@Stareable – Yep, Pre-Production IS a Thing

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 7
by Bri Castellini

We’re almost there, folks. Almost to the actual shooting of your web series, with someone calling “action!” and “cut!” and good-looking people bringing your words to life. But we’ve got one more step: pulling together everything you’ve done and everything you’ve gotten during the first six steps of this process and making a plan of action. That’s right, it’s officially pre-production time.

Technically, most of what we’ve talked about so far in this column has been pre-production, since pre-production is literally everything that happens before a camera starts rolling. Semantics. Onward!

LOCATIONS

By this point, you should have your script, your people, and your equipment, so the final piece of the puzzle is determining where in the world you’re actually going to film. In order to find these places, you’re going to have to location scout, or go to a series of locations, take pictures, and make decisions. Bring at least one other person along on these excursions, and if possible, bring the director, the director of photography, and the sound person, because all of them will provide valuable insight beyond how something looks in frame.

A few things to keep in mind when location scouting:

  • How easy is this location to get to? How close to public transportation is it, or is there sufficient parking availability?
  • Is there ambient sound that will cause problems? This means everything from crowds to a refrigerator you can’t turn off, to traffic, to a construction site nearby.
  • Is there enough space for the camera and crew? Remember, there will be quite a few people behind the camera as well as in front of it, all of whom need to be hidden from view. Sometimes these problems can be addressed if you’re able to move the furniture around to accommodate, but if the space isn’t yours, ALWAYS ASK.
  • Where is the nearest bathroom? This is especially a concern for outdoor shoots.
  • Is there another area nearby you can use for “holding?” Holding is just an area, preferably away from where the actual filming is taking place, for cast and crew to hang out when they’re not needed. Even during breaks, try to take them away from set, otherwise you risk production design or continuity.
  • Will this location be available again for reshoots or for multiple shooting days? You’ll frequently end up filming multiple days in a single location, so you need to make sure a location is available for as long as you actually need it.How much control do you have over the space? Can you control lighting/rearrange furniture/put up posters and set decorations? Can you redirect traffic or tell people in other rooms to pipe down? Does one need licenses or other approval for outdoor scenes? Do they need to be prepared to lie to cops? The more control you have over the variables, the better a location is going to be. Otherwise, you better be good at improv.

SHOOTING DAY BREAKDOWNS

You’ve already made breakdowns for your props, characters, and locations, so now it’s time to do one last round. This time, you’ll be breaking down your script into filmable chunks. I’d suggest starting by breaking the scenes into locations, then breaking those down by which actors need to be there.

I polled Twitter for the average number of script pages different web series creators ended up shooting, per day. The results may surprise you, because they definitely surprised me. In general, on a traditional feature film shoot, you can expect to shoot 5 pages a day. This accounts for all the lighting changes, filming angles, and takes.

However, according to Twitter, the average web series shooting day (at least for low-budget, often vlog or found-footage projects) is closer to twenty. Kate Hackett, creator of the award-winning series Classic Alice, told me she averaged about sixteen pages a day, and RJ Lackie’s award-winning show Inhuman Condition averaged closer to forty.

Keep these things in mind when you go about planning your own shooting days, and make sure that you leave yourself enough time for actors to mess up, for multiple takes, and for more complex set-ups like stunts, motion shots, or changing locations midway through the day.

Then, once these are done, make “shooting scripts,” or scripts broken up by shooting day. That way, actors can focus on memorizing those particular lines, and your crew gets a better idea what they need to be prepared for, instead of needing to jump around the full season script.

SCHEDULING

It’s time for the absolute worst part of any film project! Some have compared scheduling cast and crew for low-budget film shoots to herding cats, but I bet those cats don’t all work retail with alternating shift schedules and no flexibility. Some suggestions:

1. Ask for actors’ schedules as far in advance as possible, especially if you’re shooting in the winter or summer, when people are likely to be going on vacation. This will give you a general idea of their availability.
2. Have three different schedule plans based on your shooting day breakdowns, but only share the preferred one with the actors. Don’t give them a choice — tell them “these are when we want to shoot these scenes. If you have conflicts, let us know.” People are less likely to flake if they feel like there’s only one option, but if there are unavoidable conflicts, you have an alternative to offer without fuss.
3. Send out the final schedule, including who’s on set, how long the days will be, what scenes will be filmed, and the complete shooting scripts as far in advance as possible. Then, a week before each shoot, email the people involved to remind them, and again the night or days before.
4. Seriously, remind people CONSTANTLY, because they will forget.

Purchase, steal, or borrow the rest of what you need for props, wardrobe, and equipment. Remember to write down everything you spend, whether it’s food for a production meeting or a set of fake throwing knives. Knowing what you’re spending the most money on will help make smarter financial decisions in this production and all future ones. Pro tip: most of your money will go towards food.

My friends, with all this complete, you are now ready to go into production! The most exciting and terrifying part of any film project. Next week, we’ll go over the basics of production, how to prepare and run your set, and the week after that, we’ll go through the most common production disasters and how to solve them.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.

@Stareable – “I’ve got to have contracts for my web series?! Oh nooo!”

So You Want To Make a Web Series – Step 6
by Bri Castellini

Filmmaking, especially at the indie level, is a largely unglamorous process. There are glamorous aspects, of course: hearing your words read aloud and performed by talented actors, the thrill of a well-composed shot that raises the value of the entire project, and your first film festival acceptance email. But this step in the process, focusing on cast and crew contracts, is not one of those. It is, however, one of the most important and vital things you will hate to do.

Stareable recently published a great article from an actual lawyer about all the legal considerations you should keep in mind when writing up contracts. For this column, I, a non-lawyer whose mother really wanted her to be a lawyer, will give you a pragmatic perspective based in experience, not legal expertise.

The first thing you need to know is that, regardless of whether you are paying people, you need a contract signed (and backed up in two places) from every member of your team, even if they only work a single day.

Not because your friends are going to take advantage of you or because people are basically rotten, but because you cannot expect other people to take your project as seriously as you do, especially without significant monetary compensation. As such, their thought process is different than yours, and you’re going to want to be as clear as possible about what is expected of them.

Every good web series or indie film contract should have at LEAST the following:

Clear and reasonable expectations and responsibilities

If they’re an actor, how many episodes are they acting in, how many shooting days will that require, and how long can you require them to be on set per shooting day? If they’re crew, same questions, plus how long will you need them on set before and after filming wraps? Are they expected to get there earlier than the actors and stay after the day is done to break down equipment?

Write down, in as specific wording as possible, everything they could conceivably be expected to do. It sounds inane, because it is, but these sorts of things will save your butt down the line if something goes wrong.

Furthermore, what about after principal filming is over? Is there flexibility if you need a reshoot, or if a day takes longer than expected and needs to be split up into two? How about ADR sessions, or additional dialog recording, for when you just need them to record a few lines of dialog later?

Will you be filming promotional videos with them, to hype up the season? Do they need to be involved in your crowdfunding campaign, and if so, what level of involvement is needed? Does one of the perks involve work on their part, are they in the initial pitch video, or do they need to be in a fundraising live-stream?

All of these questions and contingencies need to get decided, otherwise they have free reign to say “it’s not in my contract, so I’m not doing it.” They probably won’t, but you never know, and that’s the point of a contract. It’s preventative.

Compensation

If you can pay your cast and crew, this is where you outline exactly how much, as well as if it’s a flat fee, if it’s based on how many shooting days they’re participating in, or some other equation. You can also opt to “defer” payment, meaning that your cast and crew agree to wait for payment until the production makes x in profits from the project, at which time they’ll receive a pre-agreed-upon rate.

More than likely, though, you’re broke because you’re self-producing a web series and we’re all broke. At least you’re in good company! In this case, even deferring payment might not be an option, but you still need to offer something. Sometimes the compensation for work will be as simple as craft services (on-set food) and IMDb credit, but you still need to outline that. “For the work agreed upon in the previous section, you will receive x by [date]”

Usage

Once the web series is completed, where does it go? Are you considering approaching distributors or are you uploading directly to YouTube? Are you submitting to film festivals and live screenings?

Make sure you have an agreement up-front about where you’re allowed to post episodes and if you, the creator and producer, have total authority over the final product and where it ends up. If you end up making a distribution deal, it’s going to be helpful to have signed contracts from your actors giving you the legal authority to sign over the rights to the show and to their performances or work in it.

Social media

We’ll talk about this more once we get to the column about promotion, but it’s worth noting early on that even actors with their faces all over your project will be bad at posting about the show to social media.

You’re making a web series and your audience is 100% online, so the more people posting about it, the more likely it is to get seen. As such, I recommend having a clause in the contract about how frequently cast and crew are expected to post about the show or about new episodes, and to which platforms.

Once again, you can’t expect anyone else, even your lead actors, to take your show as seriously as you do. Sometimes you’re going to have to lay it out for them, especially once the show’s been out of production for a while and they’ve moved on to other projects. There’s a completely understandable promotional fatigue that sets in as you go, which you might even run into yourself, so having set expectations from the very beginning will be incredibly helpful.

And another thing:

Never written a contract before? No problem! Just Google “film contract” and mash up a couple that you find until you’ve got something you’re happy with. The most important thing is that it clearly lays out everything involving expectations, responsibilities, and compensation, so that everyone comes away from the project happy and fulfilled.

Now that you’ve conquered the legalese of contracts, we can finally move into actual pre-production, where we’ll discuss scheduling, having a plan B for everything, and the indescribable beauty of color coding.


Bri Castellini is an award-winning filmmaker as well as the Community Liaison at Stareable, a hub for web series. Check out www.stareable.com to find and read reviews of thousands of web series, all in one place. For more great articles about the craft of web series, visit the Stareable blog.