Fear Street and How to Elevate your Horror Film

This post is going to be VERY spoilery for Fear Street 1994, Fear Street 1978 and Fear Street 1666 on Netflix. I recommend you watch them first. There’s some great surprises in this story you’re going to want to experience firsthand.

I read some of these Fear Street books as a kid. Each one began with a yearbook. Each one crossed out these pictures as the teenagers were killed off. The story that stuck out the most though was woven throughout the Fear Street and Fear Street Cheerleaders books: Sarah Fear and The Evil.

Sarah Fear was like “I woke up like this.”

The movies are loosely based on these. In this case that’s a good thing — the movies elaborate and elevate the campy horror I loved as a kid to something I really enjoy as an adult. Not only is it good horror, it’s smart.

There are many themes touched upon in the Fear Street movie series. I noted:

  • Racism/Classism (Shadyside vs Sunnydale. Even the names show a clear distinction in their fortunes, but Sunnydale’s good luck is at the expense of Shadyside’s sacrifice)
  • The Societal Harm of Misogyny (Literal witch hunts. Women who spurned the advances of men are accused of witchcraft – sentenced to death for the mere act of denying a man.)
  • Homophobia (The plot begins in 1666 with Sarah and Hannah accused of witchcraft since they love each other.)
  • Legacy and The Choice to Bear it or Break it (The Goode Family continuing their “traditions” to ensure their good fortune at the expense of others).
  • Reversal of Expectations (Goode = Evil. Fier/Fear = Innocence. Sunnydale is full of dark secrets, while Shadyside is innocent.)

I find that good horror, the stuff I want to watch again and again, isn’t just full of cheap scares. Good horror is about something.

My favorite horror movies are in the realm of It Follows, A Quiet Place.

Fear Street decided to be more than just a trio of slasher flicks. It’s clear depiction of classism separates and destroys people. Because one man, Solomon Goode, decided he wanted power over others, he doomed an entire town for generations. “The sun will shine on us yet,” he says, prophesying not that his crops will grow, but that he will be among the chosen few, at the expense of whoever is sacrificed.

Shadyside is plagued with gruesome murder and people being trapped in the town due to financial reasons. “Nobody ever leaves Shadyside” is a poignant line spoken from despondency. Sunnydale is the cookie-cutter perfect town. As long as each generation of Goode sacrifices someone to the evil forces that Solomon summoned, they will remain prosperous and carefree. Who cares if some teenagers die? Or a church full of children? Power over all becomes the ultimate evil here. The pulsating blob of malevolence in the caves is just a personification of that.

Forcing the Shadysiders to kill each other? That’s the whole dog eat dog mentality that plagues the working world. Step on someone to get ahead, that’s what the corporate bigwigs do right?

Nothing like someone over analyzing horror movies to ruin the mood, amiright guys?

But our Shadysiders make the ultimate decision to fight this. Our main characters band together to take down the evil. They fight against expectations and they honor the memory and wishes of Sarah Fier. The truth sets them free, and follows Goode to the end of his days.

When Deena and Sam emerge from the evil caves at the end of the third movie, they emerge in Sheriff Goode’s house. It’s beautiful, perfect, and full of mounted and taxidermied goats. Goats, of course, being a symbol of the Devil. The girls go out to the street, bloody and bedraggled. A neighbor spies them as he’s backing his car up, which causes him to be flattened by a passing truck. Sunnydale’s good luck is over and that is due to the actions of the Shadysiders.

If you are writing horror, you’d do well to take a page from Fear Street‘s book-to-movie adaptation. Making your movie about something other than just an axe wielding serial killer will capture your audience’s imagination, bring to light societal problems in the real world… and possibly lead to a few sequels. Anyone can write about some murderer picking off teenagers, but to make that story more than scares elevates your writing to the next level.

It’s been many years since I read the books, but I believe The Evil was originally Sarah Fear’s revenge personified. I distinctly remember her dying on her passage to America, cursing her sister or somebody for making her go on this journey. The movies decided to go deeper, and the revelation of the real evil was a great twist that made for excellent commentary on classism, misogyny and more.

I’d totally watch more of these, Netflix. Please continue giving Leigh Janiak the chance to direct them.

Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them – Take Two

I’ve written about it before, and I’ll likely write about it again — there’s many people out there taking advantage of folks desperate for work, a large percentage aimed directly at those trying to break into the film industry.

I actually had to push back on publishing this blog as more and more scams were outed daily on Facebook. Here we are going to look at some examples and discuss how to tell a job offer is actually a scam.

General Advice:

  • Actors should never be charged for a role or an audition. Never.
  • Actors do not pay to be represented by a casting agency. A legit agency makes money when you book roles. There is no upfront cost.
  • Anyone: If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Beware of jobs offering weekly rates instead of day rates.
  • Be cautious with a job that seems to put the wrong duties on a job description (like a PA being expected to run sound or do payroll).
  • Do not trust someone who tries to send you a check before you do the job.
  • Be very cautious of anyone offering a big position above or below the line without seeing if you meet qualifications (I.e. Director of Photography job being offered without them seeing your resume or reel first.)

Check Cashing Scams

One of the most common scams we see in this business is the check cashing/phishing scam. In this one, the fake job provider sends you a check BEFORE the job in order for you to purchase equipment, pay other crew, or something similar. Usually this is aimed at production assistants and people new to the industry.

Nobody will send you a check before a job and nobody will expect a PA to purchase equipment or personally pay crew. The scam only serves to empty the unwitting person’s bank account, usually of thousands of dollars.

A play on this scam was posted on a Facebook group by Randy Swieca, adding in the New Coke flavor of Bitcoin to the mix. An applicant to the job said he was sent a check in the mail and told to deposit it in his account and send bitcoin to an undisclosed location. As the Facebook poster explained, money matters are a production accountant job, not something a PA is expected to do. The would-be applicant rightfully determined it was a scam and immediately posted a warning on the group where he saw the original post.

The Trying-Too-Hard Scammer

Zach Barry posted about a scammer going by the name Ann Gendry who sent an enormous block of text via e-mail.

For your sanity, I detail the red flags in the e-mail with this bulleted list:

  • Bad grammar examples: “I will like to thank you.”
  • Claiming the job will lead to a long-term opportunity. How?
  • Production assistant job that includes A LOT of duties that aren’t typical PA duties like check processing. She claims she is doing a short documentary, so it’s hard to believe she’ll need travel booking, making/distributing copies of scripts (for a documentary, remember), getting approval of copyrighted clips/music, assisting with pilot logistics (wasn’t it a documentary a minute ago?).
  • “Run errands such as purchasing supplies, props and other necessary items for the project.” This part is the check cashing scam. They will claim you need to purchase things and you will be reimbursed or they’ll send a fake check. YOU are the one out the money.
  • “Basic wage is $900.00 first two weeks preparation period and after which you will be paid Rate: $200./10hr on set.” No. You will not. This is not normal.
  • Then my favorite, the “About Me” section. Gendry claims “I have been short movie producer director in many places in Europe…I will travel a lot, hence the reason why I need an assistant to handle affairs for me on the home front when I am away on business which is usually quite often. This position is home-based.” This is very similar to a car selling scam on Craigslist where the scammer pretends to be abroad or in the army.

The Copy/Paste Scam

I’m calling it that because I’ve seen the exact same scam e-mail with only names and titles changed. For instance:

“I’m Vincent TONG I’m a producer for Reforma films I saw your profile posted on film production directory, I want to inform you about a upcoming short film project coming up in your area Titled ( Grateful ) Start date: May ‪25-30-2020‬, pay is $1800, I’m in search for effective FIRST CAMERA ASSISTANT kindly reply with your updated resume for more information and consideration thank you.

Kind regards
Stay blessed”

Vincent TONG (make sure you shout that last name!) e-mailed me May 4 2020. But then there’s also:

This particular scam usually comes in via e-mail, though I’ve seen it in a text message before as well.

The red flags in this “job offer” are:

  • film production directory (for some reason a lot of scams reference this vague nonexistent service)
  • Bad grammar/spelling/awkward wording from a non-English speaker
  • “Stay Blessed” and “Kind Regards” are often used to sign off on scam emails.
  • Unusually high pay for a position (especially for Production Assistant)
  • Job offers for jobs you don’t do — I’ve gotten this same one for Makeup artist.
  • Weekly or lump sums (“pay is $1800”) instead of day rates.
  • Scam emails will sometimes steal famous peoples names and production company names to try to sound legit.

Casting Scams

Alan Baltes

A community member in the Atlanta Film Production Group recently posted about Alan Baltes, a scammer who is well known for casting scams.

Alan gets his own heading because he’s made it a point to be a jerk scamming prospective actors time and time again. Baltes has previously tried to con people by pretending to cast for Jurassic Park: Dominion and sequels to Crazy Rich Asians. You can read about his exploits here in this article related to his Crazy Rich Asians scam. Now he’s focusing on John Wick 4.

Baltes claims he’s casting for movies while insisting on a $99 fee to submit, ironically to his own Cash App.

Actors — you do not PAY for casting calls or auditions.

NDA

Another similar scam popped up on a Facebook group where someone said they were asked to pay for an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Again, that’s not a thing you pay for.

You can read further on how to avoid scams targeting actors here. And another helpful Backstage.com article on identifying scams here.

Modeling Scams

Vina Kent shared screenshots of a modeling scam that targeted her family and probably many others. Screenshots are attached and we’ll touch on a few details that mark this an obvious scam.

  • Models are asked to pick the date of the shoot
  • The locations for the job hasn’t been determined yet
  • A “modeling coach” could be provided for new models.
  • Weird hourly rates
  • A depot of $500 will be sent before the job (possible check phishing scam)
  • Weird wording/bad grammar
  • Giant block of text with no breaks

This one is clearly aiming to scam aspiring models out of their money.

So…How Can I Tell if a Job is Real?

Use your best judgement. If you’re uneasy, do your research. Google whoever is contacting you, the company, the producer, whoever you can. If someone has worked with them before, ask them before getting into a potentially dangerous situation. Keep in mind that scammers often steal the names of real production companies and producers. Chances are that Steven Spielberg won’t be contacting you personally for a production assistant gig, sorry.

Usually, legit jobs are really basic and to the point. For some reason many scammers send giant blocks of texts overexplaining everything. You could see that in the modeling scam and the email bullet point summary by Ann Gendry. They’re backpedaling. They’re trying to overwhelm you and get you to let your guard down.

Many of the gigs I’ve gotten boil down to this: “Are you available July 23-28? We need a cam op for a reality show.” I respond with my availability and then we discuss specifics like rate and job specifications.

Scammers try really hard to get your money. Don’t let ’em. Come across a scam? Feel free to post a screenshot on social media and inform your friends in the industry. A well informed community is safer because of it.

Special Thanks:

To everyone who allowed me to use screenshots and their personal interactions with the scammers to write this blog: Zach Barry, Vina Kent, Cyntoria Mccarroll, Alexandria Denise.

References:

Fake Production Assistant Listings

Crazy Rich Asians 2 Scammer Responds, Claims He’s the One That Got Scammed Movie Web

13 Signs of an Acting Scam – Backstage.com

How to Spot a Casting Scam – Backstage.com

“It’s a F–king Scam”: Beware the Hollywood Con Queen – Vanity Fair

Common Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them – Bridget LaMonica

What’s Your Rate? (What’s Your Budget?)

A classic standoff worthy of any gunslinger this side of the Alamo.

One of the most hardest parts about working in film production is not what you’d expect. Sure there are challenges in regards to getting on set in the first place, gaining knowledge in different fields and just surviving your first long day as you question your sanity in regards to the freelance life, but there’s even more to consider.

I’m talking about rates.

In this business we set rates for ourselves to work on a production per day. This is usually on a 12 hour regimen, however there can be rates for specifically 10 or 14 hour spans as well. It depends on the production and the nature of the job position. Steadicam Ops, for instance, may charge a day rate for 10 hours or less due to the physical nature of the job.

Some jobs set the rates they are willing to pay for the various positions on their set. For example, a short film production may call you up, looking for a 1st AC, saying they are willing to pay $350 per day max. It is then up to you and your calendar whether you’re willing to take that rate for that day.

However the opposite could be true. An indie feature producer may call you, asking what your rate is.

So, why is the budget/rate stalemate so tricky?

You may have different rates depending on the scope of the job and the type of project. For example, I may not charge the same for a small short film shoot than I will for a corporate or feature film. It is also up to me if I’m willing to take a job, available or not, for any number or set of conditions.

Asking a production what their budget is proves a valuable way of gauging what the project really is. A Tier 1 feature is going to have a different budget reserve than does a small weekend shoot. A production not willing to share basic information can sometimes be a red flag. But having a basic understanding of budget will determine if you’re asking for your full rate, or a discounted rate. Either way is totally up to you. Ask for your full rate every single time if you’ll only work for that. It’s your skills on the table, after all.

Of course, setting your rate can be a hard decision. Are you new in the industry? Have many years of experience and special skills to bring to the table? That can change those numbers.

An important thing to remember about setting a rate is how many variables it contains. What are the expected rates for the job? How many days is the job? What are your expenses? How often will you get work?

There’s no one right rate. You can find out what union rates or commercial rates are and go from there, but a good rule of thumb is to ask. Normalize asking other people in your department what their rate is. Money is awkward to talk about but an important part of being a freelancer.

Oh! I didn’t even mention kit rentals and deferred pay.

A Kit rental is what you charge to bring your gear to a production. This is for specialized gear, like a camera, a Steadicam, a camera cart, a drone. You charge your rate PLUS the kit rental on that gear. To get an idea of what that rental should be, look at rental prices on something like Sharegrid or Adorama or local rental house. Kit rentals are important because that money goes towards paying that expensive gear off — and buying more.

If you see a job post somewhere indicating there’s deferred pay, I’ll give you two definitions: Deferred means “paid later” and also “you will never get paid.” If someone wants you to work a job for deferred pay, they are claiming they will pay you later. Films are expensive to make and likely the movie that doesn’t have a budget to pay it’s crew won’t be making a ton of money and then funneling any of it back to you. Financially, movie making is a risky business, especially in the independent world. Only do a deferred project gig if you want the experience and don’t mind if you never see a dime.

Cables, Adapters and Converters Oh My!

Quite some time ago, I published a post on what basic items you should have in your camera assistant kit. You can find that post here. A number of folks just getting into the camera department found the post useful, so I thought I’d build on that.

Do you know how many times I need just the right connector or cable to make a camera or monitor build work? Many times. All the times. Some of the times.

The fact is, sometimes when you’re working with someone else’s gear or renting a kit from someone, you might be surprised when one or more cables is missing, or you need a special connector to make something work.

I’m going to introduce you to my tackle box of connectors and useful screws and well as the common cables I keep in my kit.

One of the great things about working with other AC’s, camera operators and DP’s is I can see what they have in their kits and ask them what works best for them. Shop talk like that helps everyone build on their knowledge and slowly add in new pieces to their kit that will help them on future gigs.

The Tackle BoxScrews and Adapters

Many, many times I need a specific size screw in order to mount the camera on a pair of sticks or a Steadicam. I’ve slowly been adding to my pile of screws, but the basics will always be 1/4″ 20s and 3/8″. Having a couple short and long ones, as well as a washer for that rare occasion when there’s a gap between the screw and the mounting plate is crucial.

I got this little box at a craft store, but you can find a similar one in the fishing section of Walmart, so I call it my tackle box. It helps keeps things organized and neat, and when I need to send a 2nd AC to grab something, I only need to say “find the clear tackle box” and they find it right away.

Some items I have in the tackle box:

  • SDI Splitter
  • barrel connectors
  • Screws of various sizes
  • washers
  • HDMI to micro HDMI adapter
  • Double ended screws, different sizes

Cables

Wires are essential to get a video signal from Point A to Point B. There are many ways to keep and organize your wires. For now I’ve settled on different colored pencil cases. I usually have three cases with me: 1 for SDI cables, 1 for HDMI (on Blackmagic shoots) and 1 for “Other” – for me it’s Steadicam related wires.

My commonly used wires include:

  • SDI cables – coiled and regular, several sizes
  • PTAP splitter
  • HDMI

I recommend not buying the thin “spaghetti strand” SDI cables. I’ve had them several times and they always fail. A thicker gauge wire is a safer bet.

Also good additions to this are:

  • HDMI to SDI converter. I use the Blackmagic HDMI to SDI Microconverter. I’ve seen a larger version used on bigger shoots to provide a signal to off-site directors. Keep in mind this needs power. A cell phone power cable to USB can work on a camera with a USB power input. Another option is mounting a portable cell phone battery charger.

  • Arms for mounting – Noga arm or Smallrig or similar. All useful for mounting a Teredek, monitor or whatever else you need.


  • There’s no shortage of things you could add to your kit to make your life easier, but this list should get you off to a good start.

    A Film Is Born Three Times Pt. 1: Re: Writing

    “A film is born three times. First in the writing of the script, once again in the shooting, and finally in the editing.” — Robert Bresson, French film maker.

    I think folks at first take for granted that a film is a thing born of an idea, written, produced, and edited and then it just exists… but there’s so many changes along the way. Your first draft is almost never, ever going to be what appears on screen. And it probably shouldn’t. Some first drafts are better left being forgotten, but you can’t make a final draft without suffering through the whole writing and re-writing process.

    The Road Less Traveled

    I talked a bit about my short horror film The Road Less Traveled in my how-to post here: Making the No Budget Horror Film – Bridget LaMonica

    The very first very rough draft was written in 2014 while I was at SCAD. Cassie is abandoned at a bar by her friends and captured by two bad men named Miles and Dawson in a cool car.

    While in their nefarious clutches, Cassie calls her mother, who races to try to find her. Cassie gets her revenge, only to have her mother finally arrive in time to bury a couple bodies. I called the story Werewolf because that was the monster at the end of the story.

    Hunted, an early draft of The Road Less Traveled:

    Cassie talks too much. There’s a lot of her talking on the phone, to a friend at a bar, to the kidnappers. Blegh.

    She has a cell phone and is able to call for help (kind of a horror movie no-no).

    Cassie is resourceful. She knows ways out of her situation but finds her methods were anticipated.

    I sent the draft to my friend Masha, who gave me a great critique. Eventually I created the story that was much more interesting to me: Mia (formerly Cassie, now with a more appropriate name – Missing In Action) kidnapped by a lone serial killer named Clyde (the name is never said out loud) who brings her to an abandoned slaughter house to do his evil work. Jokes on him, because Mia fights back. This was called Hunted.

    The script was presented to director Lindsay Barrasse. With Lindsay’s attachment to the script and her love of classic horror, we leaned further into classic horror tropes and set the story in the 1970s instead of modern day. No more convenient cell phone.

    Draft 9:

    Cassie is now Mia and she has no spoken dialogue (only a few lines of voice over).

    This version mentions a “90’s style watch” but later we changed the date to the 70s.

    Mia is adept at survival — she knows some skills but is unable to escape until later.

    I wanted a horror story that played on the classic tropes while delivering some surprises. I had a not-so-subtle reference to a favorite TV show, Supernatural.

    Hunted became The Road Less Traveled, inspired by the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”, Supernatural‘s “The Road So Far” and the fact that we had a female victim who would prove herself capable. The film became more and more about female empowerment, especially since most of our production team was female.

    A note: I almost never find my title until a few drafts later. Same with a theme or tone — sometimes it just takes that long to finally whittle down to what I want to say.

    Routine Procedures

    Before The Road Less Traveled was produced, I had a thesis film at SCAD called Routine Procedures.

    This script began in a short script writing class. The basic premise being a group of soldiers discovering an alien box in the woods that could spell doom for all mankind.

    The very first (equally very bad) draft saw Johnson, your average Gary Stu with his boss Magnus and a feisty Latina soldier Reyes (inspired by Private Vasquez in Alien). Reyes ends up being an alien. There might have been some idea about aliens enslaving humanity or something? I dunno. This draft doesn’t exist anymore and nor should it.

    This script went through several drafts in the class, becoming a time travel story in which these soldiers discover this alien artifact that forces them to relive the same day over and over as they deteriorate. Only one soldier notices, and he is freaking out, man.

    Draft 3, Page 1:

    In this version we have about 5 characters: Johnson, Sterling, Reyes, Magnus and Hopkins.

    This draft was way too talky with too many characters. Still I can see all the major things I kept from this draft forward: Johnson as our lead who figures things out, Magnus as the hard-as-nails superior who is afraid of change, the story starting by mentioning de ja vu.

    I condensed the best parts of Hopkins into Reyes and deleted Sterling entirely. He was a useless jerk.

    I worked with director Nick Bow to make the film. He suggested Johnson should be a woman. I stopped. I was about to argue. And then I realized, yeah, why didn’t I think about that? The genders of Johnson and Reyes were flipped and we put out a casting call. We got some excellent people to fill out these roles and it wasn’t who we originally expected.

    Draft 9, page 1:

    The characters were reduced to 3.

    We wanted to be clear what happened where (time travel stories get complicated). We labeled the repetitions and the different sections of landscape we were shooting in.

    In Draft 3 Reyes saw a snail stuck in a loop. Here it’s a millipede.

    Less dialogue and more focused.

    As I recall, the title Routine Procedures was there for most of the drafts. I think the first one or two were called Maneuvers or something vaguely military-esque. When I settled on Routine Procedures, it helped sell the fact that this was a time travel story.

    Let’s Wrap This Up

    Drafts are called such because they are a continuously changing process. The first draft is often called a vomit draft (ew) because you might need to get your initial idea out fast. You bring it to a critique group or a trusted friend who can give you notes, and then you incorporate that into a rewrite. The script is never actually done until it is filmed, and even then it’s open for interpretation.

    Next up, Part 2: Production.

    Feast or Famine in the Freelance Film World

    I’m the type who keeps an up-to-date Google Calendar and a physical planner. I keep track of special events, due dates for film festivals, writing deadlines and yes — many random film gigs that come up.

    I was particular when purchasing my 2020 planner. It was gonna be a big year. I settled on this hardcover sparkly planner, being picky to choose one that I liked the layout of best.

    Coming out of a pretty slow winter (I only had a couple gigs, the longest of which was a short film that ended early March) I was happy to start booking gigs for the next couple months. Things were looking good. At first.

    “This was the year I was going to –” starts literally everyone I talk to. Major life events. Decisions to make a big gear purchase or invest in a new skill. Joining a union. All of that changed in March, when it became clear that things were not going as planned.

    The calls, emails, and texts started coming in. “We’re holding for now.” “The shoot is canceled.” Job after job disappeared, some of them going the “ghosting” route. At least three different productions just stopped communicating midway after heading full speed into production. It’s hard enough being a freelancer, but things had been dialed up to 11.

    If you looked at my planner, flipping month by month, you’d see vast columns devoid of any work. The only notations being the occasional webinar or Zoom call or writing sprint hosted by an author on Twitter. I was doing what I could to keep busy, but as each month passed and the potential “end date” for coronavirus kept being pushed back, all of us in the entertainment industry were sweating.

    Just since this August have I seen a reversal here in Georgia. Suddenly, I’m getting calls and gigs are holding fast, following recommended CDC guidelines and — for the most part — keeping crews small.

    I’ve personally been COVID tested four times now. It’s unpleasant, sure (they don’t call it the “brain tickler” for nothing) but it’s a necessary precaution and I have no problem with it.

    Every time I see one of those “I just moved here who wants to hire me” posts, inevitably someone will comment “Have you not heard of the pandemic?” Hold in there. We’re just starting to recover.

    We’ve just started December, and that could mean things will go right back into the normal winter holdup. Gig’s usually dry up from about December 15th to around the first week of January because of the holidays, so there’s typically not a lot going on during that time. Again, freelancers in the film industry who’ve only gotten to work for a few weeks or months for this whole year will have to tighten their belts and ride it out again.

    If you’re navigating your own joblessness and having trouble finding your path — give yourself time. Polish up that resume, tweak your reel if you have one, put your best foot forward (digitally) but don’t be too forward demanding work. Keep your eyes peeled as a number of short films and non-union productions are starting up all over, and will certainly need your help. Your job, if you choose to accept it, is to comb these job boards and find those gigs asking for someone with your skills. Bring your best attitude, mask up, and wash your hands.

    Cinematography on the Cheap

    Recently I was invited to help teach cinematography on a budget for my local library’s film maker club. I figured, why not share the love here?

    So, congrats — you’re embarking on your first or fortieth short film production. Unfortunately, you don’t have much money to put into it. How can you personally go cheap without sacrificing all your production value?

    In this Medium post, Lance Adams figures short films cost approximately $500-1000 per minute. That’s a lotta moolah.

    Keep in mind, if you’re producing your short film, you need to budget money for food and snacks for your crew, props, locations, equipment, crew, actors, gas money, etc. There’s a lot of costs associated with even the cheapest of short films.

    You can also check out this article on the biggest issues when budgeting a short film.

    For the sake of this blog post, we’re going to look strictly at the cinematography side. Maybe a friend has asked you to be the DP on their short film, or maybe you’re trying to do your own film on the cheap. Here are some choices that will have less of an impact on your bottom line.

    Shooting a Budget Friendly Script

    Aim for a short script (emphasis on short, 5-10 pages max) that has few actors, few locations, and even less in the way of special or visual effects. Less is more in this case, and limiting yourself with these parameters will make it more likely that you succeed in shooting this short film on a tiny budget.

    The Camera

    Panasonic Lumix GH5

    Oh, so you want to shoot your short film on a RED Gemini 5K? That’s nice. That’ll also be around $1200/day. Without a lens.

    I recommend shooting on smaller, more compact cameras for the no-budget short. DSLR’s are highly popular, but if you have access to a Blackmagic –that’s cool too. If you don’t have a DSLR, they’re a fairly cheap rental on a service like Sharegrid. For a good comparison, a Panasonic GH5 (DSLR) is about $80 to rent…per week ( via LensRentals.com). Big difference from that RED, huh?

    There’s quite a few people out there doing some cool things with their iPhones too. For that type of shooting, download the app Filmic Pro (available for iOS or Andriod). It’s $15 and from what I hear, well worth the money. The app gives you full manual controls over your phone’s camera, enhancing your ability to shoot more cinematically.

    Use What You Have

    Lay out all the equipment you have right now. Camera, lenses, accessories, lighting. This is where you’ll start. Don’t have pro video gear? Start getting creative. Your household lamps can double as practical lighting in that bedroom scene. That tripod could turn into a dolly if you put it on wheels.

    I’ve been asked a couple times how I achieved a particular “dolly” shot inside of a car. There was no room for a dolly or a slider for that matter, so I placed my Sony A7s camera on a roll of duct tape I had in the car and pushed it on the center console to get a nice dolly effect on the back seat of the car. Get creative!*

    *Safely, of course.

    Lighting Options

    \I said LIGHTING not lightning. Don’t light your sets with a Faraday cage experiment, so help me God…

    You better light those scenes so you can see what’s going on! Bad lighting will ruin good cinematography.

    Earlier I mentioned “practicals,” which in this case would be lights that exist in the world of your film. That might be a lamp in a bedroom scene or the ceiling fixture in a kitchen. That’s a good start but you’re probably going to want to work a little more light in, or creatively block light for some “negative fill.”

    Image from Premium Beat’s article: Lighting a Scene Solely with Practicals

    As far as inexpensive, semi-professional lighting is concerned, I’d say invest in a couple of reasonably priced LED panels.

    These LED light panels can be found on Amazon.

    I bought two Neewer 480s and one 660 (pictured above) from Amazon, and I’ve used them on multiple film shoots. Lightweight, dimmable and ranging in color temp from 3200 to 5600K, these light panels are a life saver.

    I also have a few of these itty bitty LED lights that might be meant for product photography, but have come in handy in a pinch when a large light can’t fit somewhere.

    Manipulate your lights with gels (if not color-adjustable already) and use bounce and reflectors to direct the light where it needs to go. Use dark fabric such as duvetyne or something way cheaper to eliminate light where you don’t need it.

    I could go more in depth on the practical ways to light or shoot on the cheap, but I think you get the idea. If there’s anything you’d like me to explore further in a future blog post — just let me know! I’m happy to help.

    In the meantime, check out this YouTube playlist I made of tips/tricks for doing cinematography on the cheap:

    Networking in the Digital Age

    Earlier this year I borrowed a book on networking from the local library. Build Your Dream Network by J. Kelly Hoey was not likely to help me much in my business, and I knew this going in. The film industry is less about LinkedIn and corporate ladders as it is about building a reel and meeting people who want to hire you again. Reading this book was slow going–

    –and then the pandemic hit. Suddenly a book on networking just seemed ironic when everyone was stuck at home and every gig and job for the year was cancelled.

    Thanks to a very generous library return policy, I finally finished this book and wanted to share some insights on networking as it applies to working in film.

    I’m also keeping in mind the quarantine aspect of our current situation. Going to any sort of networking or meet-and-greet event is currently out. Stay socially responsible and do make your connections from home while things are still slow and social gatherings are not possible.

    Networking in General

    Networking is defined as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”

    Making connections is how you get jobs. Sure, you can get gigs by applying to online job postings, but if you’re a freelancer, much of your work will be through repeat hiring by people who like you and projects that received your name as a recommendation. Expanding your network is a way to get some sense of job security. The stronger your network, the more likely you will work. See what I did there?

    Also, networking should be considered an ongoing process. It’s not just something you do until you get the first job, or for the first year of your career — it’s continuous. Contacts come and go and production companies can move. You don’t want all your eggs in one basket.

    I also highly recommend having some sort of network in place before you move to a new place. Reach out to some folks in the area you want to live, ask questions, put examples of your work out there. You’ll be more established than if you go in blind.

    My Networking Experience

    When I first moved to Georgia, I spent the first few months living off my savings and reaching out to as many people as I could. I also went to some networking events with varying degrees of success.

    Most of my connections were made through Facebook groups. Thanks to Atlanta Film Community’s bi-weekly “Self Promotion Posts,” I was noticed by a local DP and director, both of whom have continued to hire me on their projects.

    Networking is connecting through shared stories and experiences. Its building a human connection, not simply stating a need to be filled (or, in the case of startups, a check to be written).” – J. Kelly Hoey

    I’ve connected with other people by seeing their online presence on social media, reaching out and having a chat, exchanging resumes and reels.

    One sound designer I networked with put up a self promotion post on a general film page. I saw it, looked at his work and contacted him. After seeing his quality of work and interacting online, I knew he’d be a talent to have on set. After our first film together, I continued to recommend him for numerous jobs, and he’s done the same for me.

    A fellow camera assistant posted about wanting to connect with like-minds in Atlanta. I reached out, and we’ve both recommended each other for jobs. She even had me over at a dinner party (ahem, in January, pre-COVID) where I was able to connect with even more people.

    You should be getting the sense that networking is not about saying “hire me,” it’s about developing a relationship and mutual respect with another person. This should be done delicately. Don’t spam post anywhere, don’t eek out desperation, and know the right time to send an unsolicited message to someone you don’t yet know. You should know when the time is right.

    Reach out to people you admire, whose work you appreciate. Check out someone’s work on Instagram, Twitter feed or their website and demo reel. Send them a quick message if you like their work. It means a lot. That might even open up a dialogue, but you shouldn’t try to force someone to hire you.

    Thanks to these weird times we live in, the latest film festival to show my short The Road Less Traveled — Cat Fly Film Festival of Asheville, NC — held an online streamed event. I reached out to two people — one in Atlanta who I hadn’t met before, and the director of the film I liked the most in the festival By Sunrise, a superbly done short horror film. Thanks to interacting at this streamed film festival, I made excellent connections I may be working with in the future.

    Networking fails

    Build Your Dream Network also had some great pointers on how not to network.

    One such piece of advice is very sound: don’t just reach out to someone when they’ve landed a big job or coveted position.

    “But,” you argue, “Didn’t you just say to reach out to people whose work you admire?”

    Sure! But did you establish a relationship with someone, only to ghost them until that success and it looked like you could get something out of it? Don’t be selfish. Keep up on your contacts, check in with the people you like and recommend people for jobs. It’s all good relationship fodder.

    Now, you can say “congrats!” to them if you feel necessary, but if that’s the only time you’ve contacted the person, the contact might be too little too late — at least according to J. Kelly Hoey’s book.

    I’m proud of my friends and colleagues when they post their successes, and I try to do my part by sharing what they want shared, supporting a fundraising campaign or posting when they’re going to do a livestream or a radio interview. It means a lot to have that kind of support.

    Conclusion

    If you have a garden, do you only water it when the tomatoes are ripe? Think of that daily watering and maintenance as a way you should approach building your network. In the film industry we meet scores of new people at every job — you don’t want your name to disappear in a thrown away call sheet.

    So, while things are still slow, this is your time to reach out to people, make those connections, and maybe polish all your public profiles and make sure things are up to date. You’ll want to hit the ground running when production starts back up.

    Reading List: Screenwriting

    Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers: Secrets of Success that in order to become an expert in anything, you need 10,000 hours of practice. That is also true for screenwriters and film makers.

    I am of the belief that if you want to be good at something, you’re constantly working to enhance your knowledge, hone your craft and try new things.

    When I interact with young screenwriters, I find myself recommending the same reading material over and over again, so my next logical step was to list them here.

    The Short Screenplay: Your Short Film from Concept to Production

    Before you run, you must walk.

    Before you write a feature, I highly recommend you write a short film.

    A short film can range anywhere from 1 min to 45 or so, but usually around 5-10 mins is the common format that can find itself programmed into film festivals. That’s the sweet spot, so you might want to look in that range specifically.

    Find it here.

    Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need

    Often touted as the “Bible of Screenwriting,” Save the Cat! is a famous book on the craft. This book takes a more Hollywood approach to screenwriting that’s beneficial for those wanting to understand the formula of most popular films.

    From the initial idea, to creating a beat sheet to marketing your script, Save the Cat! is a great resource to dive into.

    the book’s strength lies in its foundation of the formula of story arcs and organizational tools such as the beat sheet, so this is definitely a book you should check out.

    Find the book here.

    Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make it Great

    I always send this book recommendation with the disclaimer “This is by no means a commentary on your script!”

    This book is broken up into digestible chunks that go into details on common problems and how to fix them. This book explores structure, the nitty gritty of story and other details that might have been missed during your first draft, such as a deep B story or multi-faceted characters.

    Find the book here.

    Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box

    This is the book for any sort of TV writing. Here you learn about the particular format of broadcast television writing. TV writing is a different game than writing a feature by a long shot, as it pertains to act breaks, teasers, tags, and how to best tell a joke (the funny word comes last!).

    This book also has a meaty section on agents, navigating the world of spec script writing and pitching.

    Find it here.

    Honorable Mentions:

    The Coffee Break Screenwriter: Writing Your Script 10 Minutes at a Time. Find it here.

    Secrets of Film Writing. Find it here.

    Designing Impressive Long Takes and Oners

    The mark of a good director and cinematographer duo is telling a story clearly through the images that appear on a screen. The great ones find a way to go above and beyond.

    One particular shot that separates the women from the girls is the “oner” or “one shot” take. The camera follows the action for a long period of time. Often this can be on a Steadicam, but you might find a fantastic oner accomplished handheld, on a dolly, or on a camera crane. Usually these are dynamic moving shots that change framing and action before your eyes, whereas a normal setup would be to edit a series of shots together.

    It’s harder to do things this way, and so the oner must be deliberate and planned to perfection. It’s something you might want to try in your next film.

    The best way to design something complicated is to study those that came before you. Here I’ve given four examples of incredible oners that I admire and I know you will too.

    The Haunting of Hill House Season 1 Episode 6 “Two Storms

    A large chunk of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House Episode 6 is a 17 minute long oner that spans huge passes of time, flashbacks, special effects and more. It’s an incredibly complicated task that helped tell this unique story.

    Part of what makes this scene so surreal is the fact that it doesn’t break away, doesn’t give a respite from following each character around during this pivotal storm. This genius choreography couldn’t have been pulled off without careful timing and a large well-rehearsed crew and cast.

    You can watch the whole episode on Netflix, but you also can get the idea from this clip:

    Also worthy of watching is this Making Of Featurette, which shows some of the ways this complicated long shot was choreographed:

    Children of Men (2006)

    The car scene. Not only is this a long take, it’s fraught with anxiety, showing different views out the windows of the car, placing the viewer in with the passengers of the vehicle. The drama unfolds in real-time, starting off with an innocuous car ride and conversation, escalating into a mad dash away from a hoard of crazy people attacking the car’s occupants.

    The way they filmed this scene is actually pretty incredible and technical. At about 1 minute into this featurette, they discuss this particular scene. They used the Sparrowhead Doggie cam, a camera suspended inside the car on a track. The car was also specially designed for this scene. The driver is not actually driving it — there’s a man in front of the car low to the ground who is actually doing the driving. They don’t show it here, but they actually had seats that folded out of the way so the camera could get past the actors. 

    Birdman

    Now this one gets an honorable mention because the whole movie is structured like it takes place in one long take. There are a number of hidden cuts that make this possible, but there are certainly a number of true long takes. You experience in real time Riggan getting stuck outside the playhouse during the performance and having to navigate a busy Times Square in his tighty whities.

    At about 45 seconds into this video, you see a grip positioning a silk in order to adjust the lighting on the actors faces on the fly. The whole movie had to be choreographed with the actors and crew in this way in order to avoid setting up classic lighting scenarios and keep things on the move.

    Baby Driver (2017)

    It’s Bank Robbery: The Musical but oh so much more. I recently re-watched this movie and I’m telling you — if you haven’t seen it yet, there’s no time like the present.

    Baby Driver‘s premise is genius — Baby has tinnitus from a car accident, so he’s constantly playing music through his headphones to drown out the ringing in his ears. That sets the soundtrack to which all the action happens throughout the movie. The car chases, bank robbery, shootouts — everything has been meticulously choreographed and timed to fit the music of the scene.

    Check out the “coffee run” scene from early in the movie to see the level of choreography that went into the scene. Not only do the Steadicam operator and Ansel Elgort walk perfectly timed, the action also lines up with key bits of set design — watch for the trumpet and certain bits of graffiti and poster designs that link up with lyrics in the music.

    Look at the graffiti that says “Right” at 0:32 and 2:31 you’ll see they added in the lyrics “Shake, shake, shake” and several new lyrics on that wall during the shot. Excellent details.

    Kidding Season 1 Episode 3 (2018)

    Check out this incredible scene from the Showtime series Kidding.

    This scene shows how the character Shaina is inspired by a show and how her life dramatically changes in a shifting scene that transcends time.

    This is some incredible behind the scenes here because you can see just how the crew choreographed and shifted the scene from the drab, dreary beginning to a lavish apartment by the end of the scene. Watch and listen to the careful choreography dictated by either the 1st AD or coordinator.

    6 Types of One-Take Shots

    For some more examples, and descriptions of specific oners (the establishing long take, the exposition, the tracking long take, the fake long take) check out Aputure’s video with Ted Sim and cinematographer Emma Kragen.