One of the countless benefits of being a We Make Movies member is the opportunity to enter into the Rolling Production Fund Challenge in hopes of securing funding for a community-backed project. Our unique system of vetting and testing projects for an audience is made complete by actually allowing our members to vote on their favorite pieces based on staged readings done by professional actors who bring the scripts to life in the semi-final stage of the challenge. Numerous short films have been chosen by a live studio audience of WMM members, and consequently been greenlit through this process. Prolific writer Flip Kobler penned the comedic gem No Reservations, which became one of the four winning RPF Challenge films in 2019. The film went on to be directed by award-winning filmmaker Steven LaMorte, who then additionally documented the magic behind the scenes of making the film, including the resourceful techniques and swoon worthy gear and software utilized to optimize the shoot.
The film premiered at the 2021 We Make Movies International Film Festival with rave reviews and it stars Chris Sanders, Amy Schumacher, Joe Abraham, Robert DiTillio, and Heidi Schooler (with cameos from many other WMM members). The film's cinematography was done by the incomparable Valentina Vee, edited through the keen eyes of Mathew Roscoe, and composed by John T. Mickevich. LaMorte, who has worked with high profile brands such as Sony, Apple, WWE and Miss World America (and also happens to be the Creative Director of our branded division WMM Creative Services) has experienced the whole spectrum of filmmaking budgets, gear, and production detail throughout his career. Working within the parameters of the Challenge budget alongside being provided with cutting edge technology, equipment, and a reliable strategy proved to be successful. So fruitful in fact, that we decided we would share the process with you. Check it all out below!
SL: I submitted this project to the RPF challenge because I’ve always been a fan of the We make movies pipeline. I love involving the community and bringing as many members together as possible, and I knew this would be a great opportunity to involve lots of We Make Movies members in front of and behind the scenes. In addition, one of my specialties is working with lower budgeted productions, so I really liked the idea of a challenging production where we had to build a restaurant and shoot a high page count in just one day. I knew we would need to get a lot of coverage due to the large cast and variety of gags, so this was always going to be an ambitious project – but if we could pull it off it would be awesome - and make for a great story!
SL: The best way to work with We Make Movies is to start as early as possible and be as specific as possible. If you can develop your script, get your project up on its feet, and after you shoot, test screen the movie – you’re going to have a better result. Most people don’t know that We Make Movies offers services from development all the way through to delivery and even has its own festival, so I encourage people to call or reach out to the team and find out how they can be of assistance - We Make Movies has resources for just about everything! They can guide you along the way to make the best version of your film.
If you’re just starting in your filmmaking journey, being a part of the community and engaging with the team is a great way to get a running head start with all of the things needed to make a movie. They can even take a look at your script and give you recommendations for crew, or resources you may not know or have access to that you may not know you need.
SL: The We Make Movies concept workflow production workflow is a combination of modern, powerful, but extremely accessible technology and methodology that makes high end results doable with a small or budget conscious team. Basically, it breaks down to a good plan and solid equipment.
SL: Our workflow is a combination of some of my favorite pieces of hardware and software that have really come a long way in the last few years. For starters, we knew we wanted to shoot a high page count and lots of coverage so we would have to be nimble so we opted for a small Sony FX 3 dual camera package to allow our operators to shoot handheld and change angles quickly. we also knew we wanted to finish the project at the highest quality and make a streaming service compatible deliverable, so we utilized an Atomos Ninja V that enabled us to circumvent the already great image from the Sony camera and record in HDR to capture even higher quality than the camera is built to record. This allowed us to keep the HDR information from shooting all the way through to Post.
We also knew that due to our tight turnaround our editor, Roscoe, would need as much information associated with the raw footage as possible. Our script supervisor used Shot Notes X by OWC to not only keep track of continuity while shooting but to mark off which were my favorite print takes, which shots covered which parts of the dialogue, and ensure that we captured everything. Then this information was associated using Shot Notes X with all of our footage as it was ingested meaning that in our final cut pro library as soon as the editor had the footage he knew immediately what every shot was, which ones were my favorites, and how to piece it all together which allowed him to move through post production quickly.
Since we were shooting so much 4K HDR footage – the scenes were long and the takes were numerous - it was important that we had fast robust storage so we went with OWC Envoy Pro FX. These little SSD’s are crazy fast and bulletproof – I can’t believe how much space is on them! As we were shooting we were able to quickly offload files on set and get them over to the Editor immediately so he could start working that night. Between the hardware and software approach, when Roscoe sat down with the footage before I had left the set he already had his final cut pro library built, his footage synced and tagged, and he was ready to start editing .
We knew that we had to turn the movie around quickly so we opted to stay in Final Cut Pro for our 4K HDR finishing – Final Cut Pro recently added lots of powerful new color tools to work with and deliver HDR content right in your NLE (non-linear editing).
From an audio standpoint, our cast was large but our budget was small and I knew I wanted to use as many lavalier microphones as possible in order to capture everyone speaking at once. This led me to Apogee Clipmic Digital Two - a lavalier microphone for your cell phone - which allowed us to record directly to the cast cell phones broadcast quality audio, which could be sent later with the raw footage for pristine sound. Once we had figured out how to hide smartphones on the actors bodies, we were up and running in no time!
SL: My favorite tool was definitely the combination of the small Sony camera with the Atomos Ninja V. Being able to have your camera package be small and nimble while still capturing and delivering in that HDR quality was something I never knew could be possible with such a tiny and portable package. It’s like a digital cinema camera on steroids but still nimble enough to be creative and not let the gear get in the way. When we pitched this project as part of the competition, I knew that we were going to opt for a smaller camera package in order to get everything we needed, but I assumed that would have to compromise in quality – but with this setup we were able to be nimble and still deliver amazing results.
I also love being able to work on the final color grade in Final Cut Pro without having to go to another piece of software – obviously specialized tools that serve only one purpose can sometimes give you more control, but when we have a fast turnaround and an aggressive deadline, sometimes you need to stay in one piece of software and I was pleasantly surprised with just how much we could do right in Final Cut Pro.
SL: From a budgetary standpoint, it’s very helpful to utilize this workflow because we are able to deliver high-quality results faster and less expensively. You used to need lots of people and substantially more gear and maybe even a Post house to deliver these results and now a few people can do the job of many people at an almost unbelievable quality level whether they’re working in a studio or at home - or remotely for that matter.
When you’re making a creative endeavor I really feel like efficiency matters – you want the technology to get out of the way and allow you to be free to create without limits and move at the speed of thought. If you’re trying to keep the energy up on set and capture an entertaining story, you don’t want tech issues to slow down your creative process! All of these tools gave me the comfort of knowing I could trust our team and our tech to help bring the story to life. Your workflow should empower you to do the job effectively, not slow you down or throw you a curveball or worse - distract you from what should be a fun process.
SL: New workflows are critical to independent filmmakers because more and more we are being forced to operate at a high technical standard, but may not have the time or resources to do it in a slow or antiquated way – we still need to be methodical and detail oriented, but we have to work with the restrictions we are given and with the right planning I think it’s definitely possible now more than ever! We’re shooting and delivering a 10 minute 4K HDR master file with 5.1 audio and premiering it just a few days later - it doesn’t get much faster than that!
SL: The we make movies workflow is great because there’s always been this certain mystery behind the different facets of production and post production – “you need someone special to do this job, you need to go to an expensive Post house to do that job with a team of people, etc.” – this workflow kind of demystifies everything without sacrificing quality and allows a few people to very quickly learn, adapt, and ultimately deliver professional technical results. This workflow is a great way to empower artists to take control of what they create and make the movie they want to see – with no compromises!
SL: Some forms of production can definitely start to feel like a factory product or assembly line turning out content, but when you create in a community environment you are reminded why you picked up a camera in the 1st Place - to have fun! Whenever I’m on a We Make Movies set people are excited about being on camera or behind the camera, making something cool with their friends. From top to bottom everyone who contributed to this project really loved being there and I do believe it shows on screen in the movie – we are all having fun and the movie is a fun watch because of it.
I think it’s also worthy of note that as a director I usually am able to create better projects within a community environment than I would with a team that’s just not as invested in seeing me succeed – you can definitely tell the difference when you see a movie that was made almost in spite of the people making it. When like-minded artists collaborate the results have no choice but to be magical.
SL: When you are making something independent, there are good days and bad days. There are some dark days when you are given a choice and encounter self-doubt. “What streaming platform is going to want my project? Who is even going to see this movie – should we make it at a high quality if it’s only going to be seen by my mother on her cell phone?“ You can shoot yourself in the foot and hurt your project before it even starts by selling yourself short! Working with WMM and specifically with Sam, instills in you that your work deserves to be on the big screen. Who are you to decide your project is not worthy ? I like to say swing for the fences, make it awesome, and let the audience decide - your work deserves to be seen in the biggest, best way possible – and you should do whatever you can to protect your vision from start to finish. The technology and the workflow is readily available - We figured it out, and you can too!
by Sapna Gandhi
Sapna Gandhi is an actor, singer-songwriter, and content creator. In addition to TV credits such as Bosch, Shameless and Scandal, she has appeared in numerous shorts, features, and series, including festival darlings In Absentia (Raindance) and Thumper (Tribeca). Gandhi has produced several series and films under the umbrella of her production company Elegant Grotesque (most recently Scrap, starring Anthony Rapp and Vivian Kerr, and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’ Stranded On The Earth, directed by Mike Bruce). She is also 1/2 of the musical duo, VATAVARAN, was born in England, raised all over the states, studied English and Women’s Studies, and trained at the American Conservatory Theatre in SF.