Court-Métrage, Long Haul: My Guide to Making a Short Film in France and America
on Very Little Budget and Even Less Sleep
By: Nicola Rose
Nicola Rose is a producer in New York. Her most recent film, Creative Block, is a bilingual short about creativity lost and found across two countries. You can see the trailer and basic info here and find out more about the film here.
Making an independent short film in two different countries was one of the most exciting things I ever did. Naturally, it was also one of the stupidest. I’m very proud that it worked out as well as it did, because I suspect the odds of that happening were roughly the same odds as making a successful parachute out of oatmeal. Yet here we are.
My film, Creative Block, takes place in both New York and Paris. New York was the easy part: I live there. Paris was the taller order because the story takes place in a Paris that can’t be faked. Building an Eiffel Tower out of Legos was tempting but not a viable option. (I once saw a cool one built out of MetroCards, but that’s another story.)
So just how did I put together an international production on a shoestring budget? The short answer is: beats me. I am as surprised as you are. My memories are a blur of jet lag, crew schedules and 132% fat content fromage. But here, at any rate, are a few useful tips I picked up along the way.
1. Find collaborators who, like you, span both countries. My Paris DP lives in NYC. As it also happens, she is French, with family ties to Paris. After meeting, we game-planned to be and shoot in Paris at the same time. She would visit her family; I’d join her while she was there and shoot the Paris portion of the film.
2. Plan like hell. Seems obvious. But, the most important thing was to plan every iota of the Paris shoot, then double- and triple-check to make sure it could really go according to plan. This is always true, but it went double for a shoot at such a vast distance, in a place where I would likely not have all necessary resources on hand. Props needed to be prepared to be ready first thing on the shoot morning; several alternate shot lists had to be prepared (one with just the bare essentials in case this or that could not be filmed); many potential filming routes mapped through Paris, and wifi spots noted so our crew could be in contact as needed (since we did not all have local phones). Precision was the watchword.
3. Pare down your crew to the fewest people possible. In our case, I made sure we would only need one actor in Paris. That was huge in terms of reducing cost and headache. Logistically, it was also imperative to have as few crew members (and pieces of equipment) as possible. Shooting outdoors meant we didn’t need light sources beyond nature. Having scenes covered by music meant we didn’t need sound. Having a capable PA meant we didn’t need a gaffer or grip that day (and, for various reasons, it was imperative that it be just one day). In the end, our tiny Paris crew consisted of just four people: me, the DP, one PA and our set photographer.
4. Allow for goofs. Because of travel schedules and time restrictions, we had to face that we might encounter logistical roadblocks on the day. The key is to have a Plan B for as many of these as possible. For example, we were bumped from one location, which meant having a new one ready to go to. One theoretically easy shot proved impossible which meant having a replacement in mind ahead. Always be ready to improvise.
5. Surround yourself with good people. My behind-the-scenes photographer saw the shoot as a special occasion; my PA was somehow everywhere at all times; my DP could not have been more calm and positive (“Get this shot exactly the way YOU want it,” she’d say to me). All this made for a comfortable, almost festive atmosphere in what might otherwise have been an incredibly tense situation. You can’t ask for that; as a producer or director, you can do your best to foster it, but it’s the special alchemy between team members that makes a production run well.
And did I mention you should eat high-fat cheese? You should. After a project like that, you deserve it.