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How Filmmakers Stay Sane on Set

Toni Attell and Carl Gottlieb are the authors of The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers.  Enjoy an excerpt of their book below, provided by IndieWire.

The source of most drama outside of the script is the actors, and anywhere they congregate may be a hotbed of intrigue, gossip, and disinformation. This is also true of anyone who talks to actors, so view the makeup, hairdressing, wardrobe, and transportation departments as minefields. Even on a low-/no-budget production, where all the departments are combined in the person(s) of your overworked colleagues, a few misplaced or ill-chosen words will resonate throughout the production, and anything said in confidence is public knowledge as soon as it can be repeated. A favor for one will be expected by all, and any violation of boundaries will result in the loss of those limits.

This is not to say a director cannot speak or be spoken to; if that were true, directors would be the loneliest people on the set. Feel free to chat about wind and weather, but remember that in all close-knit male groups, from nineteenth-century British colonial armies to the crews of nuclear submarines, there are three topics deliberately ignored: women, politics, and religion. In a less gender-specific world, include members of the opposite sex as subjects to be avoided. Add to those topics these sources of friction: the problems of the production, the character of the personnel, and the personal lives of everyone on or near the set. The director’s problems are uniquely off limits; like the captain of a ship or the leader of a combat patrol, his or her thoughts must remain private. We discussed the director’s isolation before; it goes with the job, it even has a name: “the loneliness of command.” If you must share gossip and commentary, do it with someone far from the set or the production: a therapist, a life partner, a close family member, or an animal companion (these may all be the same individual). If you’re a writer, your closest confidante may be the director. If he or she is not sympathetic, the same limits apply to your options.

A strategy (or habit) that many executives (including directors) find useful is to acquire or maintain a group of friends or confidantes with whom you can share frankly and safely. The advantage of this is that the natural loneliness of command is softened by a close-knit circle of advisors, sounding boards, and lieutenants who can be trusted to keep people and things organized and functional (including yourself, on the bad days). But, beware—the inherent danger is that your group becomes a “posse,” a gang that gives the appearance of a support group but is, in fact, a barrier. These individuals are people whose principal interest is preserving their turf, influencing your decisions, and insulating you from all criticism and useful input. They become gatekeepers and relish the role.

Keep reading this excerpt on IndieWire!


Originally conceived as a workbook for young directors, The Little Blue Book for Filmmakers has become a handbook for easy reference, with all the information a student director/actor/producer needs to create a film, from inception through production, to sales, distribution, and exhibition. The book discusses issues faced by all beginning filmmakers, with a historical perspective that explains problems and solutions that reach back to the invention of movies at the turn of the last century, and stretch forward to include new digital technology and the popularization of videography as global self-expression. A valuable addition to the shelves of all film school instructors who’ve not had years of practical experience working in the trade, it’s also a syllabus in itself and can be the foundation for a course schedule. More important, it’s something every film student will want to own as a reference and guide.

Making a Personal Commitment to Your Film

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Guest Blogger: Gini Graham Scott, author of Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low Budget Short Film.


Just about any short film takes at least several weeks of commitment if not longer to put all the pieces together, except for those very short more spontaneous shoots which some people put together in one day.  But more usually, you can figure on one to three weeks for pre-production, including casting and organizing props and locations, a day for the shoot, and two to four weeks for editing.

So it’s important to keep up that spirit of personal commitment for yourself and convey that to others to keep excitement high about making and completing – and later on promoting – the film.  This kind of commitment will also help to keep you enthusiastic and motivated despite the problems and challenges you may encounter along the way, from rewrites of the script to breakdowns in equipment to cast and crew members not showing up to problems in transferring film to the editor, because it happens to come from an old camera, so you have to take it to a specialty house to get it turned into a format the editor’s computer will recognize.  You need that commitment to keep going and see the film completed in spite of such glitches that seem to be in the nature of making almost any film.

I can also help you keep that spirit of commitment and follow-through by reminding yourself from time to time why you are doing this.  Is it just for fun, or do you hope that these short films will lead to a professional career in the film industry?

For example, I am personally involved in the success of all the shoots I set up, which result in an organization that comes into its brief existence, once people agree to participate as cast or crew.  Then, it continues for the day of the shoot and through e-mail and phone calls until the film is completed and posted on YouTube and other sites.  I am very committed, since I am producing scripts I have written and know that it is unlikely that any of these scripts would be turned into films unless I took the lead in getting them produced myself, rather than trying to find a producer or director to be equally inspired to produce the script – especially since there is normally no money in creating shorts, aside from creating trailers that might be used to get funding to produce a full-length feature.  Then, I am involved through the editing process or in offering suggestions to the DP/Director/Editor to see that my vision is realized.  Another key reason I am so personally involved is that I want to produce a professional-looking product which will eventually result in clients hiring me to write and produce films for them and in my determining what actors and crew members I might like to work with in the future on these paid shoots.

Similarly, think of your own reasons for doing this, which will help guide you in deciding what you want to write, produce, or direct in light of your goals for your role in the industry.

Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low Budget Short Film
The Complete Guide to Writing, Producing, and Directing a Low-Budget Short Film
 is a comprehensive step-by-step overview of how to complete and promote a low-budget short film. It begins with how to write a short script, keeping in mind the goal of shooting it in one or at most two days.

It discusses how to finalize your script by getting feedback and then preparing it for production through doing a scene breakdown and possibly a storyboard. It describes how to direct the film yourself or work with a director, audition the actors and cast the short, plan for and participate in the shoot, and work with an editor to finish your film. Finally, it discusses how to get your film shown, including entering it in festivals, and concludes with an extensive list of resources and references, including books, articles, script and storyboard software, conferences, expos, festivals, and more. Available for purchase here.