How do you get the money shot, the big reveal, the twist that your documentary needs? How do you grapple with people telling you "no"? What happens if the ending of your short film just doesn't work, and you have to rewrite it on the spot? How do you integrate new visuals and technology to better reflect your subject matter?

What about if you get—gulp—arrested while making your film?

Believe it or not, we've got all these production trials and tribulations in the stories below, straight from Sundance filmmakers themselves. Making indie films is hard—running and gunning can be a nightmare sometimes. But as you'll see, it can all be beautiful, and worth it, in the end.

Below, you'll find filmmakers' answers to the question, "What were some specific production challenges that were unique to your project?" Enjoy!

'Eternal You'

Eternal You

Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Hans Block & Moritz Riesewieck, directors, Eternal You

People mourning are in an extremely vulnerable situation and the memory of a dead person can be something very private and personal. It makes us all the happier that our protagonists have trusted us to tell their stories and those of their dead with dignity. Without this trust, the film would not have been possible. In addition, the leaps in innovation in the development of artificial intelligence cannot be planned. In this respect, we were dealing with a great deal of uncertainty. For a long time, many of the announcements made by start-ups about wanting to make people digitally immortal seemed to remain aspirations. And then—especially with the advent of GPT and similar AIs—a lot became possible very quickly. After we had worked on the movie for years, so much has happened in 2023 and the movie has changed a lot in the last weeks and months. That's also what filmmaking is about, waiting until the right moment has come.

Alessandra Lacorazza, director, and Daniel Tantalean, producer, In the Summer

One of the major challenges we face that no one could foresee was when a stomach virus hit our set. Many of our crew members went down in a 48 hour period and having to turn around and find replaces for 25% of our crew in less than 12 hours. Plus with a few actors going down, we had cut a scene and alter our approach for a few days because of it.

David Timoner, producer/editor, DIG! XX

We were fresh out of Yale University when we met The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Dandy Warhols. We pretty much threw ourselves headlong into filming them day in and day out, touring with them. Things were, as you might imagine, a lot more comfortable with the Dandy Warhols than they were with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Tour buses versus vans, and sometimes, it got pretty edgy with the BJM—like when half the band took off walking in Chicago and we didn't know what to do, where to sleep as we had planned to push on that night to stay at a friend's in Columbus. We had nowhere to sleep in Chicago.

But things got a lot worse later on in the tour when Anton and I were arrested in Georgia after he waived the right to search my car and the police found a single joint that had been given to us by Nina Ritter, the A&R woman who had been interested in signing the band for Elektra Records. That one joint landed us in jail. My brother was back at the motel with the rest of the band, and I used my one phone call to let him know where we were and that my car had been left on the side of a random highway in Banks County, Georgia, with the camera on the floor of the driver’s side. He then had to gather the rest of the band to go clean out their broken van and knowingly drive it into the same drug trap where we’d been caught, then grab the camera and come bail us out.

Even still, as you see in the movie, when the cops open the van door, bottles come flying out, and the dogs go nuts for their van, though they had “meticulously” cleaned it out. We ended up getting bailed out, despite the fact that my brother came into the police station with our video camera and was filming Anton through the glass while he was being fingerprinted, holding up a sign saying, "I've told them I have diabetes, so they're being nice to me!" as the officer stepped out of the room momentarily … the sheriff walked in and threw David out of the police station, forcing him to record over that footage.

Thankfully, not all the footage, and we have extended this portion of the film to include a new scene from what happens next: Anton caught up with the band to find out they couldn’t play the gig that night, because they wouldn't accept the band without the lead singer. He threw a fit because that meant they were flat broke, and the band broke up that night. We crawled back to California in pain and broke. We had basically put all of our money into buying tapes to burn through, as we captured this never-ending story. Every job we did making music videos and EPKs went towards DIG!

At a certain point, when we’d go into Edgewise Film and Media tapes store on La Brea, they asked if we shouldn’t be spending our money across the street at Ralph's Supermarket, because we were so skinny.

DIG! XX Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Amrou Al-Kadhi, writer/director, Layla

This film was particularly challenging because it was spread around 25 locations in East London—we needed this many, as the film explores how Layla, an Arab drag queen, has to traverse loads of different locations and spaces, and how they modify themselves in every single one as a form of survival; the breadth of locations and spaces was crucial to this exploration in the film.

The way we were able to do this effectively was through having a production base in East London, all within close distance of every one of the locations. I think our most challenging location was the nightclub, which we created in an underground tunnel—transporting 70 drag queens into this space was tricky, and we had numerous conversations about making the space and experience as safe as possible. Thankfully it was, and one of our most joyous days on the shoot!

Kristen Correll, DP, My Old Ass

This was my first time working extensively on the water with cranes on boats and it can be very challenging, especially since water isn’t STILL. You might be ready to roll the camera, but any 5 second or more delay and everything has drifted completely out of place. I knew we had to embrace and adapt to this “fluid” way of shooting, and of course we did. The challenges and difficulties of a process become part of what makes up the visual language, which then brings a uniqueness that was probably unforeseen.

Megan Park, director/writer/EP, My Old Ass

Filming on boats was just a constant challenge logistically. We had all sorts of follow boats and half the time we couldn't even get signal on the monitor to see what the actors were doing. There was a lot of trust in the actors during boat work. Also, when we were filming in the middle of the woods and there were black bears that posed a unique challenge too.

Shuchi Talati, writer/director, Girls Will Be Girls

This is more of a pre-production challenge, but I knew our film hinged on the casting of our three leads—the protagonist Mira (16), her mother Anila (39), and her boyfriend Sri (17)—and I knew this was going to be difficult. We worked with Dilip Shankar who cast Monsoon Wedding and Life of Pi, and we decided to do a wide search for the young actors.

We auditioned a lot of trained young actors, and also did an open call in many cities across India. The trained actors analyzed the scenes and hit all the beats, but they didn't have the aliveness that I was looking for. I was beginning to get worried we wouldn’t find our Mira when Preeti Panigrahi’s audition came in through an open call. The audition scene was the first time Mira talks to her love interest, Sri. A lot of girls played it very coy, but not Preeti. She had a lot of self-respect and strength—she liked this boy but she was not going to play coy or bat her eyelids.

I knew that was Mira. And she is a really smart actor who intuitively understands Mira. Sri is a very complex young man and most young actors couldn’t embody his contradictions. And then Kesav Binoy Kiron waltzed in with an incredible mix of charm and vulnerability, boyishness on the cusp of manhood, and I could immediately see that he’d be able to form a bond with both Mira and her mother.

And then there’s Kani Kusruti, who plays Anila—I was already a fan of her work because she has a live wire quality, where you're not sure what she's going to do. She really, truly can be in the moment, and you feel that. That feeling of “what will this mom do next?” was so essential to the film. But you never know if it will work until all the actors are in a room with each other. And when Preeti, Kesav, and Kani read together for the first time, Dilip and I huddled behind the camera and looked at each other in disbelief and whispered, “Where did they come from?”

Girls Will Be Girls Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Silje Evensmo Jacobsen, director, A New Kind of Wilderness

When I was filming the children alone in the forest it could be quite challenging. Running after them, dealing with sound and picture at the same time.

Carlos Lopez, director, Dream Creep

Wanting to utilize practical blood and gore FX for the centerpiece of our movie, a lot of pre-visualizing and testing was employed to ensure we could pull off the imagery we desired. With cameras rolling and the pressure on, we were able to execute these effects with great success, mainly due to the acute attention of everyone on the crew and committed performances from our actors. Coming together to create these crucial moments is the thing I'm most proud of in putting together this project. With modest resources and a tenacious desire to bring this vision to life, I feel our team really brought their all, and hopefully, that's embedded in the movie for audiences to experience.

Gary Hustwit, director, Eno

The subject of our film, Brian Eno, is a legendary music and artist who's known for his innovations throughout his 50+ year career. So a by-the-numbers bio-doc was not in the cards.

Brian has long used generative software as part of his creative process, and I was dreaming of a way that film could be a more performative, less static, art form. So the idea of a generative film was intriguing for everyone involved, and we've spent years developing the technology to make that possible. The other challenge was the digitization and restoration of Brian's visual archive of over 500 hours of footage.

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