The Biggest Mistake I Made When Self Producing Projects

I have been self producing my own projects for the past decade. From plays, short films, online content and a web series. Each project had its own set of challenges, set backs and life lessons. I'll be honest, I've cried over some of the hard lessons I've learned. Sometimes I was left feeling depressed and other times I've had the chance to experience life long dreams of walking red carpets and getting festival nominations. However, over all these years there is one lesson that stands out above the rest when it comes to producing projects.

If you are reading this you are probably a creative person of some sort. Perhaps you are an actor like me. Maybe you are a producer, filmmaker or writer. If you create projects that require lots of time and lots of people you will totally relate when I tell you I UNDERSTAND the surge of passion that comes when you get an idea for a film or a play. Believe me I know what it feels like to have your eyes pop open in the middle of the night then stumble around reaching for you phone or a notebook to write down that fantastic new idea before it flutters away into the moonlight.

That feeling can literally take over your body as you type the last words "FADE TO BLACK" or "CURTAIN CLOSES".

Once you've finished the script it's time to get your cast together and start rehearsing so you can bring your magnificent masterpiece to life! Right?

WRONG!

Oh so so wrong!

The biggest mistake that I made when self producing projects was running out and casting before I had created the capacity to maintain and grow the project. I failed to first build a production team that could handle the many many needs of producing, a play or a film. Especially a film or play that I was also acting in!

Normally by the time casting happens for major motion pictures there has been months or even years of development, preproduction and planning that has happened! The studios have hired the production company the director, art directors, directors of photography, set designers and costume designers. The casting director has been chosen locations have been secured, lawyers at the ready. Marketing, release dates and distribution have been put into place. Camera shots have been planned and story boarded out, sets have been built and nobody is figuring out what to eat last minute. By the time the actors arrive on set they are placed within a much larger machine that has been moving for quite some time.

When I decided to go from script to casting without bringing a production team around me to help me I put myself in a position where I became overworked and overly stressed. I had to handle everything from costume design to stage management, creating marketing plans and coordinating rehearsals. There have been times where I would go from working on the script, to acting to cooking lunch for the cast.

I understand that when you do independent work you must be willing to wear different hats. There really is something amazing and grass roots to doing independent work. But what if you could still do the independent self produced work that makes your heart giddy with story telling joy and not become so overworked that you dread your next project?

It is possible!

The next time you have a new project work out as much as you can on paper first and you will be able to better plan what you need. You will be surprised at the number of things that need to be covered before you run straight into the casting room.

First break down your script

Write down every single location that your script requires and see if you can secure it for a free or a reasonable price. Once you secure a location you will know how much time you have available to shoot the required scenes. Once you have dates for certain scenes you will be able to let actors know about shooting dates. Imagine if you secured actors who weren't available for the times and dates you have the perfect location?

Find major props that are needed for those scenes. If you need a special costume, or vehicle write those down and see if you can get those donated. The more time you give yourself to work on securing props you won't have to rush and fork over large amounts of money. 

Continue working through your script pulling out major items that are needed for your film.

Develop your budget

As you pull out locations, props and other major items needed you can start to construct a budget. You will be able to estimate shooting days as well as how many meals will be provided for the cast and crew. 

Include the number of actors and crew members that are needed and reach out to people in your network to see if you can get volunteers. Depending on what your financial resources are you can make offers to crew and cast that are on your dream list.

Build your team

As you work through your script and budget you will also begin to see the people that you need on  your team to make the process go smoothly. All of this work will add to you having the best possible product. As you work through the people that are needed on set during shoot days don't forget the people that will help you with administration needs, scheduling, marketing and more.

Sometimes it starts with just asking a good friend who supports your work to help you out. Make sure that you have a good working relationship and that she balances out your skill set. If you happen to be more of a creative type enlist a friend who is amazing at deadlines and spreadsheets.

I hope that my story and these tips help you put things into perspective and take a step back before jumping into the "fun stuff". By the time that you are ready to see your vision come to life you will be able to enjoy it much more if you create a team and foundation that can help you create the best project possible.


If you are an actor who is looking to learn more about creating their own first time short films you might enjoy my Self Producing Bootcamp where you learn to create a short film in 6 weeks.