Film Producing 101

Notes from Dance Film Lab

Panelists: Jason Orens Anita Tovich Caterina Bartha

  • Dance Film Lab Attendees Interests
    • Short dance narrative films
    • Documentary shorts
    • Feature length fiction narratives
    • Interested in screening at festivals, in museums, as installations
    • Curious about building team so filmmaking is no longer a one man job
  • You might be a producer if you…
    • Are organized in a compulsive way
    • Are good at problem solving
    • Find creative answers to said problems
    • Can edit but find it difficult to write on a blank piece of paper
    • Can plan, plan, plan
    • Can raise money and then raise even more
    • Realize that an independent movie is like starting a cult and can convince everyone to be on your team!


PLAN AHEAD. Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Think about every possible situation. Then PLAN MORE. Your creative choices determine your budge. Your budget determines your creative choices. Wrap your head around this and you’ve started to make a film.


  • Make the dance like you are making a dance
    • Includes budgeting for rehearsal time, costuming, dancers pay, and collaborators compensation
    • Schedule rehearsals
  • Break down the dance score in the context of a film script
    • If you’re not trained to be a filmmaker, engage with a filmmaker who can translate between dance and filmmaking so they understand the language
    • Determine how long each scene will take, actually sit there with a stopwatch
    • Determine where each scene will take place, travel too and from locations takes time and therefore money!
    • Lump together similar scenes so you can avoid returning to a location because you forgot to shoot a scene there
    • Plan your shots
    • Storyboard


  • Essential Personnel (Calculate how much to pay yourself: funders want to see that humans are being paid!)
    • Producer If not you, hire the first person that drinks your kool aid! Producer is always on the phone, keep this in mind.
    • Director If not you, hire someone whose vision aligns with your own.
    • Script Supervisor Helps break down the script and keep everyone to it in production.
    • Assistant Director Someone who can run set, watch crew, stage manage, production manage, schedule. They must want to be on set at all times.
    • Director of Photography The good marriage is between the director and the DP. If not an actual DP, perhaps someone who aspires to be a DP like a 1st assistant camera operator or lighting person.
    • Sound Operator Makes the work  seem professional or not seem professional, good ones are always in demand, get a boom operator and then give them their first sound credit
    • Editor Editor can be on set but not necessary, script supervisor is the man in between director and editor. Assistant editor might be needed to log footage, name and organize it, before the editor is involved.
    • Talent Acting personnel release online, if they are SAG you have to make a deal, there can be ultra low budget deals but it can take 6-8 weeks.
    • Categories additional personnel fall into: Development Staff Executive Staff General Crew Talent Post-Production Distribution Lawyer Accounting
  • Equipment
    • If you pay your crew, then it is more likely that they can donate their own equipment on a low budget program.
  • Insurance
    • Workers comp if you have a crew, liability if you are using electricity and equipment.
  • Living
    • You must feed your cast and crew!
  • Travel
    • How long does it to get from one location to another and how much will that cost to transport personnel and equipment?
  • Location
    • Consider permits, permit for being outside but if your inside you might need a permit to park your car.
  • Rights
    • For the music? Choreography? Find this out right away!
    • If you plan to make money from your film and be distributed, you must have clearances for everything!
    • Fun Fact: HANGOVER 2 was sued for exposing one of Mike Tyson’s tattoos without getting clearance from the tattoo artist.
  • General Office Space
    • For administration, if the apartment your share with three roommates is too small.
  • Distribution
    • What do you want to end up with?
      • A DVD? How many copies?
      • A master? What format?
  • Keep Books, do it as you go!
Once these are answered, then fill in the line items and you have yourself a budget!


  • Producer should
    • Prepare emotionally before a shoot- put best sheets on the bed and promise to take a shower
    • Make sure everyone else sleeps and eats.
    • Must treat everyone well, like they are in the union.
    • Ensure that Editor and DP speak before hand
    • Make sure that the footage is encoded properly
    • Check that  stills are taken with a real camera during production for color correction in post
    • Make sure everything happens on schedule!
    • Get the names of everyone no set, make sure contracts are signed
    • GET LUNCH!
      • Get a veggie option, no pork!
      • Don’t let everyone stand around and order from a menu! Pick 5 things and feed them.
    • Control background in film
    • Make sure there isn’t a billboard in the background, that no SAG actor was accidentally thrown in as an extra.
    • Move it along, get everyone to the next location even though it’s like herding cats.
    • Keep Books, do it has you go along!


  • Producer will
  • Develop the pitch
    • Get it together in one or two sentences
    • Don’t talk about character, don’t talk about world, find the story in the film!
  • Carry around a one sheet that you can hand out to everyone and anyone
  • One last time, Keep Books, do it has you go along!
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