Let’s make Red Heart Rebels blog posts a three-part series. First up: Pre-production
**I’d like to preface this by saying that there are a bunch of ways to handle a production and the way I’m presenting how I work may not be the “right” way for you and your team. Each production handles itself a little differently and I’ve adapted my pipeline from my own experiences.
How I got involved
It was a beautiful night in early May and I was in line to hop onto a trampoline arena to play dodgeball (because that’s how these things happen, you know) and Ethan, essentially the showrunner whom I had only met once before, asked me if I wanted to act in his web series, Red Heart Rebels. Without even hesitating, I said yes. No audition for me, suckaaaaz.
Over the next few weeks, he and his co-EP, Andrew, started texting and messaging me with various questions about production and offered to let me read the scripts and Ethan opened himself up to notes. After about a week of back and forth, I was asked if I just wanted to hop onto the team, since I wouldn’t shut up about how to do things. I know after last year and Les MiseraBaristas, I swore I wouldn’t jump onto a production while I had a full-time job but I loved the idea of being on a project again and I loved the story. I needed some excitement in my life where my work life is mundane and isolating, so I agreed.
And that’s where the fun began.
Overall for the project, I crowned myself unit production manager because I like knowing everything that’s happening and I’m generally OCD about how things are organized. A UPM is someone who manages the whole production. The ADs report to the UPM, the UPM works with the line producer (money person) and the other producers to make things happen on budget and on time. The UPM and line producer sit at the top of the below-the-line folk.
I was invited to the Google Drive and its two tiny folders. One for scripts and one for a preliminary pre-production schedule. Anyone who’s worked with me knows I pretty much command how things are organized. So the Drive ballooned into this:
This, to me, is the most easily digestible way of handling a lot of information. Breaking things up into departments and having sub-folders if necessary. And spreadsheets are KING in my digital production binders. They’re so flexible and they allow you to organize everything very (very very very) neatly on the page, make templates and generally, make miracles happen that would take forever in a word document.
After organizing the Drive, came the Calendar:
Forgive the lightness; it lightens the events that’ve passed.
Every department and executive team member had a color assigned to them so we can see when things had to be done. Things moved around as our availabilities changed, and I always like to give things early deadlines so that we have some wiggle room to refine and edit them (this came from my time on the student magazine).
This worked in tandem with a to-do list you can see on the screen grab of the Drive that broke down what everyone was responsible for, including what all three of us had to do, and when they should be done. It had some things that weren’t on the calendar, like break downs, list-making, etc.
We first started out with producing all six episodes, which itself would be a handsome sum of money. But at the time, the story was set in the desert. Which meant housing, transportation and adequate shelter. Which is another, even handsomer sum of money. Ethan wanted this to be made as legal and legitimately as possible and he was after SAG-AFTRA actors. This meant getting film permits, California Highway Patrol officers, insurance and becoming a SAG-AFTRA signatory project.
To break down the budget, you should do scene break downs: you go through the script(s) 5,000 times (exaggerating) and highlight props, set dec, wardrobe, locations, people, etc. From that I was able to pull a shopping list for art departments and was able to get a vague idea of a schedule, which would translate to how many days we needed to rent equipment, how much to pay people, permit fees and location fees. It… was a very large number. Too large of a number. A number so large that I couldn’t fathom spending it all and I was starting to work a line producer into the budget.
Knowing the likelihood of getting that number was pretty much zilch, Andrew and I ended up talking to Ethan about focusing on just the pilot. Our reasoning was that no matter how much money the IndieGoGo would make, it would all towards just one episode and not be spread so thin across all the episodes, that it ends up looking like crap.
Before we set out to film the teaser trailer to accompany our IndieGoGo campaign, we had to plot out what we would offer as perks. Just some days spent shopping around at promo item companies online and locally and pricing things out. What was tricky was estimating and hoping that enough people would select a perk item that would net us a profit.
Now here comes a nugget of wisdom: do NOT think that perks are what will get people to donate in the first place. No no no. Perks are NOT incentives. They are thank you’s. No one will see that you’re offering a $10 shot glass and say, “Golly! I really want a shot glass! How convenient that this IndieGoGo is offering them.” Perks may entice people to donate more than they were planning to, but they won’t draw them in. Keep it simple.
Once we had our budget in place and our rewards tiers set, we filmed the teaser on a surprisingly breezy and not-too-hot afternoon in the desert near Palmdale. Edited that thing and the IndieGoGo went live.
We asked for $16,000. That’s still a big number. That number came from buying everything, renting equipment, renting shelter and porta-potties, paying for insurance, film permits, California Highway Patrol, housing, food, industry-standard rates for crew and a very decent wage for the actors. And I knew it wasn’t gonna happen. But I put it up because I was clinging to a little blip of hope that maybe, just maybe, we’d get a lot more money than I knew we were going to make.
The thing about IndieGoGo and Kickstarter is that they work wonderfully for people who have a large following or is so buzz-worthy that it can grab media outlets and get the buzz. We were not that. We were just another small indie film/tv project, one of hundreds if not thousands trying to grub some money.
So as the campaign went live and the money didn’t roll in as I think Ethan was hoping for, he re-wrote the pilot to have a much smaller budget. A just in case. So we had two scripts: one for $16,000, one for $1,600. As they days went on, we agreed to focus solely on the smaller pilot, which Ethan has said he actually likes a lot better than the big budget pilot.
We closed out at just over $1,800.
PERMITS, SIGNATORIES, INSURANCE, ETC.
Because I did a majority of the work while I was at my day job (when it was slow, of course), SAG-AFTRA stuff was given to Ethan and film permits to Andrew.
The wondrous beauty of being a new media production (basically, anything having to do with the web) is that the platform is so new, no one really knows what to do with it yet. We qualified as a new media production which means we could hire SAG-AFTRA actors, those who are eligible for SAG-AFTRA don’t have to join the union*, and those who aren’t eligible, have been Taft-Hartley’d** into it, and the amount we have to pay the actors isn’t on the usual theatrical scale (which is very large).
*When someone is eligible to join the union, in order to work on a union show, they’d have to join first.
**This means they automatically become SAG-AFTRA eligible, which is a big deal if you’re an actor.
From what Ethan has told me, the folks at SAG-AFTRA are very helpful and nice. They required us to pay our principal actors minimum wage, and extras are on deferred payment. Of the money paid to the principals, 6.8% of that goes to SAG-AFTRA for health plans n’ stuff.
As for permits, Film LA was also readily available to answer questions and walks us through the process. Because we approached them while we were still planning on shooting on the side of a road in the desert, that required us to have a California Highway Patrol officer with us, and that s/he as going to be paid almost $1,000 a day. And in addition to fees due to Film LA which didn’t include location fees, it was very obvious that this would be the most expensive item in our budget.
Insurance was kind of straight forward. Found a company, wanted to be liable for $1 million (as standard) including $500,000 for equipment, and was quoted about $750. When you have insurance, locations and rental companies will ask for a certificate, at which you can give them a copy of your certificate of liability that says what you’re covered for. Some rental companies will let you rent without a certificate (or, “cert”) but will charge you a ginormous deposit/waiver fee.
Casting, the wee bits of art direction and such I feel are pretty self explanatory. But if you, dear reader, made it this far and actually want to know how we did the fun pre-pro stuff like casting, the wee bit of art direction, location scouting, etc., let me know.
I think that’s all for pre-pro on my end. Next up: production.