Assuming you have a great screenplay, some actors who will work free, locations, and a great digital camera (forget film; it's too expensive), you're ready to begin. There are great books on directing, which are excellent in steering you in the right direction on how to set up shots, etc.
How does the Screen Actors Guild fit into this? If you are lucky enough to find a star—from today or from yesteryear—and you're working together and you do not have to pay the star, in my opinion you should set up your film as a two-project vehicle. Because a project has to have signatory status to use union actors (forget using union actors if they are not stars or "names"), cut your screenplay into two parts. One "project" will be signed to union agreements; the other pages of the screenplay, those that don't pertain to the union actors, will be another "project." Then combine them in the editing process.
Of course, SAG will say you can't do this, but they will never know which parts of the movie are what. If they require a script, then only turn in what needs to be union and go from there. There are plenty of stock-footage shots not covered by the union that get added into union-covered movies all the time, and no one gets reprimanded. So why is it a big deal to do two projects and combine them later as one?
Here's an example: You've lucked out and gotten a star. You only need him or her for a cameo—like, 10 pages. You set up these 10 pages as a SAG production, and the rest separately as a nonunion production. Then in editing, you combine all and you save lots of money on workers' compensation insurance, etc. You just eliminated making the whole production a union film. If SAG says anything, say the shot with the star was a stock "scene" and you put it in your film.
As for distribution, a copy of your movie on DVD costs less than a dollar. If you fail to get a distributor for your film, it doesn't hurt to take about $1,000 of your own money, or even just 500 bucks, and make them yourself. Many distributors out there will take your "retail-ready" DVDs and market them.
To compete with foreign markets so production stays in America, we all may need to take a pay cut. All entertainment unions need to help producers keep costs down. State lawmakers need to pass laws making California an easy and affordable place to do business in. Cutting the costs of workers' compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, and taxes; stopping permit fees for filming; and lowering the sales tax are a few good starting points.
I've always believed in making things happen for yourself. My motto is "If it's meant to be, it's up to me." Good luck to all first-time moviemakers!
Sam Mraovich's credits include "Ben and Arthur," an educational video on screenwriting, and two short films available on YouTube, Blockbuster.com, and Netflix.