5 Tips for Rolling with the Punches as a Short Film Producer

Molly Learner in 'Summer with Mrs. Von Mausch'

Written by Joanna Rudolph

Here's how to make the most out of producing your next project.

I recently made Summer with Mrs. Von Mausch, a 14-minute short film that I produced, available to watch on Vimeo for free. The timing for its Internet premiere seemed right since Summer with Mrs. Von Mausch explores themes of loneliness and isolation, issues that have become ever more prevalent during the pandemic.

Written and directed by David Pomes (2008 SXSW Audience Winner, Cook County), the film is about a 13-year-old girl (Molly Learner) whose father (David Pomes) is ill-prepared for his daughter’s New York City visit—and for her developing an unlikely friendship with the eccentric Upper East Side next-door neighbor Mrs. Von Mausch (Annie McGreevey).

Before producing Summer with Mrs. Von Mausch I had co-produced Yin/Yang, written and directed by Zack Ordynans (Burning Annie), so I had some experience and knowledge to bring to the shoot... but nothing could prepare me for all the creative problem-solving I would end up doing.

Budget constraints and tight deadlines are part-and-parcel of indie film producing, and Summer with Mrs. Von Mausch was no exception. With a production budget of $2,588.00 (you read that right!) for a two-and-a-half-day (yes, not even three full days) shoot, I was reliant on the generosity of friends, family, and crew to get the job done.

The following are my five key takeaways from producing this short film.

1. Share a producer credit, since there’s no wealth to share

When it came to hiring a cinematographer, we engaged the multi-talented Branan Edgens. In addition to coming with his own camera and lighting equipment, Branan agreed to be our film editor as well. Since I couldn’t afford to pay him at his full rate, I offered to share producer credit with him. Thankfully, Branan accepted.

2. Expect the unexpected

While the self-contained script had minimal locations (two apartments), a minimal number of characters (four speaking roles), and minimal production requirements (getting necessary NYC shooting permits), I did not account for having to go back and shoot a new scene with Molly and someone off-camera, which David and Branan determined was needed while we were already in post-production. I had to scrape together more money via family, since my contingency line item (3% of the budget) did not cover the cost.

Actors Annie McGreevey & Molly Learner in Summer with Mrs. Von Mausch

3. Don’t discount the value of in-kind contributions 

Speaking of family, among the many in-kind contributions my cousin Peggy Bader made was securing the two main locations at no cost, and providing costumes, jewelry, props, and car transportation (as needed). Her involvement was instrumental in getting our short film off the ground and in the can. 

4. Be prepared to problem-solve at a moment’s notice 

The day we were shooting his scene, the individual who agreed to play Mrs. Von Mausch’s nephew didn’t show up. Fortunately, my friend Russell Dreher (editor of Yin/Yang), who was originally cast in another role, agreed to instead play the nephew.

For the non-speaking part, Russell was originally going to do, assistant cameraman Matt Klammer stepped out of his zone—literally—and agreed to be on-camera with PA/script supervisor Hywel Berry. (You’ll notice a thread there of everyone multi-tasking.)

5. Location filming is not for the faint of heart 

Although I had obtained filming permission from building management and apartment owners of two luxury Upper East Side residences, I was taking a risk. How? Because I couldn’t afford insurance. We shot during off-peak hours, didn’t use wires and/or a tripod, and kept crew to a minimum. Thankfully there were no damages. Had there been any, I would have been liable per my contract with the management and the apartment owners… phew!

Producing a short film can be financially chancy and stressful. Then why do it? Well, for me it’s an opportunity to collaborate and connect with others. We can come together to tell stories that hopefully create a more empathetic world, which is something we all dearly need. So, that’s worth the risks!     

In addition to producing five short films, Joanna Rudolph is an executive producer of the indie feature film Burning Annie, which premiered at the Hamptons International Film Festival and is currently available to watch on TVOD platforms via Sundance Creative Distribution Intitative. She recently co-wrote a coming-of-age feature film titled Beachwood and is seeking collaborators. You can follow her on Twitter @icatcherfilms.

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