Producing : Producing a no budget to super low budget indie film in our current Covid state by Johnny K. Wu

Johnny K. Wu

Producing a no budget to super low budget indie film in our current Covid state

Hi all, I am going to start this little journey post for anyone that may be interested, this is my current position on filming during the 're-opening' time for a scifi indie film. I will try my best to continue updating this post so at least some of you may find it interesting, obviously probably many of you are doing bigger budgeted film so this may not apply to you. :)

Background: I've been an indie filmmaker since 1998, and my actual background is having an MBA specializing in Branding, I see things a bit different than many other filmmakers in our State. (Ohio). As I have experience the opportunity to have many of my feature films distributed, I've always learned about 2 things: 1. Most of the time (either you have a named talent or not), once you have your film in distributor's hand, it can get more than 1 year to actually see some $ in, back in the days, it was much easier to see some ROI right away but now with technology making it easier to film and everyone's filming, it was actually harder to see a return fast, which is why many are doing self-distribution now (and this is the business end of distribution). 2. You have to find a niche genre to stand up now competing against all the different films being made every year, in my city, Cleveland, Ohio, we have at least 10-20 filmmakers making feature films at the same time, and so competition among peers is fierce.

That said, many of us hope to not only have a movie distributed so you have a 'track record', but as well as to hope to see some $ back (harder with sales agent/distributors, as they have a cap or can inflate their expenses cap)... So many filmmakers would make a feature at a no-budget environment so to mean no cost to hope to minimize expenses and opportunity to see some ROI after distribution would be greater. (after all the expenses a sales agent/distributors take out)...

For me, as I own a full time small video production company, that we have fortunately done many productions for small businesses and I also produces several large events in Cleveland. So that has been a good 'basic' income that helps me with bills. Unfortunately in 2020, due to the pandemic, all my events that I was asked to produce were cancelled and I all my video work got postpones lol Luckily as a freelancer, we do get back from all the savings and the State's support.

On gears I use for filmmaking, 50% of them are paid by through my video production business, and the other 50% are actually given to me for free from companies, as I do product testing for several companies that make these gears, so I get to keep them after testing... (this is to give you an idea what I have available here so why I can do a nobudget film as not only my gears are mostly donated).

in 2019, we did a scifi action feature film shot mostly in the fall/winter time (I like this weather for many reasons: 1. not many film during that season here in town, so I get to be able to have enough support, 2. I like cold weather than hot and I don't have to deal with fleas, ticks the like.

As I wasn't a first time filmmaker, and I've been able to deliver what I plan to do, I have gained a lot of people believing in me and willing to work with me for no cost as long as I feed them well, give some gas money when they to to travel far, provide imdb, give them a copy of bluray of the movie and promote them all, I managed to get many support and help because they believe in me and my passion.

So, you have seen my video for Wu Xia 2 the Code that was distributed as Immortal Combat the Code since Sep 1 2020. Sold worldwide and domestically, yet, the report so far from distributor is more red to cover (as they have to recoup their expenses like marketing, travel, design, etc, even thought capped but still it's first money out). I do not forsee to get any $ back probably for 2-3 years or never...

So for this year, I wanted to make another feature film, Wu Lin The Society, as I mentioned at another post, we wanted to figure out how to make people feel safe and being able to come film with me, and we thought perhaps the best way, is to incorporate masks into the scene/story line. So everyone will have to wear mask (clear ones) so they will speak through that, providing another added protection to cast and of course crew will all be masked as well.

We had over 100+ auditioned for different roles and we picked 50% of them from previous cast and 50% new people that we haven't worked with, to help expand our fan base, and crew wise, we had about 50 people signed up and we went with 70% previous crew plus 30% new crew for the same reason, giving them an opportunity to actually learn feature film production in a very organized way (yes, we have been told by many that our organization skill is way better than any indie film planned in our State).

Because of Covid, we have to figure out some ways to make sure cast/crew are at ease, so we used jotform.com (you can create up to 5 free or pay 50% discounted yearly (when you first isng up) to get up to 25 total forms, and I can tell you, I love it, not only Jotform is easy to create, it also have a signature feature that you can get cast/crew/producer to sign.

So, we used Jotform to create the basic forms: Required Safety Guideline read (they must read and agreed on). Cast/Crew/Producer Deal Memo, Writer's Agreement, Location's agreement, and Prop Guns Safety Protocols. We also created a daily on set survey that each person need to acknowledge before entering the set...

In addition, we used google forms to create a Dietary Meal Form, cast/crew availability form, as well as the audition form and crew submission form. We then created a spreadsheet using the cast/crew availability form to spread out the filming (we filming on weekends only from Sep - Dec), once everything is set, it seems only 13 film dates with 2 days that will be 2 units, and about 5 extra back up dates as well as plenty of other days available in case we need to move things.

As this is a sci-fi action film, we have several fight sequences that requires training, so we set up cast to train with our fight choreographer via zoom first and later in person wearing masks, we also have wire-work, stunt work, and rain machine that we are building, so we plan everytrhing as needed to make sure it is safe, enough time to practice and when there are actions involved, a medic is always available. You can immaging how crazy the schedule would look like with over 50 cast that we have to coordinate. lol (Scheduling is a PAIN for sure)

Now, everything is set, we also created 2 crowdfunding campaign, in the past, I have successfully overreach each of my crowfunding but this time, I decided to just do what I can since 80% of the items were donated (gears props, etc). so I just post once a week, you would think that having over 4000 fb friends that if each contributed $10 I would have plenty lol but that isn't the case, in the past I would post every other day but now since once a week, I merely reach my goals, but I'm ok, it was an experiment to see if I do less how that comes out. 99% of the people contributed this time were friends whom already worked with me. the 1% were people who had seen my youtube channel and liked what I did and contributed. within my 4000+ fb friends, only 10% contributed. (which happens to be that 99% of friends) lol

So, we got a schedule done that is still being modified almost daily, as the schedule is a spreadsheet that include dates, cast info, location info, time arrival info, stunt/prop info (the basic), to give as much info this way than they keep looking for info all around (based on past experience), we made a cleaner spreadsheet that pulls data from the complicated one, so the cast/crew will only read what they need by column, and that has seen to be really good for them to follow through our ordeal.

FYI, we are very honest with everyone since while this is my passion and my project, it is them whom will make it or break it. So the more information I can provide, the more they feel respected and willing to adjust accordingly.

we also uses fb messagers for group chat and doing a weekly crew meeting (usually sunday or monday evening for a zoom meeting prior to that weekend shoot, to make sure crew are on same page), Also created some basic previz for 2nd unit so they can go in and out to get what I needed.

I don't do shot list as I have been successfuly film all my features with minimum of 2 cameras and action sequences with 2-5 cameras, so shot list CAN get complicated, but having zoom meeting helps refresh their mind (knowing that 90% of them wouldnt' read the script due to time and the environment we are in).

In addition, we recommend all cast/crew to go take the Covid test if they can a week prior each filming date (simple as everyone is working on everyone's project and we had an outbreak 3 weeks ago at two filmmaker's parties - over 20+ people tested positive). So we are dong as much as we can to make sure we have a safe environment.

So, we supposed to start production this weekend (Sep 18-20), however, one of our lead's father that he saw 2 days prior was tested positive for Covid, while he didn't feel ill or such, after consulting our medic whom also working with the national Covind team, our set doctor and our set medical rep. we decided to postpone this weekend shoot and asking him to get tested asap, if he is negative then we will continue as planned for the following week, if he is positive, we either postpone again or he can decide if he want us to recast... a tough decision...

So here I am, I wish I can include plenty of pictures here so you can see the process we do lol but at here, I'm sharing you our crowdfunding video that gives you an idea what we are trying to do.

Johnny

Johnny K. Wu

Morning, following up this post, today, 9-25-2020

We are readied to film our Day one, today's scene involved a stunt double getting hit by patrol car, not hurt, and continue the dialogue, finding a street that isn't much traffic and a bit of alley was limited to my resource but found a friend's parking lot/building that can make it work so we are happy.

Earlier yesterday we went and check out a 200yo barn for a fight sequence with wirework and have to figure out a way to secure the wires without damaging the barn as the structure and foundation isn't as safe, our team came up with a X-cross wiring system that secure with the four beans so not one is holding a lot of weight and so we can have an actor flying back.

So, tonight, we enlisted a friend's business to help with the patrol car that will hit the stunt double, and another friend to make the decals for it, and now we are readied. We plan to film with 2 cameras and the hit part first then all the dialogues so the stunt double can go home right after.

Tomorrow, another film day, about 12 pages of dialogue with emotions we will be filming at friend's house and street. This ought to be fun.

Dan MaxXx

Living the dream - from paper script to silver screen. Good Luck, Johnny!

Johnny K. Wu

Dan MaxXx thanks :)

Karen "Kay" Ross

Love the GIANT sign for safety guidelines! #SafetyFirst

Johnny K. Wu

Karen "Kay" Ross thank you, we also did some sandwitch boards with the caution that we are filming and prop guns may be used, etc.

Johnny K. Wu

Last night 9/25 was a breeze Day 1, we did manage to miss calculated the sun set and so we have to adjust the script to make it so, originally all happened at night but now we are making it as all happened in 2 nights to connect the dots.

Some issues with filming outdoor at night with bmpcc4k due to limited lightning but we pulled it off, we also run into an issue using the two cameras and realizing the color size was off, it turns out (today checking it) that it was due to that both were using different luts lol

Today we are filming in 2 units, Unit 1 will have about 12 pages of dialogue and then 2 outdoor scenes, so we will start at 2:30pm with windows blocked out for indoor scenes then dinner and shoot the outdoor scenes. Unit 2 will do the same, they have more cast (7) with 6 crew, where as we have 5 cast and 5 crew. So Unit 1 is having Chinese while Unit 2 will be have home meal cooked by my partner :)

Here's a screen grab from last night.

Johnny K. Wu

another frame grab from last night (Friday, 9-25-2020)

Johnny K. Wu

9-29-2020 Update, so we finished then weekend with actors wearing mask and do their lines, it's not bad, the potential need for adr may be minimal but we will see when put it all together. Actors were much at ease, one of them is very much worrying about the virus and we paid close attention what we can do and what we need to do, we disinfect our hands before and after working with her, and making sure we do not touch her belongings.

We also contacted our police districts where we are filming to let them know, and they are all fine even one district was glad that we are filming and drove by to say hi.

We have a few stunt on Sunday as well, and did it all without any issue, our medic was at hand but didn't do anything. Not to mention, while Saturday went long and didn't get all what we needed. Sunday we got done ahead of schedule. We did notice the need to do two reshoot as we got some minor issues, so this Sunday, reshoot of one scene and following will be Day 4 (Oct 10).

Here's one screen grab.

Karen "Kay" Ross

Rock on, Johnny K. Wu! Glad to hear production is moving apace! Although I feel for your one actor - I hate it when my glasses fog up because of my mask! :-P

Johnny K. Wu

Karen "Kay" Ross thank you and yea, it does fog out in the center of the mouth... but the up side: it keeps droplets in your mask lol Reshoot this Sunday for one car scene that didn't come out good, so we are re-shooting that.

Johnny K. Wu

Past Sunday we did a quick reshoot of a car scene. It was raining so we originally opted for Gh5 with a weather sealed lens. But it stopped during the time of setup and so we changed it to anamorphic lens and got the shot with needed. Here is the frame grab.

Johnny K. Wu

This weekend (Oct 10, 2020) we will be breaking into two units, unit 1 will film different dialogues and scenes within one location while Unit 2 is filming two fight sequences which include some acrobatic as well as appearing/dissapearing while fighting (what we called it porting). I'll post some screen grabs afterward :) After this weekend, we have 7 more filming days and we are done. :)

Johnny K. Wu

Here is the setup for the car scene screen grab I posted earlier. We used one of the flex led from FalconEyes

Karen "Kay" Ross

Yeah, buddy! LOVE that lighting set up!

Johnny K. Wu

Tomorrow we start a long day filming for the feature, we will be breaking into two groups one to deal with 4 scenes of dialogues (11 pages) and the other team to film with 4 cameras of a 2 section fight sequences. This would be a very crazy day, we hope however to have it all done by 6pm I'll share some pictures afterward.

Wardan Tiple

I feel so enthusiastic after reading your posst. You are superb Johnny, you find out a way over covid, hats off to you!!!

Johnny K. Wu

Thank you. We are trying our best. I have anxiety so I need to make sure everyone on set is safe.

Dan MaxXx

Inspiring post, Johnny! What’s your best guess timeframe of finishing principal photography?

Johnny K. Wu

Dan MaxXx thank you, we should be done by Dec 20 (as we film only on weekends when people are available, we have another 8 more days to go.

Johnny K. Wu

Yesterday, we started at 9:30am and finished at 6pm (on schedule) for both unit, unit 1 had 11 pages and 4 locations, while unit 2 has two fight sequences. I am reviewing the footage now and they are good, here's one frame grab. A medic was on set to make sure no one during the fight sequence was hurt. We started late but got it done fairly fast. 2nd unit didn't start until 2pm but they got it through.

Tonight we got a small reshoot to make sure

Johnny K. Wu

Hi everyone, tonight we will be filming a 9 pages scene then tomorrow full day at a barn for a fight sequence with wirework. This will be a bit crazy but we will make it through.

here's our first teaser, you can find it on my video. :) or here https://youtu.be/GBYkJJpk6dM

Johnny K. Wu

We did it, Friday night filming was great, no hiccups, and then Saturday fight sequence with some wirework, all came as planned and we finished 1.5hrs ahead of schedule.

Here's a bts pic

Karen "Kay" Ross

Wow... ahead of schedule?! That's amazing!

Johnny K. Wu

Karen "Kay" Ross yea, we thought the wire-work part may take a bit longer but it didn't and the talent knows their fight routines so it made it easier.

Johnny K. Wu

This Saturday is Day 7, we have about 5 more days left, Saturday is fairly simple with not much of dialogues but it is spread from afternoon to night as we have scenes that only night times... while it is long day, it should go smoothly.

We are also learning a lot on the cameras, using the bmpcc4k as main and GH5 as backup/fight sequences, it can be hard during post production, but we should be able to match the color tones, etc.

Karen "Kay" Ross

Johnny K. Wu How big is your crew? Is this a labor of love or are your talent/crew being paid? I'm asking only because it's broken up over several weekends.

Johnny K. Wu

Karen "Kay" Ross we have about 34 crew and 60 cast, and yes, it is a labor of love and so we decided to film it only on weekends, we have some people stating that the mask (from other groups) looks ridiculous but I think we are doing a bit more to protect everyone (since our state's covid cases doubled), and also it's part of the story, I am sure they are just not used of seeing people wearing masks in front of the camera all the time. While our distributor is enjoying it.

You can check out our teaser at https://youtu.be/GBYkJJpk6dM

Or join our facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/wulinthemovie which include behind the scenes pictures and actual screen grabs.

This past Saturday we filmed for 8hours with 5 scenes completed with police vehicles and such. It was smooth and no issue. We are taking a break this coming weekend and on Nov 7th we will be filming a snow storm scene with artificial snow (as there's no snow yet), it will be a night shot.

Here's a pic of afternoon cast/crew group picture from this past Saturday's filming.

Johnny K. Wu

a screen grab from 10-10 2nd unit.

Johnny K. Wu

Hi all, we are today going to film two scenes, one a basic one and the next tonight will be a bit complicated, it was originally set for rain scene where we will be making our rain machine, but due to the weather (even though it is 55 degrees tonight), and so for everyone's safety, we changed it to snow storm, so we got several snow machines as well as those instant snow items. I'll share a picture later (tomorrow).

In the meantime, our previous feature film Wu Xia 2 The Code won two awards at the Warner Media's subsidiary platform at the Urban Action Showcase Expo. We won the Best Action Sequence and the Best Feature Film. :)

Johnny K. Wu

And here's one frame grab from last night, we filmed a day scene and then the rest at night.

Johnny K. Wu

there are a few actually

Johnny K. Wu

2

Johnny K. Wu

3

Johnny K. Wu

some bts 1

Johnny K. Wu

bts 2

Johnny K. Wu

pretend to be driving

Amer Darwich

hello Johnny , my name is amer darwich and i am audio engineering + film composer , if you need someone that help you in film scoring please let me know

Tasha Lewis

Thank you for sharing!

Johnny K. Wu

Tasha Lewis thank you. :)

Johnny K. Wu

Amer Darwich thanks for reaching out, do you have any samples? We do have a composer director so I would be happy to pass it on to him so he can review. ;)

Amer Darwich

yes , it is my first project i have worked with film making people , also i have multiple music i have done before.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah-DRAODPvc

https://amerdarwich19912.wixsite.com/mysite

Amer Darwich

thank you johnny K.Wu

Dan MaxXx

this is a huge production for a no-budget multiple weekend shoot. You got terrific organization/producing skills.

Johnny K. Wu

Dan MaxXx thanks, it is the passion of love for everyone, we also got fortunate to have a company that provides us the police cars and ems for the movie, everyone chiming in and putting their efforts to make this reality.

Karen "Kay" Ross

That's amazing, Johnny K. Wu and like Dan MaxXx said, it speaks volumes about your leadership!

Tasha Lewis

Johnny k Wu your welcome. Step by step and how it works provide an excellent testimony for all.

Johnny K. Wu

Karen "Kay" Ross thank you, our state's covid-19 cases has been increasing and so we have to be safe when we have 20-30 people on set. everyone wearing masks, everyone get checked temp while on set and we do daily surveys for contact tracing, while we are a super low budget feature film, we are doing all we can to keep everyone safe and of course to have the story of the movie to requires people wearing masks lol

Here's the teaser for it (shared before), and we have 4 more days to go!

https://youtu.be/GBYkJJpk6dM

Johnny K. Wu

And here's the 2nd teaser for our feature film, enjoy.

https://youtu.be/QCMJg77B2As

No filming until Nov 21 for a fight sequence, so we are resting and relaxing this weekend :)

Dan MaxXx

I like the masks. American Film Market (AFM) is happening right now. Buy an online pass and strike up conversations with Buyers. You got footage to show.

Johnny K. Wu

Dan MaxXx thanks, I have two sales agents that I'm already working with so they may be whom I'm going to reach out first. I don't think this will be done till next Sep so I got time (for now). especially lockdown may happen soon in our state. ;(

Johnny K. Wu

Quick update, we got 47mins of the footage edited together, it's looking promising, this weekend (Saturday) we will be filming a fight sequence as well as a small scene. so that would be fun. While our state is under curfew right now,we were told it's ok to film as we have been safe on set.

Martin Reese

Nice article, Johnny.

Johnny K. Wu

Martin Reese thank you :)

Johnny K. Wu

Quick update, this past Saturday filming was great, at both locations, we finished an hour early at each. the first location was a fight sequence and we got it down right so it was easy.

Second location was just a quick dialogue at night, that was super simple.

Now we got two more big filming dates coming up, Dec 5 and Dec 19, both will have plenty of action and dialogues... so that can be crazy...

Currently about 6TB of footage in the hard drive... And 47 mins has been edited together.

Here are some bts from Nov 21's filming.

Johnny K. Wu

We usually film with more than 2 cameras to make sure we got what we needed.

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