, and how that affected the process. I have a few reasons for doing it this way. One, I can't afford to pay my actors, so I'd like to make it easier for them by doing it in their free time. Another reason is that I'm saddled by a day job and have no vacation time left this year. So if I were to shoot it the traditional way, I'd have to wait until 2005. I've written the script in a way that most of the parts are relatively small, so if I lose an actor during that time period, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. I could recast or rewrite around that. And I'd take a lot of onset photographs so that we could match haircuts and clothing for continuity. I'm wondering what other things I might need to think about if I shoot this way. What do you all think?

06-28-2004, 06:13 AM
I'm working on just such a project now, and as an actor I don't find it easier -- in fact, it's a bit tougher, but I understand why projects happen like this. Your burden is greater; you must have your act together and treat everybody especially well to keep them coming back so that you can ultimately finish.

Continuity could become tricky. A few years ago I was helping a friend by shooting a short for her. Like your poject, it got extended and when we went back to one of the locations it had been remodeled, completely hosing continuity for that location. :-/

As comes up in many threads, be orgainized and be a good communicator and perhaps you will become the next Edward Burns....

06-28-2004, 07:03 AM
Excellent thought as always, JonnyMac.

Yeah, I realize that it's a challenge for actors. You work to get into the part, shoot some scenes, then have to do that character work all over again a couple weeks later at the next shoot. I want to minimize time in between shoots for actors as much as possible by shooting particular actors in shorter periods of time, then moving onto scenes that feature a different group of actors. Of course, this will be most difficult to do with the leads (and the crew). It's the people on the project I'm worried about keeping happy. With a few exceptions, the locations will be available for several months and won't be changing. I've written the screenplay to include locations owned by friends and family for that reason.

Good luck with your current project, JonnyMac.

06-29-2004, 09:31 AM
I just finished shooting a feature with the same type of schedule. Shot on weekends and the occasional weekday from the end of Sept. 03-Nov. 03 Then had to break for the winter and finished exteriors in May 04.
My cast and crew had a blast and came back strong even after the long break.
I can only speak of the way I approached the situation. Of course it starts with the material (script) and its potential but, beyond that, what t I did With NY actors and crew working for train and gas fare and meals:

People prep
Make the majority of your prep time really listening to your cast and crew ...as people.

Have a first table read, but you spend your time studying them as people. Find out who sits next to who... Analyze what kind of chemistry you have working. Ask them about past projects, personal experiences, life experiences, and listen to how they responded in those situations. Why they are part of your project. Take note.

Most of directing (especially when we are really depending on the kindness of strangers in these microbudget productions) is understanding what makes your people tick. Each person has a different alarm clock...When they can get their engine started...when they have had enough, etc. This personal alarm clock applies to every situation of their working time with you. The full schedule, each particular day on set, moments within a scene. It may be different in every situation for each person. Take the time to know those borders for cast crew.

Get a feel for how each person works, rersponds....before you start. Then, as you begin to put together a schedule, arrange shot lists and start to shoot, you can do your best to keep people working in a zone and on time schedule (even if they just see that you are doing your best to do it for them) where they are happy to serve you and your project.

Treat them better than you do yourself...Don't skimp on lunch, dinner, breaks, etc.
Make it clear that you (at least appear to be) working harder at your craft than everyone else...and that you are happy to do it.
Praise, humor...and the feeling that there is no pressure should be the prevelant vibe on and off the set for a great percentage of your time working....this way when you need to turn it up a notch and push them, they will be excited to do it for you.

It's just managing people, understanding what their motives for being there are and how to best make them feel as if they are getting whatever they came for...if people feel there are achieving there objective (whatever it is) they will come back continue to support you happily.

good luck and enjoy the process.


06-29-2004, 09:35 AM
Thanks for the detailed post, RJC. I appreciate the insight from someone who's done it before. So are you in the process of editing your project now?

06-29-2004, 09:40 AM
Yup...editing. Trying to get a rough cut together for my music guy.

06-30-2004, 03:40 PM
I shot my last short over 10 weekends (Sept. '03 - Dec. '03). (Not as long a shoot as you are planning on but...) Biggest thing for me was to "qualify" my actors ahead of time. During the auditions and prior to giving someone a role, I let them know it was in effect a 10 week commitment. A couple of people weren't willing to commit - which was fine. Better to find out now than in the middle of a 10 week shoot. I also got a sense for how committed they were as actors before I offered them a role, my thinking being those who were serious about their own careers would be more dependable. I was willing to be flexible in how I scheduled the shoot realizing they had day jobs to pay bills and needed to attend auditions, etc. I got lucky in that my entire cast was willing to show up as needed over the course of 2 1/2 months. As was mentioned, good people skills are a must to be a successful director/producer. Trying to compel people to show up (esp. if they're not being paid) by threats, etc. will never work.

06-30-2004, 06:35 PM
I think Chris Nolan shot his first film that way too.

07-02-2004, 06:59 PM
I shot a feature film from August '02-December '02...with regards to continuity and such, there was tons of hassle (here in Toronto, we have hot summers and coooold winters)...my poor lead actress had to walk around outside in a T-shirt because I was too disorganized and we needed to pick up a sequence.

While we covered the temperature differences perfectly, it wasn't a comfortable experience much at all. I'd highly suggest against it if you're living in a similar climate situation. Even if she didn't seem to let it truly bother her, I could tell she was insanely uncomfortable, and I'd not normally suggest putting actors in uncomfortable situations.

07-02-2004, 07:39 PM
Yeah, there's a similar climate situation here in Michigan. Weather isn't particularly important to the plot, but I was planning to shoot the outdoor scenes first, in the late summer and autumn to make it more comfortable for the actors. Then we would do the indoor scenes in the winter.

07-02-2004, 07:49 PM
Definitely if you have to stretch the shoot over a few months, I'd say its best to do as much exterior work in the summer as possible.

The short I last finished took place outside, in the winter (shot in a Toronto February). The actors knew what to expect going in...but it was COLD! I'll probably never do that again!

07-02-2004, 08:32 PM
Yeah, I don't mind putting myself through cold outdoor shoots, but I want to minimize doing that to the cast and crew. Especially on a no-budget flick.

08-04-2004, 12:50 PM
I just finished shooting my second feature, which was done on and off during weekends, over the last two and half years. I do not recommend this to anyone!

Get it done with as soon as possible, but with quality, of course. The longer you go, the more chance that people will lose interest, move to another town, etc. Also, continuity is tougher to maintain with an extended shoot.

Good luck with your project.

08-05-2004, 03:53 PM
I just released my latest film, The Jizz Mopper. I filmed it over a 6-month period and paid close attention to continuity, more than anything else. It's all about planning ahead of time and ensuring those you have working on the film are aware of what the upcoming schedules are.

Most amatuer filmmakers work with this kind of schedule so its nothing new :-)

08-05-2004, 06:06 PM
When shooting over an extended period time, it's hard to deal with continuity. But I think, (unless it is so obvious) that often times the audience doesn't see the screw ups. Someone had mentioned Ed Burns and Brothers McMullen. He had continuity problems in almost every scene, but the story and acting were strong, so nobody noticed, or perhaps cared. I guess if the only way to make your film is over months and months, shooting a weekend here and there or maybe a knocking a scene out in a few hours if you got off work early is the only way you can get it done, then that's the facts. But atleast you made your film. My hats off to anyone that can write a decent script, get a crew together, casting, location scouting, directing then editing, marketing etc. and get the project done. What an accomplishment in my book.

08-14-2004, 09:58 PM
Thanks to everyone who posted in this thread...Right now I"m going through this same thing...and getting actors to commit to that kind of project is hard in this town, I'm glad I'm not the only one going through stuff like this.

08-17-2004, 08:27 AM
Good luck, Phil!

08-17-2004, 03:38 PM
Thanks man! You too!