by Xavier Agudo-Berlin, Germany
Filmmaking has always been seen as a big, complicated, expensive, impossible thing to do. This is mostly
because of the money needed, the big crews, the complicated logistics, the technicalities, etc. So the
efforts are somehow always directed in resolving these issues, rather than spending time and energy
in what really is important: the story, the acting and the directing in general.
In order to succeed as an Independent Filmmaker I feel it is imperative that we de-mistify the
filmmaking process. To strip ourselves form the preconceptions that we can´t make a movie without
a big budget, a big crew and get overwhelmed with logistics and planning. I feel we need to
go straight to the basics: a camera, a sound recorder, some actors, a director and of course a good
story. I feel everything outside this list of people is a luxury, an attempt to replicate the Studio
System or an Industry we are not capable to replicate as Independent Filmmakers. It would only
lead to frustration, lack of practice and personal misery.
It is not that I´m trying to propose a „Dogma 95“ kind of filmmaking, but it actually makes some
sense to revise some of their concepts to shoot really independently. I do think sometimes artificial
light is a necessary means to paint with the camera, that extra-diegetic music is a tool to shape
emotions, that time should be fragmented when needed to efficiently tell a story and that actors
should be able to draw from their emotions and experiences to „act“ situations such as dying. In that
way I differ from the „Dogma“ concept, but all these technicalities should not get in the way of the
creative process or stop you from making the film at all.
This rather long introduction illustrates the approach for the shooting of my segment for the
CollabFeature project in Berlin. If I were to wait to raise a budget, schedule a non-payed crew and
plan to use a bunch of equipment, it would have been completely impossible to take part in this
Due to budget and time limitations at the moment, it was clear to me that I needed to make this
shoot as fast, simple and inexpensive as possible. So I wrote a story I knew I could pull off, having in
mind available locations, few characters and nothing fancy (writing a la Robert Rodríguez if you
like), which was a challenge in itself since I needed to comply with the requirements of previous
and following segments in the film.
I didn´t have time or money to hold a casting session: paying or looking for a room, scheduling actors etc. so I made a virtual casting (in the spirit of the whole CollabFeature process). I put out a casting call and then I sent candidates detailed instructions for them to record themselves with any means they had and send me a tape or link to their video. Once I reviewed the entries I met personally with some of them, because I do think chemistry is a big part in the relationship of an
actor and director and vital for the work on set, so this couldn´t be accomplished virtually.
Once I had my cast in place I scheduled for a one day principal photography shoot and a second day of pick ups and an extra scene. Everything within a weekend to make sure everyone would have time.
My crew consisted of my three actors (not all at the same time), a camera man (who also providedthe camera and sound equipment) a sound man, a make up artist (because I did need to make a distinct character transformation) and myself as a director and many other hats. This Micro Crew allowed me to move fast, to spend less in catering (which is one of the very few things you absolutely need to budget for if you don´t have a sponsor) and keep my schedule tight.
The technical specifications of the shoot is material for a whole new post, but I can say that using DSLRs makes a big impact on the budget. They allow you to get rid of unnecessary assistants, DITs, grips, etc. for a fraction of the price of one of the big cameras with an unprecedented quality capable of producing theatrical screening images and providing a myriad of creative possibilities impossible with prosumer digital camcorders.