10 Things I Learned while Self-Producing my 1st Short Film

10 Things I Learned while Self-Producing my 1st Short Film

10 Things I Learned while Self-Producing my 1st Short Film

I moved to Atlanta a couple months before the pandemic hit to pursue acting and producing. Without knowing nearly anybody in the area, but with a newly created Stage 32 account, and the one-time experience on set as a PA, I found the way to self-produce my first short film. These are 10 things I learned during the process of pre-production and production.

1. Make Meaningful Connections

I met the director of my short film in Stage 32! Chaun Lee is a member of The Writers' Room at Stage 32 like me, and I reached out to her as soon as I learnt she lived in Atlanta. I politely sent her a message and she kindly replied with her phone number. After 2 hours of an initial “quick call”, I noticed we think so much alike, and we had a connection that felt so natural. We swapped scripts and gave each other feedback.

There is so much power in sharing an idea and having the other person react in an engaging way. You feel automatically empowered. That’s what I felt when I shared the first draft of my short film with her. Chaun, being a more experienced screenwriter, gave me the confidence to pursue this story, and with her help I was able to polish the script. She took this script as her own. She understood my vision completely, and when I saw her passion, I knew right away I had found the perfect director for this short.

I was so excited when she agreed to be involved in this project and beyond grateful for her amazing contribution and friendship. I now have a talented friend in town to continue creating with. In fact, I’ll be paying forward and producing her next short film! Thank you Stage 32 for this beautiful platform that connected us!

10 Things I Learned while SelfProducing my 1st Short Film

Chaun Lee and I on set in Atlanta (with our sound guy Gerel!)

2. Find your Crew and Hire Women

After deciding I was doing this short, the first thing I did was to reach out to the few women I met that time I was a PA. From this first approach, I got my amazing DP, Sarah Walker, and my assistant producer, Ariana Jackson, who happened to do the BTS photos you see in this article. Sarah was a such a great guide helping me understand the people I needed in the crew, she also helped get a wonderful gaffer, and 1St AC she worked with before. Sarah and Ariana volunteered their time and were such a huge help for creating this project. Women power!

Also, do not underestimate the power of social media. In my case, I would like to give a shoutout to Atlanta Film Production Facebook group, where I was able to hire great people for crew in a short amount of time. Some of them even in volunteering basis. You would be surprise on how many people want to help you create, especially when the project has a strong subject.

3. Have a Flexible Script for your Budget and Theme

I had a handful of short films written, but with the producer cap in mind, I picked the one that made sense for me budget and time wise. A script with a couple locations, that could be shot in 1-2 days, with 3-4 actors, about mental health and bipolar disorder. I believe you can create beautiful things in a simple way, especially in your first short. Also, when you are in the pre-production process, you might find things in the script that can be simplified, eliminated or changed without modifying the main message of your story.

For example, I had a scene with a suicide situation in a lake. After having issues with the location and finding lakes that were too deep, etc., I quickly realized there was no need to risk the actress being and a bad experience overall. Instead, I rewrote this scene to be in a bathtub instead. I wanted the water to be an element of the scene, so the concept is the same but the liability for this changed. Stay clear with your message but flexible with the execution. This is not the best-case scenario but don’t be afraid of rewrites even during production.

10 Things I Learned while SelfProducing my 1st Short Film

The Cast and Crew of "Moving Forward"

4. Collaboration is Key

Some people might wonder why I wrote the piece, but I did not direct it or act in it. This might be Chaun’s fault for being awesome! But the truth is that I love producing, and even though there are a lot of people that do it all, that just does not work for me.

When you are self-producing, you already have to wear many hats. In my case, I did casting, location scouting, wardrobe, props, crafty, and you get the idea, I had my hands full, so I appreciated delegating directing and acting to other wonderful creatives, that just made it better by adding their spice in the mix. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of producing, being behind the scene, putting the dots together, and working as a team.

5. Organize your Team and Yourself

This was crucial for preproduction. It is so helpful when you create weekly meetings and pick a date/ time (of course being flexible with everyone’s schedule). In my case, I had Sunday meetings with Sarah (DP) and Chaun (Director), and this was a great way to stay in the same page. We created a google drive where we would share links of shoots we would like to see, scenes for tone, etc. I also created lookbooks in Canva.com for the art director.

I even ended up doing things like the shooting schedule and call sheets, where StudioBinder came really handy. I would highly recommend StudioBinder; it was my first time using it and I truly enjoyed it. It’s user friendly, affordable, and practical. I especially enjoyed the feature where I can send a call sheet and can see who opened it. The crew/ actors also can confirm receipt with a quick click, and this is something I appreciated so much to make sure the information arrived to everyone involved.

10 Things I Learned while SelfProducing my 1st Short Film

Behind the Scenes of "Moving Forward"

6. Use Release and Contract Forms

Find out what paperwork you need depending on your project. The most common ones are for the location and actors. I was able to download templates in StudioBinder.com and used docusign.com to collect electronic signatures. I would recommend you to send these forms before the day of shooting as this might take valuable time on set.

Now, for the location I had the mistake of doing all of the paperwork the day before. This is something you want to do in advance, as soon as you agree in date/ time with the location. I actually knew this topic was important and still trusted a location with word of mouth. Big mistake!! This location decided to change the terms of our initial verbal agreement the day before the shooting. I didn’t even have time to freak out, before I started looking for a last-minute solution (an Airbnb). I value everyone’s time and I wasn’t going to let 15 people down for this, so I had to improvise with a new location. I even had to rewrite part of the script to make it work with the new location (here it goes the tip again about being flexible with the script).

Everything worked out for the best, but this is something I wished I knew better, or that I wasn’t such an overly trusting person. I learned my lesson. Do not rely in word of mouth, ever, no matter how nice the other person seems.

7. Find Talented and Collaborative Actors

I used actoraccess.com for the casting process. I made a description of each role and selected the sides for the auditions. Then, I posted the casting call. I was stocked when I received multiple submissions. I picked the ones I wanted to invite for self-tapes and the casting process started. I had a wonderful time reviewing audition videos and understanding better the job of a casting director.

After reviewing my top 3 with the director, we selected our protagonists. We had a chemistry read with them and it was magic. We had found the talent! We also had table reads to cover any questions they might have about the characters and had a couple rehearsals before the shoot date. The actors were so professional, flexible, and collaborative!

8. Save Money in Wardrobe and Props

For this, first I kindly asked my actors if they had some items we can use and offered a small stipend for it. One of my actors, literally had everything his character needed, and saved me so much time and money. I also used Amazon for wardrobe and props (I hope nobody from amazon is reading this). It saved me time, and I was able to return most of the things we used!

10 Things I Learned while SelfProducing my 1st Short Film

9. Care about Your Crew

Learning about each role was a wonderful journey, and having the knowledge about how essential everyone is, and how we are a TEAM, made me go out of my way to make sure the crew felt special and important. In pre-production, I made sure to get to know my crew’s food preferences, and without forgetting about budget, I decided to ask them if Chipotle was okay for them. After all, Chipotle has vegetarian options, it is healthy, affordable, good amount of food, and you can customize it.

Gladly surprised they all loved Chipotle and were able to pick exactly what they wanted in their order. Also, before we started filming, one little thing I did is to make customizable masks with each role. Let me tell you, Covid never looked this good after that. Finally, at the end of the shoot, I gifted each of them a bonsai tree (which is my business). It wasn’t a lot, but it was just a little extra detail. It is just nice to feel appreciated, isn’t?

10. Keep a Nice Environment on Set

One of the things I learnt that one time I was a PA, is that the mood on set is everything. That makes the difference between loving what you are doing or hating it. We are all on set because we love filmmaking so this should be a fun and exciting experience. As a producer, I tried to respect everyone’s work, be communicative, grateful, and relaxed (even if I was freaking out inside). I was surprised when some of my crew came to me and said they’ve never been in such a relaxing environment. We should create more of it. After all, low stress, high creativity!

Now, we are officially in post-production. Editing, composing, color grading, posters, festival plan, IMDb credits, and more awaits! I’m so thankful for what we already accomplished as a team, and I’m excited for what’s to come. I’m sure post-production will have a whole new set of things to learn. Maybe I would share that process with you all if you wanted me to. But for now, these things were just a big summary of my 2-month journey, which by the way, happened when having a full-time job. I’m not saying I’m superwoman, I’m saying it’s totally possible, and if you are thinking about doing it, the answer is you should!

Stay creative and stay around creatives!

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About the Author

Mariannjely Marval

Mariannjely Marval

Actor, Screenwriter, Assistant Production Office Coordinator, Location Scout

Mariannjely Marval is a bilingual screenwriter, a proud Venezuelan and USA citizen. Conscious about the underrepresentation problem in the entertainment industry, Mariannjely's passion for writing grew from a desire to a mission to contribute to the Latinx narrative. During the pandemic, Mariannje...

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