On Set: The Lean Production

Sometimes it's just not feasible to have a giant crew. You may need to work fast and if the actors are willing to work with you (if they believe in the project), you can do it- but it will require discipline, focus, planning, creativity and resourcefulness to pull it off.

Of course, you'll have to make a few concessions- no cast of thousands, no opulent locations, no labor-intensive setups, and cast carefully- you'll want to work with someone who is willing to go that extra mile- and you'd be surprised at how many are willing. Unfortunately, the flip side is that many of those who WERE willing are now not, because their good graces have been taken advantage of by many an unscrupulous filmmaker. Said filmmakers can ruin it for the rest of us. But this post isn't about them- it's about you and your lean production.

First and foremost: You ABSOLUTELY have to have an incredible script with emotional depth. It has to blow people's socks off. A good script is gold into gaining the support you need. And it needs to function on the lean production philosophy.

And you'll have to have some VERY LOYAL friends willing to go that extra one hundred miles for you, and willing to do it for free.

With the advent of digital technology, and recent improvements, it's amazing at how much you can get away with using available light or even small kits to shop lights. On the equipment front, there are a ton of DIY projects- the Frugal Filmmaker is a fantastic resource for that. He has more than DIY projects- his site is a great resource, so bookmark it now!

If you do the DIY equipment route, make sure you're handy enough to do it, and that you don't end up spending all your time making tools. DIY is very easy to get carried away with, and sometimes buying the real deal is a better investment- especially when you're mounting a $2000 camera to the end of whatever contraption you made out of PVC pipe.

Made for under $700. Filmmaker Mark Cabaroy's concept is so deceptively simple: " [It's] story of Dora Allen, a twenty-something year old African American woman. Dora has the unique ability to hear people's problems and then provide them with concise helpful advice.

"This leads her friends, family and even complete strangers to depend on her help with their everyday decisions and for Dora things eventually become burdensome."

The high concept in and of itself separates itself from blending into the dime-a-dozen domestic dramas that are churned out time after time.  The following article is a lesson in how resourcefulness and a fantastic script can carry you very, very far.


Sometimes there's a party mentality that comes with being on set making a small indie short. Many are addicted to that- it is fun- there is a great sense of comradery that comes with that. But it's expensive, slow and at times, unnecessary. Keeping it lean means you can keep it fast and mobile.

Garath Edwards shot Monsters with a crew of three... plus the actors and an editor who was editing during production. Look at what they were able to accomplish!

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Of course, the editor was on location editing the shots from the previous day- it allows them to see what they missed and how they can evolve the film.

Rebel Without A Crew- Write a screenplay and make a movie by going with what you have. In this case, Robert Rodriguez and his best friend Carlos Gallardo used Carlot's hometown of Acuña, Coahuila, bored locals, borrowed equipment, and flew solo on all fronts. His talent, innovation, courage and strategy more than paid off. Rodriguez himself said if it weren't for the cost of the film processing, he could have easily made that $7,000 movie for $5. Of course, it can be argued about his production value- not much in terms of amazing photography, but again it was meant as something to be consumed quickly. He got the job done.

In the end it's about what you want, and what you need. If you have a scene with many extras- having a large crew to help keep the talent happy and moving logistically is necessary.


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