Jenna Edwards will answer all your questions about filmmaking including pre-production, production, post-production and distribution. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jenna began her film career in the late 1990s as an actor. She has worked in many areas in film including; acting, talent representation, crew and made the move to producing in 2008. Where, on her first feature film (April Showers) as a producer she learned not only the ins and outs of producing, but also distribution and marketing. She has since produced several more features and is a producing teacher at New York Film Academy. She is grateful for the opportunity to share her experiences and answer young filmmaker's questions through the Film Method Mailbag.
Q: Producing 10 minute short with filmmakers I met through a friend and wanted to know what type of insurance I would need for shooting in a friends home and/or a nursing home or commercial building. One day shoot with a cast and crew of about 10 people. I want to make sure my production company, crew and the property are covered.
Huewilly via Film Method Mailbag
That’s a great question and there are plenty of options for this type of project. Meaning, you can find another company to co-produce with you who has insurance, purchase short-term coverage or, if you plan to make many of these films within a year, you may consider purchasing an annual policy.
I am not an insurance agent so your best bet is to contact an insurance provider for a quote. Don’t be intimidated, you do not have to purchase right then and there. It’s like buying car insurance, you want to shop around and get the best coverage at the best rate for your project. I will say this; most standard insurance companies do not handle film insurance. It is a specific kind of insurance and if you are renting equipment from a rental house, you will typically need to cover a minimum of a million dollars just to be safe. If you are not in Los Angeles, or another major filming hub like New York, chances are you are not going to be able to find coverage locally. You’ll want to look in LA. To cover everything you want to cover you’ll probably need liability and work comp. If you are using union actors, you will go through a payroll company and you’ll want to look into their insurance policies as well. That will all be explained by SAG.
When you call, you’ll need to know your budget (including how much you have to spend on insurance), how many people you need covered, what length of time and there will be a few other questions. Don’t worry if you don’t know, just so that and research and get back to the person.
It can be complicated at first glance, but once you talk to the right insurance agent, he/she will be able to explain it better than I can.
Congrats on your shoot and I hope it all goes well.
Thanks for listening,
Q: I’m new to LA and everyone is always talking about going to networking parties but I feel uncomfortable.
Billie M, Los Angeles
With the holidays upon us, it’s an opportune time to network as there are parties galore. But, if you are living in Los Angeles (and I’m sure this rings true in other places, just on a smaller scale) there are networking opportunities daily all year around. It’s really important that you get out there and meet people in your industry. It’s an industry built on who you know after all. A few tips to keep in mind:
1. Always have business cards. There is no excuse not to have a business card and if you don’t have them, people may not take you as seriously. If you don’t put what you do on the card, make sure you are able to write on the card so that you or the person you’re talking to can write it down.
2. Don’t be afraid of networking. When I first came to LA, I thought networking was so slimy and impersonal until I realized that it’s really all about getting to meet people. Don’t go into it thinking “what can that person do for me”, go into it thinking “what can I do for them” or “cool, I get meet a new person”. If your intentions are good, you will usually have a good time.
3. If you are bad at meeting and talking to people, practice! It is part of your job to interact with people. You are in a collaborative field after all.
4. Invite a friend along who is good at networking and pay attention.
5. Have Fun! It’s contagious and who doesn’t want to be around someone who is having fun?
I hope you are successful at meeting new people, welcome to LA and Happy Holidays!
The podcast on editing made me think of what’s been happening with on-set digital work-flow and I was wondering if you all had noticed. The possibility of on-set dailies is leading towards on-set editing and for some Indie productions and companies who produce small corporate commercials it is already happening. Editing on-set as shooting is going on is now within reach of the low budget filmmaker.
Craig T. via Film-Method.com
I have noticed this as well and it can be a dangerous practice to get in to if you haven’t thought it all the way through. For some forms such as commercials, it might be a great thing. But, for film, it is not a good idea to have your main editor cutting things together on set.
If you do decide it’s a good idea to cut dailies together on set, then I suggest having an assistant or 2nd editor who does that while keeping your main editor away from this part of the process.
This could actually be very helpful because you can make sure that you are getting all the shots you will need in order to cut the film together. However, if you have done your due diligence in pre-production and you have a competent Director, DP and Script Supervisor then you should be fine. People are people and mistakes do happen, but they can happen even if you’re editing on set.
It is a great idea to be sending your main editor all the footage as you go (this is what’s called “editing behind camera) so that they can get it all arranged and be working on their first cut while filming is still taking place. But, it is important to keep the editor clear from any outside influence in regard to the edit. What I mean by that is; if an editor is on set with you and knows it took 12 hours for you to get that one shot but the shot isn’t serving the film at all in the edit, what’s to keep him from leaving the shot in the edit?
The editor’s only focus should be on telling the story and it is your job as a producer to make sure they are not unduly influenced.
Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses
November 29, 2011
A good producer knows his/her strengths and more importantly, they know their weaknesses. Why do I think knowing your weaknesses is more important than knowing your strengths? I don’t if you really think about it, because, knowing your weaknesses is a huge strength. It allows you to fill in the gaps creating a stronger team and therefore a stronger production.
When I first started, I didn’t know the first thing about giving script notes. I knew what I liked and what I didn’t like and was very good at pointing out what I didn’t like. But I was not good at pointing out why I didn’t like something. Because I knew my weaknesses, I was able to find producers who were strong in the area of script notes. Through surrounding myself with others who had that skill set, I was able to learn and develop my own skills at giving script notes. If someone were to come up to me right now and ask me what my weaknesses were, I would be able to list them right now. But, then I would also be able to tell them who I have surrounded myself with to balance those weaknesses out.
We are all imperfect and no one is good at everything, therefore, it is important for you to know your strengths and weaknesses in order to fill in the gaps.
Q: Now that you have brought on Skye Rentals as a sponsor, you talk about base camp a lot. What is it and why is it so important?
Now that you have brought on Skye Rentals as a sponsor, you talk about base camp a lot. What is it and why is it so important?
Brandie D. St. Louis, MO
I’m glad you asked this question Brandie because I feel like it might be one of those questions that a lot of people don’t know the answer to, but are too afraid to ask. I didn’t know what base camp was until I had done a couple of films early on in my career as an actor.
Base camp is the location or area set up where everyone gathers away from the actual set. It’s like the conference room in an office building if you will. It is the area where you set up your craft service table, have your walkie station, have some tables set up for people to take a seat for a minute, it might be where you hold extras, etc. The reason for base camp is so that you have a place for people to gather when they are not needed on set. If you are shooting at a convenience store for example, you probably wouldn’t have enough room for all of this to be staged inside the building (unless there is an entirely different room) because you will be seeing everything in the shot. So, you would probably set up base camp in the parking area.
Sometimes, base camp is a drive away from where the actual filming is taking place. An example of this would be if you are shooting on a large ranch and power for base camp is near the house on the ranch but your actually filming the scenes off in the woods somewhere, you would set up base camp near the house and drive people to the location where shooting is occurring.
The reason base camp is so important is that this is the area the cast and crew come to eat, check in for the day and get their assignments, have the daily meeting, ask any questions of production they might have, grab their walkies, etc. If you are filming on the side of a road or off in the woods or at a location too small for the entire crew to fit, then you need this area as a gathering place. It is important to have it to keep order and let everyone know what’s going on.
That is what we are talking about when we talk about Skye Rentals. I love these guys because they provide everything you would need to have a successful base camp. I know it sounds silly, but having a table and chairs and some tents or heat lamps makes all the difference in the world to how professional your shoot looks and feels. It may not seem important, but if your crew knows you took enough time to set up a base camp that has at least the basics, they are going to understand that you take your job seriously and they will treat the production a little more professionally and that will show up on screen.
Today, I am not going to answer a question, instead I am going to talk about something that really made me frustrated. This week someone posted a really not nice comment on Facebook about how if this person gets asked to support a crowd funding campaign for film, they automatically know that said film is not going to be professional in look and in treatment of the crew. There were some other just plain idiotic comments in this post as well but I really wanted to focus on two things in regard to this.
1. That is a bunch of malarkey! Depending on the scope of your project, crowd funding can be an amazing way to raise money for it. I do not recommend trying to raise millions of dollars, but who is to say that wouldn’t work as well. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not used crowd funding to fund any of my projects, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t and I know plenty of people who have and their sets were run professionally and their projects looked fantastic. Some even got great distribution deals. So, if you are going to go out and raise money via crowd funding, I say go for it! The key is to know your project and raise enough funds in order to make the experience for the crew and cast enjoyable, make sure you can get the equipment, locations, cast, crew, etc that will make your project look great, treat everyone with respect and gratitude and by all means, let them know what they are getting in to before they sign up. If they are aware up front of the scope of the project and you have done your best to set yourself up to succeed then there should be no reason the cast and crew wouldn’t be happy to work on it.
2. The most frustrating thing about this person’s post (aside from the discouraging manner in which he wrote it) is that this person is a consultant for producers. To my knowledge, this person has not produced anything! He does not have an IMDb page to speak of (yes, I understand that not all films get put on IMDb but it is the job of the producer to get those credits up there) and whenever you ask this person what they do, they are very vague and they change the subject and just say that they are a consultant. I do not want to discourage anyone from doing what they love and if consulting is what this person loves, then great. BUT, I do discourage fraud and at this point, that’s how I feel about what this person is doing. For all of you just starting in the business, please do not say you are a producer, writer, director, editor, etc., until you have done that job. I know, this may sound harsh and it is counter intuitive for those of us who have always been told to own what we are doing. But, you can say, “I am an aspiring producer, writer, director, etc” or “I am studying to be a producer, writer, director, etc”. Then get out there and make a short film, music video, web series, something that allows you to have done said job. Then you can claim that title. Don’t start giving discouraging advice on jobs you haven’t done. This business is tough enough and I can’t stand it when people make discouraging comments on things they don’t know about. I may be harsh in my advice sometimes, but it is always coming from a place of love and encouragement. Keep pursuing your dreams and never give up. If it’s your true passion, then it will be yours one day. Be patient and don’t put the cart before the horse and by all means, crowd fund away if that’s what you want to do.
Q: What’s the best way to get names attached?
Aleisha Gore via facebook
There is no one-way to attach talent and attaching talent can be a daunting task. The one thing you must have is a good script. It helps if it’s not your director’s first film and if you have some work you can show the agent.
The standard process is to send your script around to agents and have them read it and see if it’s right for their talent. If you can go through the manager you may have an easier time of it but getting people you don’t know to read your script is a challenge. I know this sounds pretty gloomy, but I just want you to be prepared. I have sent out scripts from directors that have worked with pretty big names and it’s still a challenge to get a response. There are a couple of things you can do to hedge your bet though.
1. NETWORK. You may be thinking “but how do I network with Brad Pitt?” and my answer would be, you probably don’t. But, you might network with his agent or assistant or know someone who knows someone he is close with. You may also know someone who has worked with the talent you’re looking to attach and don’t even know that they struck up a great relationship on set and are now buddies (contrary to popular opinion, people who have the actual relationships with the stars don’t go around bragging about it) so mention your desired talent to everyone you can think of without being obnoxious about it.
2. BE PROFESSIONAL. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I am not just talking about showing up for meetings on time and answering your phone properly (very important things BTW), I am talking about having a well put together script and a well put together plan. Why are you planning to attach this talent? Meaning, are you doing it just because their name is Brad Pitt? Have you put any thought into what the actor might get out of it? If you haven’t, then you should not approach them until you can answer these questions and have a well thought out, professional plan including a script that has been read by people other than your mom or best friends, a script that is well formatted and a script that has been proof read for spelling and grammar.
3. HAVE THE MONEY. Using an actor as an attachment in order to raise money is a very common practice in this business. However, if you have a great script, have done some networking and have a plan you might not need an actor attached to raise the money. Sometimes newer filmmakers make the mistake of attaching talent too soon and/or attaching the wrong talent for the role and project. If you can raise the money before casting it will give you a lot more to work with. If you know how much you are wanting for an actor, you can always raise just that amount and do a pay or play deal with the talent. That means they get the money whether the film is made or not.
4. CONSULT. Make sure if you are looking to attach talent that you consult with a professional. Someone who works in distribution and knows what “names” are actually worth attaching early on. You would be surprised who actually moves the needle when it comes to sales. Also, the talent that means something to a US audience might mean very little to a foreign audience and the bulk of your sales money will be foreign.
Whether you attach name talent before hand or during, the most important thing is making sure you cast people who are right for the role and who will benefit the project.
Q: Paying your dues, i.e. Working for free (Copy/Meal/Credit if you’re lucky) is a well established part of getting into the film industry. I’m curious about your thoughts on that practice, specifically in regards to the recent class action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight by Alex Footman and Eric Glatt for their unpaid internships on the film, Black Swan. Do you believe everyone has to “make their bones” and work for free? Do people who are paid work better than those who are there for the experience only? Do Footman and Glatt have any ground to stand on?
Mike J. – Lincoln, NE
Wow, we are getting good questions lately. I love it! I love this one in particular because it allows me to warn people ahead of time that when you come to LA (even if you’ve been here before and come back) you are going to have to work for free for a while in order to establish yourself. It’s just a fact of this business.
This business is so intense with the 12+ hour work days, working in close proximity, and the large amounts of money spent in such a short burst of time (even if it seems small on paper, it’s still a large amount of blood, sweat and tears). It makes this business different from a typical company. Because it is so intense, you don’t have the luxury of hiring someone and trying them out only to let them go if it doesn’t work out. Sure, the interning thing is about paying your dues, but it’s really more about filmmakers being able to vet people before getting caught up in a lot of paperwork. There are a lot of people in this business and yet it is a really small community. It’s important to look at it this way, if you were a producer crewing up a project, would you choose to hire and pay for someone that you just met with a bunch of projects on their resume that you don’t know from Adam? Or, would you choose to hire someone who is new, but has worked for you in the past, shown up, been enthusiastic while doing his/her job and is trust worthy and reliable? I’m going to say that you will choose the latter. Since there are so many variables when making a film, you want to be strategic about choosing the most responsible production crew to position yourself for the best possible film shoot. So, expect to work for free and frankly work just as hard if not harder when you’re working for free because your reputation will proceed itself and you will get paid jobs faster than those who are not willing to work for free.
Now on to this lawsuit, to which I say, are you kidding me? This lawsuit makes me so angry. The plaintiffs in this case have done themselves (and other potential interns) such a disservice by being greedy and taking NO responsibility for their own choices. Now, I don’t know all the details of the lawsuit so if they had it in their contracts that they would get paid if the movie sold, that’s another story. BUT, if it is a straight up internship then they need to take responsibility for the fact that they said YES and CHOSE to do the internship for FREE. Just because the movie did well doesn’t mean that should change. Besides that, how many people starting out in this business would have died to have a film like BLACK SWAN on their resume? I know I would have. They were a part of a film that people actually know the name of. They could have taken personal responsibility for the fact that they agreed to be non-paid interns on this film and parlayed that into paid work. Instead they are wasting everyone’s time by suing AND making producers nervous about bringing on interns in the future.
To sum it up, you should expect to work for free (think of it as free film school) and do it happily. It will NOT be forever so know when you are at the point of taking the next step to saying no to unpaid work. Learn to network with those you are working with so that you will get brought on to future project. And, most importantly, take responsibility for your choices. If you don’t want to work for free on a particular project, say no. Don’t say yes and then sue them later. That’s just irresponsible.
Q: Film Method has provided me with a lot of great advice over the past few months. I’m gearing up to shoot my first short since film school, and I will say that I think you’d be proud of the pre-production efforts thus far. My big stumbling block at this point is what to do with my short (or anything independent I do in the near future). I want to make my film accessible online to an audience. I have no delusions about making hundreds of cents on this film, but I’m looking for some resources where I could educate myself to the avenues of online marketing and distribution. It seems like every company (createspace, itunes, etc) has a product or platform, but no one can tell me how to decide between them.
Thanks for providing the service that is Film Method.
Pete DAlessandro via Film Method Mailbag
Thank you for your kind words. I am really glad that you are doing so much pre-production. Congratulations on finishing film school and continuing on after. As for distributing your short film after it’s done, there are several avenues.
There is always the film festival route. Which, it doesn’t sound like the route you’re going in but it might be a good idea to at least try to get it into a couple of local film festivals that you can attend. I say this mostly because you are going to miss out on a networking opportunity if you have a finished film that will by pass any public screenings. Just something to thing about.
As for internet distribution, I have always worked with Indie Flix and had a great experience with them. They are able to help navigate the Amazon, iTunes, digital platform world much more efficiently than I could alone. There are several companies that are like Indie Flix and I am sure they are great, I have just always worked with them.
What I have learned from distributing films online is that you should not choose between them, you should try to get your film on as many of them as possible. The reason is that some of your customers will prefer iTunes while others prefer Amazon so there is no harm in putting your film up on both. I hope that this makes sense. I think you may be beating your head up against a wall for no reason. The more people that see your film the better and because it’s a short, you don’t have to worry as much about a strategic online distribution schedule.
Film Method has done several episodes on distribution that you might want to listen to and we have also had the pleasure of working with Filmmaking Stuff (Jason Brubaker), Think Outside the Box Office (Jon Reiss), and The Film Collaborative (Orly Ravid). These are all companies that you should take a look at as they all provide educational opportunities with their services.
I wish you the best of luck on your project and know that it will find the distribution outlet that is right for it.
Thanks for writing in and for listening.
Q: How does one go about getting film production insurance and what are the costs to consider when budgeting for an indie film?
Ferdinand via twitter @filmmethod
There are several places to go for film production insurance. The thing you have to make sure you understand is that production insurance is a very specific type of insurance and most insurance companies don’t carry it. So, if you are filming something outside of a state that is used to having films there, they probably won’t have it. You can get it from a state outside of the one you are shooting in and it will cover it.
I recommend talking to filmmakers who have gotten insurance before and see who they like and contact that agency. Don’t be afraid to ask for a quote during the budgeting process, in fact, that is the best way to do it. I would get a quote while budgeting from a few different companies, for budgeting purposes, pick the highest quote and then add a little more money to that line item just to make sure you can cover yourself incase the prices change between the time of budgeting and filming. Also, production insurance is not the same as work comp so be aware of that. If you go through a payroll company, they will usually have work comp that you can get through them for a percentage.
You are going to need (at minimum) a policy that covers up to a million dollars on equipment and locations. Most equipment rental companies will expect that and so will most locations. You also need to make sure you understand that most insurance claims have a deductable per claim. For example, if you break a light and you damage someone’s property at the same time, that’s two separate claims. Therefore, the deductable will need to be paid twice. So, budget in there for a few claims just in case. Also, some of these policies don’t cover auto. So, if you need to rent a grip truck, be aware of this.
When you do find the insurance company with the best policy for your shoot you should be prepared to show them your script and fill out a form that may seem a little strange to you. They do this so that you can’t lie when applying for insurance. For example, if you have animals, guns, stunts (even if it’s just one person falling down), etc., that will change your policy quote. Don’t lie on your application just to save a few bucks because it’s not worth it. Because if they find out you did have a dog on set and you didn’t tell them, they can legally deny your claim because it voids your policy.
Oh and don’t forget about E&O (Errors and Omissions) insurance while you’re budgeting. This is an insurance that you will need to get once the film is completed. You can get quotes on that in the budgeting process as well.
Don’t be afraid of the insurance process, it is there to protect you. Your best bet is to get the quotes early so you have budgeted enough to cover what you need.