A Day in the Life of an Independent Filmmaker


by John Montana


In My Humble Opinion, this is almost a trick statement. I only say this because my days when I am not filming are vastly different than when I am in production. In my normal life, I am like most folks. I get up, have some coffee, do some work on my computer, eat my meals, spend time with my family, watch some TV at night and then go to bed.


Most days vary, but for the most part, the same. However, when I am in production, life is like a runaway train. And no matter what I do to try and slow it down a little, it is NOT going to stop until I am done filming. So with that being said, this is what a day of mine was like on my last film set. It was a little Christmastime horror film and it was shot at night over a three- day weekend. This was my first day on set.




On the Set of HUNGRY - John Montana

Photo Credit: No Title Production Films - From the set of HUNGRY



We started to shoot on a Saturday night at 8pm in a cramped used clothing store. I got there at about 7:30 to make sure the owners were there and the set was ready. Before everyone arrived, I made some calls to the restaurant that I was ordering dinner from, and placed the order. I also helped to set up the tables for craft services to set up the food.


I made the final payment for the location with the owners when they arrived as well. When my crew arrived, the first thing I did was to meet with my D.P. to go over the first shot. How I wanted it to look, the type of shot…in this case, it was a backwards dolly shot that panned right to reveal the shop. It was a complicated shot, and I wanted to make sure it was what I wanted. After we got that settled, he went to get his lighting and sound and gaffer to work on setting it up.


I then went back and greeted my actors and makeup person. I got the actress into hair and makeup, because she was in the first shot. Because I was also the producer on this film, I had to take my directors hat off and do production biz sometimes. So I would then and do whatever I needed to do in that arena…like write a rent check. Or sign some insurance documents.


Because my films have all been shorts up till now, I am always the producer as well. So while my actress was in makeup and my crew was setting up the first shot, I hovered around…checking to see if everyone had what they needed. So after two hours of setting up, and I am very getting antsy, we are ready to shoot. So I go into makeup and the makeup guy has completely screwed up the makeup.


The lead actress is now a 1940’s glamorous movie star, not an old crone that has been alive for 500 years. So I am now having my first severe challenge…I feel the top pf my head beginning to come off. I just say okay and leave. I go for a walk and try to come up with a way that I can save this disaster. So in the middle of this, we are ready to shoot. I am forced to accept this new version of my leading lady. Needless to say… I am really honked off. We start to shoot now, over two hours behind and it’s only the first shot of the day. An hour later, we move on to the next shot. 







So now we are three hours into this day, and only on our second shot. I am a little stressed by now…as you can imagine. But I have learned to expect “magic” when filming, and so I breathe and try to relax. Things always work out. So we continue slogging thru. After an hour or two, I come up with an idea of how I can make the new “ Hollywood Look” possibly work.


So because I am also the writer of this story, I create a new scene right there, one that we shoot towards the end of the day. By this time, after a very bumpy start, we have gotten more shots in the can, and I am starting to relax into this. At midnight, the food arrives and we break for dinner. I always buy nice meals for my crew. I was told along time ago that I should never scrimp on meals for my crew. “Food is Fuel”. And they need every ounce of energy…especially for a shoot that goes well into the morning.


The crew needs to be alert and awake, so that mistakes don’t happen. Like equipment being in the shot, or the lighting not being bright enough. I don’t have the resources to go back and try to re-shoot a mistake. So here is how I go about shooting a scene. While the crew is setting up the lights and the camera, I will talk to my actors that are in the scene. I will walk them through the action of the shot. I answer their questions, make sure they look great, try to calm them down and focus them.


Because it is their performances that will ultimately make or break the film. The D.P. will tell me when they are ready. So I go back to the monitor that I have set up in another room. Most of the time, the camera is hooked up to a monitor. This way there is a second set of eyes on the scene. A second set of eyes will always catch something that the D.P. has missed. I always advise this, especially at the level I am at. Because this proved to be a disaster when I got into editing.


My D.P. had a piece of equipment that he assured me he knew how to work. Well…he didn’t have a clue. And because this piece of equipment could NOT be hooked up to a monitor, I didn’t catch all of the shots that had equipment in them. So I ultimately lost 25% of my shots because they were so badly compromised. Let this be a lesson. ALWAYS have a second set of eyes on the shot.






So then when we are all in “places” I say action and we do a take. When it’s done, we take stock of what we just filmed. Most of the time, we always do more takes…because the first time thru is never satisfying. I actually look at the first 3-4 takes as warm-ups…for both the crew and especially the actors. This does not worry me… I actually enjoy it.


I can see the progression of each shot as it gets closer to what I envisioned it could be. At some point tho, there is the law of “diminished returns”. Which means basically that you can do a scene to death…then its just crap. So I confer with the D.P. to see how he felt. If he likes it, then I talk to my actors…see how they felt. If everyone feels good about the last take… we then move on to the next shot. And so on. For this location, the owners were very strict about the time. That was another headache… but it was completely my fault. I didn’t negotiate more time for setting up.


I just assumed that 8 hours rental was for shooting, and that we had some time on the front and back of the day for setting up. Nope!!! So I only got about 6 ½ hours of actual shooting. I know better next time!! So this first day was really tough as a filmmaker. We ended up only getting 5 of the 8-10 shots I had initially thought we might get, the actress was in a completely different world (makeup wise), the owners got the better of me deal-wise…which set me back a lot. I had to renegotiate another day at the location because of the shots I couldn’t get.



HUNGRY Production Shot

Photo Credit: No Title Production Films - From the set of HUNGRY



And because the owners knew I was in a bind, I got charged more than the first two days. But the good news was that I did get a shot that was able to “cover” for the new look of my actress. At 3:30 am, I call wrap for the day and I then help to shut down. I make sure that my actors are okay and that their costumes are in the rental truck. I confirm the call times for the next day with the D.P. and the owners. I make sure we store all the valuable equipment in the rental truck along with the costumes.


I make sure everyone gets off okay. And I am the last to leave, as I drive the rental truck back home. I park it in my driveway, to make sure it is safe. I then get home and greet my family… anyone who is still awake at 5am. I take a very hot shower to relax from the day and then collapse into bed. I then usually will wake without enough sleep, because the worries and chores that I need to take care of will ultimately bring me out of slumber, usually 4-5 hours later. I will feel drugged and sluggish, but I keep going. I really don’t sleep until the shoot is over, and then I crash for 16 hours.



So that’s it in a nutshell really. Every shoot is different, filled with challenges to overcome. Challenges are natural… they happen on EVERY set. It is the director’s job to navigate these smoothly and calmly. Because if you are an emotional mess, then your crew and actors will be as well. And then the film will be compromised. I have found something that I wanted to share with you.


On every single one of my film shoots, something has happened out of the blue. It’s almost like getting T-boned while driving. But I have discovered that these “occurrences” are always beneficial to the film. In a way that is very much what I like to call “magic”. With this film, the magic was the costumer making my lead actress a glamorous movie star.


By my staying calm and creating a way out of this, what the end result is in the film is quite wonderful. Totally what I was not expecting. It actually makes the film more creepy and horrific, which was my ultimate goal. Now I come to expect and even look forward to magic that always shows up…in the most unexpected ways.



John Montana - No Title Production Films


About The Author:

John Montana is an actor living with his wife in L.A. and has begun to make short films. His most recent film, “Hungry” has been accepted into 24 film festivals all over the world. Check out his short film - HUNGRY at No Title Production Films



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A Day in the Life of a Filmmaker