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Ted Hope's 15 Steps to the “Better” Way Vs. the “Easy” Way in Film Production

The veteran indie film producer challenges filmmakers not to take the easy way out. While he proposes 15 changes to make on your next project, he‘s looking for (at least) 15 more. What do you have up your sleeve?

Note: This piece was originally published on Ted Hope's Truly Free Film blog.

Two years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Ten Things We Should All Do On Our Productions.” I would like to do a sequel to that post and would love your suggestions as to what those things now should be. I do think the old list fully applies, but I am confident we can add to it.

One of the ten things that was on that list was doing things the “better” way vs. the “easy” way. We so love completing tasks that we often cave into just getting things done. But if we all worked together to lift the bar higher, no one would tolerate many of the practices that are currently considered “acceptable.” So why not work together to raise the bar higher? How about I start with a list:

15 Things We Can All Do On Our Film Productions That Would Make Life & Art Better, Safer, & More Satisfying

On that original post, I listed the seven following ideas as examples of the “better” way.

1. Avoid 15-passenger vans, as they are the most dangerous vehicles on the road.

2. Provide housing when someone has worked an excessive day.

3. Recycle bottles and cans.

4. Print less. Use less paper.

5. Email call sheets.

6. Provide production packages (shooting schedules, breakdowns, lists, etc.) online.

7. Send crew lists as address cards, so they can instantly be input in one’s phone.

Looking at this list, it made me wonder what other practices could be done even “better.” I challenged myself to come up with another 8, to bring my list to 15. I had to do it over my morning cup of coffee—as that is the only time I can ever find to blog.

It would be great to get this list to 30, but to do so I need your help—and a few more mornings. For now though, it’s not too bad to be armed with a list of 15. Please let me know if you succeed in doing any of these on your productions.

8. Hire people who are not like you, who come from different backgrounds, who have had different opportunities, who have different genders, politics, race, class, beliefs than yourself.

9. Make more of the process transparent. What have you got to hide? Openness facilitates trust.

10. Make sure interns receive an educational experience and are not exploited as free labor.

11. Give people a true day off. Restrain yourself from sending emails or making calls one day a week. Instead gather those needs, requests, ideas, and hold onto them for 24 hours before sharing them. Emergencies do happen, but a well-rested team performs better.

12. Don’t tolerate abusive, inconsiderate, discourteous, or impolite behavior. Talented people often get away with a lack of civility. It creates a hostile environment and there is no need for it. What if we started calling everyone out on it?

13. Share something you create with another production. We often give away our remaining “expendables.” We give away crew lists and such other basic info. What more can we share? Can you create a new form and then distribute to the community? Have the location photos all gone up in a communal database? What if you met for 30 minutes with another production that was just starting to prep when you were about to start principal photography and discussed what you could pass on?

14. Actively try to get jobs for your top five performers on the cast or crew—particularly if they are not yet well known. Don’t just take the talent with you. Promote them to others; maybe help them get an agent or other representation. Don’t wait for new productions to call, but call them. Write those letters of recommendations in advance and give them to the superstars to take with them.

15. Provide all collaborators with some piece of ownership in the work. The industry likes to say that backend doesn’t matter, but they still refuse to give any of it away. If even a small fraction of the net profits is given en masse to the crew and cast, I am confident it will have a positive effect on the production. My best experiences have all been when a large number of the team had an ownership position.

Granted, sometimes this backfires a bit; way back when on The Wedding Banquet, we distributed a significant share of the profits to the cast and crew, despite not being contractually obligated to do so—yet a group voiced that we were not doing enough (and I wonder how many times in the subsequent years they received anything from anyone else). It also sometimes cannot be mandated due to the other financing concerns—so there are many reasons why it is not done more often. I just know I am going to try to do it more often going forward (and encourage others to do likewise too).

Note: When this piece was originally published on Ted Hope's Truly Free Film blog, several readers chimed in with ideas of their own. We've included a few here:

If you’re not paying scale (or anything at all), promote crew to a higher position than they would be hired on for a proper budget shoot. — Jennifer Ussi

Independent productions should plan on raising the last few hundred grand of their budget not from large-sum financiers, but from crowd-funding such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, or their own method. — Max Einhorn

When recruiting interns from film schools or other arts organizations, I often set up an evening recruiting session that opens as a lecture the followed by Q&A. At least this way, I can give back to the institution as a way of thanks for offering their students to our project and it gives the students a chance for some one on one from a working industry professional offering a peek from the inside. — GypsyFilmmaker

Take the time to check references. — Elizabeth Karr

So what do you have to add to the list? Let’s build it better together.


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