A Filmmaking Guide for Rebels Without a Clue

IMG_20171107_160751So, you want to tell a story with moving pictures? You have a creative itch that can only be scratched by the art of film? Like you, I’m a few steps into the film-making waters and want to share with others what I’ve learned thus far. Much of my advice comes from others who are further along than I am and hard lessons learned, which have so far worked for me.

First Things:

Be passionate about your work, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Filming is art and art is fun (hard work, but fun).  If it’s no longer fun it will only be pointless hard work, and you don’t want that.

Writing:

How do I format a script? What program should I use?  Amazon Storywriter or Cetlix web-based platforms and are free (yes, free). You can also use just plain ol’ Word and format as needed.  Eventually, you’ll want to upgrade to Final Draft which is the industry standard. One bonus with Storywriter is that with the click of a button you can submit your script to Amazon Studios …if you dare.

Protect Your Work:

Ever hear about people suing studios and producers for stealing their story ideas?  Well you can too!  Either copyright your work with the Copyright office or register it with the Writer’s Guild (links below).  Either one of these will give you legal safeguards in case you’re coveted stories are stolen, giving you peace of mind when sharing your ideas.

Welcome criticism (you don’t always have to listen to it):

Ask people you trust read your work (whether if they’re in the industry or not).  Make sure they’re honest with you.  Having someone say, “It’s Great!” doesn’t help you at all.  If your work is surreal or “weird”, that’s fine, it at least has to connect to someone other than you.  Try to balance your uniqueness with relate-ability.

Crew/Cast:

In anything you do, surround yourself with people that know what they’re doing.

If you’re not sure about shooting the film yourself, finding someone with experience is key, but on a limited budget, you may have to find a film student or someone with gear who wants to add work to their resume either for free or for a discounted rate.  Be sure to be patient. If you’re not paying someone, you’re working with their schedule.

Just like any artist, actors deserved to be paid for their talent.  But if you’re a flegling film-maker, and don’t have a budget to pay actors, you can find who are just starting out (like you) and are willing to do work for credit or a reel.  Just make sure you come through on your end of the deal.

For the days of shooting make sure you have plenty of free food and snacks to offer everyone involved. Not too much, as most actors don’t eat much.

BE NICE!!!  The best part of film-making is that it is all about collaboration so remember that this may not be the last time you work with that actor or camera person.  Don’t burn your bridges or you may be stranded in the industry.  Everyone knows everyone, so your reputation will always precede you.

Shooting:

While on the set, have a plan and a shotlist (a script is not enough!).  However, it’s necessary to be open to changes and ready to address issues on the fly (remember, some of the most iconic scenes in movies were improvised). On a recent shoot, a cast member had a last minute schedule change that required her to leave early and most of her parts were toward the end of the scene. What did we do?  We shot the scene in reverse, of course (starting with the final shot).  It was a fun challege and it did work out, however, I don’t recommend doing this unless you have a solid shotlist.

Editing:

If you end up editing yourself, Blackmagic makes a video editing software that is free called DaVinci Resolve. It is difficult to use it first, but again there are tons of video tutorials on how to use it.

Finally, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos, read articles, on how to make a film. Surround yourself with the industry and how to get yourself started. There are hundreds of YouTube videos out there and most have a lot of good advice.

Resources: