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    "Corrado" - A production blog
    #1
    Hates to Rent taormina's Avatar
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    LONG POST!

    Barry thought it would be a good idea if I share my experiences making my first feature. After refleting somewhat, I agree - I've gained so much knowledge here that it would be nice to give something back.

    Not sure how often I will be able to update this, but I will do my best.

    Relevant facts about me:
    I am a director who writes, produces, and edits
    I have produced and directed many shorts, even one on 35mm film
    I produced and direted a TV pilot that went....nowhere.
    I have recently completed a feature length documentary
    I have never shot a feature.

    Oooh. That last one has been a thorn in my side for as long as I can remember. I only just got into all this a couple years ago. I'm no DP - I know more about cameras and gear than I ought to, but I'm no shooter. I have always written, and have probably written three or four screenplays.

    Finally I came up with one I really liked. And one that others liked as well. The story is called Corrado. It's about a cold, heartless hitman who rescues a woman who witnesses one of his hits - from the deceased's crooked family who think she did it.

    That's more or less what it's about anyways. My writing is pretty good, not great. I've been told I have a knack for pace, and the story gallops along quite well.

    You need to create the movie for it's intended audience. You need to hone in with laserlike focus on what the market is for your film.

    This being my first feature, my goals were fairly modest. I wanted a movie that:
    1. Would easily get direct to DVD distribution
    2. Would fare well a festivals and generate some buzz.
    That's it. Only two objectives. Anything else is a bonus.

    THe script is no accident. My analysis of the DVD market is that it is saturated with horror movies. So I avoided that. I also concentrated on the foreign markets and what they would want. These are the elements I created:

    • Genre: Action
    • An overly American setting for foreign markets. In this case, the city of LA. Foreign markets love Americana.
    • A couple roles that I created specifically to be filled by some name talent to further promote the film.
    The budget was set to be $150K. I figured this was money that I could raise myself and thus not be beholden to anyone, kind of like the other projects I had done in the past.


    Next: Preparations


     

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    Preparations
    #2
    Hates to Rent taormina's Avatar
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    Once I had the script down I literally sat on it for a year or so, tweaking it here and there. I would reread it months later, thinking it was still pretty good. I did this so as to see if the script grew old on me, or seemed dated, or whatever.

    You cannot rush a script into production without letting it percolate.

    My script didn't need to be great, as you may have learned in any number of filmmaking books. It needed to be solid, with 3 dimensional characters, a clear story arc, and good pace. And that what Corrado is - it isn't an oscar vehicle - it's a way to make something, sell it, and move on to something greater. It's a means to an end.

    I also more or less work alone. I find all the locations, hire the people, cast the actors, etc. No UPM, no nothing. I am it. Even on a feature with a 150K budget, there is simply not enough money to have an art director, a UPM, or any of the luxuries afforded to larger films. I wanted every penny to be seen on screen.

    I hate producing, though. After this movie takes off and sells, I never want to produce again. Only direct!

    On to preparations. I've shot enough with crews to be overly tired of renting equipment. I hate rentals. So I decided to accumulate all of my own equipment. I bought what I needed for this movie only, and along the way figure out that my package would serve me well for the future. Over the last year, I have purchased the following:

    • My HVX200 with a Letus Extreme and a set of 6 primes
    • HMIs - (2) 575s, (2) 1.2Ks, (1) 2.5K (1) 2.5K Par
    • Tungsten: (3) 2K, (5) 1K, (2)650s, (2) 300
    • 100W Dedolights
    • 14 C stands
    • 2 Hi-Hi rollers
    • 6 husky baby
    • Bunch (about 5) big stands whose name currently escapes me
    • 2 juniorw/ wheels
    • 6 x 6 frame
    • 12 x 12 frame
    • Flags,nets, silks
    • Matthews grip cart with about 20 apple boxes in various shapes
    • All kinds of gel
    • Hundreds of little grip clips, mafers, cardellinis
    • A dolly
    • (3) 4 x 4 frames
    • more sandbags than I can count
    • a dozen stingers
    • all kinds of distro equipment
    • A bunch of stuff I left out
    Basically it's an overgrown 3 ton lighting and grip package. I have everything I need to shooti this movie and will rent NOTHING.

    Stupid strategy? Maybe. But I'm making more than one movie in my life.

    How do I pay for all this? Let me just put it this way. I do not work in the film industry. I do not rent anything out. This stuff exists solely for me and my films. We'll leave it at that.

    Next: Budgets, breakdowns, crew.


     

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    this is really detailed and interesting. I dig it. Keep them coming.


     

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    #4
    Hates to Rent taormina's Avatar
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    I have my reasons for not wanting to rent and they mainly revolve around a couple of key points:

    1) I have maximum flexibility on my shoot schedule. I can take longer than I had planned and not have to pay for more days or forfeit deposits.

    2) the cost of rental items on the low end is almost always more than you could buy the item for. Example: a lowly 50' stinger. Rents for $4 a day. Let's say 3 day week. That means on a 3 week shoot like mine I would have paid $36 for that stinger - more than I paid for the used ones I bought, that's for sure. If you're going to rent an F23 or a film camera, that's a different topic.

    3) I know my stuff well, and serviced everything myself

    4) No pickups, no dropoffs means no extra crew days.

    5) no faxing of insurance certificates and posting deposits.


    This brings me to my next point.

    There are two thing you will pay for in a production that have no production value whatsoever, that drain your cash flow and the viewer will never see: Deposits and Permits.

    I hate deposits and permits.

    First, Deposits. Many people do not budget for deposits. on my last TV pilot ($40K budget) they ran about $2500. This is money that is tied up until the production is OVER. And the system works in such a way that you rarely get every penny back. If you're late - "hey, no problem, we'll just take it out of the deposit!"

    Some people apply the deposit money to post, but honestly, when in post you have all the time in the world. People may say they have deadlines, but if you are producing a feature film, an indie feature, you are accountable to no one but yourself. So it's late a couple weeks. No biggie.

    On set however, the clock is running. You need every penny in your pocket in case of an emergency. And there is always an emergency. My DP likes to say "It's not a real movie until the cops show up!"

    Permits. Shot wherever you can without a permit. They are wasteful bureaucratic bulls*%t that some armchair politician cooked up. Sometimes you must pay them, but in the indie film world, you seldom have enough crew and people to impact anything significantly. They add no value to your production whatsoever, regardless of what some film commissioner says. The thousands you will spend on permits will never be seen by the viewer!

    Permits, bad enough in and of themselves, go hand in hand with little upcharges like being forced to hire a liaison, police officer, fire marshall, guide, representative, you name it. And they always have a "minimum" number of hours they must be there. Plus insurance certs and other legal hoops.

    Socal is a tough place to shoot without a permit. Nosy neighbors will call the cops if they see filming. So film somewhere like Orange County, where you do not need a permit for a filming on private property.

    I've done that in the past, but unfortunately Corrado must be filmed in LA. Why? Because whenever you leave the zone, you must pay your cast and crew a per diem, which is like a daily dinner allowance, and put them up in a hotel, and pay for gas, ad nauseam. On my tv pilot, it penciled out nicely to shoot it down here. But for this one it doesn't. I'll just have to pay the permits.

    And in LA you take it two ways: Film LA levies their permit charge wherever you are in the zone. Then you must pay a permit fee to whatever city you happen to be shooting in. So if you are shooting in Beverly hills, you pay them PLUS Film LA!!!!!

    Bogus! And as helpful as the Film LA people pretend to be, permits are nothing but a tax on production. It's not as if we're filming war of the worlds here where we need to blow up a street. We would be quietly shooting inside someone's house.

    To add insult to injury, the permit fees are the same whether you are Spielberg or some nobody.

    con't.


     

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    #5
    Hates to Rent taormina's Avatar
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    Sometimes you simply must get a permit. Corrado has one day of filming inside Terminal 2 of LAX and we obviously can't skirt the permit issue.

    I will use a permit as little as I can. Corrado has a few walk and talk scenes filmed on LA streets. We will shoot these without a permit. Quick in and out.

    You have to be savvy to do this. If you get caught and asked to leave in the middle of a take, all your previous stuff is garbage. The keys to getting away with filming without a permit are these:
    1. You MUST look like you belong and have permission. Hiding, whispering, and darting glances will give you away and arouse suspicion.
    2. Minimal crew. This means the DP operates, we have a 1st and 2nd AC, one grip with bounce boards, the director, a sound man, and the cast. Everyone else waits by the truck.
    On my last pilot we needed to film on a university campus. We chose UC Irvine. I phoned, tried to arrange a permit, pay fees, etc. I was immediately shut down. "We don't allow filming on campus while school is in session".
    "You mean, like, after 8 am and 3 pm?"
    "No, I mean like from September to June"

    Whoa. We're screwed. So I assemble my crew, and tell them we shall film anyways. We get on campus, hide the truck, and walk out with more or less the crew I have denoted above, with the exception of another makeup lady and a steadicam operator. We were shooting an F900 with Zeiss digiprimes. Not exactly a prosumer setup!

    My DP, David Fox, a veteran location poacher, counseled us to all act normally.

    Let me tell you, we shot a 10 hour day there, in public places; atriums, courtyards, stairs, got building exteriors, you name it. We waved to students, professors, and even the UC Irvine Police that would drive by. We totally looked like we belonged. I mean, who would wave at the cops and be there illegally......right?

    Anyways, in case anyone is wondering, I always carry production insurance. You're a fool not to. You could easily set someone's house on fire or injure someone. It's relatively cheap. Every location you rent will want to see an insurance certificate, but won't necessarily care about a permit.

    My last insurance was through Truman Van Dyke in LA. They are a broker, and thus connect you with an insurance company. The carrier on the TV pilot was Accord, and they have a neat feature:

    They give you a login and ID so you can print your own insurance certs showing whomever you wish as additional insured.
    The rental house. The airport. Yo mama. It doesn't matter - you are covered.

    So what did I do when we filmed at UC Irvine without permission? I insured them, of course! Yes, I named them additionally insured for $1 million on my policy, printed the cert, and kept it in my pocket in case we were shaken down! I figured if anyone asked, I'd yank out my perfectly valid insurance cert and show it to them, claiming we were allowed to be there. Who else would buy insurance on a place they weren't allowed to be??? I figured it would be enough paper for some rent-a-cop to leaves us alone. We never had to use it.

    next - crew, budgets, breakdowns. I promise.


     

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    Crew, Budgets, and breakdowns
    #6
    Hates to Rent taormina's Avatar
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    Dov Simens has this idea that there are two ways to come up with a movie budget. THe first way is to call and get quotes, calculate days, make a script breakdown, etc. The second way is to look in your bank account and see what you have.

    Only one is the right way, says Simens. Guess which way? He says to just see what you have.

    This is all fine and good for your first film but I doubt you'll get very far with this.

    This is how I did it, in this order:

    • Write the script while thinking of budget. I wrote Corrado on the basis of what I knew I woud be able to personally afford or at best borrow. From the grund up, it is a script that is practically written. No plane crashes, car chases, fireballs, etc. No weird locations either, although Corrado certainly does have many locations.
    • Create a location report. This is a report that tells you how many pages you have to film at each location. If you know how many pages you can shoot in a day, that tells you how long you will need those locations for. On dialog days, we can do about 9 pages per day. On heavy action days, we go down to about 4 days This is with TWO cameras rolling. Got it? Great. ow you know how many days you are at each location.
    • Tally up the cast. We have three cast members that will make 80% of the cast budget, because they are so pricy. Tom Sizemore is one of them. In order to know how many days you need him for, you must have completed the previous step. This tells you how much they will cost. Our budget for cast is over $100K.
    • Add it all up, plus some. Now you know how many days your shoot will be. And how many days you need your cast, and how many days you have at each location. Add up your cast, location fees, and you can move onto crew.
    Crew is the last expense. usually the first expense an amateur filmmaker will add up because when you start out, crew is usually the only people you need to pay since you finagle free locations, free actors, and free food.

    In Corrado, crew costs are a much smaller portion of the budget than they would be on a smaller film.

    We will use the following crew:

    • DP (Also A cam operator)
    • 1st AC for A camera
    • 1st AC for B camera (will also double as operator for easy shots)
    • 2nd AC for A camera
    • Gaffer
    • Electric
    • Key Grip
    • Grip
    • 1st AD
    • 2nd AD
    • 2 - PAs
    • Sound man
    • Boom op
    • Key Makeup
    • Makeup asst,
    • Wardrobe
    • Art Director (some days only)
    • Script super
    • Steadicam op - some days
    • Props / gunhandler
    • pyrotechnician (some days)
    • Data transfer dude
    That's basically it. Now you know how many days, you can pencil these guy's rates in.

    Go back in and add props, picture vehicles, food, equipment rentals, and you're more or less done. Add a big miscellaenous fund as well. Movie eat money.


    A word about crew: If you work outside the zone you must pay them travel costs, put them up in a hotel, and pay them a per diem which covers dinner. This can be veeerrry expensive for a lot of people. I did a few small productions outside of the zone, but generally speaking, hire people where they live or it will cost you.

    Crew must be monitored at all times. Anyone that shows up with a hangover must be either severely reprimanded or let go. It sounds harsh, but people that aren't working up to their full potential by partying the night before are a workplace hazard, a liability, and unsafe. Someone could be injured or killed by a simple mistake by a hung over crewman.

    Now don't get me wrong, I always like my crews, but it is normal for little complaints, squabbles, and minor issues to pop up. It's the nature of working in close proximity with so many people with very little rest for weeks.

    Feed the crew well. You can do pizza, but only once in a three week shoot. Crew need real food, served punctually, or there will be a mutiny. You afre not obligated to serve breakfast, really only lunch. But you'd be a fool to do it. Serve a hot breakfast, at least coffee and donuts. Keep lunch light and nutritous so you avoid nappers.

    During Corrado, all the crew live in LA, thus will be commuting daily from their homes. But I will feed them breakfast anyways. It's cheap insurance and keeps everyone happy.

    Next: Miscellany.


     

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    I really feel as if I'm talking to myself here, but no matter, more is forthcoming.


     

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    Senior Member Leo Versola's Avatar
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    Your words are definitely not falling on deaf ears; eagerly waiting for more... Thanks for sharing your experience!
    Last edited by Leo Versola; 02-27-2008 at 11:59 PM.


     

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    Senior Member Loki's Avatar
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    oh I've been reading. Its well written.

    Do keep writing.. I have my popcorn on standby.
    Don't sweat the petty stuff and don't pet the sweaty stuff.
    http://www.dreamsoftproductions.com


     

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    Hates to Rent taormina's Avatar
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    Wow - Thanks Guys!

    Anyways, next up is hiring name actors. I still have not fully cast Corrado. We shoot in two months; April 26th. This is normal, even a very generous amount of time to get people.

    I have worked on 20 million dollar features, and everything is done the way I do it except for the time frames are extended. You need to book months in advance to get people, sometimes even years for some stars.

    In my case, I refer you back to a previous post where I said the script was designed a certain way. I have a goal to accomplish: To get distribution. Therefore, my script was designed so that I could have nice cut and dried slots to fit good actors into. Name actors.

    There are three main characters in my story: Paolo, Salvatore, and of course the namesake Corrado.

    I knew Corrado would need to be there every day. In fact, he's actually going to be there for 14 of the 15 shoot days. Salvatore I have written in for 12 days, and Paolo is in for 5 days.

    Here's where the fun starts:

    I made the smallest of the three main roles for the biggest actor. Why? because these guys cost a lot of money to get. And you can't afford to have him there every day. If I had gone and made the biggest actor the star, it would've dramatically increased my budget to the point that I could only afford one name actor. Instead, I will have three.

    Tom Sizemore was my first choice for the role, the first cast call I made, and the first I hired. It was easy. It should have been easy. Like I told a friend, if I had enough money, I could have Tom Hanks sing at my kid's birthday party. And why not - they all work for money.

    Now there's a big caveat here. I've worked in sales my whole life. Big sales. millions of dollars per sale sales. Big numbers don't scare me. My client base was comprised of millionaires and billionaires. Long story short, I know how to talk to people believably. If you don't, find someone else to make these kinds of calls for you. Because the agents are the guardsmen and they won't give you the time of day if you hum, haw, sound like an idiot, or are not confident.

    Here's how the process went.

    I called his Agent and was asked by the receptionist to spell my name and my company name, and what is was regarding. I gave her all the data, but did not tell her which actor I wanted to hire. NOTE: You better have your s*%t together right here. You will never get past this stage if you don't have your story straight here. Shame on you if you are calling and do not yet have a company name. Shame on you if you don't know the agent's name. Receptionists at these places are tough, savvy, and pros at weeding out the dreamers. Plus, they may think you are worse than a dreamer....an actor calling for representation.

    After a few minutes of holding, I was put on with the agent. Now listen up - it's all about the way you act. I acted like I was calling to purchase something from the Agent, and I was. They love it when producers call - these are the money calls for agents. Real producers, that is. This si what I said after the formalities "I need Tom Sizemore for 5 days starting Aprils 26th, consecutive days in LA." You must be clear about how many days, what dates, and where the shoot is. Vagueness here will set off alarm bells. If you cannot produce the aforementioned info, you are probably trying to attach the actor to the picture for financing purposes. Agents really don't like this.

    The next question is the clincher. I was asked if I wanted to make Tom and offer. This is where things can go down hill if you don't know how to sell. But first, my strategy. I had previously resolved to pay Tom whatever his rate may be and not negotiate. F*cking crazy? Not at all. By securing him at his rate without negotiating, and attaching him to the film, I have effectively negotiated everyone else's rate for EVERYTHING. All I say now to prospective crew and talent is "Tom Sizemore is in the movie" and I get excitement, people wanting to work it, at any price. People are offering to work for free just to be part of it. I'm getting hundreds of calls and resumes with people saying "I'm a big fan of Tom's - I want to work....etc"

    Ok, back to the question. Would I like to make an offer. If you answer this question you are a dumb s*%t and deserve to fail. In sales, Rule 1 - He that answers first pays too much. You set the bar. If you were to say $10K per day, it will only go up from there. Let the other guy give you a number. Then you KNOW what he can be had for for sure, whether you can afford it or not.

    My response was simple: "Why don't you tell me what his quote is" His quote is the amount that he is currently charging based on the budget of the picture. The agent came back with "he will work for X per day on a $5 million quote". This means that on anything up to a $5m budget, he would work for a certain day rate.

    I was delighted with the number I was given. I instantly told the agent I wanted to proceed.
    He asked if funds were in place for the picture. ALWAYS TELL THEM YOU HAVE THE MONEY even if you do not. If you answer anything but yes to this, you will be shut down. At the time, I had half of the money for the picture in the bank. More than enough to pay Tom, but not enough to make the picture. I was not worried about raising the rest, but that is what I do. I sell.

    But had I explained I had only half the money, even though it was enough to pay the actor, I would have been done. You must be a pro and convincing!!! Of course since then I got the rest and everything worked out. That was three weeks ago. Rule 2 in sales : Shut the F#ck up. Don't give people more info than they need to know to make the decision. You describing when you are going to get the rest and why you don't have it all grossly violates this rule.

    The agent then wanted to read the script and see if Tom was interested. They do work for money, but sometimes they don't like your material. They always want to see the script.

    So I sent it and two days later I got a call. They liked the story, and so did Tom - and he wanted to be in it. I think I hit the ceiling that night. Tom Sizemore was going to be in my first feature!

    Which brings me to Rule #3 in sales: Once you have closed the deal, shut the f*ck up. Your work is done and any more talking will only hurt things.
    Last edited by taormina; 02-28-2008 at 05:30 PM.


     

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