Say “Thank You”

This post, and the latest addition to my camera bag, comes from a “duh” moment I had recently on set after a lengthy location shoot following two consecutive rehearsal weekends. Each day we were on set, the gracious owners of our location vacated for our convenience, allowed us to rearrange their furniture and swap out their light bulbs, and even cooked lunch on the day of the shoot. Granted, this home belonged to our director’s parents, but that does not diminish our appreciation for their contributions to the film.

We expressed our gratitude verbally, and I’m sure it was not overlooked in various text messages and phone calls, but as we were packing up to leave, one of our actresses pulled a “Thank You” note from her purse and we all gathered around to sign it. If you’ve ever received a hand-written “thanks,” you know how far the gesture goes – perhaps more so as digital communication has become the norm. A note is a very simple and inexpensive way to follow-through on your collaboration with a person or business in a personal way.

Although this post is focused on locations, there are a lot of different people along the way who help make our films possible and thank you cards will only cost you some spare change. If your budget is tight and you have a lot of cards to give, here’s one you can print at home:

Film Reel Thank You Card

Print this card at home and fold it in half. Consider printing several per page, using cardstock, or decorating it to make it more personal. Get creative!

For something with a touch more professionalism than the freebie above, here are a few customizable designs you can get from me on Zazzle:

FilmReelWoodCard FilmReelGreetingCard FilmReelThankYouCard

With my feature film, I waited to distribute Thank-You’s after the movie was completed. For some of our locations, this was two years after they opened their doors for us. I can’t believe it never occurred to me to write something on set while all of the cast and crew is there to sign it, rather than scrambling to hand-deliver or pay for postage down the road. Later, when someone sees your note proudly displayed by the recipient, it could even spark a conversation about your film. Since these little gems are lightweight and don’t take up much space, I’m adding a dozen to my camera bag just in case. I have had good and bad experiences with locations, and a bad experience can ruin a location for you and for all of the filmmakers in your area. Do yourself, your cast and crew, and all other filmmakers a favor and tell your location how much you appreciate their willingness to be a part of your project.

To all locations out there: “Because of you, we didn’t have to build an entire set from scratch. Thank you!”

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Neglected Crew #1: Assistant Director

When we watch special features for our favorite movies, we see a lot of interviews with people who hold positions we’ve heard of – or positions that have significant creative control. While an interview for every grip and catering manager would be a bit much, I think filmmakers on a budget should be aware of some under-represented crew positions that will make their productions go smoother.

Today’s Neglected Crew position is the Assistant Director (A.D.).

In my post about using a shot list, I mentioned the invaluable help that my colleague Zach provided on our most recent production. Although we didn’t give him the label of “Assistant Director” until after the production, Zach took charge of my carefully organized shot list and marking each shot off the list during production. With the clipboard in our A.D.’s hand, he was able to…

  • Call “Quiet on the set!”
  • Call out shot and take number (e.g. “Shot 34, take 2!”)
  • Check off shots on the list
  • Mark the number of takes for each shot
  • Mark which take was considered the best while on set
  • After a cut, notify us immediately of the next shot to keep us on task and prevent everyone from moving out of position.
  • Track progress versus estimated shooting time to ensure we were on schedule

For the most part, I made sure our shot list was clear, concise, and descriptive. Shots were also arranged in the most effecient order, getting cast in and out as quickly as possible while ensuring there was something to shoot while another person was taking a break, changing costumes, etc. Occasionally, the A.D. would jump further down the shot list and determine an appropriate alternate shot during unexpected downtime. Several of the tasks on the list above specifically help with editing.

My hands were full with the camera, and my co-director was busy with the actors; our minds were equally occupied with getting the best possible shot and the A.D. not only relieved us of some organizational stress, but also kept us from having to put down the camera and take our attention away from the actors. In almost all of our later behind the scenes photos, you’ll notice the A.D. somewhere on set with a clipboard in hand.

A.D. On Set

A.D. and Director on set for Bone to the Dog

This sums up a lot of the A.D.’s responsibilities on our micro-budget film set, but there are many books and resources on the web that describe this role in more detail. On a professional set, their job will be somewhat different, and there are often First, Second, and Third Assistant Directors to handle various tasks. To take your production one step further grab a clipboard, print out a shot list, and get an organized and assertive friend to join the team.

Read Also: Neglected Crew #2: Still Photographer