Disaster! - Shooting Constraints Summary, Draft 2

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Hey guys, i've volunteered to expand on Ntheon's first draft of the shooting constraints for the disaster film project. I've worked in indie film for a while, so I've got a couple tricks we could use for shooting on a zero budget, and to help write a story that's conducive to that. I've starred Ntheon's text, and then I expand on each point below it. So without further ado ...

*The shooting constraints may be the most important part of the project. They will affect absolutely everything else we do.

I agree. This is something every writer should be thinking about when they're writing scenes, writing characters, writing “internal” conflict – how can we make the most possible conflict in the smallest possible space?

*These are the constraints our script must meet in order to be actually shootable by our fellow hitRECorders with no budget, and only volunteer actors spread out in different cities with no special equipment. A script that we can actually film is the goal, the whole point of the project.

“No budget” is an important point here, but the term can be a bit misleading. Having worked on a number of movies that had budgets of, like, $20,000 or less, there are a few tricks we can use to “stretch” our zero budget (legally, of course) and get a little more for our buck. This is a little more producer-type advice than writer's advice, but I think it's good to think like this when you're making a film for this little money.

First, the thing you can use to your advantage is credit card returns. If you have a credit card with a $2,000 balance, guess what? You now have a $2,000 budget! You can go out and buy things you need (props, wardrobe items, heck, even a camera if you can find it cheap enough), and then when you're done using it, you can return them as long as you're within the timeframe of your store's particular returns policy. You get your money back on your credit card, and you've basically loaned an item from a store, for free. When talking about this policy, I like to use what I call the “Wal-Mart Rule,” which is: Even if you buy a new car from Wal-Mart, you can return it if you have a receipt. :)

Second, you can create “money” for certain items by offering up “special thanks” to people or businesses you want to work with. I'll give you an example: Say there's a really cool store you'd love to shoot in for the movie. It looks great, and it fits perfectly with the story. If you go to the manager of the store, you can offer them a special thanks credit in the final movie, in exchange for the right to shoot your scenes there. (More producer stuff, I know, but I've done this a lot. Everybody loves to be a part of the movies. And people LOVE to see their names in the credits of movies. :) This way, we might be able to get a little higher production value for the movie than we might if we just shot in everyone's houses.

This could be useful as we write; we can try to think a little more creatively in the locations we'd want, and then when it goes to shoot, maybe our shooters could also work as “location scouts” to try and find spots that would fit the script.

*The basic shooting constraints are derived directly from our project goal: almost zero to zero budget, using volunteer actors working with their own consumer level camera and microphone equipment and spread all over the world who will not be expected to be able to get together physically to film.

I think these are realistic expectations. Again, it is possible to go out and purchase better equipment by credit card and return it, but it's not a requirement.

The sound issue is definitely something to consider. When writing, these are things we can think about …

1)Will there be any sort of “continuing attack” in the areas where our characters are? Maybe explosions in the distance? The crying moans of the injured? Maybe the battle isn't over after this first event?
2)How can we use SILENCE to help tell our story? If you've ever seen the film THE FOUNTAIN, one of the most effective scenes is when Hugh Jackman's character finds out his wife is in the hospital, and then bursts outside of his work building, running down the street toward the hospital. The whole scene takes place in total silence, and it is VERY effective. The silence is only broken when Jackman almost runs into an oncoming car. That scene still gives me chills. Something to think about.

*The Concept handles the problem of actors not being able to physically get together to shoot by assuming that all the characters are all alone when the disaster strikes, are widely dispersed, and are able to communicate only by cell phone.

In terms of showing conflict, I think we should consider the possibility that characters are not alone when the disaster strikes. If you remember CLOVERFIELD, even though you see the whole film through handheld cameras, it's rare that there's only one person in a scene. True, everyone is running around, but there's multiple people in the scene, which means they can disagree on things and create conflict. Which is going to be the key to this script: we have external conflict because of the disaster, but we're gonna need interpersonal conflict, too.

I think it's also important to remember that even though the characters in the film will be in different locations, it's not out of the realm of possibility that we can have scenes between them, each in different spots. Characters could communicate with each other with:

1)Cell phones (especially iPhones or other video-enabled phones)
2)Computer video (if Internet service is still available after the disaster)
3)short-wave radios (do people start to revert back to older technologies as a result of the disaster?)
4)Land line phones (if lines are buried underground, for instance … this could also provide dial-up Internet access, if service providers aren't knocked out)

Another question – how are characters going to keep their electricity- or battery-powered items running? Will they need to get gasoline for generators? Or for their cars? If there's no electricity, then our movie will be pretty quick. :) We'll need to incorporate the ability to keep everyone's electronics running as long as possible.

*All of the action is in the form of home video blogs being shot by the characters using whatever equipment is handy. This neatly matches the constraint situation that actors will be filming themselves with whatever equipment they have handy.

I think we can consider the possibility of home video cameras as well. These days, it's not unusual for people to have HD home video cameras, so if there are people in their homes when the disaster event hits, they'll have equipment like this at their disposal. And again, it'll allow us to have dramatic scenes with more than one person in a particular shot.

*I also assume e cannot reasonably expect anyone to obtain shooting permits, or to work without them. This could seriously limit or prevent outdoor shooting beyond possibly a backyard.

I think it's a good idea to keep from obtaining permits … permits mean insurance, and we won't be able to get that. But as far as private locations go, you don't necessarily need permits to shoot in those types of places. If you want to shoot in a laundromat, for example, you just have to talk with the person who owns the laundromat, and ask if you can shoot in there. No town permit needed. Just a contract signed by the owner, saying it's okay to shoot there. Now if you want to shoot on the main street in front of the laundromat, that's public property, and you'd need permits for that.

I think we can write the script while not limiting ourselves in terms of locations. And don't forget, if we write something, and it turns out nobody can get the use of a location for free, that's okay – we can just go back and rewrite it for a location that we can get.

*Also, any exterior noise, people or vehicles in any shot would ruin the illusion of the disaster scenario. So presumably there would be very limited if any circumstances for a scene to take place outdoors.

Very true. But I think we could have a lot of fun with this. If we were able to shoot on the property of a person who has a lot of land, we could have some cool stuff with characters walking through large, barren forests.

*With no insurance, I assume we cannot let anyone do any sort of stunts.

If we were making a movie where we would be able to shoot a scene from a number of angles, I would say that we COULD do stunts. You can shoot stunt scenes a certain way, so that stunt people don't actually do full stunts. But since we're shooting basically long shots, without any editing, I'd say we don't do stunts. Smart thinking.

We should be focusing the movie on the conflicts between the characters in how they survive, where they go, what they choose to do. That's where the drama will be, not cool fights.

*The setting is essentially present day in the real world, so no budget-busting props or costumes would be required.

I agree. Though like I said, the “Wal-Mart” rule applies here, so we could get some cool stuff anyways. :)

*We might be limited in ability to show injured characters - but presumably these are covered by bandages by the time we see the characters. Actors might be able to use some minimal homemade makeup effects - not sure whether they would end up looking acceptable or not, maybe some testing would be in order if we went that route.

I think we can show characters in physically demanding situations, which may not involve actual blood. You can get the point across just as well by having a character walk with a limp, have him/her split themselves if they hurt their arm or leg, etc.

I think if we did some tests on makeup, that might be okay. I have a friend who's a special effects makeup artist, so I can talk with her and see if she can give me some pointers on how to do that kind of makeup. (And have her join the site, too.)

So those are my first thoughts, based on Ntheon's notes. I'd also note the following:

Shooting in cars might be an interesting piece of this movie. If we can find areas that have no people in them, driving through those areas and shooting footage of barren, isolated places could add quite a bit of production value to the movie. If the characters try to escape where they are (maybe their autos were in buildings that were protected from the attack, etc.) that would create motion, which is good for a movie, but would also keep the focus in a very small area, like it would if you were in someone's house.

That's something we need to think about as we're writing this … it is good to keep the stories intimate, but you want to be able to show the larger world. If we're looking for shots that show a world of isolation, it's not too difficult to find … you can shoot your neighborhood late at night, when no one is around. If we do nothing but shoot cell phone videos, you won't be able to see the rest of the world. Showing the outside world gives you the “external story,” and shooting the characters making their way through the world will give you the “internal” or “human story.”

Does all this make sense? Anyone else have any other concepts I should address? Let me know. This, along with all conversation, will help me come up with the actual constraints list. I want to see what everyone thinks of this so far.

Created: Feb 19, 2010

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