Preproduction is probably the most underrated and important phase of moviemaking. For our short film The Last Hit, we prepped for months to make sure we had everything we needed to make the movie successfully without running out of time, money, or film.
When we made The Last Hit , the challenge we set ourselves was to make a movie using only four rolls of black and white film that had expired 14 years earlier. The film was so old we didn’t know if we’d even get an image. Four 100-foot rolls of 16mm film equals about 11-12 minutes of useable film, so we were only going to be able to shoot one or two takes of each shot. The film stock was also discontinued, so we wouldn’t be able to buy any more of it.
It took me a few months to settle on a story that was simple enough to work, given our resources. I wanted to do something with limited characters and locations. Eventually, I came up with a script with just two characters and one location.
The great cinematographer Michael Chapman once said, “It’s important that storyboards not be any good or be well drawn in any way.” Since I can’t draw, I was very encouraged by this. Because we had so little film to work with, I needed to have the whole movie edited in my head before we stepped foot on the set. I even created an animatic (an animated storyboard), so anyone could see the movie before we shot a single frame.
The original cinematographer on the project was called away a week before we were scheduled to shoot. Snyder Derival was going to be a gaffer on the picture, but Snyder, a strong cinematographer in his own right, was able to step into the role.The storyboards and animatic made that transition easier for him. Storyboards are amazing because they tell you everything and cost you nothing.
Planning your film will save you time and money. In preproduction, you can see which shots are doable considering your budget and, more importantly, which ones aren’t. Writing for the locations, props, and equipment you own or have access to and being able to work within that framework will allow you to create an efficient production that runs smoothly.
Resource filmmaking is all about using what you have and writing within your means. If you’re a DIY filmmaker without a budget, writing and planning a project that’s dictated by your resources is essential. The more you embrace your circumstances and work within your means, the better your film will be.