Strange film opportunities

…The director thought that my role was to provide funds, and proceeded to hire cast and crew and source locations (without a script). He then got outraged that I would ask questions about the crewing (39 cast and crew? Who’s paying for that). He also thought that a gaffer is a sound recordist, that you need 4 camera people and did not understand what a DoP is, that he needed a 2nd and 3rd AD, and thought that I would be a 5th camera operator on set. Needless to say, the relationship has ended and I am no longer producing these films…

Now that I have a full-time job, it is harder to get film opportunities. I apply on StarNow, FilmCrewPro, and Mandy, but am limited to those shooting on weekends or evenings. I keep looking at Sound Recordist roles; but I can only apply for roles where I don’t need my own gear until I ship it from New Zealand or replace it.

Sound

There were two Boom Op positions advertised last week. One specifically said “own boom not required”. I applied for both. One called me back.

“Hi. You applied for our Boom Op position.”

“Yes, I did.”

“And you’re available next weekend?”

“The whole weekend, and I live near to the shoot area.”

“That’s great! We’re totally keen to have you on board. What kit do you have?”

“I have a TASCAM DR-100, but otherwise my gear is still in New Zealand.”

“Oh.”
“Oh yeah. Well, I’m going to talk to the Sound Recordist because he might be bringing in his own boom operator and we might not need you. I’ll call you back and let you know.”

No call back.

Now, I wouldn’t have minded, if I hadn’t made a point of only applying for roles that did not explicitly state “own gear required”. (I don’t even know if the guy was from the film that said ‘own gear not required’, or the film that didn’t mention gear at all. I’m guessing the latter.)

At this stage, I’m saving to replace my film gear (it’s cheaper to get here), so I can apply for Sound Recordist roles (for the weekends and evenings).

Camera

I keep seeing videographer roles, which I can do and have experience doing, and wanting to apply. But they need a showreel. I don’t have one yet. So I’m working on one. Or three.

Script

I was contacted and asked how much I would charge to be a script editor. Two scripts of 30 pages each. I had to do some research, and came back with a price, with a comment that it is difficult to price without knowing the state the scripts are currently in, and that I would happily discuss once I had seen the scripts. (Thank you to the people who offered advice). The result? We’ll get back to you. No call. But I still loved being asked.

and Producing

One of the ads I applied for on StarNow was from a guy with a production company, saying he wanted expressions of interest from potential collaborators to help with projects. ‘Apply, state what gear you have, and he’ll be in contact’. I applied – I’m all for meeting up and collaborating.

The response:

“Bring your camera and be at this location on this date at this time.”

Um?

I asked for clarification. Apparently I would be working with two of his regular camera guys. And I was directed to go like the Production Company’s Facebook page and like the actor’s page.

I have, on LinkedIn and on this blog, asked what stops someone applying to a crew call. For me, poor communication (bad grammar and spelling to the point where I can’t understand you). Film friends said they would never work on a film that doesn’t have a script, or that doesn’t have a 1st AD. Red flags were popping up. But it was a half-day, and I was free.

As an aside, they don’t seem to advertise Daylight Savings in the UK. It is not fun waking up, thinking ‘why does my cellphone say it is an hour earlier than my computer?’, checking online, and realising that you’re running an hour late for a shoot because you had no idea the clocks went forward. And not knowing if you were the only camera person or if they were waiting on your camera or how badly being late would affect the shoot schedule. Turned out it was fine.

The guy who contacted me was the lead actor, the director, and producer. The shoot didn’t have a script or schedule; it was in the his head. But it was for a 1 minute trailer, and seemed like a bit of fun. The only crew were 2 camera operators (no lights, no sound). I did the best I could to make it look good. The shoot done, my battery dying, I headed home, agreeing to meet up with the Director and move the files over that week.

When we met up and discussed our experience, he told me about his military background, his acting (seems to be doing well for himself as an extra), and that he wants to make films. I said to get in contact if he wants a Producer, because that’s what I do.

Sure enough, a week or so later, we were meeting to discuss possible projects. We brainstormed. Every idea was a vanity project: he as lead actor, showing off his military skills, and directing the action. He said he had heaps of interest from crew and cast, and had locations, crew, props, and costumes back in Scotland. The ideas we worked on all involved guns or lasers: a sci-fi web series, rehashing a short film he and his friends had made on an iPhone, anything military. We discussed VFX, and getting a VFX collaborator early on, someone who could do gun blasts and lasers. We discussed funds. I pointed out that no-budget films still required some funds for feeding cast and crew and reimbursing transport. I asked if he wanted professional looking films with professional crew on no-to-low budget. (Yes). In that case, we need to feed people and cover costs, at a very minimum, and he needed to think about covering those costs.

I suggested that we do some hand-to-hand combat films, to avoid the hassle of VFX until we had more funds. I said I could help with raising funds, but that we should start with a no-budget hand-to-hand combat film, find the VFX collaborator, do the web series to build a following, then use that following to start a crowd-funding campaign. He was fine with that. When I left, it was my understanding that I was working on treatments for two of the hand-to-hand combat films, he would forward me the link to his previous short, and we would not be advertising for cast or crew until we had a script.

I got back to see that he had already advertised what we were doing on his company’s Facebook page.

Then he started advertising for cast and crew on StarNow and Facebook. A post along the lines of ‘we can’t pay you but let us know what gear you have and what you do and you can work on this film.’ Just not as succinctly.

Meanwhile, the director sent out an email to all those involved in the trailer, which included this paragraph:

as for next thing, some of you did not turn up with various excuses.  I will not tolerate this and failure to give 48 hours notice result in cancelling you from all future productions and contact, this is money and time to my business, something I take very seriously.  for those who turned up, thank you very much as this is something I remember for when I’m casting for future roles.  after preproduction I will be casting so Ill audition you for suitable characters.  and those who were on the trailer already have the part of being in the web series.

Then he told me we were doing the remake of his previous short film first.

Okay. I watched it. 30 minutes of he and his friends running around and hitting each other, with a voice over. I was glad he had told me the story outline, otherwise I wouldn’t have gotten it. I offered to finish that script treatment first then.

He said he was going to a location scout. It’s 40 miles out of London, and would I pay for it. Red flag. Excuse me? Sorry, what do you mean? Pay for you to location scout, or for transporting the crew there for the shoot? Yes, pay for it, he said. I phoned him. I never said I was putting my own money into this project. I said I would help to raise funds and would produce. But he had already put all of his money into it and couldn’t put any more in. Well, I’m sorry. We can discuss this once we have the treatment and do a budget from the script breakdown. It’s moot until we have the script.

He sent a message saying the script was already written, and was the 30 minute short film, and that he just wanted some of the dialogue changed. I re-explained that I was doing a treatment for the improved script. I asked again if he wanted a professional film (Yes). Then, again, I am working on the treatment, which I will email to you, which we can then discuss, from which we can work on the structure, then do the script, then improve it, then do script breakdowns, then hire cast and crew.

He proceeded to message all the cast and crew that he had confirmed, saying that the script was done and was just having ‘a little treatment’. He outlined the roles they had: I was a Producer and a Script Assistant; there is a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd AD; 9 cast and 15 extras (so far); four camera people and no DoP; no sound recordist; a gaffer (with no lighting kit that I know of)…

Red flags. I messaged him, re-explaining to him that the script treatment comes before the script, and that I was improving the script to give it an actual story, with a 3 act structure, and character arcs. I asked, as he had said there was already a script, could he please forward it to me? Could he please also explain why he needs a 3rd AD, why there are 4 camera people, who the DoP is, and who is doing sound. And does he realise he has 39 cast and crew so far, who need to be fed and transported (equalling 6-8 cars)?!

The reply: the script is the film. You’re just changing the dialogue. The gaffer is doing sound, you can be the DoP, the 3rd AD is directing the extras (I am paraphrasing to make it clearer). Do not worry about anyone else, just worry about what you are doing. Fine someone else can be DoP.

No, sorry, I am not the DoP. I am the Producer (even though he had been doing the producing – all without the script – I still intended to be the Producer on set and Produce). You need to view the camera people’s showreels, meet with them, and go with who can get the look for the film that you want. The 2nd AD handles extras. If you have a 3rd AD, what is the 2nd AD doing? The gaffer is not a sound recordist. I asked him to clarify what he thinks my role is as Producer, as I wanted to avoid any discrepancies. Red flags were shooting up all over the place.

I emailed him the treatment that I finished.

The reply?

I only wanted you to add in some speaking parts to the already written script, you can see the speaking parts for my original short, i want you just add some extra words etc, Im sticking to my original script .

for producer you said in cafe that you were producer and to give you a call if i was interested, im not sure what producer is in new zealand but here it means the producer will put money into the production for equipment etc, as i mention im interested in black fireing weapons, ammo or airsoft that bullet cartridges eject from, plus covering travel, food.  if a producer was only going to cover travel and food then i would not need them as i can cover this myself, producers ive had in the past bought equipment, paid for locations etc.

nobody else in my crew is asking me questions about what other people are doing etc.  you are camera so i want you to just concentrate on this., i have another 2 experienced dop and allocated one of them to dop and the other  guy to dop on 1 of my other projects. the dop knows what type of filming effect im looking for and will let you guys know later. i have sound people to record etc.  2nd in uk sits in an office on the phone and computer arranging times, location etc. 3rd in uk is on set telling extras what to do.  i have 2 cars, others are using public transport.  food will be bought from supermarket. 1ad I deal with him myself. and call sheets I have people to do this. i want you to help out with camera and speaking parts, and if you want to be 1 of the producers then ive said what producers do here.

Aw, love. I am not the money for your vanity project. I am not an Executive Producer. And learn the difference between a Production Manager and a 2nd AD.

My reply?

In that case, we have a huge misunderstanding.

I have worked on professional film sets, have studied Film Production, and do know what a Producer does (internationally). I have experience as a Producer on multiple short films.

A Producer ensures that the film is made. The Producer:

  • helps to raise capital (they do not put in their own funds);
  • sources the crew – arranges interviews, views show reels, corresponds with the cast and crew;
  • organises the auditions, and has final say on the casting with the director;
  • arranges the script breakdowns, props, location scouts, make-up tests, camera tests, equipment hireage, transport, and catering;
  • arranges the budget and sticks to it.
  • Handles issues on set, and is in charge of the petty cash (so that the Director does not have to do anything other than direct)
  • oversees Post-Production and ensures that the film is finished;
  • helps with distribution.

The reason that I asked about the crew is that you asked me to Produce. You then proceeded to book crew (this is despite me stating that that should not occur until after the script is finalised) and source locations. As such, I had to ask the questions.

The film that you showed me is 30 minutes of you and your friends running around and hitting each other, with a severe lack of story. I asked you whether you wanted a professional looking film that will be taken seriously, to which you said yes. As such, I explained that the film required a treatment (for a basic 3-act structure), from which a new script would be written. As agreed, I wrote a treatment for that new script.

The only output that I have seen from you is that 30 minute iPhone film, and the only experience I have had of you as a Director is the trailer. From our correspondences and discussions, it has been made clear to me that you do not have the necessary knowledge of professional filmmaking practice.

I am sorry, but I have professional standards to upkeep, and cannot continue to do any work with [your production company].

[Although, I have in the past put money into films, but only where I love and respect the filmmakers and the projects, and am proud to put my name on them.]

Now, I want to make it clear that I do support inexperienced people going out and making films. Anybody can make a film, and that is brilliant. But if there is someone who knows more than you, on any aspect of filmmaking, you need to respect them. I don’t know everything about film production. Not at all. I can always learn from those more experienced than I am.

From this experience, I have learnt to trust my gut. I am not going to apply for any film that does not have a script, a 1st AD, or proper levels of communication and professionalism. I will also add that I am sharing this experience to warn others to think about which ads you apply for.

Plus, c’mon, it’s a good story.

Truth be told, I do wish him all the best, and I hope that his films go well and he gets the product that he wants. As such, I will not say who the Director is, name his Production company, or the project.

But he is advertising now on StarNow.co.uk and on Facebook. Keep an eye out.

Author: phetheringtonnz

Film Producer, Director, Lecturer. From NZ based in London.

4 thoughts on “Strange film opportunities”

  1. Thank you for sharing this story! I’ll be in a similar position. In fact, I just did my first non-internship film position this past month. It was a good experience, and I’m glad to have not run into the same problems. Good luck in all your future endeavors.

    1. Digital filmmaking has made it easier for anyone to go out and make a film – which I support wholeheartedly. As long as you have a good story, have done your preproduction, have professionalism on set, and treat your cast and crew well, you will have a good experience. Not everyone has learnt that yet.

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