Production Guidelines for a Feature Film
by James Jaeger

Shooting Schedule

Define your workday up front as 10 or 8 hours with 1/2 or 1 hour lunch. Don't be a snake and try and get away with being nebulous about this - talent staff and crew hate this when their contracts are unclear about such rudiments.

Obviously define your production week. Will it be a six- day week or a five-day week or mixed. You must enter these variables into your computer as global commands anyhow, so decide on them.

Personally, I don't see that you gain anything by forcing your crew to work, in addition to a 10-hour day, a six-day week. I feel it is better to work long days but have at least two days off every five days. Occasionally you can have a six-day week, but place three days off at the end of it.

You can shoot your feature on weekends only, or on three-day "weekends" which includes the Friday before each weekend. Six of these extended "Weekends" will give you 18 days of principal photography - the minimum amount of time you really need to shoot a feature - but you MUST get an average of at least 5 pages of script shot each day and your script cannot be longer than 90 pages. Then you will need 3 to 5 days for pick-up shots.

Actual shooting should start each day by 9AM and you should wrap by 6PM. Of course you will have to have call at 8AM or earlier and it will be a major dream if you actually get the first shot off at 9AM.

Schedule a half hour lunch, on the set, each day at 12 noon. If you get behind, other locations can be readied while the cast and crew eat and then those who were working to ready the next set will eat.

Never let you cast or crew leave the set for lunch. They will wander back late and hold up shooting every time.

Always splurge on the lunch food. The one thing you want is your talent and crew well fed with high energy food. Have a lot of fruits and vegetables and keep away from heavy foods otherwise, after lunch, everybody will be sluggish.

Shoot your touchiest scene(s) of the day first or second, never right after lunch or near the end of the day, when people are tired. People are at their physical and mental height about two or three hours after they get up.

On a typical day, 2 to 3 sync dialogue scenes can be done, one or two in the morning and the balance after lunch. Hence, on a 30-day shoot, about 60 to 90 sync dialogue scenes could be shot with a full crew. The whole film should not be dialogue scenes however, otherwise it will just be a "talking heads" picture.

More intricate, or scenes pivotal to the story, will take special care. Thus these should be scheduled for the entire day, or even over 1 to 1/2 days or more. Such a scene must be justified and must fit into the rest of the show with a degree of quality that is equivalent to the adjacent scenes of the movie.

During any intervening days between shooting, or between the weekends of principal photography if you are shooting that way, pick-up shots, cutaways, wild sound and MOS shots can be made by a second unit or by a small tough core of crew that don't mind working extra days. Also, at these times, you and/or the UPM can correct and plan for the next days of shooting as well as rent the necessary equipment and lights.

Allow enough days for pick-up shots and retakes. This will give an effective longer shooting schedule which should be built into the budget.

Location Notes

The possibility of shooting at a night club is greatly enhanced if you strike a deal whereby you utilize the band or band leader as an actor in one of the scenes. Shooting can be done in the club while it is closed to the public - such time possibly being the band's practice time, which may be any morning(s) of the week or on the day the club is closed. Other band members can be used as bits or they can play as musicians in your picture. Make sure you get a location release signed with at least a dollar of consideration. Have the band leader get this release signed by the owner of the club as he or she has an established relationship with them and its the band's practice time anyway. The best time to shoot a disco for free is a day the club is closed, preferably starting early in the morning BEFORE a night when the club WILL CONTINUE TO BE CLOSED THAT NIGHT. Then you are not as rushed to get out as the late afternoon and evening draws close. Clubs have to get ready for their customers. Saturday morning - not Okay. Sunday morning - okay, IF they are closed for business Sunday night.

For the most part, access to offices is easy when you are filming on the weekends or holidays.

Access to apartments and houses should be routine.

General Notes

Access to multiple TECHNICALLY IDENTICAL cameras, can be facilitated by shooting with cameras that you and your friends own or that you can easily rent. They let you use their cameras because you will let them use your camera when they need such. Multiple camera shooting can be a great way to go because you can get your coverage twice as quickly.

Using multiple hand-held cameras (Ari IICs for instance) gives you the possibility of shooting a scene at a crowded area, such as downtown or in an exterior arena or public event, circus, parade, etc., more easily and without paying any extras because you can quickly grab the shot like a hand-held "home movie."

If you stagger the use of Extras over the course of a shooting day, you can sometimes wrap their services before you feel obligated to feed them a meal. Example: Let's say you need 30 extras for a disco scene; arrange for 15 to be there the whole day, and 15 to come to the set on a half day schedule - perhaps 7 before lunch and 8 after lunch. Use the 15 that are there for the whole day to establish them into the shots. Use the other 15 that are there only on a half day call to just pass through the shots as background "atmosphere" as the shooting progresses.

Make sure every person who agrees to let you use a location to film in signs a legally binding Agreement (called a "Location Release"). THIS IS A MUST, because 9 times out of 10 the location owner will not have any conception of the amount of work you, the staff and crew will have done in preparation to using their location and it is not cool for you to have 25 people show up to a location Sunday morning to find all the doors locked because "they forgot". Only sue for damages if the crew beats you up.

PR Guidelines

When you are recruiting Talent (writer, actor, actresses, director), Staff (PM, first AD, PAs) and Crew (DP, Soundmixer, Gaffer), represent the project accurately to them - don't make it seem too small OR too large. If you represent it to be too small, you will not be able to interest them in working and deferring their pay. If you represent it as too large, no one will work unless you pay them more money than you have in the budget. Here is the ideal PR line to recruit Talent/Staff/Crew, to be said exactly upon your initial contact with them:

"We're shooting a low budget feature and I would like to know if you'd be interested in applying for work on the production in the capacity of ___________________. Principal photography will be between _____ and _____".

If there will be deferments, say this up front. In addition to the above, if they say they are interested, say the following: "Depending on your qualifications there will be deferments."

If they do not know what a deferment is, say: "A deferment means that members of the cast and crew, as well a the producers, will be asked to voluntarily postpone portions of their pay so that we will have enough money to make the film at a higher quality level. It is our objective to pay deferments as soon as possible but their is no guarantee that they will be paid."

If it is true and appropriate, you can add: "Nevertheless, your main motivation for working on this production should be fun, creative outlet and experience."

The information in this memo recapitulates and builds on the information relating to a half hour show.

NOTE: Permission is granted by the copyright owner to disseminate this article in whole or in part provided credit is given to the author (with a link to the article's source URL)
and this NOTE is not removed.

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