Adapting To The Unexpected (VIDEO)
No matter how well you prepare for it, problems will always pop up when making a film on any budget level. Filmmaker Adam Petrey walks you through some of the lessons he learned shooting his micro-budget shorts and the creative problem-solving needed to adapt to the unexpected.
1. PLAN AHEAD
“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.”
- Orson Welles
You’ll never be able to know exactly what will go wrong but with careful planning you can limit a lot of mistakes. Double check your equipment. Have a well-planned story board and shot list. Rehearse with your actors and crew before you get on set and communicate with them efficiently and don’t waste time on set.
Having a well-laid plan is important and will help you be more flexible when you inevitably have to change it. Don’t be afraid to change things on the fly or throw away the plan entirely if the situation demands it. Use your best judgement and never let pressure get the best of you. You should always be leading by example.
“A lot of times you get credit for stuff in your movie that you didn’t intend to be there.”
- Spike Lee
I have directed short films where half-way through filming I realized we weren’t going to make our day and were way behind schedule. I pulled aside my DP into another room away from the rest of the crew and basically threw away our shot list and began combining and condensing shots together and ended up getting fantastic shots I never expected.
Sometimes problems can be a blessing in disguise because in the moment everything falls away leaving what is truly crucial to telling your story.
2. TRUST OTHERS
You may have heard “If you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself” but this doesn’t apply to film. Collaboration and teamwork are essential to filmmaking. You can’t do it on your own. You have to find hard-working people you trust to be on your team and treat them with Respect.
“Filmmaking is the ultimate team sport.”
- Michael Keaton
You may not know anyone working in film but there are resources online to cast actors, collaborate with writers, find crew members, and more. If you know someone interested and willing to help out without experience, train them on the various aspects of film.
“I think at the end of the day, filmmaking is a team, but eventually there's got to be a captain.”
- Ridley Scott
Remember to always be appreciative of those around you and to never lose sight of your vision. A great project and good leadership will help keep moral high. Always be kind and never let yourself get caught up in the stress of completing a project.
Remember making movies is fun and it’s even better with friends.
3. KEEP IT SIMPLE
Everyone wants to make the next great sci-fi epic but that doesn’t mean you have to overdo it. You can create genre-films on a low budget you just have to get creative. Many of our biggest filmmakers started with heavy genre pieces.
Instead of dealing with the sweeping landscapes and wide scope of high genre works you single out one very interesting detail and do it to the best of your ability. Such as using makeup or prosthetics to create an alien that is found in someone’s backyard or whip up some fake blood for a scene.
Know your limitations, but create the films you want to make!
When dealing with prop weapons in film experiment with things other than guns which are hard to pull off because it’s hard to find a decent replica and visual effects are hard to pull off in a realistic manner.
“With no-budget films, guns don’t work very well, because you can never get the right replica gun, it’s never got the weight to it, and you can’t fire blanks.”
- Christopher Nolan
Maybe instead of an epic shoot-out, you could use weapons such as hammers, baseball bats, and knives which can look way better than a cheesy muzzle flash from a toy gun. Play around with unique objects and see what you can dream up.
4. DON’T FIX IT IN POST
Anyone who has spent enough time on a film set has heard the phrase “We’ll fix it in post.” Nine times out of ten, it’s not going to work.
Some things will never be able to be fixed no matter how much expensive software you own because you didn’t film it correctly when you were on set.
Make sure you get all the shots you want. You’ll thank yourself in the editing room. Don’t leave a scene until you’re happy with what you have. While it may be hard to convince a tired crew to do one more shot it will be worth it in the end.
Especially when it’s not within your budget to schedule reshoots and insert shots to cover up and fix your mistakes it’s important to make sure everything is right.
The audience doesn’t care what excuses you have.
Something that I always try to keep in mind whenever things get tough is that “Pain is temporary but film is forever.”