Last weekend I was scouting a location with a couple of other local filmmakers. I’m giving these guys a hand helping to line up the location – most of what I did was show them around and stand on the side while they talked about where their equipment was going to be set up, how the shots would be framed, etc.

Toward the end of the conversation one of them started talking about how much of a headache he had working with some local film students. That conversation got me thinking of offering some tips to aspiring filmmakers out there.

Time is Money
Above all else you must remember this point. It’s not just a matter of gear rental or paying for locations – sometimes you can find ways to get that stuff free. When you’re starting out, the talent and crew may be volunteering their time – this takes them away from other work, possibly paid. Their commitment must be respected and you owe it to everyone on the project to move things along.

This doesn’t mean you need to rush, but you need to do some legwork before the shoot. Such as:

Test Your Gear BEFORE The Shoot
Assume nothing works. I mean nothing. I don’t care where the gizmo came from: whether you just bought it; you’ve had it five years; it’s a rental; your Uncle Eddie loaned it to you…don’t pick things up and assume they work. Don’t even assume YOUR stuff is going to work between shoots. If you’re renting equipment, power it on at the shop and make sure it works properly. Get your own gear out a few weeks before the shoot and make sure everything works.

Do the lenses still focus? Batteries take a charge? Memory card not corrupted? Do the lights work?

In a best-case scenario, you may be able to recover by jury-rigging something. In the worst case – say you’re doing a one-camera shoot and that camera craps out on you, you’re sunk. You’ve wasted your money and everyone’s time. Shame on you.

Back Up The Footage From Last Time
I think at this point most of us are shooting on digital media. You may have footage on that memory card or hard drive from the last shoot. Did you copy it off? Yeah, I know, it’s a boneheaded thing to do, but when people get excited they forget things. If you need 30 hours of footage and find you deleted a day’s shooting, you’re sunk. You may be able to make something work, Ed Wood style, but then the work of the director, actors, writers, sound technician, etc. is shot. Shame on you.

Know Your Gear
I can’t stress enough, the day of a shoot is NOT the time to be learning how your gear works. If you’ve never used something, it’s a good idea to get out and play with it for a while to get a feel for how it works. Yes, this means you may need to rent a light kit or a lens for a weekend – but if you don’t, how do you know how long it’s going to take to set up and tear down? How long does it take for the lights to cool? How far away do you need to be with the lens to get a good picture?

If you’re renting, make sure you ask how to set up and tear it down while you’re in the shop. Going on set and not knowing how to set things up is going to make you look like an idiot and waste time. Shame on you.

Make Sure You Have Everything
The night before the shoot, stage all of your gear – everything you need to bring with you – in a spot where it’s easy to get to your car. Unless you have a garage I wouldn’t load the car up until right before you leave, unless your gear is ridiculously cumbersome. (I have a feeling if that were the case, you’d hire movers)

Make a Do-List and Use It
On my first flying lesson, my instructor pulled out a laminated card with all the procedures we used in flying the aircraft. Certain things were done during each phase of flight; he drilled into my head don’t rely on memory, use the do-list every time. The difference between a checklist and a do-list is if you’re just checking things off you’ll slack off. Make it a do-list by adding actions.

Open the box. Count the batteries. Check everything you need for every item, before you leave for the set, when you get there, and as you tear down. Account for every item you took out and make sure it gets put back.

Leave the Location Better Than You Found It
As you leave a location, make sure you do right as you’re breaking down. Put the furniture and decorations back where they were. If you closed the shades, open them. Clean up any trash you made: catering boxes, snacks, batteries…take all your crap with you. You would be amazed at how far a little goodwill will go when you want to go back. (And it leaves the door open for other filmmakers)

How about you? What’s driven you nuts on a filmmaking project?