When Shooting A Short Or Feature Film, Use Contracts

No budget to shoot a movie? If you are a small church, a new videographer, a budding director, a film student, or the gal who got stuck with the company safety video, you're in the right place. You can't cower in fear or let a lack of funds stop you from sharing your story. This is the No Budget Guide To Filmmaking, and this is for you. Write your story. Shoot your movie. Start.

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      Use them. You’re an LLC right now, and if you have no budget, you can discern who is a volunteer and who is a deferred payment. But use contracts. There are a number of sites that offer some works to get you started. Google is your friend here, and I’ve used Shake Law, and I also use Cuda Sign for digital signatures. The site Docracy is a large collection you can peruse too. Use a good ole fashioned handshake while you’re at it. We’re wired for connection; we just are. A handshake, a high-five, or a hug - whatever the case may be - are why we’ll never lose brick ‘n mortar shops, no matter how big Amazon gets. But the point here is that you need to have things in writing. It’s for your protection, and it’s for theirs. Some folks gloss over them. Others will take them to their lawyers for a look-through. Show grace and patience, and don’t be pesky like a used car salesman from those side-of-the-road dive shops. Seriously. Remember, respect is huge. You will have fallouts with some of the folks on your shoot. It happens. But what you can do is remember to serve and respect those around you. Do I always get this right? Of course not. But it’s a daily growth process, one that you should be taking to your grave as well. This industry is especially formed around relationships, just like any community, so be respectful, don’t burn bridges, and lead well.

      But I’m scared of asking them to sign a dotted line. Why? Examine the root of that fear, put it before the Lord, and then together, crush it. The good ole book tells us that fear is a huge root of a lot of brokenness in our world. The moment you decided to get in front of a camera or use it to tell someone else’s story is the moment you decided to fight the critics and the naysayers anyways. That’s huge! Celebrate the fact that you are pushing back against fear, and you are building your confidence! Remember, a contract is something that protects both of you, and it is in that light that often I will ask folks for their John Hancock. I’ll say, “we want to protect both of us, and if there are any questions, I believe in total transparency, so please ask.” Most folks, if they understand the vision (what is your goal, who is your audience, and how will you serve this film/video to them), and if they’ve bought into it, they’re not worried about money, and they’re going to give you their all. Remember to reciprocate that as well when the time comes. A little forward thinking doesn’t hurt here. Entrepreneur Dale Partridge says you should be focusing on how to make a million lives better. You don’t want to get wrapped up with tomorrow (worry about today, it has enough troubles of its own), but some strategic forward thinking is necessary from time to time, especially when it is on behalf of others. You’re making contracts now to protect the integrity of the persons of this project so that ultimately, you are able to serve those millions of people. Why settle for 300 views? Trust that God can use 300 views (or 300 guys, like Gideon), but go boldly before the throne of grace and ask for more. If it’s in His will, if your heart is truly for the things He has a heart for, then you just need to ask like the good book says in James 4. Ask for the project to impact a million lives, and then carry that goal with you everywhere you go. A contract to further that goal is just another step in the journey.

      Still have that deer in the headlights feeling? Fight it. Visit those sites earlier in the chapter and get a move on it. I’m a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to tasks, and it is by the grace of God that I am no longer a math teacher, but a Son of the Risen King. I am no longer a budding filmmaker, but a dearly beloved child of the Almighty. My identity is found in Christ alone, and His validation is enough for when the world tries to tell me to quit. Don’t bother. Put on that full armor of God every day (if you’re married and/or with kids, you especially need to be doing this anyways). The ole devil and his fallen angels want you to quit. Of course they do. If you’re acting on something God put in your heart, you can bet you’re going to run into some heavy shellacking. Dig deep in the foxhole and press on. Take these steps incrementally if you must until you can start running. Always, always, always invite Him into your battles. Something as simple as God, I need Your help right now. He’s big enough.

      If you’re still not sold on contracts, here’s a story. I wanted a bar so badly in my microbudget feature. I needed one. My antagonist had his “saloon,” and it was his HQ. He did everything from his bar. Trouble is, I was just a 26, almost 27-year-old kid with an LLC, zero revenue, and zero budget for locations. I scrambled, and I scrambled some more to find a bar. I even started shooting before landing the right place. I narrowed my options down to two, which wasn’t hard. The two were the only ones I could shoot at. One of them was way out in Stockton, where we were already making several trips for this shoot, and at 45 miles one way, it was just too much to put on my actors when we needed three, back-to-back days to shoot inside a bar with several people each day. Thankfully, the proprietor of that Stockton bar was running more of a mini Cracker Barrel. Sure, it had bar seating, but it also had a whole section for family dining. Yikes. It didn’t have the low lighting or the neon lights that make a bar a bar. What sealed the deal for me is the conversation I had on the phone with this owner.

      “What’s this film going to be rated?”

      “It’s a western, and we’ve got some language and some violence, but the language alone would make it an ‘R.’”

      “Well that’s a shame it would have to be an ‘R.’”

      Don’t tell a kid who hasn’t learned how to field input how to tell his story. He won’t listen. I certainly didn’t. I still don’t a lot of times, but daily reading of Proverbs has allowed me to grow a great deal in this area. Would I have adjusted my salty language to make it friendlier to a wider audience if I started over from scratch today? Yes. I certainly toned down all of the violence in post, following Christopher Nolan’s example from his Batman series. But I kept the language intact, and hindsight is always 20/20 anyways. At that time, I wasn’t about to let anyone, not some country bumpkin or Oprah Winfrey tell me how to tell my story. Be open to input. Always be open to input. You will be a better leader for it.

      All that to say, the other option was a bar in the downtown SLC area. The owner met with me a week into my shoot. After I finished shooting one day, I floored it through rush hour traffic to meet up with him. I was late because of a massive police shakeup clogging the roads just outside his establishment, and yet, the owner still had the grace to sit with me for a few minutes to hear my vision. He looked over my contract that I had adjusted from a template and said to me “I’m no lawyer.” So he grabbed a pen and taught me an invaluable lesson. If two parties are present, just write in whatever you want, and sign and date it, both of you. He wanted me to agree to “if you break it, you fix it.” Simple enough. I signed, and so did he, and I asked him if he was running an LLC or an S-corp or what-have-you, just making conversation but also hoping to glean some wisdom from him. He said he was set up as an S-corp and that the licensing (for liquor) in Salt Lake was asinine. You have to understand. Salt Lake City is a very conservative town where even wine is something you can’t buy at the grocery store and most shops are closed on Sundays. This guy was one of the rare people that grew up outside of the influence of the church there and probably migrated to the Salt Lake valley sometime in his adult life. Cool cat though - I really enjoyed his no-frills attitude to business. Even with guns and knives as our props, he let me use his establishment. That man was a life saver. We got to use his establishment for three straight days and it worked like a charm. We didn’t break anything, we cleaned up well after ourselves, and hopefully, he even had faith to let some other indies use his place in the aftermath of our shoot. All of this was possible because of a simple contract and the bull-headed approach I took to the shoot, same as you have to do with yours. Can’t find the right place? Ask again. Ask 60 times if you have to. Don’t quit searching and get your location in writing from THE owner.


Las Vegas

I want to encourage others and bring honor to the Almighty in everything that I do with film and video. My goal is to take the first 11 minutes of my tv pilot and seek out decision-makers who can further the conversation about developing it into a show. If my team and I can do that, then we can teach 100,000 other microbudget filmmakers how to do the same thing so that we might tell stories of hope to millions. In the meantime, I'm a son of the King, a family man, a lifelong student of film, and the author of two microbudget filmmaking books.