Getting My First Feature Film from Planning to Production



This is the fifth guest article in a series by filmmaker Brittany Nisco, where she's documenting the entire process of making her first independent feature film, Wandering Off. Here's the synopsis.

Wandering Off deals with family dynamics when faced with a crisis, specifically siblings who are still holding onto decades of tension. Their past continually creeps in while they try to understand not only what has happened to their parents, but who they are now and who they thought they would be. Their parents, on the other hand, are obliviously blissful… and nowhere to be found.

If you want to get caught up on the first four installments in the series, you can find them here:

  1. Starting Down the Road of Making Your First Feature Film
  2. The Super Important Logistics of Pre-Producing Your First Feature
  3. The Keys to Kickstarting Your Indie Film: Preparation, Hustle, & Heart
  4. Running A Kickstarter or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Movie

And you can stay up to date with Brittany and her journey on the film's websitefacebook page, and twitter page.


I’m heading into filming my movie, Wandering Off, in a few days on Wednesday, August 17th.

Woah.

A year ago when I had the idea for the movie and started writing my first draft, I could tell you I never thought it would turn out the way it has in pre-production.

I don’t mean that in a good or bad way, I just mean it.

The six weeks in between the last time I blogged about the journey to the time this blog is posted, I’ve done more work than in the entire year prior to that. Let’s talk about some of that…

Casting without a Casting Director

Previously I had mentioned possibly hiring a casting director, but in an effort to save money, I took casting on myself.

Although casting had already started a couple months ago, almost the entire cast was locked down in the past six weeks (even one being locked down a few days ago). I know this happens in Hollywood all the time, but as a planner, the last minute casting made me nervous.

I have to say, though, I couldn’t have asked for a better cast. (Also, casting directors are amazing and after taking this role on myself, I just want to always give credit to them. Their job is unbelievably more difficult and time consuming than I ever thought).

Locations

The main locations were locked early on in the spring. However, the little "one scene locations" ended up being more difficult to lock. We had to change two locations after being locked on them. We just confirmed and locked all locations twenty four hours before I wrote this. That helped me breathe a bit better.

Crew

Besides the crew that was already assembled, we also hired a DP and Sound Mixer. All the producers had met up with each of them, which I know isn’t customary to do, but it was much better than communicating via computers the whole time.

You’re going to be working with these people for a few weeks, for long hours, and it’s nice to place a face and personality with a name. This crew is incredible and I am so excited to work with them.

PR & Marketing

Luckily, we’ve had some success with press on the movie since our Kickstarter launched in May. Some of those places are following our journey and some have been waiting until we start filming. It’s great to have people who want to get the word out about you and your project. 

Contracts

After working in TV and indie documentaries for some time, I knew the importance of contracts. A lot of people don’t.

If you take away one thing from this, it’s this: make every single person involved with the filming of your movie sign a contract. This goes for cast, crew, interns, volunteers, drivers, locations, equipment rentals, catering, etc. Make sure all of the points that you and your movie need to be protected on are in there. Before anyone walks on set, they must have a signed contract. No ifs, ands, or buts.

Production Insurance (and Working with SAG)

And while we’re on the topic of legalities…get production insurance. This is especially important when you’re working with SAG actors and rental equipment, which we are both. With SAG it’s a requirement. With some equipment companies it’s a requirement. It’s not as expensive as you think and it will save you in the long run.

One more note about SAG. If you’ve never worked with them before, it’s not as scary as you think. Everyone there has been extremely helpful and answered my 2-3 calls a day for two weeks straight. Work with SAG – the quality of talent is unmatched.

Stretching Our Tiny Budget with Help from the Community

We’ve gone to meetings in various towns about various ways those clubs/people/communities can help. We’ve talked with schools and clubs and organizations about how we could mutually help each other. Because we don’t have a huge budget, we were finding ways to stretch each dollar to the maximum. 

Since our movie deals with dementia, our associate producer and myself, went to a dementia care facility, where we met with the director and got to tour the place. It was great to see what products are out to help people living with this and how their brains work. As director, I definitely wanted to gain as much knowledge in this area as possible to help me better direct, as I have no “hands on” experience with this.

Obstacles and Setbacks

Now it may seem that everything has gone relatively smoothly, but that wasn’t the case.

For about a month it seemed that every time one thing had gone right, then two things had gone wrong. There was one straight week where I couldn’t eat anything but bread and I was sleeping about two hours at a time. I was making myself sick over things that weren’t totally in my control. I felt the weight of the whole project on me that week and didn’t know how to pull this out.

But then I said to myself: you’ve made it this far by bringing to reality what you’ve said you were going to do. You’re going to make it the rest of the way just the same.

The word here is perseverance. Now, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. I’m just saying that’s what you need for this. No one is handing us anything in this production. If we didn’t go out and fight for it, we would have nothing. There would be no movie.

You can’t concentrate on what’s going wrong, you have to see the problem and figure out a new way to get the end result you want. 

It Takes a Village to Make a Movie (So Build the Best Village You Can)

Let me brag about my crew a bit more, because without them, none of this would be possible.

My DP and I have never worked on any other project before. But after meeting a couple times and using Skype to go over shots, mood, colors, lighting, camera movements, etc., it was clear I made the right choice. I also think he might be sick of how many times I reference Up In The Air and Spielberg, but he hasn’t said anything yet.

My equipment manager and producer has become a machine with knowing every product code and capability of every piece of equipment we own, are renting, and are thinking about getting. He’s made homemade dolly tracks that we’ll be using and sending me links to things that I didn’t know existed. I would have been left crying in Adorama not knowing what we needed without him.

My other producers (who are also the camera op, 1st AD, line producer, and script supervisor) have been responding to my 3am texts and emails at such an efficient rate I don’t have time to think about more things to send to them.

No one is handing us anything in this production. If we didn’t go out and fight for it, we would have nothing. There would be no movie.

They’ve shown up to places to make a speech for getting volunteers, or dealing entirely with the camera rentals, or gone shopping for supplies, or played devil’s advocate on everything because I need them to. They’ve trouble-shooted before I had a chance to ask them to because they’re really good at anticipating what needs to be done.

I would be remiss to not mention our sound mixer, who texted me saying that we would only need to buy some batteries. As a producer, you can appreciate how lovely it is when you get to save money. He’s also been so easy to communicate with and he just gets it.

We had some crew rehearsals this past week in our main location and walked through every shot. We did some set dressing (another task you take on when you don’t have it in the budget). We bought crafty. And we finalized catering.

If you’re willing to put yourself out there, you’ll get people willing to help. They’ll lend you their restaurant for a scene, they’ll cook meals for your catering, they’ll do your accounting, they’ll give up their house for three weeks so you can film there. You can’t make a movie alone.

Be prepared to spend literal hours upon hours writing and responding to emails. You’ll spend a few hours a week on the phone. And you’ll be driving to workout when you get a call and have to turn the car around and go meet up with someone for the movie. It’s worth it.

This Tuesday night, the night before our first day of principal photography, we’re having a big dinner with the cast and crew. Again, something not normally done, but with only having 13 days to film, we’re going to be hustling the entire time. This gives everyone a chance to meet everyone and talk and breathe for a couple hours.

Wednesday at 2pm we start rolling. I cannot wait.

Talk soon.



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