Turning Your Passion for Filmmaking Into Reality
1.1 Which Type of Film Should You Make?
No matter the project’s type, every project will face its own set of challenges. This is part of the excitement of filmmaking. Each film is an entirely different learning experience with different variables. Every project is an opportunity for you to learn something, no matter how much you know.
These are your options if you’re trying to decide what kind of project to start:
Short videos for the Web
YouTube and other websites allow anyone to create and distribute short videos that can be viewed by millions. Many other sites offer more niche content, such as travel videos, sketch comedy, and music performances. To promote their feature films, even the major studios make short films for the internet in the form of trailers or film clips.
Every filmmaker will discover that he or she must create at least one video for the Web related to their project. This could be a trailer, promotional clip, or the entire thing. To help you get your video online, we included a part entitled “Finishing Your Film in Post Production”. There are very affordable searchable video platforms with high-quality footage, which will help you create your trailer.
Films of a short duration
A short film can be a great first film project for many. A short film has all the same elements as a feature film but is much shorter. The process will be explained from screenwriting through shooting, editing, and finishing. However, it won’t seem as overwhelming and won’t take as much time.
This is the best place to start if you have never directed a scripted movie. Do your research first. Short films are popular in festivals and on the internet. Sometimes, they also appear on cable TV networks.
Short films should be under 30 minutes long, but most people believe that they work best when they last between 5 and 10 minutes. The average sitcom is only 20 minutes long, so a short film should not exceed 30 minutes. However, a short film can feel more like a story than a full-length movie. Creating a great, short film requires unique skills. If you decide to make a shorter film, each chapter in this handbook will apply to your project.
Industrial and corporate projects
Although these types of projects might not be what your dreams were when you first decided to make a career out of filmmaking, let’s face the fact that they are often lucrative and almost always require you to receive a salary for your work. This is something you cannot count on with any of the other types of projects. These projects will require the same skills and problem-solving abilities as any other personal filmmaking project. Your boss usually gives you an agenda to drive corporate videos. Although they have a story, it is usually about a product, a company, or an event and not about a person. Each chapter in this handbook applies to industrial and corporate videos, but we recommend the chapter called “Scheduling and Budgeting”, which focuses on the details of these types of projects.
Webcasts are usually continuous story that is told in short segments of less than 10 minutes. These segments can sometimes add up to a longer story, while other times they feel more like a sitcom. However, the format of “webcast video” is still being defined. This is a great opportunity for filmmakers. Each new form of storytelling opens up the possibility of creating a new generation of successful stories. Although there aren’t any real rules for writing, shooting, and finishing webcasts, however, they involve all the elements covered in this handbook. We also have a section below on finishing for internet distribution that will be of great interest to webcast filmmakers.
Pilots for television
All television production would have to be ordered and paid for in advance by the network in a perfect world. However, this is not always true for non-scripted or innovative TV series. Producers take a chance and film their own material and present it as a pitch reel or a first episode. They call it a pilot because it leads the series unless it crashes or burns. You’ll be amazed at the variety of TV shows available, from daytime talk shows to reality shows, sitcoms, and hour-long dramas. This handbook will help you to create a TV pilot regardless of the genre. It explains how TV production differs from film production.
Documentaries are the filmmaking equivalent to “nonfiction” and “journalistic” writing. They have a strong and growing audience. Documentaries are often the basis of some of today’s most controversial and exciting films.
Films such as Official Secrets (2019) and Tower (2016) have shown a strong effect on how we perceive the world. This is the power and potential of documentary filmmaking. Documentaries are shot in a way that is very different from scripted films, but they share many of the creative challenges, such as structuring a story, crafting a style in terms of how the film is shot, refining the structure in the editing room, designing the sound, intensifying emotions with music, and enhancing the film with graphics.
Documentaries require all of the same skills as scripted films. Just because something is “real”, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not art. We’ve included special sections for documentarians in this edition. You’ll find a chapter entitled “Shooting” which covers the unique issues of filming documentaries. In part “Finishing Your Film in Post Production” contains a special section about editing documentaries. These are two areas that make a documentary film significantly different from a scripted movie.
Scripted feature films
Scripted feature films, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with it, are still at the top of the entertainment industry pyramid. Although they might not be able to hold this title for very long, at the moment, the feature movie is still the king. What does this mean for you? This means that, if you’re a director who has directed a feature film live-action, you can now direct any other project on the Hollywood pyramid.
We didn’t say that you have to agree or like it! The same applies to writers, cinematographers, and actors, as well as editors, directors, producers, visual designers, and visual effects artists. It is a guarantee that having a feature film credit will open many doors. Your talent will be what keeps your career moving. That’s the main reason you should make a feature film. There are some other reasons too.
The scripted feature movie is the filmmaking equivalent to the novel. The feature film is for you if long-form storytelling is your true passion. A feature film will take a lot of resources, especially if it is being done independently. It will, however, be rewarding.
There are three types of feature films: Independent films, Studio films, and Independent studio-backed films. No matter your role in the film industry (crew or investor), working on any one of these films is an entirely different experience. Let’s look at the differences between these types of films. This will assist you in making your decision if you’re not sure of where you want to work.
The head of a major studio usually approves a studio film. It usually has a budget between $50 and $150 million, and stars who are expected to ensure some box-office success. Today, many studio movies are based on brands, franchises, best-selling books, and sequels of successful properties. High-concept ideas (the ones that are appealing to the masses like The Avengers and Jurassic Park), popular TV series (like Star Trek and Mission Impossible), and best-selling novels (the Harry Potter franchise) are all examples. As the studio pays for a film, the studio – not the filmmaker – is in charge of how to make and distribute the film.
True independent films are often low-budget movies (ranging from $10,000 to $5,000,000), as the filmmaker must raise the money to make the film on his own and without the assistance of any studio. The studio has no influence on a truly independent film. The filmmaker does not have to report to any studio or limit their creativity. This is a major advantage. Independent films are a common feature on the festival circuit. They are produced without the assistance of studios.
Independent studio-backed films
The independent division of a studio is actually a smaller division of a large company. It has smaller budgets and may have fewer black-suit directors who decide how to distribute and make the films. Some films are acquired and distributed by big studios. Apatow Productions released The Big Sick, an American romantic comedy film that was directed by Michael Showalter. FilmNation Entertainment funded the film. Contrary to the term “independent studio films”, a film produced by a studio does not necessarily mean that it is independent. A studio film is one produced by its “independent” division.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to making an independent or studio film. Independent productions allow you to design your movie exactly how you want it to look, but your budget limits your options. Studio pictures have greater financial backing and can pay the high salaries of actors, as well as the longer shooting schedules and seamless special effects. However, the final product will be the same as what the studio envisions, and it is likely to be commercially profitable. The studio’s focus is on commercial viability and not creativity. Independent filmmakers often discover that making money is not the best way to tell your story.
1.2 Developing Your Story
As you cannot make a movie without a great story, choosing the right material is essential. It is more important than having the right talent or skills. This is how successful film careers are built. Where do you look for good ideas that can be turned into movies? A movie idea is like a seed that starts inside your head. After a period of gestation, it begins to sprout and grow until it becomes a screenplay.
You don’t yet have a seed of an idea. Chapter 3 will show you how to find and develop ideas, as well as tips for turning your idea into an actual feature-length movie script. You will also learn how to option (or have temporary ownership) of existing material, regardless if it is a personal story or a published book.
1.3 Funding Your Film Project
You will need financing to make your movie. If you have a compelling story and a well-organized business plan, raising money is not as difficult as it seems. Investors are interested in investing their money to make a movie. Your family and friends are also potential investors, even if you have a very small budget.
In Part 2, we will give you great tips for finding investors and how to create promotional material that will attract them to finance your production. Crowdfunding is a comparatively new field and we will show you how to do it. Other money-saving strategies like product placement and bartering are also available. You will learn how to create your own website (or a crowdfunding page) to promote your film, attract investors and ultimately make it a promotion site.
1.4 Keeping Up with Industry Trends
Connecting with informative internet sites will help you become more knowledgeable about the world of film production. Here are sixteen websites that can be a great resource for independent filmmakers.
The Internet Movie Database lists credits for film and television professionals, as well as anyone else who has made a mark in the entertainment industry. This database is useful for researching or doing background checks on actors, writers, and filmmakers. What is the difference between them? Imdb.com is a free site, and ImdbPro.com will cost around $20.00 per month. The latter lists contact information as well as other details that are not available on the free version.
IndieTalk is a filmmaking community where filmmakers can share their ideas and collaborate in a forum. There are four main categories: Cameras & Lenses; Screenwriting; Cinematography and Lighting; and Post Production. Members of the forum offer guidance on how to get around problems in film production and how to avoid financial problems. Here you can read and post messages about screenwriting, financing, distribution, and many other topics. This is a great place to communicate with other independent filmmakers.
Film Independent provides assistance to its members in making their films and getting them seen. They produce the Independent Spirit Awards and Los Angeles Film Festival.
Film Maker IQ is an online community of filmmakers that covers a variety of topics. They provide articles such as Make-up Tutorials to Camera Comparisons that answer the whys and hows of film production. It is a great site for independent filmmakers. It has fun graphics and visuals that explain the process of making films.
Filmmakers working with a limited budget understand how hard it can be to keep that budget in check. The blog has helpful articles on a variety of topics, including industry news, new software updates, and tips. The forums allow members to post and exchange information about filmmaking, as well as their projects. This site is a great place for independent filmmakers to get knowledge from their associates.
Film Riot is a comedy-themed video tutorial website. Ryan Connolly, the host, covers everything from making a music video to casting your film. The humorous videos are an amusing departure from the boring tutorials on the internet. They follow a narrative structure, making them enjoyable to watch.
Screenwriters who are good at their craft know the importance of knowing every trick in the trade, even if they don’t use all. Go Into The Story is a site that focuses on the essentials of screenwriting, and not the fancy graphics or cluttering ads. Scott Myers, a University of North Carolina screenwriting professor, blogs daily with advice and how-to guides for young writers. You will also find a list of great blogs and websites that can be used as a great resource for screenwriting.
Hope for Film was the idea of Ted Hope, an American independent film producer. Some of his credits include 21 Grams (2003, American Splendor 2003, and Adventureland 2009, to name just a few. Everyday Hope and other guest bloggers offer advice and opinions on independent film. This blog, like johnaugust.com, is a great place for novice filmmakers to discuss and seek out the insights of industry professionals.
IndieWire connects film lovers and filmmakers. Independent cinema fans receive information about films and festivals as well as reviews, blogs and other content. You can find articles on topics like production, distribution, and festival strategy for filmmakers.
John August is a talented screenwriter. His credits include Tim Burton’s movies Big Fish (2003) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2006), as well as Corpse Bride (2005). His blog was started in 2003 to provide information on screenwriting. It has grown to include a wealth of information, from career advice to current affairs in the film industry. Blog posts often respond to questions from readers, which makes it an excellent way for independent writers and professionals to receive feedback.
Raindance is not only one of the largest independent film festivals in Britain but also provides a wealth of information and tips for independent filmmakers around the world. The site’s resources section contains links to articles by Raindance staff members and industry professionals. These articles provide tips and tricks for filmmakers with low budgets. Raindance runs a film school that offers a unique postgraduate film degree. This is in partnership with Staffordshire University, the Independent Film Trust, and other film schools. Raindance also has seven regional offices in six other countries, which gives them a unique and valuable perspective of new trends in independent cinema.
Shooting People is an online network for independent filmmakers, based in London. The site allows independent filmmakers to network through blogs, newsletters, newsletters, podcasts, and databases. The site’s members have premiered at Sundance and been nominated for BAFTA and Oscars. They also screened at Cannes.
It can be difficult to manage your team and yourself in the film industry. Studio Binder allows photo and video companies to better manage their productions through one platform. Studio Binder allows companies to create shooting schedules, call sheets, and script breakdowns. This makes it easier for them to communicate with their entire team. Your production will run smoothly and efficiently if everyone is on the same page.
Philip Bloom is a filmmaker of documentaries and short films who has traveled the globe. Advertisements and many more. He is part of the new generation of digital cinematographers who use DLSRs to create that film look. You can view his extensive work on his website, including his advertisements with Kevin Spacey and his 5D Cinematography for the WWII Lucasfilm Red Tails.
Ryan Koo, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker, runs No Film School. It is a website for DIY filmmakers and independent creators. This site offers advice on how to make the most of what you create to ensure a long career as an editor, filmmaker, producer, director, writer, director, and cinematographer.
Filmmaking Lifestyle is an educational website for filmmaking and video production. They offer a wealth of resources for filmmakers and videographers.
Social Media Sites
Independent filmmakers are a growing presence on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. This has created a rich source of knowledge for filmmakers around the world. These sites are now a central hub for independent filmmaking and a valuable resource for young directors, writers, and producers.
1.5 Planning Film Production
Planning your film is an intricate process. Step one is a thorough assessment of your budget. This is often the case for independent films with low budgets. You can break down elements into categories like crew, props, and equipment to determine the amount you will spend. The length of the film will determine your total cost. Scheduling will help you determine how many shoot days you can afford. Based on the length of the shoots you will work out how many people on the salary you may have, how long you can rent equipment, locations, etc.
If you can afford to pay salaries for a two-week shooting, then you need to plan your production to be completed in two weeks. To schedule your shoots, you can break down the script into daily tasks (see Chapter 4), which will help you decide how many shots each day you should do, so that you will complete everything in the time you have.
Independent filmmakers don’t have the luxury to plan the logistics beforehand. If you’re looking for investors, make sure you have a budget and a rough schedule ready. This will show potential investors that you have done your research and are aware of where each dollar will go.
Planning your film production includes visualizing your scenes through storyboarding. It is a technique that allows you to envision your shots by sketching rough diagrams of how your shots and angles will look (see Chapter 9). Storyboards are a great way of creating a story and visualizing every scene. It’s also a great tool to help you plan your film. Chapter 9 will help you draw storyboards on a professional level. Follow the steps to learn how you can create a storyboard template and come up with some interesting shots. Then fill your storyboards with drawings, dialogue, and any other important notes.
It is also important to plan where your movie will be shot. As you would plan a trip, you need to research the location you want to shoot. Then you have to make arrangements for transportation and accommodation if you are traveling. No matter where you shoot, you will need to sign agreements to ensure that all of your locations are reserved for your shoot dates.
1.6 Hiring Cast For Your Film
Casting is an important part of filmmaking because it can have a significant impact on how critics and audiences view a film. The right actor will enhance the project. However, a poorly cast role can make it less credible, which can have a negative impact on a film or television show. It can be difficult to find the right talent for a particular role. This requires both critical analysis and intuition, as well as good timing.
Your production crew will become your extended family, as it is likely that you will spend many nights and days together. Therefore, it is crucial to hire people who are passionate about the project and ready to give their best. If you have a tight budget, you may need to pay salary deferrals to your crew. Learn how to do this and other things in Chapter 7.
We will take you through Chapter 8 to show you how to find the perfect cast to bring your screenplay alive. You will also learn the secrets of acting so you can direct your actors to give their best performances.
1.7 Necessary Equipment
It doesn’t matter if you’re just beginning your career as a filmmaker, or if you’ve been in the industry for many years, you should have all the equipment necessary.
Many filmmakers are anxious about their cameras. It is arguably the most crucial piece of your filmmaking kit. It can seem that your camera is quickly becoming obsolete due to the constant improvements and upgrades made to cameras each year.
Many DSLR videographers would agree that you should buy a camera you can afford without going into debt. You need something that will cover 80-90 percent of your work. And for special projects or high profile presentations – rent.
In reality, your phone could be used to start shooting, then you can upgrade to better cameras or rent if necessary. If you prefer not to shoot with your smartphone and have limited funds, a DSLR (or a mirrorless camera with interchangeable lenses) is your best option. These cameras will still produce the high-quality images you desire. Refer to Chapter 10 for more details on cameras and camera systems.
These include tripods, cranes (which allow you to place the camera high up), and dollies (which look like large skateboards and can be used for moving the camera). Today’s camera drones and sophisticated stabilizers are affordable options. A list of essential camera equipment in Chapter 10 will guide you in your decision-making.
Lighting is absolutely crucial in filmmaking. It can set the mood and enhance the overall look of your film. You’ll make your actors look terrible if you don’t have enough lighting. To see a good image, the eye of the camera must have adequate light. Your film will look great if you have a talented cinematographer and a skilled lighting technician (see Chapter 7).
Lighting can be extremely contextual and will depend on what type of film you are making. Are you primarily shooting indoors or outdoors? What type of film are you creating? What is your production design? These are the key questions that will determine how lighting setups work and how much planning is required.
If you are unsure about which lights you should get for your production, take some time to learn more about the lights used in filmmaking, such as fluorescent, tungsten, and LED lights in Chapter 11.
Sound and Audio Equipment
Many professionals and experienced filmmakers agree that sound is more important than having the highest-quality image. Poor sound can quickly turn your audience away from your film. It’s crucial to take sound as seriously as all other aspects of filmmaking.
The microphone built into your camera won’t cut it. External microphones, such as Lavaliere and shotgun microphones, are an option. Because of their narrow pick-up pattern and very long pick-up length, shotgun microphones can capture crisp sound. These microphones are directional that will only focus on what you are recording. They can be clipped to the chest of your actor or used for dialogue scenes. A microphone placed close to the talent will produce a sharp sound. To get good sound recordings, microphones should be placed close enough to actors to ensure that they are not in the way.
Finally, once you have a good microphone, you will need to record it. An audio recorder is required to do this. This equipment records every sound that is captured by your microphone. A production sound mixer is a key to recording great sound.
1.8 Directing Your Actors
The most important relationship in filmmaking is that between the actor and the director. Each actor and director are the artist and work together on a project that is larger than them. The project will include many collaborators. These include producers, screenwriters, cinematographers, and composers. The director must balance relationships with all team members. However, the relationship between an actor and a director presents unique challenges and opportunities.
You will be directing your actors and crew. Because it is the director’s responsibility to guide the actors, you will need to be able to communicate with them how to direct them. This will allow them to create convincing performances that draw the audience into the story and make them feel connected to your characters. Your role as a director includes directing your actors within the constraints of the camera frame.
From prep to wrapping, directing actors is a team effort. Chapter 13 provides great tips you need to remember when working with actors, whether they’re in a blockbuster movie or a short film school production. It’s almost as if you are choreographing a dance.
1.9 Directing the Camera
To tell your story visually, it is important to know a bit about the camera. You don’t have to be an expert on how the camera works. However, you should know how to drive it.
Film directors are visual artists and a camera is an important tool in their storytelling. The director will usually know what equipment is needed for a given set-up and will communicate this to the cinematographer or assistant director.
Filmmaking is a collaborative process, however, the director makes the final decision based on all available options. There will be some discussion, but the director’s wishes always prevail. Cinematographers are good listeners and will often suggest improvements or alternatives, as, sometimes, the first choice in composition, framing or lens, angle, or movement does not work.
The technical knowledge required to direct the camera is essential. We explain this in Chapter 10. In Chapter 14 we focus on how to frame shots as well as when and how to move your camera. Camera movement is the visual way that a camera moves to shape and narrate a scene. There are many basic and advanced camera movements to enhance your film or video story. The way you move your camera can affect the story and how you present the content. Professional-quality products are possible with well-placed camera movements.
You will also learn the skills necessary to be a successful director as well as how to organize and run a set.
1.10 Editing Your Film
The editing phase allows you to see the film come together. You can take a step back and review the sequence of events and all available shot angles to help shape them into the best story. Editing can help you fix a film and make it better.
A wide range of nonlinear editing software is now available on almost any computer. Many computers also come with free software. You can edit any length of the video, from a home movie to a theatrical-length work (90 to 120 minutes). Nonlinear editing technology allows you to combine your shots in any order. It is easy to arrange them and move or delete between scenes. Chapter 15 explains the latest digital technology and software that you have at your disposal for editing your film from your desktop.
The soundtrack must be created just like the visual elements. The editing stage is where you add sound effects and music to the audio. Refer to Chapter 16 for more details.
1.11 Distributing Your Film
Distribution is the final and most important stage of making a film. Without it, your film will sit on a shelf without ever being seen by an audience.
Distribution can be the difference between your film earning $10 or $10,000,000 at the box office. Successful distribution strategies that work have helped many average films do well commercially. On the other hand, with poor distribution strategies, even great films will fail at the box office. Chapter 19 (in production) contains a wealth of secrets and tips for finding a distributor, as well as tips on how you can become your own distributor using social media and the Internet.