I shot my first film, 30 Frames A Second, in 5 days. I then spent a few more days writing a script, and edited the doc in 7 days (I’d rented an edit suite and could only afford a week’s worth of time). The movie probably cost me about $9,000 to make, and most of that was my own in-kind contribution of time and gear to the project. I never applied for funding, hired an executive producer, attended a pitch session, or got anywhere near a post-production suite. I then sent the film out to a few film festivals without any real idea of what I was doing. It ended up winning the Best Documentary award at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and at several other fests in the months that followed. It played on Netflix for several years, and is still distributed educationally by Bullfrog Films.
I decided that making independent documentaries was what I wanted to do. I was fortunate that I already had several years experience in producing, shooting, recording sound, and editing, skills I’d learned on the job as a TV news cameraman. My work was my practice field.
That’s the essential point of this first lean team tip: Learn and practice (and learn and practice) as many of the skills of filmmaking as you can. By becoming self-sufficient in planning, producing, writing, shooting, lighting, recording sound, and editing, you’ll not only become a better and more well-rounded filmmaker–a lean team filmmaker–you’ll also assume full control of your creative vision. You will become the author of your work.
Learn as much as you can, practice always. This can sound daunting, but in Chapters 2-5 of Get Close: Lean Team Documentary Filmmaking, I offer a step-by-step guide to making your documentary from start to finish as a one- or two-person team. In other chapters, I vividly recount making my first film and I offer a guide to managing your expectations as you navigate the landscape of film festivals and distribution.
I believe you’ll find the learning inspiring, and the practicing creatively rewarding.