Building and Working with a Film Community

Today is the third and final installment from guest blogger and UK filmmaker Lewis McGegor.  Part 1 introduced us to his IndieGoGo film campaign (successfully funded) “Grim”: a fantasy film web series that’s a little bit JRR Tolkien and a little bit GRR Martin. Part 2 was about being a “no-budget” filmmaker and took an in-depth look into their pre-production process.

There are certain aspects of my production that I adore but at times can also be really stressful. My location, project size and ambition, plus a host of other circumstances have left the project with an unusual stance; not one person on the production is a professional. Just average, working class citizens from Barry, my home town. Most possess an interest in filmmaking but have never been given an opportunity to do something like this before, mostly because they don’t have expansive show reels and stacks-upon-stacks of qualifications, or for the majority, time has passed them by and they have had to drop their filmmaking dream somewhere along the way for one reason or another.

Professionals; what exactly makes someone a professional? The answer… I’m not too sure, there’s a whole list of criteria to be met; quality of work, educational background, experience, number of clientèle and so on and even then you might not be classed as professional.  There isn’t one definition, but the one thing that does come with hiring a ‘professional’ is money out of your pocket. If you have hired a professional and are receiving professional assistance then you can be sure to cough up some of your cash for their service. But remember, you’re a no-budget filmmaker and you don’t have any.

Assembling a local cast and crew

Before you throw away that 20 man fight sequence you had planned you might want to take another, although lengthy, route. Look out of your window and hopefully for the purpose of this paragraph there’s an old man cutting the grass. Boom, that’s your onset electrician, the teen riding past on the scooter, he can be your runner. You turn to your community for help. That’s what I have done with Grim: A Tale of Death. Bar myself and James, everyone on board were complete strangers to us two years ago. In this post I will talk about some of the positives and negatives I’ve come across from this experience.

As mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky that the majority of my friends are actors (some with noteworthy credentials now) and I had not far to look before finding a cast. But that was at the very start of the production. Where, as a no-budget film maker you tend to take what you can, despite all my friends being amazing actors, they were not what I had envisioned for the characters.

Grim started to age and with every day that passed the project matured and attracted attention from the local people. When we were first filming the 10 minute version James and I walked through our local town in hope of acquiring bodies for a big scene. But we had nothing to show people, no stills, no teasers, no sizzle reels, just and idea and a dream. We were looking for friends, family or even people we were in school with who we never ever talked to, just someone who we could approach without sounding crazy. We managed to get one person… After some last-minute ringing around we managed to get 4 people for the scene. Still we tried our hardest and at the end of the week we put together a little teaser of what the project was about with the footage we had so far. Interest in the series started flying in and when re-shot that scene a year later we had just under 200 people turn up for the event.

But as time came and went the project grew and more doors opened. More local actors wanted to get involved. They could work at their normal job but on the side line be engrossed in this challenging project. It was at this point I set up the Grim: A Tale of Death Facebook page. It became the central hub for anything related to the project and also a gateway for actors to get in touch. Facebook is a great medium for content sharing and if you have a project in the worlds I suggest you get a page up and running.

However you can’t just walk on up to your neighbour and expect him to help you with your film. It’s more than likely he would jump at the chance to be in the background and maybe deliver one line. But to actually take time away from their life and in some cases their work you’ll need a different approach.

You have to ask yourself how much time you want to devote to your project. You won’t be able to conjure up 100 of the community’s finest within a week. A good majority of them have probably never heard of you and even more so your project you have just created. What are you going to offer?

Schools can play a fantastic part in your production, media students and drama students are only too keen to obtain some experience, it’s likely they are going to have a somewhat understanding of how a set works and the fact you are a low-key film maker will be less daunting for the high school students. When I had some experience on a set it was not fun nor did I learn anything, in fact it nearly turned me off film making. But I doubt the DP wanted a spotty school pupil with no experience handling a $100,000 camera. I’m sure you’ll be much more lenient letting them have a go at a $2000 camera.

Time Eating

Even if your father happens to be a popular man in town and has put out the word of this project and you get a decent handful of volunteers you’re going to have to train them. Adam who plays for the local football team isn’t going to know how to sound mix and if you are going to take the time to train him you’re going to want to make sure he’s very committed to that role. As the previous posts mention it’s likely you’re going to be doing a lot of the work and now you’re going to have to put training a group of individuals

Yet this brings up the notion of getting those who know what they’re doing to do the job and are willing to do it voluntary. There are actually good people out there who are willing to jump on to your project with no contracted payment but doing it solely for the fun of their craft. If you can get this person, then amazing. But this always comes with one back setting problem which has happened to me on many occasions. If this person gets paid work then they’re going to have to leave your project and go bring the food on the table. It’s completely unproductive for yourself, but people have to pay bills and you’re not in the position to pay them. This unfortunately is just something that can’t be helped.

Hopefully my experience with working with the community has helped you in some way. While a daunting task it can be very fun and of course igniting a bit community spirit in a digitalized world is never a bad thing.

Lewis McGregor is a young, ambitious filmmaker who has taken a break from studies at the International Film School of Wales to produce his magnum opus. Learn more about the project byclicking here.