Making a short is hard and expensive, so if you’re in a position like me where your kids have already taken all your money, why not put them to work! With their endless energy and ability to never stop talking, they’ll make for some great unpaid talent. So if you’re trying to upskill with some filmmaking R&D, forget calling Tom Hanks, because your kids will bring the drama. Here are a few benefits of casting your own kids in your next short.
Cost-effectiveness. Using my children as on-camera talent saves me a significant amount of money since I don’t have to pay for child actors, studio teachers, or a casting director. Plus, I can just bribe them with snacks and such, instead of paying them with actual money.
Example: “Nail this shot and I’ll let you watch Netflix until your Mother realizes and starts screaming at us.”
Building Memories. Not only am I testing out new technology, but creating a memorable experience for the family. Hopefully the film will serve as a reminder of a special time we had, or else it’ll definitely ensure I have enough embarrassing footage to bring up at their weddings.
Flexibility. Because I am basically a bus driver for my children’s activities, I know their routines and schedules. I can work my creativity around their availability, rather than going back and forth with an actor and their managers and their agents and their girlfriend’s dog sitter, so on and so forth. Like, when my daughter has soccer practice or when my son has a tantrum because we ran out of grapes, you can just work around it. Also, we have a natural chemistry and understanding of one another, which can lead to more believable and authentic performances. This is a nice way of me saying, you can yell at your children and get them to do what you want because you made them.
So get yourselves some mini humans and start filming. Don’t have kids? Knock on your neighbors door, find your nieces and nephews, heck, borrow mine. People say “don’t work with kids,” but I say do it. There are millions of them running around without a job so go make them work. Just have snacks handy.
And if all else fails, use your sister’s dog Wrigley.
Life as a Creative during the pandemic was like being a bird in a cage. You had all these big, beautiful ideas fluttering around in your head, but nowhere to go with them. So when covid restrictions started lifting, and production started coming back to life, I needed to stop my brain from melting and get back to what I loved doing: making films. So I put on my big-boy pants, reconnected with my network of like-minded creatives, and made my new short film Life With Wifey. Here’s how I made it happen.
Making an “art thing with friends.” You see, I’m like a Golden Retriever – if you’re excited, I’m even more excited. And nothing gets me more excited than collaborating and making art with a group of like-minded creatives who get just as pumped as I do about making movies. So when my kids were finally back in school, and I could finally emerge from my pandemic cocoon, I knew it was time to reconnect with my network of film-making buddies. I had been so insular for so long, my main objective with this project was to jump back into in-person connections and make some art with my friends. Let’s just say, making this film was like a big slobbery dog finally getting to play with his favorite squeaky toy again.
The power of goal setting. One of the key ways I stayed organized and on track throughout this journey was through journaling and goal setting, a daily 730am habit that I’ve been doing for years now. For the film, I made it a routine to jot down my progress and key milestones to help me stay focused and motivated. I also set specific deadlines for myself. I knew that by June 1st, I would have a finished script, by September 1st, I would be in production (we shot the film over Labor Day weekend), and by December 25th, I would give myself the ultimate Christmas gift – a completed film. This helped me to stay on track and avoid feeling overwhelmed by the process.
Having a full-time job. I know what you’re thinking – “A job? Who needs that?” Well, I do, because I ain’t made of money. Having a full-time job is like having the ultimate side hustle. Sure, you may be spending time in an office or somewhere else, but at least you’re not standing on the street corner singing “Don’t Stop Believin'” for spare change. Plus, having a steady income from your 9-5 gig means you can afford to invest in your film without having to sell your firstborn (what’s the going rate for third graders these days anyway?). Having a job, whatever it is, gives you a sense of security, so you don’t have to stress about your bills. You can enjoy the process of filming and not worrying about where your next paycheck is going to come from. Create your safety net!
Living below my means. Saving your money and cutting back on unnecessary expenses means you’ll have more money to invest in your film so you can use that one lens or lighting package your DP definitely needs or he’ll faint (Hi Richie). Living below your means also means you don’t have to make sacrifices that would affect the quality of your film, like casting your sister’s dog Wrigley as the lead actor. In my case, I still drive my trusty 2005 Honda Accord (zero to sixty in three minutes beep-beep), which not only saves me money on unnecessary car payments, but also helps me to feel good about being a part of the “save the planet” movement. And let’s be real, who needs a fancy car when you have a wife who is over how you look anyway?
Getting support from family. It’s important to have a support system in place to help you through the entire filmmaking process. Relying on family for support is like hitting the jackpot. In my case, my mother in-law was my secret weapon, taking on the role of a full-time babysitter for a few weekends and allowing me to focus on the film. Not only did she love it, but she also kept asking when the premiere was so she could “bring her bridge ladies.” I mean, who needs a red carpet when you have a group of elderly women ready to cheer you on? Essentially, relying on family is like winning the lottery. Not only do you get the support you need, but also the love and appreciation from the people that matter the most.
What’s next for the film? I mean, my goal is not to win awards. Will this film win an Oscar? Probably not. Will it take Sundance by storm? Doubtful. But, at the end of the day, I achieved my dream of collaborating with a team to bring a film to life and that’s something I can share with my kids. Because as they say, ‘if you’re not creating, you’re waiting.’ And who wants to wait when you can make art with friends?
Self-funding a short film is a wild ride. But if you’re determined to make it happen, it’s possible. Keep a job (whatever it is), live like a college student, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. So, if you’re thinking about self-funding your short film, my last bit of advice is also this: Don’t get anyone pregnant. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but trust me, kids are expensive, and they will eat up all your production design budget because you have to feed them or whatever. Stick to the film-making, and leave the baby-making to the pros. After all, you’ve got a movie to make.