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On the Set of My Micro-Budget Feature Film “Anna & Modern Day Slavery”

PRODUCTION

Unforeseen forces can both help you or screw things up (the weather, conflicting schedules, etc.).

For us, our biggest challenge wasn’t having one of our leading actors available for the whole shooting.

Oh, and the fact that the camera we hired from Berlin(Germany) didn’t record sound was also a massive problem and a significant slowdown force during the post-production as I had to sync all the scenes manually.

On the eve of our first official production day, it became pretty clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to shoot all the scenes I had in the script if I was to complete the shooting successfully.

There wasn’t enough time to move the production from one location to another.

Out of nine full shooting days, we had one day on location in the city, half a day in the nearby park and half a day driving in the car.

We also ended up having a 24-hour day as we were playing catch-up. After 24 hours, which we needed for the night scenes, we had a day off and a barbecue party, football game in the garden (Poland against the rest of the world). The party pissed the neighbour off who didn’t appreciate fun as much as we did.

I have to admit that the first couple of days of shooting were a bit messy.

The person who was supposed to be my 1st AD didn’t arrive, which already created problems from the start. As a result, the job was given to someone who wasn’t suitable and wasn’t prepared to be the 1st AD. After the first day and a half, we had to reshuffle. I asked my hubby Marek to take over the responsibilities and combine AD’s duties with the Production Manager’s duties. He turned out to be a pretty damn good 1st AD.

He protected my time and went out of his way to make sure that the shoot was as smooth and comfortable for everyone as possible (you cannot please everyone, but he tried his very best).

Both jobs he was doing aren’t the most gratifying jobs on the set. You need to be a hard ass but at the same time be able to communicate well with everyone and keep conflict to the minimum (lots of egos amongst filmmakers).

Let’s be honest here; there is always some conflict on the set at some point. It’s only human to have disagreements amongst people who don’t know each other but are forced to work very closely together for days or weeks.

Luckily, Marek was the perfect balance for me, and of course, I could trust him. He was brilliant and made the production go pretty smoothly, despite our limitations.

THE SHOOTING LIST

Now, when I look back, I know that our shooting list should have been much more compact than it was. While editing, I discovered quite a lot of unnecessary takes. During the shooting, under pressure, I didn’t see that.

It also turned out post-factum that we didn’t have many MS and CU. Luckily I had master LS, which we always picked up first.

The limited coverage was the price I had to pay for working within such a constrained budget and timeline.

After editing Anna, I don’t think I’ll be doing another feature film without the storyboard, especially if the budget is low.

WORKING WITH THE CREW

One of the best intangible benefits of running a crowdfunding campaign is building awareness of your project, which in turn attracts a lot of likeminded people, willing to help by contributing their time and talents to making your project a reality.

The majority of the crew I hadn’t met in person until the day they arrived in Wroclaw. We all “e-met” during the IndieGoGo campaign and I interviewed all of the potential crewmembers via Skype. During our Skype chats, we talked extensively about the project to see if we were a good fit for one another (I always try to avoid working with people I don’t feel comfortable with.).

Through the pre-production, I was in touch with every head of the department. We communicated via Skype, email and YouTube.

The Production Designer/Art Director (Rafal Debowski) and I both lived in Poland back then and scouted locations together before figuring out how to work the location/s. Rafal made all the designs and had a huge shopping list, that was included in the budget.

Marta Fenollar, our costume designer, is very well known in Spain and works on one low-budget project a year. We were very fortunate she chose our production. At first, we communicated via Skype and YouTube videos. She made a list of clothes that we needed and showed me what clothes she had and what she could bring for each character with her. Marta was in touch with all the actors making sure they were going to bring everything she needed from them for the shoot.

On the set, she only needed a couple of Ikea hangers where she hung and labelled every single piece of clothing (even though it was an assistant’s job, unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to have one). She was professional and well-organised; watching her work was a real pleasure.

Our make-up and hair artists Alona De Vries came from Holland. Everyone on the set loved her. She was not only very skilled but also lots of fun to be around. Alona was the only person that I hadn’t Skyped with before she arrived, but we exchanged several emails with ideas for make-up and hair. Another thing I liked about working with Alona was that she wasn’t obsessed with working with just one brand and was very happy to use a Polish brand that she believed was as good as any of the expensive alternative.

Jan Broberg Carter came from the US. She was one of our producers and was going to write the score for the film. Jan always enjoys working on the set, which allows her to get a feel for the story. Unfortunately, in the end, our schedules didn’t allow us to co-operate on finishing this project together.

However, Jan was an integral member and supporter of the project from the very start.

David (our DP) and his lighting crew arrived from Berlin. Ryan (focus puller/camera assistant) together with Freddy (sound recordist) flew in from the UK.

As mentioned before I was in constant communication with David my DP, we Skyped and exchanged emails throughout the whole pre-production process.

COVERAGE

Shooting a film, regardless of its size, is always going to be challenging. Sufficient coverage requires time and time always equals money. As I mentioned before if the production doesn’t have much money, the easiest way to safe time during the production is to have a storyboard. Even stick figures are better than nothing.

I ended up having too much coverage of some of the scenes and not enough of others. I also had too much coverage of scenes that had no dialogue but didn’t have enough choices of dialogue scenes.

This lack of balance created a few problems for me while editing. The deficiency in coverage (and sound advice from a fantastic editor, Adam Bloom) made me realise that I needed to use a voice-over to explain certain things that I wasn’t able to show visually ‘cos I didn’t have the footage.

I only had nine shooting days, and even if the whole cast and crew worked 24/7 every day, I don’t think we would have had enough footage to cover everything that was in the script.

I had to cut down the script due to time restriction this move caused some severe issues while editing.

Now I know that I should have been a tad more realistic with the script. But as any filmmakers, I’m an eternal optimist. I honestly believed that it was possible to fit everything in those nine days.

STRESS

I usually don’t get stressed when I’m on the set. But I do get stressed out a lot during the pre-production and right after the shooting ends.

I naturally worry if my preparation is enough before I walk onto the set. And afterwards, I worry if I shot everything I needed for good coverage.

During the production of “Anna & Modern Day Slavery”, my major stress points were during the IndieGoGo campaign and the post-production.

Throughout the campaign, there were moments and days when I was anxious; we weren’t going to reach our target. The whole project was either going to fall apart, or I would have to make the film on an even smaller budget than the micro-budget anticipated previously.

The post-production was immensely stressful due to the technical difficulties with Final Cut, which wasn’t working correctly and didn’t allow me to make progress at any satisfactory rate for months.

Anna & Modern Day Slavery
Anna & Modern Day Slavery

Also, the added pressure from some people who were directly or indirectly involved in the film wasn’t helpful. I do realise that not every person understands the mechanics of making a film. Even people from the industry aren’t often aware that to finish an indie project made on a tiny budget takes a lot longer than making a Hollywood production.

In the indie filmmaking world, everything takes a long time.

When the entire post-production rests on one person, and a couple of people who work for free, completing that project is going to take a lot of time.

I felt under pressure throughout the whole post-production and believe me; it didn’t make the process faster or easier in any way.

CUTTING CORNERS

I think that it’s essential to point out that making “Anna & Modern Day Slavery” was possible because of passion, resistance and love that went into that project at every stage of the production.

If anyone of you has ever made or is going to make a film on a shoestring budget, cutting corners is a given, and I wasn’t immune to that either.

By cutting corners, I mean compromising pretty much on the coverage of the scenes, compromising on locations and even compromising on one of the actresses I wanted but couldn’t have.

I didn’t cut corners when it came to the look of the film and the overall feeling. It was a very conscious decision to spend most of the budget on equipment and the art department.

As with life, in general, you say no to one thing but yes to something else.

While you are here, you might also be interested in Creative Distribution.

2 Comments

    • Magda Olchawska

      Making any kind of is a lot of work Daniel and lots of things can mess up the whole production, which are out of our control. But at the same time, it’s a wonderful job I wouldn’t change for anything else in the world.

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