Zen Filmmaking Be Positive

The Two-Day Movie

By Scott Shaw

This is a chapter from my book, Independent Filmmaking: Secrets of the Craft.

When I tell people that they should film their independent movies in two days, they most often respond, “That’s impossible!” But, I can tell you from personal experience, that, “Yes, it is.” In fact, I have made an art out of shooting entire feature films in just two days.

This process began when I made Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell. Making a film this quickly was in direct response to the months-upon-months Don Jackson and I took to make The Roller Blade Seven.
While making RB7 I came to the realization that though all of the time we had spent during production had, for the most part, been a fun experience, it truly did not make the movie any better.
Now, RB7 was filmed in numerous locations—many of which were a long distance from our offices on Hollywood Boulevard. The truth being told, if you are going to shoot at that many locations, with that much of a distance to travel, then, “No,” you probably cannot make your movie in two days. But, if you keep your locations central to your homebase, then this style of filmmaking is very doable.
The question is often posed to me, “Why make a film in only two days?” The logic is simple.  First of all it’s cheaper. If you are paying or feeding anyone on your set, then keeping the shooting schedule limited to only two days cuts way down on your production costs. Secondarily, and perhaps most importantly, people have lives, people have jobs, people have families, people have egos that can be damaged, people have the belief that your production is not that great and they will soon be offered a bigger position in a larger production. In short, your crew and particularly your cast are going to move on. But, if you shoot your film in a minimal period of time, their interest will remain high and they will stay onboard until the completion of your production.
In addition, the two-day film really works great for the working masses, because you can make an entire film over the weekend. As most people work Monday thru Friday, their weekends are open. With this, they do not feel that they are being cheated out of their daily wage for taking part in your production.
Also, if you need to rent equipment, film rental houses have a policy that renting equipment for the weekend is billed as a single day rental.  So, if you need to rent equipment, you can save some money.
The successful two-day film is all about scheduling. Whereas many novice indie filmmakers go into their project with their script in hand and the idea of what they hope to film on a particular day, their schedule quickly becomes lost due to the fact that they are messing around with the lights, talking and joking with the cast, rehearsing their actors, and generally not getting anything done. If you are going to make a two-day movie, you need to know how to get things done!
On every film, there are things that are going to come up that you cannot anticipate and these situations will lead to your planned schedule being altered to some degree. So, what you want to do is to alleviate as many of those potential problems as possible. For example, you will want to
KNOW your locations.
With the two-day movie you cannot just show up to a place you have never been to before and expect everything to go fine. Maybe everything will go fine, but that cannot be guaranteed.
So, when planning for the two-day movie, prior to shooting, you will want to visit, dress the sets, and setup your lights, if possible, at each location to fit the needs of your film. Then, on the day of shooting, when you travel to the location, it will be ready to go.
Scheduling the Actor
One of the primary things that you will want to do, particularly in regard to actor scheduling, is to only bring them onto the set when it is near the time for them to shoot their scenes. So many filmmakers bring actors onto the set and then have them sit around for hours, if not all day. Sometimes these actors are not even used if a filmmaker encounters any problems. This is just the wrong way to make the independent film.
What this style of filmmaking does is to alienate your actors from you and the production and cause them to be discontent.  By the time you are ready to shoot their scenes—if, in fact, you ever get around to them, their emotions are displaced and they are not happy—which may be projected into your film. So, the main thing you have to do is to decide the order of the scenes you are shooting on a specific day, in a specific location, and then bring the actors onto the set near the time you plan to begin shooting the scenes that involve their character.
There will certainly be lead or co-star actors and actresses that will need to travel with you to the various locations you are shooting at on a given day. What I find works best is to meet them at the first location, if this location is some distance from your primary set.  Shoot their scenes at this location and then move onto the next set or location.  You can either have them leave their car at this location or have them follow you.
The other thing to do is to meet at your primary set and then drive in one car with them.  With this style of transportation, not only can you discuss any questions they have about their character or the scenes you are going to shoot, but you can also learn about their personality.  From this, you, as a director, will better know how to guide them through their performances.
The main thing you do not want to do is to lose you actors in the process of the two-day movie.  Because, with no cast, there is no character development, and your movie can never be completed—at least not as scheduled. So, you want to keep your lead actors close.
The Look
The two-day film does not have to look low-budget. With a schedule of ten to twelve hours a day, you can shoot a lot of character development at a lot of locations and give your film the look of a production that took much longer to create and cost much more. Achieving this is easy. Chart out your locations, film your scenes at them and then move on to the next location. Don’t mess around. You can do that later. Get out there and get your movie filmed.
Those Who Get It
Let’s face facts, some people, “Get it,” and some do not. Some understand that an indie film is a low-budget collaborative process that is designed to be a stepping-stone pathway to make inroads in the film industry and some do not.  What you want to do when making the two-day film and, in fact, when making any indie film, is surround yourself with a cast and crew that “Get it.”  From this, you will alleviate many of the problems that may occur, particularly with your cast.
The Reality
The reality of the two-day movie is that you can create a very nice product while interfering with the lives of your cast and crew in the most minimal manner possible. With this, they come away with a new credit on their resume while having had a positive experience.

If, while editing you find that you need another scene or two to fix any holes in the story, as the production was so trouble free your cast and crew will be happy to come back and give you another hour or two.
The problem with long independent productions is obvious.  The cast and the crew become too involved in the lives of each other, and from this, the flaws in the production and individual personalities are revealed. This abrasive reality drives many people away. From this, the film can never be completed in the manner in which it was hoped. The solution; the two-day movie.  You get in there, you get it done, and everyone moves on with his or her life.

Copyright © 2009—All Rights Reserved