How to Not Make a Crappy Film

I can’t believe we’ve been at this for over a month. Thus far, we’ve shot at “Shitty Motel”, “Nice Hotel”, “Nicer Hotel”, “Hotel Pool”, “Bar”, “Restaurant”, “Taxi”. Within the next two weeks, we will have shot at “Exterior Bar”, “Exterior Shitty Motel”, “Trailers”, “Film Set”, “Car”, and “Goat Farm”.

Yesterday, Montetré and I got some of the footage from the opening scene from Travis, our DP. We edited it together, added the credit sequence, and spliced the footage into context with the scene we shot last month. We added some temp music, and took a look. We both looked at each other, someone stunned, thinking “what have we made?”. I can’t give away the plot details, but the scene is hauntingly disturbing, yet poetic and beautiful. If the first two minutes of this film doesn’t grab you by the junk, I don’t think you have a heartbeat.

Montetré editing the opening sequence.

Montetré editing the opening sequence.

I’ve been watching other examples of no-or-low-budget indie film. If anything, just to put what we’re doing into perspective. They tend to open with a 4-5 minute sequence of… absolutely nothing. One I saw opens with a couple riding a bike and laughing. For five minutes. Another opens with a lady walking down the street. For five minutes. Another opens with a guy running. For five minutes. I usually sit and wait, because I’m curious as to the train-wreck that will unfold after such a long, pointless waddle through mediocrity. I created a film trailer that makes fun of this pointless exposition:

I, by no means, wish to be critical of the desire to go out and make a film. It’s not easy, and everyone will hate you after a couple months of asking all your friends to give you money to support some dream of yours. And I’ve certainly seen low-budge indies that are pretty damn good. This isn’t hollywood, and we’re not out making multi-million-dollar blockbuster for-profit films. I imagine everyone making indie films is doing it out of love of storytelling, love of creativity, and love of …film.

I also believe everyone making a film believes that their film is truly good. I would venture to guess that most people making a film believe their film will get accepted into Sundance, they’ll get discovered by a reputable distributor, and millions will see their film. I suppose it’s easy to fall into this train of thought. I believe that Holed-Up will get accepted into festivals, and will be seen by, thousands. Probably not millions. I’m cautious. When you are so invested in a project, it helps to have a positive outlook. But this is why I don’t want to make a crappy film.


-Know your budget: Don’t choose a script that requires exotic locations, special FX, stunts, expensive sets, elaborate costumes and makeup, animals, or anything fancy, unless you can afford to do it in a way that doesn’t make your film look cheap.

-Know how to spend your budget: Spend money on essential crew. This means hire a good sound guy. Hire a good sound guy. Hire a good sound guy. Cinematographers are a dime-a-dozen. Obviously you want one who knows what he’s doing, but without solid sound, your film will be shit. Borrow stuff, offer trades. The less you spend, the bigger the potential return. Pay only what you need, and maybe surprise everyone with a bonus if you make any money at the end.

-Hire a good sound guy.

-Cut the idiot speech: Don’t be an asshole about exposition. The audience you’re reaching is probably smarter than the average bear, so don’t dumb down your movie with pointless dialog. Anyone with any cognitive ability can figure out your characters’ backstories through dialog and action that is directly tied to the narrative, setting, and the forward momentum of the plot.

-Feed people: If you’re paying your cast and crew sub-minimum wage, feed them well. They will be happier. An unhappy cast and crew will ruin your movie.

-Roll with the punches: In the zero-budget film world, you’ll lose locations, you’ll lose crew, you’ll lose actors. People need to make money, and you’ll come in second place to a paying gig. Don’t freak out about this stuff. Figure it out, and move on. Sometimes, what you end up with is better than what you started out with. Be flexible.

-Plan ahead: Storyboard. Plan your shots. Plan the shoot day. Meet with essential crew (DP, Gaffer, Sound) prior to filming to sort out everything that is going to happen during the shoot. Scout locations, choreograph and rehearse. If you show up on set with no clue how to compose your shots, the cast will think you’re an unprofessional idiot, they’ll lose respect for you, and they’ll lose interest in the film. Planning also maximizes shooting time, and prevents you from going over schedule.

-Lighting isn’t all that important. If you can see the actors, then you’re fine. Don’t waste two hours lighting one scene while the cast and rest of the crew sits around. People will think you’re a dick. When you’re doing lighting, have a gaffer who knows a thing or two about how much juice your lights are sucking, and knows how much juice is available on any given circuit.

-Art department goes a long way: Blank white walls are boring. Scenery should also add to the narrative, and give clues as to who your characters are. It’s exposition without the idiot speech. This goes for extras too. Do you think your actors are going to eat at a fancy restaurant where there are no other patrons? There’s a lot to say in the little details.

-Be objective: Focus-group your film. Ask people who know a thing or two to watch your film and give you unbiased feedback. Be willing to cut material from your “final cut”. There will probably be a lot of stuff in your movie that looks cool, but adds nothing to the primary plot. Get rid of it.

We probably should have secured all funding before we began to film. It’s hard to find money. With everyone and their mom out there trying to produce the next Napoleon Dynamite, it’s a challenge to get people to give you money for a project they don’t know anything about. We have a good deal of amazing, rough-cut film at this point. High-Fives are coming in and we’re looking for equity investors to round out the funding. It’s impossible to guarantee a return on investment for an $8000 movie. It’s a lot easier to guarantee a zero-return on investment, actually. To avoid falling into the same starry-eyed optimism that befalls every other indie filmmaker, let’s just say that we’re making the most amazing film that we can make right now within the budget we’ve set. I have a lot of confidence that this film will get into festivals, just based on seeing what other films are commercially available, and which films have been accepted to various festivals. I know that everyone involved in Holed-Up is extremely excited and proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and that this film is miles better than any other film I’ve worked on with Montetré or anyone else.

To give us High-Fives (that being financial donations), or to inquire about investing, visit our website



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