Sustaining Momentum on a Long,
No Budget Production
A Guest Post by Ivy Jelisavac
From the very first idea to the premiere, creating my comedy series Relationshit took four years. Needless to say, those weren’t four years of consecutive, full-time work: Rather, I chiseled away at the project slowly, but steadily. In this article, I want to share some of what I learned about sustaining momentum.
CONSISTENCY OVER SPEED
Progress breeds motivation. You don’t need to figure out your entire shooting schedule before calling action the first time – but you should create a strategy to shoot in regular intervals. Christopher Nolan’s Following was famously made on Saturdays over four months.
People start de-prioritising your project – or worse, jumping ship – when it feels chaotic and uncertain. They won’t mind as much that it takes a while to finish if they can see you’re inching closer to the finish line.
Like in any interpersonal relationship, communication is key. You don’t need to get super vulnerable about your struggle, but letting people know when you’re too booked with work, sick, or otherwise unable to shoot for a certain amount of time is respectful of their time and mind space.
Equally, ask your cast and crew to keep you updated on their own calendars: They may not know the scheduling gymnastics you are doing behind the scenes, and may forget to tell you their newly blocked dates if they don’t hear from you.
Share positive developments, too: Maybe you were approached by a potential distributor, or you finally got access to that difficult location. Keeping everybody in the loop keeps everybody invested.
AS MUCH PREP AS POSSIBLE
The bigger your cast & crew, the more difficult it becomes to find a commonly available date. Be so prepared that you can be nimble:
Have your locations lined up, have your props and costumes ready, know your scenes inside out so that when a possibility to shoot presents itself at the last minute, you are ready to go.
RAMPING UP THE DIFFICULTY
Shoot the easiest scenes first to get the ball rolling.
In Relationshit, we shot everything that only featured one person in their bedroom early on, then the multi-cast scenes, and then the more elaborate location pieces.
Maybe not every scene of yours has audio – do that early. Maybe you have an involved crowd scene – put that towards the end.
Not only does this help you fill up that progress bar and create motivation, your team also gets to know each other and learns to work together better over that period.
EDIT AS YOU GO
If you’ve been plugging away at a project but haven’t seen any results, it can start to feel abstract – and cause you and your team to lose motivation. Not only does it save time later if you edit your film while you’re waiting for the next shoot, it also allows you to see the results of your work.
I’d sometimes bring a laptop to set and show cast & crew a few scenes for extra impact, but emailing a link can also do the trick. Even a handful of edited stills make a difference.
Towards the end of production, I would highlight everything that’s left to shoot in the script, and create a thumbnail view in my PDF reader to visualize our progress.
Relationshit’s editor, Gonçalo Sá Correia, made a Post It installation on his wall to track the editing process.
Whatever method you choose for doing this, I can’t implore you enough to find a way to visualize how far you’ve come. It helps put everything in perspective: Early on, you have the motivation of just getting started, but later, when energy levels dip, this tool becomes invaluable for inspiring you to press on.
Needless to say, when you’ve put together a production with a team of people, you owe it to each other to hold up your end of the bargain. But a little external accountability helps, too: Posting about the project on social media, for example, creates interest from potential audiences eager to see the finished product, and even friends and family may start checking in on how things are going. This kind of positive external pressure can really speed up your process.
KEEP THE BIG PICTURE IN MIND
During a low – whether for yourself or for your team – remind yourself why you are doing this. Is your project a hard-hitting social drama raising awareness of an overlooked issue? Are you creating something to push your careers in the direction you want to go? In times of doubt about the “how”, remind yourself of the “why.”
Time passes whether we are working on our passion projects or not. Don’t beat yourself up over taking a long time to complete something. Most people don’t do things! You are doing things!
Recommended reading & listening
Mentorless Podcast: Deconstructing The Making Of A Web Series with Ivy Jelisavac
Relationshit is now out on Amazon in the UK & US, and on Vimeo On Demand globally.
To stay in the loop, follow @relationshitTV on Twitter, like the Facebook page, or sign up to the mailing list on relationshit.tv.
Ivy Jelisavac is a director based in London. You can follow her at @becauseivy and see more of her work at ivyjelisavac.com and on Patreon