Updated: Dec 31, 2019
by Makrenna Rose Sterdan
It’s every great filmmakers rite of passage to make their first short film while they’re in debt, on a budget of nothing.
This means whatever money you can scrounge is going into the film and catering. Side note, there are two cardinal rules of filmmaking with volunteers: one, if the film garners any profit, you have to share it; two, you have to feed your volunteers.
Back to the article: below are five types of artists who will volunteer for your short film, and how you can repay them for giving their time and energy to your project. After all, if anyone works on your film set when you’re not paying them, they deserve all your thankfulness.
PERSON NUMBER ONE: THE ASPIRING ARTIST
Hey! This person is just like you.There’s somebody out there who wants to make a career out of acting, directing, cinematography, sound, etc. However, given the nature of the film industry, they need to get more experience. That’s where you come in. You give them the opportunity to work on a film set and pad their resumes. Hooray! But, you can actually give them a bit more. If they are aspiring to be professionals, you can help them network. Look at opportunities for all artistic disciplines, not just yours. This way, you can repay the volunteers on your film set with new opportunities. You can also offer to be a reference. If they’re going to University, you can write them a reference letter. Or, if they’re also struggling financially, maybe you can offer to do a headshot for them? Even if you’re not a professional photographer, those head shots might be the best they can afford, and they’ll appreciate you taking the time to do it for them.
PERSON NUMBER TWO: THE ARTIST WITH A FULL TIME JOB
This is a person who loves doing art, but they also love having a stable job and income. For them, doing art is something they do on the weekends and in evenings. They do it because it’s their creative outlet. It’s something they do that they actually really enjoy, and if they can make some money at it, even better. What this person wants more than anything is to feel creative. They want to have their ideas and creativity honoured and respected. If you’re directing and/or producing, you naturally have to make sure everything is cohesive, and give specific instructions to cast and crew. But, wherever possible, if you have someone who’s there because they see doing filmmaking as their creative outlet, try to find and make opportunities for them to be creative. Ask their opinion on things, and actually listen.
PERSON NUMBER THREE: THE SOCIAL ARTIST
Some people have sports, some people have classes, but these people have working on film sets. For them, it’s a way to get out of the house, meet new people, and have some fun making films. Make sure your film set is a positive work environment. If there’s a lot of yelling or criticising, they won’t want to come back. So don’t be “that director”, be someone who is kind, and appreciate everyone on set (and let them know you appreciate them). Another thing, if you’re not paying people for their time, be a little more lenient on talking between takes. Heck, try to find time during the filming day when people on set can talk and get to know each other. It’s almost like you’re a social coordinator.
PERSON NUMBER FOUR: THE QUID PRO QUO ARTIST
This is a person, probably just like you, who makes to make a film . . . but wait! They are also in debt and producing a film on a zero budget. This person is helping you on your film because in the future they’re going to want your help on theirs. Paying this person back is actually pretty simple: when they ask for your help on a project, step up, and help them on their project.
PERSON NUMBER FIVE: THE STUDENT ARTIST
Sometimes, you’ll put out a call for volunteers, and people will wonder if they need experience in order to contact you. Make sure you put WILL TRAIN on your call for volunteers! There’s a whole world of people who want to work on film sets, but for one reason or another they don’t have a formal education. Give this person a chance! It won’t cost you anything but a bit of time to organise some on-set mentorship. If this person wants to learn cinematography, for example, have them come on set and operate one of the cameras. Your cinematographer will give them basic instructions and monitor what they do. They get knowledge, you get an extra set of hands. People who want to learn new skills might be so eager to learn, that taking the time to build them up could result in a long-term person on your filmmaking crew. Don’t just think of your film, think about how you can help the people on your set reach their personal goals.
So there you have it! Those are five types of artists who are going to volunteer on your film set. Remember, though, that if you’re looking to be a professional filmmaker, your goal should always be to work up to the point where you can pay people for their work.
There’s a reason why I said this is a “rite of passage” for filmmakers. It’s because working with volunteers is a good opportunity for you to learn how to direct and produce in a positive way. A lot of the suggestions above are good on professional film sets as well, especially the parts about building people up, making the set a positive work environment, and giving artists opportunities to shine in their areas of expertise.
If you start off your filmmaking journey perfecting these skills, they will make you a better director or producer further down the line when, in addition to paying your cast and crew, you can give them an all around great filmmaking opportunity.
Makrenna Rose Sterdan
Owner, Red Lips Productions
Makrenna is a producer and writer from Winnipeg, Manitoba. She started Red Lips Productions in the summer of 2018, and has been producing several shorts and web series since. Her main passion is writing, but she also produces and directs when the opportunity arises.