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HD Film Blog: My Learning Experiences to Date

Here's the latest in a series of blogs on the production of "Closing Escrow," a SAG Modified Low-Budget Feature comedy about real estate that is now in post production in HD in Los Angeles. This week's blogger is Kristen Cox, the producer, and head of Sixteen by Nine Productions in Los Angeles:

"On location, shooting 18-hour days, temperatures in the upper 90s... Sony HDW-F900 Cine Alta Cameras equipped with Canon HD lenses are absolute workhorses. They never failed us. I love HD!

"Budget for every possible thing you know you'll need to make the production happen. Include compensation for areas you know you'll have to trouble-shoot: Petty Cash, Parking, Permits, Food, Batteries, Shipping, Gels, Legal Fees, Insurance, etc.

"Go back and pad every number for the element of surprise which is a guaranteed part of production - or add a healthy contingency line item to the overall total. On this production, contingencies were: overtime fees, equipment rental fees, an additional truck for Art Department, tech tests, additional wardrobe needs, printing/reproduction, etc.

"Be sure to include several days for Technical Testing as a booked and paid day for the technical team. For the sake of keeping a lid on costs, we worked around each other's schedules to get together for tech tests prior to shooting. This resulted in several meetings with various team members, but no one day where we were all in the same room at the same time running out the gear--not just talking about how we want to do things. To insure reliability and accountability, officially get together and hammer it all out prior to shooting.

"Being a SAG Signatory Motion Picture allows the opportunity to hire terrific actors at reasonable rates. There is a lot of paperwork associated with a SAG Signatory feature. It can be daunting, but it's not so bad. Allow plenty of time for preparation and keep a good filing system. You'll need to use a payroll agency to pay SAG actors--and that was another contingency item for us on this adventure.

"Shooting with animals and minors requires extra effort and additional regulation. Minors have a short workday and require parental supervision as well as a studio teacher who serves as their social worker and keeps tabs on their safety and well-being. In the state of California, they also require a work permit. Animals are protected by the American Humane Society. The Humane Society was very easy to work with. On animal days, a representative from AHS will join you on set to make sure the animals are treated properly. You'll also be required to hire a certified animal wrangler.

"Don't skimp on Craft Services. Shoot days for independent features can be excruciating because most of the crew is doing more than one job. Making the most of every drop of sunlight the day has to offer puts a strain on everyone. Quality snacks and high-protein, hot meals make the hours more bearable and keep the crew in a good mood.

"Hire good P.A.s! We had terrific Production Assistants. They were recent college graduates who were in it for the experience more than for the money. They knew enough not to be a burden and were willing to take on any task. These poor people made trips to the dump, scrambled to the local Wal-Mart for clothing emergencies, kept the craft services coming, went to the taxidermist to pick up a dead rabbit, assisted in vehicle parking, un-packed and re-packed the camera truck at least twice a day, and worked at a grassroots level to cheer up anyone who needed a lift. THANK YOU Emily, Terry and Erin!"