With every pro-bono, student, spec, freebie, reel (call it what you will) shoot I work on I set one standard before we start pre-production. If we want to learn anything, we need to treat it like a full-blown professional shoot. We may not have an AD department to report to, a producer to keep happy or a studio budget to stay within, but if we screw around the whole day/week we might as well be sitting around at home.
Just as a sharpshooter wouldn’t benefit much from a day sitting in a hammock on his back porch firing off a potato gun and downing a few beers, a bunch of amateurs hanging out on a set to feel good about themselves is just wasting time.
We do our best when working on smaller projects to put a lot of effort into making the business side of the project as important as the finished product. If you land a deal with Spielberg tomorrow and start production on your $200 million feature next week who is your casting director going to be? Who is your first AD? How many weeks will you fight to have for pre-production? What are your views on storyboards and art directors? I can think of a thousand more questions the ill-prepared would need to answer and have absolutely no idea what to say,
Your goal is to make films, which happen to be huge collaborative and expensive undertakings. Even with a support team of line producers and assistant directors you will still be up a creek without a knowledge of how to manage it all. A pro director knows how to handle shooting out of sequence. A good pro understands why a director may need 2 days for certain seemingly simple setups on the page. A pro writer knows how to structure dialogue and action to make a film-able sequence of events. None of these traits are learned by goofing around.
Know what you want to do and structure your shoot as close as possible to how that would feel if you were doing it ‘for real’. Do this and when your break comes you may actually be ready for it. Heck you might even learn something in the process.