Indie Filmmaking Guide: Know Your Role! Part II

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Writer – Though initially the brain of the project, like a surrogate mother, the Writer’s role ends with the completion of the final script.  Once the screenplay has moved onto the production phase, the Writer, unless contractually obligated or negotiated, has no place on a set.  As Writers often harbor a fiercely protective love for their work, seeing it in the hands of someone who they perceive does not fully understand what they’ve created can create a toxic and often explosive scenario that does nothing but create drama and pain for everyone involved.

I myself have had to cope with both Directors and Producers that have not understood fully my vision as a writer.  I have seen my beloved work butchered, often without mercy or hesitation.  That is however, their prerogative to do so and I would have been wholly in the wrong to challenge them.  My ranting and raving would not have been conducive to the creative atmosphere, plus I would have failed in my attempt and been swiftly removed from the set, possibly barred.

A Writer must have the emotional readiness for such an event.  A thick-skin for the liberties others take with their work is not built overnight, but once developed, it is much easier to simply allow the written piece to develop in the mind of someone else.  Often they should take pride in the fact that their long hours have paid off and out of the thousands of scripts to produce, theirs was selected.  Humility and graciousness are the trademarks of a good screenwriter.

Crew – Anyone who works on a production who isn’t a Director, Producer, EP or Actor falls into this category.  Crew members may number into the hundreds on a production but they each serve a purpose and that purpose is to assist the creative minds behind the camera in bringing their vision to life.  Each individual generally has a single job (or possibly two or three) they attend to daily and is their lot for the respective project.  Rarely, if ever, do they step out of that role for any reason, unless to replace someone who had been removed.

As crew, knowing the job assigned is crucial.  Whether stringing lights, operating a camera, recording sound, watching for continuity, or line supervising, each individual must perform their tasks with abject professionalism.  Failure to do so often results in the delaying of production (a mistake that can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars).  Knowing your role as a crew member, maintaining constant awareness while working and limiting the amount of waves created will ensure a long and healthy career, but overstepping your bounds can prove your downfall.

Working on the set of the indie film Parking for Hire proved a great lesson as I witnessed first hand the catastrophic consequences that can occur when the Crew fails to perform their tasks.  Summers in Texas can be brutal and standing in the Texas sun for upwards of twelve hours while working a boom mike can be hazardous or even lethal.

One particular day, temperatures spiked at near 105 degrees with a heat index of 116.  We had also experienced a strange mid-summer shower, leaving the surrounding area gruelingly humid, something that can easily hide the effects of long-term heat exposure.  Our crew member designated to ensure that cast and crew were maintained with water and temperature checks decided it best to wander off during a shot and flirt with a passing woman.  

The scene itself was a particularly long one, as we were filming a master shot of a minute and half of dialogue.  During that time, our boom operator, standing for so long in the heat, became weak and abruptly passed out  His boom mike subsequently fell and cracked an Actor in the head.  The actor then stumbled backwards into the camera, knocking it and the camera operator over, which resulted in several cracked lenses and a dislocated shoulder that halted production, rendering the remainder of the day useless.  

A cautionary tale for sure.  Remember, filmmaking is a business and every action, positive or negative, can have vast consequences.

Actor – I want you to remember the placement of the Actor on this list for it factors in quite heavily here in a bit.  Once upon a time, Actors lived lives that mirrored their placement on this list.  They were considered the outcasts, the dregs of society.  They were often the lowest of the low, subsiding solely upon the coins that were tossed towards the stage by the audience at the end of a good performance.  Quite often if a performance was poorly received, no one ate that night.  Such was the role of the Actor, now commonly referred to as the Talent.

With the advent of schools of technical thought concerning Acting, the role of the performer has risen in the ranks, now being considered a lofty and risky but lucrative endeavor.  For those well-trained and professional, a career in acting is not difficult to maintain.  While many will never attain A-list status, it is entirely possible to be an Actor and live very comfortably, a notable example being my good friend Glenn Morshower, an amazingly talented Actor (and all around fantastic person) I know you’ve seen a hundred times, but you probably don’t remember.  Look up his name on IMDB and you’ll see what I mean.

Nonetheless, it is the public themselves that have raised the role of the Actor to the upper echelons, the celebrity being the highest bestowed status any Actor can attain.  Despite this, it is imperative that Actors remember that they are creatures of perceived value and while on set they are the peons of the production.  They are the Talent, meant to take direction and simply that.  Actors may have the ability to deliver astounding performances that leave audiences shaking in awe, but they could not do so without the individuals here listed above them.  Without them, an Actor is simply someone who can emote very effectively but has no reason to do so.  

Actors are the living tools in which a story is told and nothing more.  They are often treated with such fawning respect to protect the integrity of their performances but it is the media and public that create the massive egos that persist in today’s Hollywood.  If an Actor can remember their place, rely upon their extensive training in portraying human emotion, and deliver themselves professionally without further expectation or need, then there will be a perpetual decline of unnecessary drama and conflict on every set.

Keeping these guidelines in mind while working will ensure that the production flows smoothly without incident.  Though the occasional unforseeable SNAFU does happen it always pays dividends to be prepared, be professional, and know your role in the indie filmmaking universe.

-Jarod