Lessons Learned on a Web Series Film Set
So, I have neglected my blogs. All of them. I am a bad Dominick. I know that, but it was for a good reason. After two years of writing, character development and script tweaking, Ashtyn and I have gotten FACESPACE off the ground. While the experience has been rewarding, and it has helped to confirm my love of filmmaking, I have also learned many lessons that I will not forget when filming future productions.
I thought I would share the list of things so that other, aspiring filmmakers avoid making the same, first-time filmmaker mistakes with their own projects.
1. If casting friends, be careful. I have found the actors I did not know prior to shooting have been far more reliable than the friends I asked to be in the production because they seemed interested in it. All of my friends I cast were in very small, one episode roles. Only 2 or 3 of the 12 have come through for me and I have had to find other actors to replace them. Not only is it imperative you cast friends that are reliable, you also need to make sure if they are not it does not ruin your friendship. Last minute cancellations are especially friendship-ruining.
2. Paying your cast gives you far more freedom. With FACESPACE being a full length, web series (12 episodes), we had to make a lot of accommodations. This meant we had to juggle shooting around 25 different work, school and personal schedules. When you pay you can set your schedule for when you want, but it was not fair to ask our actors to take off two months of work when they were doing us a favor by being in the series.
It also ensures you avoid actors saying things like, “I’m not getting paid for this” if they decide they do not like what is in your script. The one thing this has taught me is that I will always pay my cast and crew. That means I need to apply for grants, work on making money through advertising and need to start fundraising for season two as soon as post-production begins on season one.
3. Not all actors take non-paying gigs as seriously as paying gigs. This is sad, but true. I am an actor and have been acting on and off for over 20 years. I see every project as a chance to polish my craft and therefore, a way to put myself out there. That means I treat the free gigs just like the paying gigs. If my acting is off, then whoever sees the video of my acting is going to think I am not that good since I am not giving my best effort.
You never know who is going to see the show, film or whatever work of art you are doing. It reflects poorly on you if you do not give your all and you have the attitude that the production is non-paying so it is less authentic. The key is to try to find actors who take your project as seriously as you do. Unfortunately, it can be hard to know who that is without knowing the actors beforehand. A 30 minute audition is hardly enough time to discover who is truly serious about your project and who is just blowing steam.
3. Not every actor is going to like your specific directing style. Just like there is no right way to direct, there are different kinds of actors. I am a laid-back kind of guy. I am easy going. I have a definite vision for my projects and characters in them, but I also like to give my actors some creative freedom. I like to hear their ideas and interpretations of their characters. While this works for some actors, others need to be directed with a lot more focus. You need to find a way to balance those who prefer to do their own thing and those that need the extra guidance or re-cast if you can’t do the latter.
Also, some actors require far more ego stroking to be happy on set. I tend to be the kind of person who speaks up if I dislike something. I have to remind myself that complimenting can be beneficial. However, some prefer much more butt-kissing and that just isn’t me.
4. Sometimes you just have to let things go. There will be tension on set. It is inevitable in such high stress situations. You have set issues. You have unexpected catastrophes. You have to pick your battles and realize others just cannot be won. The goal is to learn from them and do what you can to make sure they do not happen during your next project. Everything you film is a learning experience. It can be best to move on for the sake of the other cast and crew members who are giving 110% and want to see this project succeed as much as you do.
5. Trusting technology is inevitably going to lead to failure. Next time, each actor is getting a binder with every script in it, as opposed to emailing them scripts. Emails get lost. Technology can fail. Sure, actors can lose a script, but inevitably, it looks better on the director to be overly prepared like this than to look like a douche when emails do not go through.
6. Make sure your actors understand there will be downtime on set before they agree to be a part of your cast. Downtime is a big part of filming. Unfortunately, some actors, especially newer actors, think crew members are just wasting time when they are actually doing intricate, technical jobs essential to the running of the production. These are the kind of actors who can drag down a shoot and create tension on set.
7. While “if it is not fun, don’t do it” should apply to most aspects of creative endeavors, sometimes you must sacrifice and get through the nasty parts just because there are so many people counting on you who have faith in you and your project.
8. Do not start shooting without a full cast. Enough said!
We are in our last week prior to post-production and we have had a blast shooting our first major project. We probably should have started with a short film BUT this has been an amazing experience and opportunity that has made me realize just how much I want to make a career out of being a filmmaker.
Stay tuned as I share more about my experience shooting FACESPACE in further blog posts.