It was a post by a fellow filmmaker in a group I watch with a cautionary tale: his film took a long time to shoot. When he finally finished, his editor partially finished the project before going dark on him. This is leading to other people possibly dropping out, and putting the project in danger. What do you do in a situation like this?

This is a huge concern and for those of us working on the tight end of the budget spectrum (if we even have a budget), it should worry you. It’s not insurmountable, and I’ve been through it myself and have some sagely advice.

Move Things Along
Good people in this business – and it is a business – are going to be working. Paid or unpaid, you need to be respectful of their time. I’d say especially when people aren’t being paid, you need to be extra careful with their time. Get them what they need. Let them do what they need to do. And When You’re Done, Be Done. The longer the project drags on the more at risk you’ll be of someone bailing out on you.

Want to know a secret? This doesn’t only happen in free film projects. It happens in any business. When I took a project management class, one of our most interesting discussions was what to do if our lead developer quit in mid project. If you’re going to be leading a team, and being a director or producer is leading a team, you’d better be ready to handle this. Hopefully it doesn’t happen to you, but if someone wants out it’s a bad idea to try forcing them to stay.

Your best bet is go get through things quickly as practically possible. You may have to budge on parts of your vision: some things may need to be tweaked or even dropped. If you’re going to stand firm (sometimes there is A Time To Bend, A Time To Stand Firm)

YOU Are The Backup
When I was back in video school – technically it wasn’t film since we were shooting on VHS – we all rotated through different positions on the crew. This exposed us to the different roles, giving us a sense for what it was like to work in each of the slots. I thought it was a lot of fun. At the time I think all of us wanted to be directors or camera operators, but we got to set up lights and run sound as well.

For me it was fun, and there were some important takeaways. You gain an understanding of what’s required of the position when you do this. There are two big things this does for you: first, if you understand what’s entailed in the job, you’ll be more likely to find people who know what they’re doing. There are plenty of people who talk a good game out there and a little legwork could save you a number of headaches.

More important to the point of our post is this will allow you to step into another role if needed. Sure, at first you’re not going to be an expert and you may not win any awards, but can you learn enough about how something works to pitch in and do the job? If not having a sound tech is going to kill the project, can you run sound for the day? If there’s nobody to set up the lights, can you do it?

I’m not saying you should do all this all the time. If it’s at all possible, find someone who knows what they’re doing to help you. If you can’t find enough people, and believe me I know sometimes it’s tough, can you still finish the project?

A Word Of Warning
There are some of you out there who may go Robert Rodriuguez and try to do everything yourself. I’ve done this myself as well. It’s a lot of work, and there’s a lot to manage on a film set. People who do this successfully can juggle multiple tasks while keeping their finger on the pulse of the project. If this is you, by all means go for it. If not, either work on the skills or find help.

Side Narrative Worth Telling
When we were recording the dialog for my short IN THE DARK, I decided to record in a studio. After hunting around a bit I managed to find a good studio near most of the actors, and we recorded there. Bob also happened to run a class covering home recording. It was geared toward musicians, but there was plenty of useful information for a filmmaker. I left that class and applied what I learned to audiobooks and the animated version of THE TRIP. It was a lot of fun and money well spent.

Parting Thoughts
I can’t stress this enough: if you want to be a successful filmmaker, you need to have backup plans. Sometimes you (or some of your crew) will need to wear multiple hats to complete the project.