There once was a 22 year old living in his first apartment with his fiancé. He was 1 of 8,000 people living in the town of DuBois, PA.
Each weekday, he clocked into his day job at 7am at the headquarters of Goodwill Industries of North Central PA. For eight hours he would design graphics, print banners, and then at 3:30pm, he'd clock out. For forty hours a week he did this and every two weeks he got a paycheck that would allow him to pay his bills, sleep under a roof, and take his fiancé out to the handful of restaurants in the small town.
Millions of people do this, no biggie, right? Except he made a feature length movie at the same time.
Perhaps you're a filmmaker far away from Hollywood or anywhere that would allow for steady production jobs that could earn you a livable wage, i.e. DuBois, PA. You have rent to pay, groceries, toothpaste, a bunch of shit that requires a steady income.
I was fortunate enough to snag a full time media services position where I live, but not before I loaded logs into bulldozers in the middle of the woods and haggled people to buy Old Navy cards. Gotta get that money somehow and unless you're shooting weddings, professions with cameras are hard to come by in a lot of smaller areas.
But this micro budget approach to films could also be applied to city grinders as well. Bottom line is, day jobs eat up a lot of time - like the time that could be spent on that feature film or web series that you want to make.
Here's how I overcame that stress bomb and completed the feature survival drama Blood On The Leaves:
First of all, I didn't do it alone. I had help. Ya gotta have help.
The first thing I did once the script was done was bring two other producers on board, and by "producers," I mean friends whom I've worked with on film projects before. We split up the preproduction tasks and lightened the load, even though it was still heavy as hell.
There are only so many hours in the day, 8 working at your job, throw dinner and time with loved ones in there along with sleep, you can start to see how making a quality feature length film is nearly impossible. Straight up, for 8 months, I was squeezing in phone calls at lunch in the parking lot at work, getting home at 3:45pm, making more phone calls, sending emails, scouting locations, preparing pitch materials.
I was tired every day.
The absolute hardest part about making this film while holding down a day job was preproduction. I'm sure it's obvious that this making a film with a day job thing is stressful, like it probably doesn't help to reiterate that, but situational awareness is so important in any difficult undertaking.
Maybe you're experiencing it right now and looking for a bright shiny answer here. Well, I found that one of the keys to success was to always be realistic and simplify overwhelming situations to a manageable level.
Let's break it down.
So you have a realistically doable script that you can shoot for very little money - seriously, very little. That's done.
You also have a release plan and marketing strategy, hopefully, I mean ya better know what the hell you're going to do with the film once you make it or else no one will lend you money to make it.
So. Script. Business plan.
Now you gotta get people to make it with you, actors to act, equipment to use, locations to go to, and props and wardrobe. That's a lot to squeeze in with a day job so I'd say give yourself 6-8 months to lock it all down. This is the time when the film eats up your weekends.
As you secure each asset that you need, make it clear to everyone that this film is going to happen. Tell everyone and set a date that you will start shooting and NEVER CHANGE IT.
Next, find some peeps to help you get all of those things (for free if possible). Each day do something that moves the film forward, whether it's an email or one single call or even researching marketing online or checking out potential cast and crew profiles. Freaking text people asking them if they know someone who owns a certain vehicle that you need or wardrobe piece or anything. Check things off as you go.
Life will certainly get in the way, that steady paycheck and the time it takes to earn it will ironically get in the way, and it's so easy to just drag the development phase on and on, but you can't let yourself and the other producers run out of gas.
Celebrate the one email that actually led to something instead of dwelling on the twenty-six that no one responded to.
Preproduction with a day job is like running a marathon after doing the elliptical for eight hours except you probably end up gaining weight. I did. I also neglected my fiancé at times, grew a scraggly beard that looked like the caddy from Happy Gilmore, barely slept, it was tough.
But chip away and I'm telling you... you prepare like a mothereffer, lay out a marketing and release plan that assumes you WON'T get a big ass distribution deal from the Weinstein Co. (again, be realistic), and you'll be able to give potential investors, most of which you'll know personally, a binder full of reasons to invest $1,000 each so then you can PAY THE CAST AND CREW.
You can certainly receive places and things for free, but I wouldn't recommend trying to get people for free.
Take the film seriously (duh) and have some respect for the quality of the production you are trying to make. Quality comes from the people who put it together, plain and simple.
There's a reason actors get paid a shit ton. You obviously can't get Denzel, but there actors out there just waiting to sink their teeth into meaty roles and if you offer it as a professional paid (more than just gas reimbursement) then they won't just sink their teeth in, they'll bite the damn head off.
Yes, you have a day job, it's hard to make a film in your sitch, but I swear to God, if you email/text cast and crew members, whom you are not paying, "Hey! Can you shoot this weekend?" you're only making it harder on yourself.
Not to continue to tell you what to do, but I've shot low budget stuff both ways: by enticing volunteers with pizza on weekends when everyone's schedule would allow it and by paying professionals to take two weeks off their day jobs.
Guess which one took 4 months to piece together and which one took two weeks.
Look, you might be thinking: but I have a job Monday through Friday; therefore, I can shoot a movie during the weekends.
Instead, stress yourself out during the 8 months of preproduction between bites of your sandwich during your lunch break, wake up early on those weekends you're so willing to get rid of, and even sneak some emails out while you're clocked in.
Then! Request vacation time off if you have it, or unpaid time off, or both like I did, for two solid weeks starting on that shoot day that you set 8 months ago.
If 8 pages a day for two weeks straight sounds intimidating, trust me, those meetings you had to rush to after work, those phone calls on your way home, the investor pitches, the lodging you set up for free because of a family friend, the "Paid Lead Role For Feature Film" calls you posted on casting sites, and the detailed schedule you prepared will absolutely allow you to shoot that feature film in two weeks easier than scrambling from weekend to weekend. AND! Your cast and crew will be bringing their own equipment and their A game on Take 1 every time because they are getting paid.
That 22 year old in DuBois did it and now he's 23, about to request time off from his day job in order to go to the premiere of the film he's been working on for two years.
Blood On The Leaves premieres in Pittsburgh on June 1 - a freakin' Wednesday. Not ideal, but oh so fitting, because believe it or not, nine to fivers, you can do film shit during the week too.
(This was written well before it was published; Blood on the Leaves is now on Amazon Prime)
Be realistic, chip away at the big checklist, check back in to SidelinePictures.com for more tips, and get what you need however you can when you can. You'll get noticed real quick by offering paid cast and crew positions and also by executing a feature film shoot in two straight weeks.
Stay tuned for more micro budget film production tips so you can get out there and produce effectively! No matter if you have a day job or not.