A Film is Born Three Times: Pt. 2 Production

“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.

Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 on Re-writing here.

You’ve written the script. You’ve done the pre-production. You have your shotlist in hand and you’re ready to shoot. Surely, you have an image of what your film is going to look like in your head. The thing is — it’s really hard to make that a reality.

Once you’ve made your first or even fourteenth film, isn’t part of you a little disappointed it doesn’t look exactly how you pictured it? No? Just me, okay.

There’s a number of factors that go into why your film will change during production. Let’s go over a few reasons:

  • casting
  • location
  • equipment

Casting

You and a friend are prepping for a film competition and it’s the night before your first shoot day. You’ve got your gear and props, your script finalized, your cast set and call sheets sent out. Now all you need is–

Oh wait, your lead actor just quit. Now it’s 11pm at night and you’re supposed to be filming a mere 10 hours from now.

This is exactly what happened to Desiree and I when we were prepping our Mystery Box Film Challenge short. Our lead actor was cast via the film commission in Philly, and he decided at 11pm the night before the shoot that he wasn’t going to drive to Northeast Pennsylvania to do the short. Because he’d have to get up early. I can’t even make this up. The actor had the script and knew where he’d be filming for days in advance, and chose literally the 11th hour to change his mind.

Desiree and I very calmly… went into panic mode. After a moment of us going “literally, WTF” we contacted everyone we knew in the local film community, and the search was on. Friends contacted friends until we connected with a guy named Joe, who was more than happy to help us. He turned out to be a great actor, a better choice than we originally had, and our short film continued as scheduled.

Especially in the case of short films and volunteer projects, you could lose people at the last minute. The goal is to have a network you can turn to in order to fill in the gaps. Or start getting creative with the cast you already have.

Location

When I originally wrote The Road Less Traveled, I had envisioned a cat and mouse chase inside a literal slaughterhouse. Instead, we ended up in an antique barn, which I ended up liking so much more.

Sometimes your limitations on location will be budget related. You intended on x but had money for y (or z was free).

Weather, too, can play a part. If originally your location was going to be outdoors and a storm blows through, you might have to re-evaluate and see if you can film an indoor scene instead.

My thesis film, Routine Procedures took place in a crater….but since that’s impossible to create on no budget, we filmed in a sand pit used by construction. We filmed on days they weren’t out scooping the sand. A unique feature was that a lot of it was flooded, so we needed to purchase a canoe to get to the optimal location.

Equipment

You’ve got everything planned. Absolutely nothing could go wrong.

You get the idea now, right?

You don’t have enough batteries to continuously shoot. Your media fails. Your stabilizer isn’t stabilizing. Your mattebox donut has ripped and too much light is now hitting the filter.

This is one example where we had to replace a piece of equipment with something unexpected. The rubber “donut” that goes from the mattebox to the lens had torn, and too much light was hitting the filters. We replaced it with an old school mousepad with a hole cut in it. It worked great! Plus I ended up seeing this kittycat mouse pad on the next project I worked with this DP so obviously it made an impression.

Film sets are Murphy’s Law Incarnate. You need to be able to roll with the punches.

The following scenarios have happened to me or someone I know:

  • the DP underestimated how much media we’d need to record on and nobody media managed even after I pointed out we were going to run out of cards. The last scene of the day was filmed shooting one line of dialogue at a time on the last two minutes of card space.
  • Your wireless follow focus has lost signal and has some issue that can’t be solved, so you pull it off the barrel of the lens and pull focus by hand (like the pioneers did!)
  • The director suddenly wants a Steadicam-like shot without there being a budget or an actual Steadicam around. You see a rolling desk chair and get some ideas…

Don’t let an equipment malfunction limit your ability to shoot your film. There’s often a way around it if you take a moment to look at your options.

A Steadicam setup I did years ago for someone’s crowdfund campaign. The camera was way too light for the Steadicam, so I bongo tied a few 5lb ankle weights on there to compensate.

One of the absolute best skills you can have as a film maker is problem solving. If you can be adaptable, creative and a team player, you can find a way around your problem and into a solution.

Screenwriting Basics #5: Scene Description

I want to spend time showing examples, so very quickly here’s what goes into scene description (also called action lines):

Elements of Scene Description:

  • tells you what the characters are doing in the scene
  • describes the setting
  • details what can be seen or heard in the scene
  • sets tone and pacing or rhythm that informs the edit
  • uses ALL CAPS to highlight important things (use sparingly)
  • avoids camera direction (don’t use “the camera dollies in…”)

We’re going to look at pages from three very different scripts: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman, Zodiac (2007) by James Vanderbilt, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) by William Goldman

Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse (2018)

This animated film balances humor, pathos and a coming-of-age story in a superhero origin film. It is excellent, and for that matter, so is the script.

Into the Spider-verse has a narrative told through a comic book filter, and for that reason the script has to show this comic flair as clearly as possible. That includes scripting out the comic thought bubbles and things that appear across the screen. Note that the pivotal moment “EVERYONE KNOWS” is played up for comic relief — the script has it appear in giant letters behind Miles, the last period landing with a resounding note.

Later in the script, when Miles is trying to help Peter B Parker hack into a computer they have to work around the Head Scientist Olivia Octavius. This fun exchange happens:

That “organize your desktop, lady!” line got big laughs in the theater, and that’s partly because of how starkly we’re shown the “BAFFLING DESKTOP FULL OF FILES” right before that. So relatable. If that moment hadn’t been scripted out, it wouldn’t have played to such laughs.

Zodiac (2007)

Lots of good feelings from the first example. Let’s go down a darker path.

Writing horror, thriller, suspense… they come with other challenges. How can you communicate that a scene is scary? Get out this page from Zodiac, the movie based on the real story of the Zodiac Killer.

Look at how the car following Darlene and Mike, soon-to-be-victims, is characterized. Like a hungry lion. It’s not literal, and yet it works to get the point across.

What was interesting when I looked up this example was the fact that the script I lfound and the resulting film were very different scenes. In the script, this car has been following Darlene and Mike for miles, resulting in a car chase and eventual car trouble. In the movie, things are quite innocent until the killer’s car pulls up behind them.

An early draft could look totally different from what you eventually see on screen. Why this car chase scene was skipped over was possibly two-fold — the car chase scene took too long and detracted from the rest of the movie, and possibly because it wasn’t true to what really happened. This is a real killer this movie is based on, so some attempt at reality should be made.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

In the opening of this Western, we’re introduced to our main character Butch Cassidy. The scene descriptions give us a good idea of what type of man he is and how he should be portrayed.

William Goldman is a very well known screenwriter, and he could get away with some tricks that you probably shouldn’t do in your first scripts. For one, he’s scripting out a lot of stuff that cannot be seen, like how Butch speaks and that he’s been a leader of men all his life. For the most part, if you can’t see or hear it, you should think twice about writing it in your action lines.

The format is also a little off from the norm, or at least what we see today. A MAN is separated from the rest of the description. This could be very intentional rhythm illustrated for the scene, having the director and actor take their time letting this introduction play out before the camera. Nowadays, write the subject in the same paragraph. William Goldman can do all this. We can’t. Yet.

I also want to note Goldman’s use of “CUT TO:” between each segment here. This is a stylistic choice — it’s not necessary. Sometimes this can give a sense of pacing. Personally I find script pages to be prime real estate — I might need to hit very specific page counts and I find the CUT TO unnecessary because…well, what else are you going to do? If you’re jumping to another scene, you’re gonna cut.

Sources:

The Magic Bullet: Action Lines – ScriptMag.com

5 Ways to Write More Effective Scene Description – The Script Lab

Screenwriting Basics #4: Dialogue

One way to get me interested in your script: Have really compelling, interesting, and/or funny dialogue.

Writing dialogue is hard. Heck, writing at all is hard. It takes years of study — reading everything you can get your hands on, practicing at your craft, sucking at the first few scripts you try, doing better with each draft and receiving constructive criticism that leads you down the right path.

First, let’s understand what counts as bad dialogue.


*snore*

Is anyone else bored yet? I know I am. Dialogue like this, although similar to how we talk in real life, does nothing to advance a plot and frankly bores the reader into a stupor. Authentic dialogue does not mean word-for-word small talk. Authentic dialogue is more simulated reality.

Another example:

If some kid scares off some robbers with his, um, karate skills? Wouldn’t you want to see that happen?

Here’s where we remember the cardinal writing rule of Show, Don’t Tell. It’s much more interesting to see action scripted out, happening before us, than to have some character explaining it. Johnny’s dialogue here becomes an info dump — blurting out a series of events in an unnecessarily long rant. It is so dull to hear a character explain things that should have just unfolded on screen.

Another fun, yet difficult one to learn. On-the-nose dialogue.

On-the-nose dialogue is when characters say what they actually feel in the moment or describe things that are obvious. It’s the opposite of subtlety. This is where subtext comes in, and that’s a tricky subject.

Subtext is the implicit meaning of a text—the underlying message that is not explicitly stated or shown. Subtext gives the reader information about characters, plot, and the story’s context as a whole.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/what-is-subtext-learn-the-definition-and-role-of-subtext-in-writing-plus-5-tips-to-better-incorporate-subtext-in-your-work

A character’s feelings, or even the situation at hand, can be described using visuals, settings, character body language and more to be conveyed. Sometimes, a character will say the opposite of what they mean, but we as the audience can see the truth behind it. Humans lie a lot. Your characters could too.

Yeah. Johnny isn’t happy.

Your characters can say a lot without really saying much. Trust the actors to do the acting. Body language coupled with dialogue can change an entire meaning of a line.

Great dialogue is, of course, subjective. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. But there are a number of films out there that many folks agree has good dialogue. Check out this scene from The Shawshank Redemption. Spoilers if you haven’t seen this famous film from 1994.

“It always makes me laugh. Andy Dufresne… who crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean.”

– Red

This scene comes at the end of the movie. Andy Dufresne has already escaped, and Morgan Freeman’s character Red laments his loss. It’s expositional. It’s telling, not showing. It shouldn’t work but it does. It wraps things up beautifully, told in the unique voice of Red.

“I’m Mad As Hell and I’m Not Gonna Take This Anymore!”

– Howard Beale

This scene from Network is a great one to study. A news anchor losing his cool on national television! But the story behind the scene is not that he’s mad about current events… it’s truly about his anger over the fact that he’s losing his job. Subtext!

“That ain’t no Etch a Sketch. This is one doodle that can’t be undid.”

– Convenience Store Clerk

I really like Juno. The characters all have very strong, individual voices. Even the bit parts, like the clerk at the convenience store, are interesting characters for an actor to play.

You want to be the type of writer who could attract someone to any part in your film, and screenwriter Diablo Cody became quite the Hollywood darling after this film premiered.

Sources:

How to Avoid Writing On The Nose Dialogue – Screencraft.org

15 Movies Screenwriters Should Watch to Study Dialogue – Screencraft.org

What is Subtext – Masterclass.com

Screenwriting Basics #3: Character

Unless you’re writing the type of artistic film where you only show time lapses of moss growing or something, you’re likely going to need characters to populate your script. They may be a hodgepodge group of high schoolers or even anthropomorphic cars.

The most important of which is your main character. And they should do more than just go through the motions.

Your main character needs to be interesting. Infuse them with details, quirks, dialogue that makes the reader, and eventually audience, enjoy going on this ride with them.

How do you do this? Start thinking details. Are they funny? Smart in a really unique way? Do they see the world in a way others do not? Do they have a personal struggle and you can’t help but root for them?

Do they have a general disdain for humanity but also the propensity for curing everyone’s ills?

Lookin’ at you, Doctor House.

You want to avoid stereotypes in your main character. Instead of having a genius doctor, you have a genius doctor who lacks a bedside manner, has a physical disability which leads him to a dependency on narcotics.

So let’s talk round vs flat characters.

“A round character is deep and layered character in a story. Round characters are interesting to audiences because they feel like real people; audiences often feel invested in these characters’ goals, successes, failures, strengths, and weaknesses.”


https://www.masterclass.com/articles/round-vs-flat-characters-in-fiction

Round characters are more interesting and make your reader and audience more invested in the story.

“A flat character is a two-dimensional character lacking depth or a real personality. Usually, flat characters have just one or two perfunctory traits. Often considered “stock characters,” flat characters can often be summarized in one word (like “bully” or “love interest”) and never digress from or transcend their role.”

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/round-vs-flat-characters-in-fiction

A flat character lacks the great detail that makes a compelling character. They fall into stereotypes — the distracted professor, the overworked single mom, the ditsy cheerleader… we’ve seen these time and again. It’s fine if they populate the rest of your world a bit, but for the characters we follow? We want more.

How to write a round character:

  • Character Traits. What are their character traits, both good and bad? What is the flaw your main character possesses that might cause them grief later in the story?
  • Details. What are their likes/dislikes? What is their appearance? What sports do they play? Where do they work? You might not use all of these, but it will help you make more informed decisions on how your character will act.
  • Believability. Your main character has believable reactions to events based on their character traits. A generally mellow person won’t just blow up at a minor inconvenience. It wouldn’t fit their character. Don’t lose your reader, and later your audience, by making your character behave strangely.
  • Conflict. Give them an internal and external conflict. The main conflict may be the fate of the world ending, but the internal conflict may be a father regaining the love of his estranged daughter.
  • Dialogue. Your character has a voice, and it should be a distinct voice. If you cover up the names of all the characters in your script and read the dialogue, you should be able to tell who is speaking. Don’t let everyone sound the same.

Building a really interesting main character is one part of writing that great first script.

Sources:

https://blog.reedsy.com/round-character/

https://www.indiewire.com/2013/11/screenwriting-101-5-tips-for-writing-better-characters-into-your-screenplay-33156/

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/round-vs-flat-characters-in-fiction

Screenwriting Basics #1: Budget Friendly Screenwriting Software

This is the first in a multi-part series breaking down the screenwriting process so you can get started writing your next great idea.

First, let’s talk where you write the script. I don’t care if you start in a paper notebook or scribble outlines on napkins, at some point you’re going to have to type this into proper screenwriting format on a computer.

Professional screenwriting programs like Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft are a major investment. Screenwriter 6 is currently at the sale price of $169. It’s usually $249. Final Draft 12 is on sale for $185 (again, usually $249).

That’s a hefty price tag for someone who is just starting out. Luckily, there’s some really good free and cheap options out there too:

  • YouMeScript – a Google Drive extension. Features the ability to have multiple writers working at the same time from different computers. Great for collaboration but make sure you save often. It does not automatically save for you.
  • Fade In – Fade in provides a free trial to get you started. It is only $80 for the full version.
  • Writer Duet – a Cloud based software that has a lot of nifty features. The free trial lets you write your first 3 scripts on the program for free.
  • Celtx – This used to be free but it seems it’s gone through some updates and is now $15/mo for the most basic package.

The free options are fine for when you are learning to write or if you are simply writing for your own short films, but if you decide to go big time and start submitting to agents or contests or major production houses — get Final Draft or Screenwriter. There can be little formatting issues with the free programs that the pricey programs would sort out.

Study the Craft

You can’t expect to grow as a writer unless you work at it, study it and see what’s been done before.

You can see my list of recommended screenwriting books here: Reading List: Screenwriting.

How do you expect to write a script if you don’t read them first? The following link gives resources to the best screenplays to read in each genre.

You can also check out a lot more scripts on Simply Scripts and Drew’s Script-o-Rama. Just keep in mind some are transcripts written by a fan watching a show, which makes them not worth studying. You may also have to click through a few, especially on Drew’s site — some links are broken.

“So what’s all this I hear about formatting?” We’ll talk about that in the next Screenwriting Basics post.

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.