Thank You Rebbe is a short film that I wrote, produced and directed. Completed in July 2016 it was selected and screened at the Glendale International Film Festival (LA) and the Chelsea Film Festival (NY) in October. It is currently available on Amazon and Vimeo. I'm sharing some info on the process and some technical details as I hope it could help some other filmmakers on their way to complete their masterpiece. Far away from being a complete technical guide or a road map to a guaranteed successful film production, I'm just laying out step by step some thoughts you may find useful. If you have some detailed questions you may always message me, I'll be glad to be of any hep if I can!
Script. This short film is inspired by true events. Due to severe health issues it took me 20 months to write the final version! 20 months is a long time, even for a diligent writer. Life could get in the way during the process (link to my story). Be stubborn. If you start to write something... Finish it. There's always a good reason why you started in the first place. As I am Italian native, writing English dialogues wasn't so easy. But on set I worked with the actors in a way to keep the meaning of the dialogues, and I never wanted words to be exactly the same. I wanted the dialogues to be as fluent as possible. My two cents... DO NOT start producing a short film if you're not 100% sure about the story. After countless efforts you'll find yourself with a film you won't even like. I used Adobe Story for the script.
Storyboard. After looking for the right storyboard software for a while, I decided to give up on that and to draw one myself in Photoshop. Easier, cheaper and I got what I wanted. I'm not a storyboard artist. And as crappy as my drawing was it still helped me to quickly share information with my DP and rest of the team about camera angle and movement, light direction, framing and elements in the scenes.
Locations. The short film was shot in five different locations. One of which was an authentic Chabad House in downtown Chicago (thank you Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun) and another one was an urban street. Both for the Chabad House and the outdoor scene we needed some filming permits. Chicago permits are not expensive and the guidelines are very well explained on the Chicago Film Office website (link). I would strongly recommend to use them. Even if your scene is indoor, you might need some space for your trucks just in front.
Casting. For the main cast I contacted Stephanie Potakis, casting director (The Onion Productions Casting), and Kate McCoy, ACD. It was a great experience and fully worth the financial effort. On a shoe-string budget as these short films usually are, you're going to compromise on many things. But you don't want to compromise on the talent. Try to work with the actors that you feel are the best for the role. They are the ones that will bring your story to life. The short film stars: David Kravitz, Rita Simon, wonder kid Connor Norris and Demetria Thomas.
Director of Photography. Even though I love to be hands on camera, when I direct I prefer to leave the DP or CO take care of it. BUT a good working relationship with your DP is fundamental for your success. I am a director that speaks lights and lenses. So I do want a DP that doesn't mind the intrusion. As I am usually very present in taking those decisions... I worked with the excellent DP Timothy Coghlan.
Crew. As I'm not from Chicago, and this was my first production here, I had to start from scratch in finding a team to work with. But instead of using online networks, trying to recruit one by one all the key crew members, I decided to outsource the team building to The Foxhole Chicago. A rental space for you to do your work, and a great team of creative people. I do recognize the value of a team, as it will come useful during the toughest production moments. They worked hard to make things happen within the budget, and I'm looking forward to develop other projects together in the near future. They helped so much that Tim Frank basically became a producer of the short film himself, as his work included finding the right creatives, Production Unit management, location scouting all with an exemplary problem solving attitude.
Camera. I used my SONY FS7 together with the 7Q+ Odyssey Monitor. This allowed me to shoot 4K RAW. We used three Rokinon E-mount lenses: 24mm, 35mm and 85mm. During production we had a Mac Pro workstation on set to check the footage. Files are recorded in DNG sequences. We used Adobe Premiere Pro to import and check them. A DNG frame file size is 13.4 MB, so you do need a lot of hard disk space.
Workstation. You'll need horsepower to work smoothly with 4K RAW. I used a Mac Pro (late 2013, a black cylinder), processor 3.5 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5, RAM 32 GB 1866 MHz DDR3. External additional SAS Disk a 8TB Promise Pegasus, connected via thunderbolt. We had no problem at all to playback the 4K RAW footage on set. The same workstation was used in Post Production using Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, After Effects and Audition.
Music. I was lucky to work with a friend of mine, a music composer, Davide Tedesco. As I'm based in Chicago while he is based in Milan (Italy) we planned several Skype meetings. We worked on the music for five months. I sent him the script, we spoke about every scene, I sent him and animated storyboard to give him a rough idea of the duration. He let me in his art so much that he played piano on Skype, and we were able to find together the right sound discussing the meaning of each piece together. At the beginning of this process I told him I felt a sound like Helen Jane Long 's Broken could work for this story. But that was just a first input, he then made an amazing work and anyone that saw Thank You Rebbe agree that the music is really well done.
Pre-Production. I met, together with The Foxhole Chicago group and the DP, three times before productions. We met every two weeks for a couple of hours to discuss all aspects of the production and make a sense out of the small budget. No matter what budget you're working on, I strongly suggest you to get ready for production days. From parking permits, to food, from paperwork to the shot list. There's so much to do, and costs going up, during a production day that you'll just want to focus on your story and have your team work well organized. DO A TECH TEST.
Production. We worked on a 4-day production schedule, from Monday to Thursday. And we really made it from 9 to 5! Some of us had multiple roles as we had to optimize. But as long as you know your daily stuff to do, you're fine. And don't forget the food. Good food makes everybody happy! In this case it was also strictly Kosher, as we all respected the story we were working on. Don't forget to take a photo for your official poster!
Post production. Don't rush to finish your work. If you need to do some re-shoot, do it. Once your masterpiece is out there you won't be able to change it. At the same time... Get things done. Don't get stuck in the endless process of rethinking your work. Be the client of your own work and move on to your next project with the new experience you just gained. You'll only improve.
Amazon Prime or Vimeo? I'm using both. Amazon Prime is basically just a way to show your work to a larger audience, in a way most of the people will find 'easier'. Not that people are going to flood your URL, but Amazon is a platform that many people use. And when you say it's included in their Prime membership, it is also a nice way to connect to others. Unfortunately the earnings on AP are really low... So if someone does not have the Prime membership and wants to rent it, then I direct them to the Vimeo link. For them the cost is the same, but you'll see more earnings on your side. I also find their platform more suited for independent filmmakers.
To produce this short film I used my company Street Lamp LLC, my camera and workstation. Saving on camera rental and post production made it possible to keep production expenses under $20K. But don't forget insurance and that you'll still need some budget for creating the final product and submit the film to festivals. I used withoutabox.com but there are others out there, and it seems a growing market.
You may also want an official website. Thank You Rebbe's official website is thankyourebbe.com.
And a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thankyourebbe
You can watch Thank You Rebbe at the following links:
AMAZON PRIME: https://www.amazon.com/Thank-You-Rebbe-David-Kravitz/dp/B01MRXL5O5
FYI I'm working on my first feature film. Check it out here: http://www.recycleme.film
I hope some of this information can help some of you in your next project.
Good luck and never give up!