Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Script to Screen Without a Bean

Script to Screen Without a Bean
How to make a film on a tiny budget and with limited resources

Frank Kelly

Emily’s Song
Bill, For Short
Slán agus Beannacht
Raise My Hands
Joe & Sarah

Script, Pre-Production and Preparation:

It's often hard to give advice, for two reasons, One: everyone's situation and journey are different. Two: I still feel like I'm starting out and haven't really achieved what I hope to. But I will tell how I make films and how it works for me. Take from what you will.

I have to be honest right off, I'm not actually IN the film industry. I'm very much on the outside as an independent filmmaker. And I’m not and Independent filmmaker in the same way Hollywood independents are, for example, Quentin Tarantino was considered independent on Reservoir Dogs, which had an $11,000,000 budget. My budgets are in the €2000 to €10,000 range. I make my own films without support or financial backing. I’m truly independent.

One of the downsides of being that independent is that you can often feel cut off. I won’t lie, it’s a tough road to travel. So fair warning. But if you’re like me film is a love, an obsession, a vocation. You live and breathe it. It is inevitable. You are going to make films, no matter what. So hopefully I can offer a few tips, some advice and tell you what I’ve learned along the way to help make your road a little less bumpy.

First, I don't make money at it, and if you go down this road chances are you wont make money at it either. I've never made any profit making films. I've sold a couple yes, but only ever broken even once. In saying that, I don't do it for the money!

OK, warning’s aside, if you’re still on board, here are the tips:


I wont get to deep into script writing, that’s a whole other area, I want to focus on get the film up and running here, so I’ll assume you have you script done and dusted. But I can’t state enough how important it is to have your script done, tight, written and re-written. Spend a long time on it, get it right. Have people you trust read it, have friends and family read, people who don’t have a clue about writing script, you’ll quickly find out where the problems are. Get it right.

It is the most important and crucial stage for all low and no budget films. It's so easy to get excited and run in all guns blazing without a finished or ready script. What will happen is your film will being to fall apart, you might get it shot, but in the edit, everything you should have spent time on in the writing will be become all to apparent. It's worth spending time on the script, besides, that’s the only free part of the process! So take advantage!

Enjoy it.

For me, writing has become my favourite part of the process. It’s the place where you can create, explore and fail as much as you want. With have nothing to fear but a re-write.

OK, the blue prints have been drawn up, now you’re moving into the construction phase. And when you go to build a house you don’t just start laying brick, you think about the design.

Design your film.

Film is a visual media. Don’t leave the design element of you film to the last minute, or as many people do, leave it out all together. Think about how the film will look. Storyboarding will save time later on. So when you arrive on set you have a clear idea of what to do.

Some people don’t storyboard, I do and I don’t, depending on time. One thing I always do is to visualize the film. I will go the locations, as many as possible, as often as possible, before the shoot and I will stand there, quietly, for a time and watch the scene play out in my head and in the environment in front of me. So when I arrive back there, this time to a full cast and crew, I’ve already seen the scene happen. My job now is to communicate that to everyone as clear as I can so they see it too.

It’s also a useful exercise as a stress reducer. As well as highly creative places, film sets are also highly stressful places. You will always be up against time. As the director you will always have someone asking you questions and looking for answers. From where do I put the lights, what lens do you want, what is my motivation, when’s lunch?! Anything you can do beforehand to reduce that you should.

What visualising will give you when everything is noisy is a quiet place in your mind to go. A place where all this has already happened and when you can close your eyes you see it clearly. It’s a tool for you toolbox.

Elevate your film.

Back to design. You need to elevate your film wherever you can. When working on a zero or low budget you need to grab production value wherever and however you can. One easy way to do it is location choice.

Instead of shooting that conversation in a back garden, in front of a wall, in a boring estate, ask yourself if you can take it somewhere else. Put a backdrop behind it - a railway bridge, mountains, a cityscape. It adds a cinematic element to the scene.

I offered advice to a filmmaker friend. He had a scene in a café between two estranged siblings. The café didn’t seem to have meaning beyond a meeting place. I suggested shooting the scene in a playground. Suggesting that it was perhaps a place of happier time for them. Picking that place the character of the brother is hoping to bring his sister back to a better place. I suggested that they have their conversation on the swings, moving back and forth, out of sync, suggesting that they’re not in step with each other anymore.

The environment can add to your story, and again, it’s free, so use it.

Dress the set.

So often I see low budget films, poorly lit, with scene’s in cream painted living rooms and a large DVD collection in the background. It just says to me – This is the filmmakers apartment. This filmmaker didn’t think about the character, and it takes me out of the film.

It can be as simple as painting the walls and moving the dvd collection. Gathering some props. It’s all part of the story. You’re telling the story of your character’s life in the set dressing.

Don’t just shoot the film in your own house. Ask yourself, “Is my house the character’s house? Does it fit him? Or am I doing it for because it’s convenient?” Don’t be convenient. It will hurt the look of your film. Push yourself.

Always ask “Is this the best I can do?” If the answer is no, then do better.


When the script is ready and you want to start putting it together. The script is your main asset here. If the script is good, people will want to help you. I would begin with a crew.


Use people you know and trust. They don't have to be professionals. But the should be good and the should know what they’re doing. People who don’t know what they’re doing will harm your film.

For example, if you have a camera man who doesn’t know how to frame a shot, is constantly panning the camera back and forth, zooming in and out the middle of dialogue scenes, basically committing every sin in the book, it doesn’t matter how good the performances are, you’re going to end up with bad footage that wont cut together without distracting from that performance. Pick a good camera man.

A good sound recordist is essential. Sound is KEY, especially at this level, you can get away with a lot visually, but if you have bad sound - your film is ruined! The rest of the crew will come as you move forward.

I would suggest keeping it to a skeleton crew, about 8 people. At this level, everyone's going to be pitching in and doing multiple jobs anyway. But I would say some important jobs (aside from camera and sound) would be Continuity, you really need to have someone paying attention, taking notes and pictures, because if you're shooting out of sequence it can very quickly get out of hand. An Assistant Director or 1st AD, someone to watch the clock, keep things moving and make sure everything and everyone are in the right place at the right time, someone who can take away the distractions and allow you to concentrate on directing and be creative.

You’ll also need a good Gaffer (a handy man who knows carpentry and electrics) a Make-up artist. A Runner is a handy person to have, someone who can run off and grab a missing prop, or get the lunches etc.


Then begin to cast. You may know some actors already? Do any suit the parts? Maybe friends or colleagues have worked with actors they like? Meet with them, tell them about your script, see if you like them and could work with them. Make sure you see their work too.

A mistake you don’t want to make is getting someone just because they've said yes. This goes for crew too. If they're bad it will damage your film and make it less believable. It will also be a nightmare to edit. You still need good people. You still need to do the best job you can, even if it is on a tiny budget and even if everyone has agreed to work for free and/or on deferral contracts (where you agree to pay them the daily minimum at least if and after the film goes into profit).


Schedule your days realistically. I would suggest starting with breaking your script up into locations, even if in a house - shoot in one place until you have all the shots are got and then move on to the next location. It's easier and less time consuming that way. (Unless of course you're going handheld and following people in and out of rooms, it doesn't apply then) 

If people are working for free, try to keep the shoot short, a week, two weeks max. If people are giving up their time their probably making financial sacrifices or passing up other opportunities, be conscious of that - but don't let it distract you, again, if they're committing to you then they've made their choice. But it's only fair that you don't ask too much of people, you might lose some good will otherwise. Ways around this if you're running over is to pull people aside and let them know what's going on, keeping people informed helps more then you think it will, or paying them, even if it's a small amount.


Speaking of budget, if you want to shoot an independent short film, or even feature, you can do a lot with goodwill (people giving their time for free) - couple of things to remember, if people are working for free talk to them, let them know what's going on, let them know they are appreciated and thank them for their time. But don't let them get away with not working. If they are going to commit to helping then they need to help and not hinder! You can do this nicely and easily with a speech at the start of pre-production and again at the start of principal photography - something to the effect of "Thanks for coming, you're appreciated, but we have a tough week ahead and I need everyone to help me make a film we can all be proud of..." kind of thing. If someone is taking the piss and just getting in the way don't be afraid to ask them to leave.

Feed people!!!

Very important. In your budget make sure you have money to feed people, it's only fair! A well fed cast and crew are a happy cast and crew. A table with plenty of snacks, cookies, bars, plenty of fruit and sandwich making stuff, lots of water and tea and coffee. And one hot meal a day. Perhaps making soup available daily too. You can tell them there will be food, snacks and a hot meal, but perhaps suggest getting breakfast before they come and having dinner at home. Save yourself some cash.


1. Community fundraiser.

Have a fundraiser where you live. Find a venue, put on a comedy, rock, music night, table quiz night. Charge people a small amount at the door €5 or €10, and then sell raffle tickets while the entertainment is going on to win sponsored prizes (you'll have to have local businesses donate prizes, this is also easier then you think... you will get people who will rudely dismiss you, which is humiliating, but you'll get more people who'll gladly help) I made €1000 for a short by doing this.

2. Auction.

Do you have artist friends? Do you know prominent artist? Have them donate work, set a reserve, which they get (if sold) and agree that you get the profit of the whatever is sold (some may even give you all the money) Go to a local gallery, art centre, something like that and ask them if you could host the night there, put on some wine and a light buffet. 

note: You will have to spend some money to do this. The old Spend money to make money. You will also have to do a lot of leg work to get people in the doors. Advertise. Posters. Try and get on local radio. People are also pretty good about sponsoring this stuff, just ask, the worst they can do is say no.

3. Online Crowdfunding

This is becoming increasingly popular. I've used it twice with great success, on two films, 140 and Derelict (my current film) Kickstarter is an American site and only available to American users, for now, but you should have a look at the pitch videos and other projects just to see how people put them together and how they pitch them. IndieGoGo is similar site you can sign up to from anywhere ( in Ireland). And I believe there are others out there now.

Again, you have to push it and put the leg work in, no one's just going to just show up out of the blue and give you cash, you have to shout about it, get on facebook, twitter - It doesn't matter if you hate those sites, you want people to get behind the project you have to let them know about it and social networking is the best way to do that. We’re in the age of digital media and social network, it’s only an advantage to the independent filmmaker, use it… again – It’s Free!!!

You will need some cash, for food, some equipment rental, travel expenses, insurance and things that will inevitable pop up during the shoot. But you can make a film for next to nothing if you're clever and tenacious enough. You can get a descent short for €2000 if you want to put a little cash in to be sure. Don’t be a afraid to ask for things, for sponsorship, for free stuff, water, food, equipment, you never know what you might get.

With regard to equipment, lights, cameras, all you may need - get in touch with a local rental house, tell them what you're doing and ask if there is a way they can help, either by giving you a discount or by lending stuff for free off season, often places will do this, if they're cool they'd rather help out a young filmmaker then see the stuff lying there. After all, you may be a very good future customer and you're going to go to the place that helped you out first!

Don't let money stop you from making a film.

If you want to make a film, you should. If you believe in it and start it, the money will come. Often, when people put money into a project it's not because the believe in the project so much, it's that they believe in you, and like to see people doing something creative and positive. So go do it, start it and it will happen.

It's a tough road, no question about that, and at some point you will ask yourself why you started it, I still do! But it is also very rewarding, and once you've made this film you're just going to want to get onto the next one.

Here’s a 10 point breakdown:

1. Get the script right.
2. Get people you know and trust involved early on.
3. Get a good cast.
4. Makes Sure people are committed.
5. Raise some funds, but don't worry too much about it.
6. Schedule you film.
7. Set a Date! Move toward it.
8. Feed people.
9. Communicate with people.
10. When directing, be assertive, be confident, be sure and put yourself in the centre of the room. You're the leader. You're the reason everyone's here. Remember that. 

Two bonus points:
a. Be nice to people.
b. Put some money aside for the wrap party!!!

Hope that helps you somewhat! As I said at the start, everyone’s journey is different so you may find your own ways of doing things. Tap every resource you have, you’ll get there.

Three books you should read to: 

1. Writing: Making a Good Script Great by Linda Seger

2. Prep: Producing With Passion: Making Films That Change The World by Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle (which is about making documentaries but so much of how to get a film up and running applies).

3. Production: Digital Filmmaking by Mike Figgis 

Three of the best books I’ve read on how to make a film, because they’re practical, simple, constructive and inspirational.

So go on, go make a film, send it to me when you’re done! And don’t forget to enjoy yourself! You’re living your dream after all.

Additional note: When looking for funding go to you local Council, they usually have an arts fund, ask about it. Some other organisations you may not expect may also have arts or education funds, some charities do, ask around, you might be surprised what you find. Look under every stone. And I would say, by all means go to the Arts Council and the Irish Film Board, but don’t rely on getting funded, and don’t let it delay you. And if and when you get rejected, don’t be disheartened, make your film anyway. Everyone of my films were rejected, but I made them and had success with them and they found an audience.

You still here… why aren’t you writing?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fall Back

You have to give people a chance. You have to trust them. But above those two, you have to let them fail. And then from their failure, guide them. Don’t chide them, allow them to recover, to learn and then give knowledge. Encourage, guide, trust, follow - at a distance, allow them to take the lead from time to time. Talk to them, and more than just small talk, get deep. Find out how they’re doing, what they want. 

Most people won’t offer that up, they won’t want to rock the boat. You don’t want to tell your boss you’re unhappy and frustrated in case he tells you there’s a line of people outside the door who’ll happily take your place, and maybe if that’s the type of boss you have you might want to reconsider you place of work. But that’s my point, environments should be created where that conversation is allowed to happen. where people can feel secure and can grow. If you allow that kind of freedom, trust, encouragement, communication you’ll find people who want to grow. 

Instead, in my experience, what you get are people who shut down, close off and only do a fraction of what they’re capable of. They become enclosed and guarded and spend most of their energy and focus either wanting to be somewhere else, or actually looking to be somewhere else to be. It doesn’t create a healthy place to be. I’ve had bosses, managers, whose technique is to boss and bully, push and shove, to break you down so they can build you up. Those people are usually just assholes and shouldn’t be in a position of managing people. 

In all of those situations I’ve watched one of three things happen, if not all three, their employees don’t do a good job because they are being mentally bullied and become unfocused and uninspired and don't want to pitch in, they just leave, or the manager is demoted, moved or fired. It never works out in the end. Another type is the uninspired manager, the one who has little to offer, no guidance, or their guidance is inane and completely pointless, filled with menial tasks and busy work. These people are just idiots, who drain the energy and enthusiasm of their team, and again to the point of losing said team. I

’ve had both of these kinds of bosses, I don’t last long working under them, or they don’t last long. I see them moved around. They talk the talk, but they soon get found out. When Ive been in that position myself, usually when I’m making my own films, I try to keep the set relaxed, collaborative and focused. I want it to be an enjoyable experience, where people feel part of something fun and special. I am of the opinion the making films should be fun, it’s a privilege, most people on a set, especially an indie film set are people in the process of chasing their dream, I’m never going to be the one to tread on that. But I think that kind of enthusiasm, collaboration and respect should exist everywhere. 

It’s rare. I haven’t seen in it in a long time. I saw in my last job with my co-supervisor, Bill Hope, great guy, but we worked under a couple of managers who fell into the Bully category. So, I left. I had a teacher called Simon Rangeford back in Drogheda, that only good teacher I ever had in 20 years of education. He inspired, encouraged and guided. My Dad was a good boss, I worked with him as a painter, but as a father, he couldn’t be beat growing up. A real decent bloke. Taught be to follow my dreams, told me to stay focused, ignore those who would put me down, the ones I’m talking about here, told me not to settle, which why I never do. And he showed me how to do it all with humor, a smile, and with kindness. My Mam too, a smart lady, who never took shit from anyone, including me! Someone who was fair, kind and supportive. 

They both had my back, and I always felt that. And I think that’s the key, you have to have people’s back. And they have to know that. If you’re behind someone, and they know you’re there for them to fall back on, they will appreciate that, they will trust that, they will be encouraged by that and they will be less inclined to fall. Because with all that behind them, they will want to show you that they can stand on their own.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Here's the Proof.

Greetings from Ireland friends! So, we completed our Proof-of-concept for 10 Days in December! We shot for just one day up at Millmount Museum in Drogheda, a beautiful place to shoot and wonderful staff, who were so accommodating.

Here's a little Thank You poster for the Seed & Spark Backers:

It was a long, cold wet day. We had fog in the morning, some sun (with freezing tempatures) for a couple of hours, then the wind really picked up, the clouds rolled in and then the rain started. Not to mention the fact that we were shooting on the day before the shortest day of the year! So there was the light. Then only thing we didn't have, which might have been nice actually, was snow! But we got through it, and we got it in the can.

I am now looking forward to... first, relaxing and spending Christmas with friends and family... and then, getting back to the States to edit this and share it with you. And of course, using this to help us get the big one off the ground!!! 

My huge thanks to the fantastic cast, Grace Fitzgerald and Graeme Coughlan for be absolute troopers and braving the weather without a complaint, total pros, while the crew were all nicely wrapped up in North Face, hats and Gloves, they had to look all trendy with none of that because of the silly director! Thanks to a great crew, a bunch of really nice, professional, folks who just got stuck in. Thanks to Millmount, Betty Quinn and Richie Quinn for helping us get set up, and all the staff for being so friendly and accommodating. To Gwen and Orlaith in Stockwell for the food. To Colin Browne and Film Equipment Hire Ireland for the gear. And to all the Seed & Spark backers who funded the projected and helped us get this shot. It's a dream come true for us. 
The biggest thanks of all from me has to go to my wife, producer and co-writer, Maryann Koopman Kelly, she's really the one behind this project. When I was thinking about making something new she said "Why not do 10 Days" and I said OK. And she stuck with the project, and pushed the script overstep of the way in an effort to make it better.

Here are some pics from the shoot:

Two things that are truly unbelievable: 1. The amount of gear you need for a one day shoot. 2. That it all fits into the back of a Nissan Micra!

Millmount in Drogheda, our location for the day. Truly great staff accommodated us for the day, they were fantastic.

Early morning, crew gather at 8AM.

Actor Graeme Coughlan (Will) surveys the location for the day.

Crew tech check on the equipemnt, shooting on the Arri Alexa.

Here we go...

First shot rolls on 10 Days in Decemeber and it's a beautiful shot of Drogheda.

Conematographer Ivan McCullough and Director Frank W. Kelly discuss shots.

The Jib is rigged.

Shooting on Cannons... producer and co-writer Maryann Koopman Kelly gets in out of the wind!

Actors on set! Grace Fitzgerald and Graeme Coughlan brave the cold, troopers and absolute professionals.

And that's a wrap folks.

I should have something to show you in a couple of months. I think you're really going to like it. It's just one scene mind you, but hopefully it gives you a sense of what's to come, and makes you as excited about as we are about it.

And one last thing, it was such fun getting back behind the camera, being on set and being with such a great cast and crew - really good, friendly, hardworking individuals. I have missed it. It's been far too long. And I wont lie, I was nervous about it, somewhat stressed and a little unsure if I could still do it. But it all came back pretty quickly, and as soon as we got going I just enjoyed myself! So thank you all for allowing me to get back to doing what I love, making movies!

More soon...