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Last night, I sat in front of Gorilla (and no, not the primate variety) and whipped up the rough draft schedule for my feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.”

Sample of a stripboard for the web series "Dumbass Filmmakers!"

Sample of a stripboard for the web series “Dumbass Filmmakers!

My previous producing work on the short film “Winner Takes All” (a four day shoot) and the 68-minute web series “Dumbass Filmmakers!” (a 13 day shoot, including re-shoots) taught me quite a lot about what works and doesn’t work when it comes to scheduling. But neither project required as much ingenuity and brainpower as this new schedule for the feature film (a 24 day shoot – hey, a boy can dream!). Here are the strategies I used in drawing up the schedule.  Do you agree with my approach? Please tell me now before I screw up my movie!

Top Five Strategies for the Schedule of “Inside-Out, Outside-In”

1. Location, location, location.  The most obvious consideration in scheduling a low-budget feature is location. Thinking creatively about which locations can double up for different scenes is a big part of the process. The most stressful part of a shoot for me is a company move and especially stressful are two company moves that take place within the same day. Under the schedule I drew up, we’d be at one location for six days in a  row (an entire week for us), a second location six days in a row (another week) and three locations for three days each. I’ve tried to schedule in a way that minimizes company moves and maximizes use of location.

2. Starting with scenes where I don’t have to act. Since I’m acting in the film as well as directing, I thought it was important to start out shooting scenes in which I don’t have to act. So, I’ve made sure I wasn’t acting for the first three-and-a-half days of the schedule. I feel this is about the right amount of time needed for a crew to start to get into the groove of shooting before absorbing the shock of the director needing to be both in front and behind the camera. This strategy worked well on the web series, so I’m keen to repeat it.

3. Keeping the days for potential “star parts” to a minimum. There are three parts for which I’m considering well-known actors. The first part – a delightful part that’s been played by a talented celebrity friend at the last two readings – I’ve arranged to shoot only TWO days. This is incredible to me.

Sample 'Day out of Days' report for "Dumbass Filmmakers!"

Sample ‘Day out of Days’ report for “Dumbass Filmmakers!

The second potential “star” part shoots three days. And I’ve managed to keep the main antagonist “star” part to eight days. Very manageable. The rest of the film will be populated with less-known actors who have fewer scheduling conflicts. Making the schedule easy on potential “stars” makes it that much more likely that they will say, “Yes.” At least, that’s my thinking. Plus, if you end up having to pay them more than other folks, you’ve limited the cost of that star. It just makes sense. To call an agent and say you’re producing an indie film and have a great three-day part for so-and-so sounds more reasonable to them than expecting a star client to headline your film when not many have heard of you. Plus, sometimes stars bring additional headaches on the set, however inadvertently. The crew might be distracted by them or you might need more resources to deal with a star, like an extra production assistant assigned to them. So limiting the days they work limits the amount of resources going to them. In both “Winner Takes All” and “Dumbass Filmmakers!” we had known personalities and in both cases they only shot two days.  Remember, no matter how many minutes a star appears in your project, they are still in your film! So for super low budget productions, I think it’s smarter to use stars for meaty, juicy supporting roles that can be shot out quickly than for huge lead roles that might require 15 days and weigh down the production.

4. Shooting the subplot last (in case we run out of money). My film includes an intricately designed subplot that supports and pays off the primary plot. It’s essential for the film. However, God forbid, if we did run out of money somehow, I think it’s more important to have the main plot in the can before the subplot. Worse comes to worse, I can always go back and raise more money and shoot out the subplot a few weeks or months later. But I would hate to interrupt the momentum of the actors from the main plot for any reason. And it is the subplot. So if we’re behind and have to shorten it from six days to two or three, we can make hard decisions without it affecting the bulk of the story.

5. Shooting the scenes that require extras on the same day (and on a Saturday).  There are three scenes that require extras in the script and all are relatively short. One takes place outside at a rally, the next indoors at a conference room and the final scene takes place at a house party. If the scenes were long, I’d say I was crazy for scheduling them for the same day. And maybe I am. But my thinking is…we get the scenes with extra’s done all at the same time. Obviously, this is the day we’ll have to provide more food, hire more production assistants, etc. And we’ll have to ensure that we find locations very close to one another or even on the same grounds. But the rally can easily take place outside a building that would house a conference room. Then, I’m just hoping we find the “house party” location nearby. And it’s certainly reasonable in the realm of the story that some of these extra’s can double up and appear in more than one scene. If I’ve got willing extras, might as well use the hell out of them. So I scheduled these three “extras” scenes for the first Saturday. Granted, it’s gonna be one helluva day. But since we’re scheduled to take Sunday off, at least people have some recovery time to deal with all those extra people on the set before we go to a much more controlled setting the next Monday. Plus, since we’re going to be under the SAG ULB contract, we don’t have to pay the extras and I figure it will be easier to recruit volunteers on a Saturday than any other day of the week because of the work schedules involved.

So…that’s my strategy on the first rough schedule, What do you think? Wisdom or foolery? Let me know, my fellow DIY filmmaker friends.

Hunter Lee Hughes is a filmmaker and actor living and working in Los Angeles and the founder of Fatelink. His current feature film Guys Reading Poems is touring film festivals and this blog is dedicated to the process of making his second feature film, “Inside-Out, Outside-In.” If you enjoy the blog, please support our team by following us on Facebook, Twitter (@Fatelink) or Instagram (@Fatelink).