I recently went back to add some more fields to my Celtx.jar file, so I figured I’d take a more in-depth look some of the more important fields I’ve added and their purpose.
Today, as the title indicates, I’m starting with my modification to the Generic.xhtml file, which is used for many types of records. This means that other records like Scene Details have a bunch of other info I don’t need, but so far I haven’t had a need for most of those, so I live with it until I figure out how to add a completely new page/record type.
Before I delve into all the details, keep in mind that I’m an Austin, Texas independent filmmaker paying only for Craft Services for the most part. This means that I run into issues other indie filmmakers will collide with, but things that a budgeted production won’t have to confront.
For example, if you’re not paying your actors, you schedule them, and if they get a paying gig, you’ll have to re-schedule the shoots around that… This happened to me and my wife, Rita Quinn, while we were shooting the pilot for out webseries 7 Shades of Lenity. She was ADing and she scheduled and rescheduled everybody!
Make sure everyone gives you their regular availability (for shooting around day jobs) and any extra-curricular stuff, such as acting classes or workshops, potential work days (with other productions), etc. The more you know, the less re-scheduling you’ll have to do.
The above is the main reason I added a whole section to my Actor’s record/sheet. More on this when I cover the mods done to the actor’s page/record.
Production Notes / Production Details
I added a lot of fields to the generic.xhtml file… why? Because it’s an overview of your project. At a glance you can get an idea for the budget, difficulties, etc. – it’ll be clearer when I explain each field – all these are things you need to consider to keep your budget as low as possible.
The most important datum for an indie filmmaker, or someone without a budget who still wants to get something good done, is to write for the resources he can access: locations, vehicles, actors, etc.
If you write something you can’t access for free, that means you’ll have to pay for it… and with most things, you get what you pay for… pay dirt for something, and it may end up looking like dirt in the end.
So, with all that in mind, let’s look at my additions:
Production Notes Section
A quick overview/summary of the story and what it will take to produce it.
- Title: I added this here, so if you print this sheet, you’ll know to which project it belongs
- Genre: like the above, informational, so if you show this to someone, they start to get an idea of what it is
- Story Date/Period: when does the story take place — period pieces cost more money (costumes, locations, etc.), same as most sci-fi
- Length: I included words here because I don’t only write scripts, I also write fiction, where words are important and not pages. None of these fields are automatic, but again, if you’re showing this to an investor, it’s a complete summary
- Budget: it’s just a range, so you and your investors can get an idea… just how much money will you need — not a replacement for an actual budget, but if someone asks you, do you have any No Budgets, or Low Budgets or Medium Budgets… you can go though and pull the relevant one(s)
- Tagling/Logline: in a single sentence, describe your movie (at the bottom of the page I added a section to help you figure this out – see below)
- Theme: more for me than anyone else, but someone reading this can get an idea for what you had in mind — a moral principle, your thoughts, etc. — the main idea you’re proving with your story (yes, I believe all stories should have a meaning and a purpose, so I always like to thing about themes, etc.)
- Description/Synopsis: description if it’s a novel or story, synopsis for a screenplay — either way, it’s a description of the story (what happens) not the plot (how it happens)
- Media: like the previous field, it’s a default — add photos, and images that convey the ideas/emotions of your piece (in my case, I don’t generally use, but if I had cover art or poster made up, I would put it here)
- Date Started, Finished, Sold, Sold To: I’m a stickler, I like to know how long it took me to write something; couple that with my programming background, and certain things just have to be there
- URL: I added that in case I’ve already put up a website for the project — again, just information for me, or a potential investor
- The Details section remains unchanged
Production Details Section
This is very important, because if you’re writing for a low- or no-budget the more of these you have in your story, the less like a no-budget it will become. This section has no bearing for novels or stories.
- Speaking roles: speaking actors get more money than non-speaking ones (e.g. an extra makes about $200 a day on a SAG production, but an actor with lines makes more)
- Total locations: with each location in your story, comes a physical location to shoot in, and the more setups, the more time and the more expensive the movie.
- Famous locations: you generally have to pay more for these, so, if they’re in your script, they bump up the cost. Think permits, insurance, etc.
- Ext Shots on Public: short hand for exterior shots on public locations — this refers to public areas that you have to cordon off (e.g. streets), which require insurance, permits, and in some places a police officer.
- Ext Night Shots: shooting at night requires artificial light, which often means you can’t shoot guerrilla (too obvious) which also means more setup time, and the usual problems with tripping breakers, renting generators, etc.
- Crowd shots: lots of people means, lots to coordinate/choreograph, means more time, means more cost; also, if you’re shooting in public view with people walking in your shot, you have the problem of getting their permission and you need them to sign an agreement, etc.
- Stunt shots: stunts are professionals that can show your actors how to do things without getting hurt, or take their place in doing said dangerous things, but they cost money, and the equipment they need (e.g. mattress pads for falling, wires, etc.) also costs money to rent. It’s a great idea to know the local stunt people and offer to shoot a reel for them, if they’re just getting started.
- Optical FX: effects such as putting things in front of the camera to make it look like binoculars, etc. — things that aren’t always cheap or free, and may raise your budget.
- E&O Insurance: errors and omissions insurance is something that covers you and your production; it should cover you in case you forgot to get some permits, or agreements, etc. (look it up for a more in-depth description) — it’s important to have on a production for which you’re going to seek distribution, but it does bring costs up. Some things, such as blocking off a street require you to have insurance.
- Period Piece: costumes and make-up cost money. The more you have, the more this will cost. And in low- and no-budget films, we stay away from writing in things that bring up the cost as much as possible.
- SFX & Firearms: these generally require a professional to ensure no one gets hurt. If you’re going to do anything dangerous, have a pro there… you don’t want to take chances with the lives of your cast or crew. If you don’t have the budget, don’t write these in. You can always fake gun stuff and explosions in After Effects.
- Animals & Children: what do they have in common? They both require a “handler” — someone to take care of them and get them to do what you need. For children, it’s generally parent, and for animals, perhaps the owner. These can sometimes cost money, and there’s all kinds of regulations about horses, and other animals, and what you can do to film them (how long, etc.).
- Trains & Cars: some of these require money. Of course, you can always shoot in your own car from the backseat, but you better make sure your tripod or camera support is securely fastened to the car so it doesn’t bounce while driving. You’re also taking risks by having the actor drive and act at the same time. If you can shoot in a still vehicle and, perhaps using a green screen, add the outside movement afterward, that might help keep costs down.
- “Official” stuff: think CIA symbols, army locations, etc. — you’ll generally need permission if nothing else, but sometimes you’ll need permits which can cost you money. The military forces, if you’re depicting them in a favorable fashion, sometimes will charge you little or nothing for use of their resources.
- Specific Music: wanna use a Rolling Stones song? It will cost you, unless you know the rights owner personally. Again, unless you have the money to spend, or written permission given, leave it out. You can always look around for composers seeking to build a reel who will do it for little or nothing. Just respect them and their work! By all means, push them to give it all they’ve got so you both win, but don’t be disrespectful.
- Heavy Make-up & Hair: special effects make-up can add up. Blood isn’t too expensive and there are some good recipes out there, but it all adds up, and if you don’t make sure it looks good, it’ll make your production look crappy. What are you going for? Campy? That’s a forgiving audience. Thrillers? Not so much.
- Names: big name actors generally cost a lot of money. Now, this isn’t to say they won’t just love your story and will do it for free or almost free… never say die, is my motto. But assume that names will cost you big money — they will probably also bring you more audience, but… budget better be ready to accommodate.
Logline Worksheet Section
This bit I stole from Blake Snyder’s book “Save the Cat” and Chris Soth’s Mini-Movie Method. They are 2 ways of coming up with your logline. I find Chris Soth’s method easiest and more workable, but use the late Mr. Snyder’s method to polish it off.
Remember, your logline should sell your movie right away, and if people can see the whole movie in this single logline, you have a “high-concept” story, so a lot of people may be interested in seeing it.
I won’t give you more description than this, because I think you should buy Mr. Snyder’s book or take a seminar from Mr. Soth. They’re both worth a read/listen.
So, to sum things up, I made these changes to help me write films I could afford to make, to keep me in check when trying to write something too outlandish, and as a selling tool.
This sheet, if printed and presented to someone who knows about making a movie, will give them an idea of the cost involved.
Someone once told me that a cheap movie can be made for $1000 a minute. Now, this means having a small crew and paying them decent, or a bigger crew and paying them low.
The more things you add to your movie, although they may add to the production value, they may also bring up your budget.
But always ask around… people love making movies, and a lot of folks (me included) make ’em for the joy and the experience. To me I don’t care as much about building a resume as getting experience. The more you know about making movies, the better movies you’ll be able to make.
The yearly 48-hour film project is the best way to see how a movie gets made from beginning to end. And it’s lots of fun.
Break a leg!