I’m sharing this because I’ve been keeping it on my hard drive for several years and I just thought it might be helpful to first time or new producer/directors with limited resources. It was written for those that were willing to take the time necessary to do as much as they could before the first day of production regardless of the budget they are working with (which is what we did with each film at The Sabi Company).
Note: This was cobbled together from notes from our legendary daily “Things to Do Lists” as we geared up to make White Knuckles, Heart of Now, and Down and Dangerous. If you think something should be on here, by all means add it below.. Each feature requires it’s own handling during pre-produciton so this isn’t a blue-print for your micro-budget indie film, it was simply a guide we used for our team and our films. Hopefully it can help you (if you make it to the bottom of the list).
SABI TASKS FOR PREPARING FOR A NANO-BUDGET INDEPENDENT FEATURE FILM.
For prepping SAG ULB or New Media digital films APPROX BUDGETS $30-$150K, and small cast and crew.
7 PHASES TOTAL
Phase 1 & Phase 2 (60 or more days till production):
A) LOCK SCRIPT
B) Send script out to Library of Congress for official copyright, with treatments, character descriptions and supporting documents attached to script.
C) Send script package to WGA to register.
D) Have one final night of sleep until after production, several months away.
E) FIND Co-Producers & an A.D. that will commit, that can AFFORD to commit.
F) PRODUCER / DIRECTOR ANALYZES SCRIPT FOR THE FOLLOWING
1. Master Prop List (and secondary props)
2. Master Set Design List (and secondary set decorations)
3. Master Costume Design list (and continuity chart)
4. Master Lighting/Grip List for all gear outside camera & sound.
6. ONE-LINE SCHEDULE (Location changes, 6 day weeks, extras, etc.)
G). Lock A.D. – AD & 2nd AD to help create/manage One line & Shoot Schedule.
H). Increase Cell Phone Minutes (!!)
I) Send out Casting Notices if haven’t already.
J) Begin Inquiry with SAG.
K) Look for additional funding, and credit cards for the production.
Phase 3: (50 days till production):
1. Open all Necessary Accounts.
2. Talk to Owners of restaurants. Get menu’s of places that cater. Restaurant food breaks up the monotony of catered food, though it takes coordination.
3. Investigate locations that want credit (throughout).
4. Finalize Re-Writes on Script (throughout pre-pro)
5. Finalize tentative Schedule and Tentative budget.
6. Begin SAG – Ultra Low (below $200K).
7. Create SAG budget, schedule, SAG estimate, script – call each time for anything – get rep involved.
8. Finalize Equipment, solve any gear problems for gear you have and want to use.
9. Begin vendor relationships. Send Insurance for their file, open accounts. (Get INSURANCE if you don’t have).
10. Finalize Cast Selects. Find a casting space.
11. Get Casting Director involved or start calling down the list. Start locking Casting!
12. Create Donation Letter pertinent to the production. Make it personal. Get talking. Start sending this out. Give a letter to every single person you talk to about anything. Print several color copies. I said, make it personal! You’ll be giving it out the most, and this can save you thousands by outlining what it is you are doing and what it is you need, and what they get out of it.
13. Send out Crew Notice via craigslist & regular Sabi requirements (I.e. have them answer 5 questions about why they want to work specifically on a Sabi film, having taken the time to learn about our movies through our site and screening the films).
Phase 4: (40 days till production):
14. FINALIZE SAG – Initial Agreement, plus Deposit for Actors. Finish SAG Packet and mail into office. Finish Payroll set-up (ADP)
15. 8 weeks out: POST SAG BOND. Make sure all Actors are on board. Keep in regular contact with them. Or have someone make this their regularly duty if you don’t have an AD or teammate that can help yet.
16. Weed out Crew – make phone calls, have your team look over those that you like. Or vice versa.
17. Test Shoot & Test Post.
19. MORE Location Scouting.
20. Create and update ALWAYS a contact list.
21. Files for every vendor, crew, cast, number, email, emergency, etc.
22. Distant Location scout – Finalized.
23. Refine donation pitch if it’s not working.
24. Make tons of copies of pertinent documents.
25. Create Production Master File.
26. Think about needed artwork, look for artists. Commission them.
Phase 5: (30 days till production):
1. Get Rental Cars if necessary. Be ready to go everywhere and anywhere.
2. Start Multi-Tasking and making a priority list every-day. (good habit)
3. Meet additional Above the Line Crew & have additional Casting Calls.
4. Lock CAST days & schedule. Start Cast Contracts.
5. Distant Location Scouting & Lock. Pay deposits. The spending begins.
6. Begin Prop scouting. Make a Prop Wish List.
7. Create storyboards, work with DP.
8. Begin Set-Dressing – got to rental shops & take pictures of items to rent.
9. Begin All Artwork that will be needed for the picture.
10. Begin finding research consultants.
11. Hire an Intern (s) – Negotiate deals, give back to Interns, ask them what they want to learn / what department they are interested in. They are not only here to do the busy work. Teach them. Help them.
12. Begin locking catering food and crafty.
13. Work with Local Film Commission for Locations
14. Create ON-SET paperwork and Deal Memos.
15. Create Time Cards for Cast and Crew and make many copies
16. Create Mileage sheets
17. Create a Cost Tracking Spreadsheet.
18. Send out Crew Notice again if necessary – begin interviews on phone.
19. Shooting Script – create final shooting schedule,
Phase 6: (20 days till production):
1. Lock Locations, Find Back-Ups for major locations.
2. Open Self-Storage for all Film Equipment & Film related props/wardrobe Etc.
3. Open Permits for locations, begin getting releases signed.
4. Interview Crew. FIRST ANALYZE YOUR OWN NEEDS. What departments do you need, and what departments can you handle? Production Design? Visual Effects? Special Effects? Make-Up? Costumes? Be prepared to find those that are willing to learn / be empowered over those that exude self-confidence about “their way” of doing things. Talk about the Sabi collaborative spirit, the meaning of A Film By Sabi. Talk about Interdependent Filmmaking, not Independent Filmmaking. Stress the importance of the atmosphere you are trying to create and see if they get it.
5. Finalize and Sign up Crew. Make sure they can afford to do this production. Talk about their financial situation. You need people you can count on, not those that (unfortunately) need to take “better paying gigs”. Honestly, you need people you can count on. You need people you can say, “I’m counting on you” to, who are personally invested enough to care about what the fuck they are doing everyday on set.*
SIDE NOTE: *Talk about their needs. What do they want out of this? Experience? Knowledge? Money? First two are the ones to bring in. On a nano-budget production you don’t have enough money to satisfy that (as a primary need for crew — or cast for that matter). Talk about the need to wear multiple hats. Are they down to do whatever to production requires of them? The Make-Up artist may be called upon to do special effects make-up. The Production Designer may be called upon to Set Dress. Because the Producer may be getting the lunches.
Talk about how most of the above the line are getting paid nothing. Although it’s not much money you can offer them, tell them they are the highest paid people on set. That’s often the case.
6. Second Test Shoot / Pre-shoot with D.P.
7. Start and refine rehearsals.
8. Begin second or final casting call.
9. Lock down Equipment/D.P. Negotiate deal.
10. Aquire all Key Props.
11. Lock down all Sound vendors.
13. Lock all Locations, pay deposits. Reconfirm.
14. Book final Travel requirements.
15. Hunt down Permits & Signatures.
17. Go over ALL set responsibilities with A.D.
18. A.D. & 2nd A.D. should know how to make a call sheet, revise one-line and
19. MAKE A WRAP REPORT with exact times (updating the Call sheet for the day with pertinent info).
20. Pay any Agents asking for 10%
21. Lock all crafty and catering
22. Make Sure Actors clear Station 12 SAG.
23. Send SAG final cast list.
24. Start Payroll, submit weekly!!!
25. See if our Sabi friends and partners and parents are available to help us. Sabi Veteran Crew, fans.
26. Final Scheduling, Final One-Line.
27. Final casting call. Final casting sessions.
28. Final Permits & SAG Payroll. Pay Permits
29. Final contracts – all signed.
30. Lock Costume – begin acquiring outfits, work with actors to take photos of their clothes.
31. Tax forms signed, Sabi contract signed, including Waivers.
32. Initial deposits paid.
33. Meet with actors, ask them if they have any special needs or requirements. Make them feel safe, important, and BE GRATEFUL they are working on your film. Without actors, we have nothing.
Phase 7: (10 days till production):
PRODUCER / CO-PRODUCER HANDLES ALL PROBLEMS FIRST. AD handles problems when he can, or defers to Producer. So that the DIRECTOR CAN CONCENTRATE. However, Director and Producer(s) & Co-Producers should meet once daily during pre-pro & create TO-DO lists every night/execute (IN PERSON). CREW should also have 1 or 2 Team meetings built into contract. ALL Full Crew Meetings (including Sabi’s “Crew Read Through” should last 2-3 hours tops and be accompanied by food and drink). Meetings should be 2 hours during the Final Days.
34. Begin getting all the equipment together — inventory everything/pics.
35. TEST ALL GEAR, take inventory (for returns at the end)
36. Lock all Necessary Sound requirements.
37. Go over Safety with Crew and on-set
38. Get everyone’s emergency contact info.
39. Finalize Costume chart / work with costumer to have everything ready.
40. Reserve UHAUL if needed.
41. Get all gear on expensive rental.
42. Test all gear and inventory.
43. Move into first location early if possible.
44. Test Post Production.
45. Have someone on emergency call every-day. Call every local friend you know to help with your film if you are in a pinch — and keep them on reserve. Most want to help, they don’t have to be filmmakers.
46. Get final free stuff you can get, and be thankful. Call all day-players through AD, and have AD confirm with all cast and crew dates, times, everything.
47. Think of what you want your first day to go like. Envision it.
48. Plan a full cast and crew rehearsal if necessary (with lights, sound and shooting)
49. Final Cast meetings in Private with the Director.
50. PROBLEM Solving & Creative –
51. START EXECUTING PREPARATION FROM ABOVE 2 DAYS AHEAD OF EVERY PRODUCTION DAY. STAY 2 DAYS AHEAD.
Oh yeah… and Don’t Forget the Creative…
I THINK IF EVERY ITEM IS TAKEN CARE OF BEFORE YOU BEGIN PRODUCTION – YOU WILL BE 50% THERE. THE REST IS THINKING ON YOUR FEET AND BEING SMART, EFFICIENT, AND PREPARED DURING PRODUCTION (WHICH THIS LIST IS TO SUPPORT). “CREATING TIME” FOR THE ARTISTS/FILMMAKERS DURING PRODUCTION BY TAKING CARE OF IT IN PRE-PRODUCTION & PLANNING IS THE BEST WAY TO HELP THE CREATIVE DURING PRODUCTION (and make the endeavor a success when it’s finally on its feet).
Kevin K. Shah
Property of The Sabi Company
last revised 3/12/13