Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ultra Low in LA: JUST PRETEND week two

     JUST PRETEND is a smooth sailing ship, passing through some choppy waters without too much tilt or sway. Ten days have passed and we've made our day everyday and have been out by twelve all days but one.
     Eric Levy, one of our directing duo, sounded like he'd figured it out. "This is really about a $700,000 movie, isn't it?" We're shooting JUST PRETEND for under 100k. I told him it isn't, but it certainly is closer to a $200,000 movie. We have to compromise quite a bit when we're shooting for only half of the budget we should have. If we had just a little more money, we'd have a few more toys and a few more hands pulling the cart, which would make a lot of our set-ups move faster, and a lot of the directors' wishes easier to realize.
     This is the point that is often missed. I am frequently given a script and told that it is being planned for an Ultra-Low Budget or No-Budget, but the script has not been crafted as an Ultra-Low or No script. It's just they want to shoot the script they have for the money they can get. This is generally very hard.
     However, there are issues with "biggering." One of the reasons we're able to get a lot of the locations we have at the price we are is because we're small. We don't have a G&E truck, just a cargo van. We don't have trailers, honey-wagons, vanity trailers, or anything. I've been told by people in preproduction that they want to keep their small indie, with a big star, small. One project in particular was shooting in LA for around 700k and had a name actor playing the lead. The actor was low key and willing to work for a low rate, BUT he needed just a small trailer... and there it begins. A trailer driven by who? You could hire non-union drivers, but when the Teamsters drive by and see a base camp with trailers and grip trucks, they're going to stop. You will also need to rent base camp parking which essentially doubles your per location fees, and so it goes. There's quite a chasm between small and big, and once you've crossed over it's hard to bring your project back.
     Be sure to read my article It Starts with the Script before you start your No Budget project.

Brian Dietzen and Abby Miller in a glorious Exterior Day location.

Working the Neighborhood 
We are currently filming in a lovely neighborhood in Pasadena. It's on the edge of town so the permits are handled by FilmLA and not the city of Pasadena, which is a big break for us because we already had an LA permit. Because we're filming over night we had to get signatures and permission from the neighborhood, but even if we weren't I would've asked our Locations Assistant (Becky Miller who is kicking it) to go door-to-door in the neighborhood anyway. We'll be here nine days, so we need their support. Too often film crews come in, expect love and respect, without doing anything to earn it. By going door to door and talking to all the neighbors, telling them about our project, giving them our phone numbers, we've been able to have their help as we've needed to ask them for favors (please wait on the mowing, sprinklers, leaf blowing, sawing... etc). The people in this neighborhood are genuinely lovely and have been wonderfully helpful. Be nice to your neighbors, they'll (usually) be nice to you.

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