My 6 Tips to Boost Film Makers from Amateur to Pro

which was printed in the July issue of Chicago’s Screen Magazine.
1. Get Contracts Signed Before the First Day of Filming.
Besides legal protection, contracts spell out your on-set expectations of the cast and crew. Actor’s contracts are available to download on sites like SagIndie. Not only will you look like a pro with these, but if you opt to follow SAG guidelines you’ll gain access to union actors.

2. Sharpen Your Ax. Make Story Boards.
It’s a no-brainer that creating storyboards forces you to think like a camera (angles) and an editor (what to show). Every film I’ve worked on that utilized storyboards wound up looking thousands of dollars more expensive than those with only a shot list. Yes, storyboards are time consuming. But as Honest Abe said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

3. When Casting, Search Further Than Your Friends.
Contact your state’s film commission or contact the commission responsible for the geographic area where you’re interested in filming (you can find listings through the Association of Film Commissions International website). Community theaters. Casting directors. Talent agents. Many are willing to post audition notices, look at storyboards, and make suggestions on actors that might be a good fit. If you are fortunate enough to have the budget to pay for travel, consider posting your casting notice on the BreakDownServices.com, which reaches agents in LA and New York. Who knows? You may land an actor with a bit of star power.

4. Avoid Shooting Yourself in the Foot, Get a Stunt Coordinator.
“But it’s not in the budget.” Then cancel filming and get a job flipping hamburgers! Many actors get so caught up in the moment while acting that they forget they are supposed to fake the violence, instead of really pistol whipping their scene partners face to a bloody pulp. (I use this analogy because my face suffered this fate at the hands of a gun wielding actor-gone-wild.) Log onto StuntPlayers.org for a directory of qualified performers. Remember, sometimes stunt coordinators will work for low pay or copy/credit. Also, neglecting to have a stunt coordinator around just because one of your actors has a “black belt in karate” listed as a skill on their resume is inviting a hospital visit. Stunt/fight choreographers are hired because they create violence that looks real, but is fake.

5. Direct Actors with Action Verbs.
I’d be hard-pressed to find an actor who didn’t respond well to verbs as guidance for a scene. Something like this is good, “Run up the stairs while remembering your character’s bad childhood.” This is great direction as it’s basic, something I can actively pursue, and strive to achieve. Whereas, telling me that my character is “transcending childhood failures through seeking another level of physical height” is too abstract.

6. Repeat Praise, Actors Do Well With Constant Affirmation.
Even if you’ve told an actor they are doing well, tell them again. Actors are the most insecure artists in the world. When affirming communication is open and often, it eases things for when you have to give negative feedback or adjust an actor’s performance.

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