View Full Version : How do you make a feature film?

02-03-2005, 01:43 PM
Hi guys, I just read the thread on "how long did your first feature take" and I'm pretty impressed cause it seems a lot of you have finished a feature or three already!

I'm trying to make a low budget feature myself, and its just been really hard, getting things together, organized, finding the cast and crew (especially people who are willing to work for free), and locations - o god the locations. I know it can be done, but I really feel that I have been going in circles and wasted a lot of time already and wish to learn from the successful folks who have already made their own feature length films. Its really something to be proud of...those who have crossed that line

So please, share your experience, tips advice and even encouragement...on: HOW TO MAKE A FEATURE FILM!

thanks in advanced

Jim Brennan
02-03-2005, 03:23 PM
I'm not trying to be glib but...IT's like a short, only longer.

If you haven't done any shorts I recommend doing that first. *I would work up to about 30 minutes. *After that, I recommend tailoring your script around things (people, locations, etc) that you know you have access to. *Not only will that make the shoot simpler, but it expands you as a writer.

And really, don't shoot a feature without a really good script. *Make sure you have gone over it a million times and got it critiqued by several people whose opinions on writing and film you respect. *A feature (as you pointed out) is a lot of work. *Putting all that effort into a sub-par story, or one you try and write as you go is not the best use of your time.

Then, find help. *See if you can find someone who has done it before. There will be things you haven't thought of (and never would until they happen) that someone with a little experience will see coming. Plus, the more you can delegate things like locations, wardrobe and props *(all with your final approval of course), the more time you have to focus on the story, crew and actors.

Then go shoot.

02-03-2005, 04:03 PM
I started with a 30min comedy film then went on to do a short. I had never directed before and the more I learn about the subtle art the more complicated it got. The only difference on my first project was covering the scene enough. Go with your instincts and build on them.
Text for me is the important thing. I shot some terribly scripted scenes for a romantic pilot (Digi-Beta experience ;D) and boy did I struggle bringing it to life. I also had some...errrmm...dodgy? Actors(triple time talking them into it) I feel ashamed to say that its never seen the light of day :-[
Jimmy Hendrix could play the living shit out of the worst amp in the world and it would still hold its own. Substance is everything. Good performers add the magic. Don't start with a bad script you will make something that no-one will ever watch. Bad foundations make a rocky nest.
That said, I am improvising alot nowadays and you can get sucked into your own arse :o
The most important thing is that you make the films. The best teacher is experience.
Good hunting my friend. I look forward to seeing your work.
J.P. :-X

02-03-2005, 07:35 PM
Shoot shorts first.
Pick up a copy of From Reel to Deal by Dov S-S Simens http://www.webfilmschool.com/

02-03-2005, 07:53 PM
Perserverance is always the answer.

Making a film is hard difficult work. There are no short cuts other than taking the hard difficult road by planning, testing, selling your vision. In other words the short cut is the long road because Short cuts end up taking more time & effort.

Read the comments by top pros, they have a very hard time, even with personal assistants, why should any of us have it less difficult?

Advice, get a great script, learn it, plan it, get a great producer to work the logistics, build a great crew, cast the best you can, get great post pros, edit , score, sound to help & cross your fingers. Helpeach person to feel it's their film...becuase it will be theirs & yours when your done.

02-04-2005, 08:58 AM
that is some very excellent advice. thank you all. the biggest obstacle for me right now is getting the man power to do it. that means getting the word out and inspiring them to commit hundreds of hours of their time to my project. sound familiar? ive been through a number of people who say they will commit and when its time they dont. where do you find the people that are trustworthy and wont drop out in the middle (yea, ive read some horror stories in this forum about leads dropping out in the middle!)

do you guys practice motivational speeches?

Jim Brennan
02-04-2005, 11:48 AM
yea, but they are usually diected at the guy in the mirror

02-04-2005, 04:21 PM
learn to rely on yourself first.
J.P. :-X

02-04-2005, 07:12 PM
It depends what you have. If you have some money to spend the answer will be get yourself the best prod crew possible.
Make sure that you check your actors before you hire them. You have to make sure what they can do or cant.
Make your people sign all the papers before you start shooting.

Try to shoot it in a 10-15days straight otherwise you may end up shooting "on weekends and eveninngs" which means few months at least cos very often people have to suddenly visit their ill uncle etc..

Oh, man it really depends...do you have all the equipment?
Do you have a good story to tell - that's the most important.
You know what, just do it.

02-05-2005, 03:17 AM
Dedication & a team of super heros. :)

02-05-2005, 10:32 AM
Dedication & a team of super heros. :)
with a whole platter of food

02-05-2005, 05:50 PM
I forgot about the food.
J.P. :-X

02-05-2005, 10:39 PM
Hello all. I come to this site from time to time to see what's going on. LloyedC is completely right. If you can't pay the cast and crew (notice I said CAST and crew), then you at least have to feed them. a lot of run and gun people shooting their first film weather it be a short or feature sometimes forget how important food is. You will find crew, but they need energy to keep working. Have snacks and energy drinks for them. ;D Try to stay away from pasta as that puts a crew to sleep. lol

02-06-2005, 10:55 AM
I’m brand new to filmmaking and have only shot one short so far (actually it’s was just a lighting test for it – the first scene, the full short will be shot in the spring/summer due to exterior locations) and am in preproduction for a “real” short that I go into principal photography on in about 12 days. *

I have, however, been lucky enough to help out on a number of professional shoots from a small indie film for Lifetime to a huge Hollywood blockbuster (I was dating a location manager at the time). * This was a fantastic experience and what I took away from it was that for any given scene about 50% of it is preproduction, 40% of it is postproduction and only about 10% of it is actually filming. *Granted, they had professional actors who pretty much nailed it from the get go, but still the real work had been done in preproduction, production was just a matter of executing what had already been planned out. *It’s sort of like when I played in pit orchestras, the performance was easy, it was everything that led up to the performance that was hard.

So, for both my shorts I spent a huge amount of time on preproduction. *I made a binder for each one with all my forms and stuff and work the paper until I’m done. *I wrote a script which I lined for production purposes, created storyboards, props lists, shot lists, continuity sheets for characters and camera settings, location contracts, music ideas for scoring later, you name it and it’s in that binder. *All of this, by the way, I learned from reading books readily available at any Borders or Barnes and Noble [EDIT: some I got from the NYU bookstore, but they can be had on Amazon.com]

As an example, for my upcoming short I need about 15 seconds of footage of the main character working out in a gym using various quick shots which will be cut with some footage of him earlier in the day. *I’ve been to the gym, got the owner to sign off, took lots of pictures of it, story boarded my shots, planned out my dolly shots, planned out my lighting (as best as I can beforehand), etc. *I figure that once I hit the location, I can be in and out of there in about an hour and a half, including set up and break down, and walk away with a number of takes with plenty of coverage to work with. *

If I were to do a feature, and I’m not, there is NO WAY that I could do it, unless I had spent at least six months to a year working VERY hard on preproduction. *It would just turn into a mess otherwise. *Plus, it is, I think, the way to avoid the “shooting on evenings and weekends for a year” thing. *If you plan everything out right, you should be able to do most of your shooting in about two or three weeks (I’m assuming you WONT be doing a Hollywood blockbuster). *Now if you plan it out right, you can get cast and crew for that amount of time, hell even if folks use vacation time to do it. *Once you have all of your footage, you can then take your time doing all the post work just like you did with the preproduction work.

As far as the food goes, and this is from my observation of “real” crewmembers working on “real” independent films, it’s a huge deal! *They’ll gladly work for free or for almost nothing for the sake of the “art”, but if you don’t feed them they feel insulted – gravely insulted and regard it as an act of unprofessionalism. *It’s not so much WHAT’S on the craft services table as much as that there IS a craft services table. *An army travels on its stomach.

But like I said, I’m new so take what I say with a grain of salt.


02-06-2005, 04:12 PM
I agree totally but also disagree.
Shooting on location can affect everything (Now ur sure rain that big doesn't show up? - DP Honestly!)
Prep is everything but I find that things on any shoot will always change. What about when that shot you never imagined pops up? (Storyboard it later?) Locations always yield something different for me when I'm on the ground. I tend not to storyboard everything. I'll rough out general ideas unless its a complex piece. I'll try new directing/camera techniques. You can plan for everything but a good Director can think on his feet/adapt and improve on every idea. What about the crew? Dp's+camera+sound have come up with some fantastic ideas in the field(everyone may have been called last minute) That's the beauty of being a Director saying it was you idea in the first-place. ;D
I agree prep. is the key but don't stop the creative jucies with too much paper-work.
J.P. :-X

Jim Brennan
02-06-2005, 05:56 PM
It's a balance. It takes a while to find the way that works for you. In the end what matters is that you are EFFECTIVE. Is what you are doing working? Some people need a lot of pre production, others do better with less. Both have their upside and downside. Sometimes your approach will vary from project to project. The key is to be honest about your own limitations and to be flexible about how you approach each film. Stick with what works and chuck what doesn't. But each film is like a child. (Parents will relate to this) You generally hold your kids accountable for the same things, but you deal with them differently, according to their personalities. Some things work better under specific circumstances. That doesn't mean it is always the best thing to do.

I have found that it is a lot easier to be flexible when you know what the hell you are doing.

02-07-2005, 06:50 PM
Pick up a copy of From Reel to Deal by Dov S-S Simens *http://www.webfilmschool.com/

I remember this guy was on TechTV (rip, I still have it on vhs) and talked about his site and books, It's something I might take...
does anybody have his books?

02-07-2005, 09:33 PM
Yes, the book is pretty good. He also gives talks and sells DVD but pickup the book to see what's covered.

02-09-2005, 05:15 AM
www.nextwavefilms.com used to have some gread articles on the abc's of low budget filmmaking by peter broderick. Next wave shut down, but the articles should still be there.

I've always had a hard time getting people to committ. I worked on my first feature for a year and then my lead quit. So many times i had larger shoots planned my crew bailed. it's certainly tough. I had to do about a third of our shoots by myself - doing lighting, audio, shooting, directing, dressing the set, etc. About a third had one other crew member. And the final third had 2 others. The film will suffer if you try and do it all yourself, but you do waht you must.

The articles had some great advice - 1. plan in reverse. As much as possible, take stock of what is available to you first. Then write your script. Keep the locations to a minimum. Easier said than done, but sage advice.
2. have 2-3 hell or high water people. The crew or actors that are in no matter what happens - and everything you fear will happen. We had huge problem that drug shooting out for 2-3 years.

once you get those locations down, work on your script as long as possible. For my first feature i jumped into shooting too soon. I spent 2 years editing - trying to fix struture and plot issues that should have been fixed on paper. You will always make a certain number of mistakes cause it is your first, but minimize them. Get lots of people to read it - outside of your friends. And listen to them when they have weird nit picking comments that seem inane. Otherwise, it will come back to haunt you.

In philadelphia, the film office has an awesome website where you can post for actors and crew. Your hometown may have a similar set up so call your film office. Otherwise, check high schools and colleges. Another word about working in reverse - it is usually easier to find talented high school and college actors who can work for free than adults. So keep the characters, particularly adults, to a minimum. '

Don't skip out on audio. Get the best shotgun mic you can get and have it as close to the actors as possible. Turn off ANYTHING that makes noise - fridge, car, computers, lights. Always get a minute of roomtone from the SAME MIC POSITION as the take. If you can get body mics, even better. Nothing will hurt a low budget film like poor audio.

Believe in your project. You can totally do it. It may seem insurrmountable at times, but anything is doable. Your first film will be hell, it will be a long process, a learning period, and you will make tons of mistakes. But when you get done you'll feel more confident for the next one.

Shorts are great too and you should certainly shoot a few (even if they are practice scenes for your feature - a great way to workshop your script).

Oh, huge thing that i didn't do on my first film and regret - REHEARSE!!! If you are using non-paid actors they probably have limited experience. For my first film i started shooting scenes without any warmup and it showed. Halfway through teh film they got so much better. So for my new feature i started rehearsing 4 months early - once or twice a week. The difference is amazing. Actors need to build confidence, it's the most important part of their craft. And it give you time to hear the script out loud. Let them go off script in rehearsal - don't be as adamant about the lines. Get the feeling. Also, you can do tech rehearsal and record with audio and lighting to see how that is working for you.

Good luck. sorry about the insane rambling post!!! but you can totally do it.


02-09-2005, 05:36 AM
matt's right on pre-pro too - that will save you a ton of work. But i would say more than 10 percent is on set. If you are only worried about teh technical side, then i would agree. but if you want deep performances, you need to be open to the moment a bit. But storyboarding allows you a kind of freedom. For a big shoot we had last month i went to the location ahead of time, blocked out the shots with another crew member. went home and did storyboards based on the shots i had taken. Then, when it came time to shoot (at the mummer's parade in philadelphia, on new years day, in a crowd of a few thousand, with 20 minutes of light left) we could move quickly. I knew where to put my operators (we shot with 5 cameras) and where my actor had to go. But performance is the wildcard. And since it was not a controlled environment, people were walking into shots and blocking actors. So, the best laid plans of mice and men....

Also, i storyboarded a lot of my first film and it felt very stifled of life. very stilted. I shot B camera on a film called The Other America last year and was finding shots i would have never thought of just by playing (because i had some freedom as b cam).

So matt is totally right i think - especially when starting out - you have to plan, plan, plan, plan. Think of everthing. But then be ready for it to all blow to hell when you get there. Ansel Adams said something along those lines that you plan and prepare so when something surprising happens you are ready for it. A lot of dp's have said similar things - i know conrad hall had a similar quote.

02-09-2005, 12:15 PM
Thanks for clarifying my point, Stationhouse...

I am in no way suggesting that you blow off spontaneity. *But, from my perspective, it is the planning that allows you to be spontaneous (this goes for any endeavor artistic or otherwise). *It's hard to think creatively in the moment (right-brained) if you are preoccupied with logistics (left-brained). *Now if you are lucky enough to have a dedicated Production Manager and/or Assistant Director, great, let them deal with the logistics. *But if you are wearing all the hats, then proper planning will actually give you more freedom, not less. * If your shooting on location in NYC and your lamps to all your lights get busted, it will be a pain in the ass, but you'll be ok. *If you're filming Blair Witch out in the middle of the woods in Maine, you're screwed. *If you've carefully planned out all your shots and can execute them with minimal effort, you can then focus on the performance of your cast, or trying new shots inspired by the location. *If, on the other hand, you are struggling just to get the shots done that you need for planned coverage you may find you don't have time to experiment. *For any creative endeavor there is a ton of drudge work. *Planning reduces the drudge work so that you can be more creative - that's all I was saying.

Also when starting out, we are learning the process of movie making. *I didn't do all that work on these quick little shorts because the shorts demanded it. *I did it because I'm learning a process that I can then transfer to any project I decide to work on.

Also there is the respect issue (not fear, but true respect). *Being a director is essentially being a CEO and while I haven't been a director, I have been a CEO (albeit a small one) for twelve years. *People working for you, look to you for guidance and leadership and they expect those things, which are demonstrated by you in not only your vision but your ability to realize it (organizational skills, communication skills, your ability to make intelligent decisions based on a solid understanding of your needs and resources, etc.). *Just as in business, everyone understands that creative endeavors, are fluid and that problems will arise. *No one will fault you for that. *But if you are unable to deal with them both intelligently and expeditiously, or if you bring them about due to poor preparation, they will be reticent to follow. *Now in business the weak leader has the added carrot of financial incentives (how many times have you worked for an idiot yet stayed in the job because you needed the money or it payed well?). * But the low budget filmmaker does not have this arrow in his quiver, he or she must constantly motivate their crew to perform under less than ideal circumstances. *Like a field commander, you have to convince your troops to follow you into battle and stay in the fight. *Believe me, they're not doing it for the extra $150 a month combat pay.


02-09-2005, 01:11 PM
right on, matt. you sound like you'd be good to work with. It was nice to shoot a first feature where everyone was a novice. We all got our feet wet together. Good luck.

02-09-2005, 02:24 PM
this post is awesome, thanks for the awesome replies stationhouse...just wanted to say that before I read your knowledge in depth...stay tuned

02-09-2005, 05:04 PM
I was not saying you shouldn't plan. I said I agree with prep. Just somethimes you can get bogged down with the details. Maybe prep gives you that freedom and helps with the directing. I was only pointing out from experience - people not showing up - conditions - equipment - Actors going strange - things happen and always will. The sign of a good Director is not to flap because if you do everybody else will.
I too have done everything myself, work can suffer but I try and get everything right on set, so I don't have to spend ages trying to cover mistakes in edit.
J.P. *:-X

02-10-2005, 01:59 AM
Always finish what you started. Even if the film is terrible! :)

02-10-2005, 07:24 AM
As mentioned earlier, if you haven't done even a short do a couple of those before you even think about a feature.

I am a firm believer in "Do it right or don't do it at all." I see a lot of features shot for $5 or $10k (even $200k!) that have no chance of going anywhere. Feature films are expensive propositions, even "low budget" films. Feature filmmaking is a business, and like any business you need the right amount of capital and the right personnel to make it happen. I will not do a feature film until I am ready to raise the money to use a union crew, hire a skilled director and attach recognizeable talent. Until then I will wait.

02-11-2005, 05:08 AM
no offense, you could wait forever. And if you haven't made a feature, who is going to give you all of that money? I have known too many people who have sat around for 10 years or more waiting for their 500k and never got it. Would you do your first painting with 500k worth of paints and canvas? How do you know if oyu can paint? I would do mine with poster paints first, get really good and go from tehre. Practice, practice, practice. the money will come and you will improve.

02-11-2005, 07:40 AM
no offense, you could wait forever. And if you haven't made a feature, who is going to give you all of that money? *I have known too many people who have sat around for 10 years or more waiting for their 500k and never got it. *Would you do your first painting with 500k worth of paints and canvas? How do you know if oyu can paint? *I would do mine with poster paints first, get really good and go from tehre. *Practice, practice, practice. *the money will come and you will improve.

Believe me, there is more credibility in raising money then whether or not you have a feature under your belt. I have known people who have waited 10 years and their features were done well and done right. Just like I wouldnt start a restaurant without the right capital, without the right chef, I wouldn't produce a movie without the right things in place.

02-11-2005, 08:43 AM
At the same time, the person asking the intial question sounded like they were starting out. I think it's essential for them to get rolling instead of turning it into a pipe dream.

You could buy the best DP, equipment, gaffers, actors, etc. But if you don't know how to string a narrative together, guide large groups of people, stay on task and on budget (regardless of its size), think on your feet, etc, you will never make a quality end product.

To me, it seems like we're looking at it different ways: an artistic venture vs. a business one. You can make crap shine with $, but if you can learn to make quality without it you will really take off when you get connected to a larger budget.

I think too many filmmakers think - my first film has to make me or break me and it's just not the case. Someone told me once that 'you're building a body of work, not a demo reel." I would agree with that.

I saw a film a few years back. I think it was called the 'wedding party' very similar title to another film. Anyway, it was made by two ex lawyers who got a ton of money together, hired a good dp, some second rate name actors, and made this film. It was the most boring thing i ever watched and they had spent a TON. But they didn't know how to make it all work together and there's not shame in learning that in the trenches.

Case in point, there are a few local guys just out of school who have somehow raised 200k (supposedly). However, they insist they need 1.5 million to make their film. They've been showing some scenes they shot as a trailer and they have potential, but not at that level yet. They could certainly get there eventually, but we all have things to learn.

So I would say, if you want to make a feature, don't make excuses, make a movie. Just do it. You have nothing to lose but time and energy. It is a guarantee that if you make a low budget feature now and raise money later that other film will turn out better. It's a given. So if you want to sit around and wait for the money train i think that's just an excuse. I don't say that to you personally, but i've known a ton of people who ended up doing nothing because they want to wait to 'do it right.'

Maybe i feel this way because i wasn't happy with how my first film turned out. By the time i bought the gear and all it cost be about 20k. It was an amazing learning experience, and for the level we were at, i feel good about it. But it is not a releasable film. If i had a huge budget it would certainly look better, it may sound better, but the watchability would be about the same. The story and direction had problems and no amount of money will fix that. I had to learn to work better with actors, i had to learn better time management, coverage skills, etc. I don't regret it at all. the new film i am working out is 100 times stronger because of it, and my third film will be even more so. All along, I'm making contacts and meeting people. So, ideally, the two will collide - the experience and the contacts will ripen together, and I will be able to make a much stronger film at that point becasue of it.

A final example in this long winded, poorly organized post. Some local guys made a film called 'the last broadcast.' It cost 900 bucks and garnished a lot of attention, in pary because it was billed as one of the first desktop films. The production value was not all that hot, but they made it work for them. The film did well internationally.

Last year I worked with one of the filmmakers on his new film. He now has a much llarger, budget, crew, etc. due to the success of that first 900 dollar movie. If he had waited around for funding, that would NEVER have happened. So take the leap.

02-11-2005, 09:04 AM
stationhouse- I think you're looking at this topic as a director whereas I'm looking at it as a producer

Still, I think one should leave most the learning to shorts...and leave features to a business endeavor. A friend of mine started by doing a number of Super 8 shorts, he learned a lot, then raised $200k to do his first feature. His feature was picked up at Cannes (where he was screening a short film he did) by Lions Gate and now is in distribution. There is no doubt in my mind this is the way to go.

The reality of it is if you get together enough startup capital, create a business plan, get some credible people involved and have enough gumption you can get the money you need to do your film right. I think diving into something as monumental as a feature without the right money and personnel in place just because you want to get it done is a bad idea. Leave that attitude for the shorts.

Neil Rowe
02-11-2005, 09:37 AM
..hard to say, if you have what it takes to make a feature.. which is not simply the desire to do so.. then i dont think money available should be a deciding factor. theres been too many fims made for piles of beans that have made it. but as nathan says, if all you have is that desire . then just make a short. although if you want to make a feature with no expectations.. i think thats great as well. you might as well learn the hard way as long as you know its going to be a learning experience and not the greatest film ever. its good to see what it takes to make a good feature before you try even if youve done succesful shorts before. so i say practise with shorts, and practise with features. and when your ready to make somthing real .. short or feature. dont let money hold you back. if you didnt have money when you practised and you got to the point of making good stuff, then you shouldnt need money when your going to make a really serious attempt either. but again it all coes down to your talent, knowledge and experience and commitment to excellence and completion. ..and of course your ability to simply come up with a great film that doesnt require a huge budget.

02-11-2005, 10:36 AM
hey natob2 -

funny, i nearly said the exact same thing in terms of director/producer.

I wish i had done more short films. I think we both have valid points. I would agree that too many people do 'quick and sloppy' because of the somewhat instant gratification. And I think others use the lack of money as an excuse. The chances of making your first feature, even with the $$, and getting into a cannes/lions gate buy up is extremely rare and will never happen to most of us. For a lot of people that would just be 200k worth of debt and they would never make a second film. but your friend sounds extremely talented. congrats to him and best of luck!

02-11-2005, 01:03 PM
If someone is trying to make a feature to launch their career, then I think Natob2 is absolutely right. I remember being a young bassist and wanting to play in some top level clubs but my teachers (who played those clubs) would not let me. Why, I would ask, a lot of the guys I hear around town don't play better than me? Because, the would tell me, that once you hit the scene you will be judged and if they don't like what they hear, they'll never give you a second listen, take your time, develop right and then go out there. So instead of "debuting" at sixteen (even though I continued to work other gigs), I waited until I was nineteen before I tackled the important ones. Same would apply here I guess.

However, and this is a big one, Natob, I think a lot of us here just want to learn. I'm shooting shorts now, plan to do a whole bunch of them. Would I shoot a lousey no budget feature? Sure!! Because I thought it would get me somewhere? Hell no. I would do it because doing so would essentially be filmschool for me. So I think it really depends on what you intend your feature to be. If like me, you are trying to learn and want to make a movie just so you can experiment and become more proficient, then sure make a $200 feature. If however you are hoping to become the next Spielberg, then wait and do it right (or as right as you can).

My $0.02


02-11-2005, 01:41 PM
If someone is trying to make a feature to launch their career, then I think Natob2 is absolutely right.

I am saying this as someone trying to make a living in this business. I am also saying this as someone who has done the short films and done the learning...so maybe this difference is due to the fact that we are simply at different places in our careers.

02-12-2005, 03:54 AM
once you hit the scene you will be judged and if they don't like what they hear, they'll never give you a second listen, take your time, develop right and then go out there.

i agree with this. i would never try to release my first feature on a large scale. But you were still playing bass, just not at those clubs. You were playing the same type of songs, etc to hone your craft so you'd be ready for prime time. So i think i'm just saying, you can still make a feature for no $$, just don't expect it to be gold.

02-13-2005, 08:12 AM
I worked with a local Producer who had shot his last film for 2m (I won't mention the title ;D) but believe me it's the best example of how not to shoot, light, act, just about everything! that I have ever seen. The Director just wanted to get something under his belt and for me It did him more harm than good (last I heard he was back in corporate)
I have a low budget feature 800k I am producing at the moment. I have potential investors but will not approach till I have everything in place (plus a few unique marketing ideas) I know that the investors are investing in me (written and directing it) so I want to present myself in the best light. Meanwhile I'm doing my first project that breaks the 1hr barrier - pilot. Just to get me in the rhythm of the larger project. I have working on big projects/large crews before
but not in film. My work tends to lean towards film but I know I have to make that commitment and jump off into the void.

02-14-2005, 04:45 AM
good luck, man.

03-10-2005, 11:09 AM
I agree that making shorts is a great way to learn the craft, I have done tons of them. The only thing about them, is they stand a very little chance of making any money whatsoever. Why not jump into the arena of feature film making. I started out as a PA, than started doing more shorts. I than produced a couple of feature length films, and graduated to my first feature as a director. If you are going to spend all of the time and energy to produce somthing you might as well jump into features. Allthough a small chance, at least you have a chance to sell a feature.
Also some good reading material I would recommend is Loyd Kaufman's MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE and Bruce Cambell's IF CHIN'S COULD KILL. Great stuff for the low to no budget director.

03-16-2005, 10:31 AM
I started off as an actor about 5yrs ago and picked up a dv camera about 4 two 5 years ago shot about 5-6 shorts about 4-5 music videos 1 commerical and now I'm getting ready to direct my first feature starting this saturday running for 10 days. You can't do everything by yourself you need a right hand man (producer) you have equipment so your at advantage get a strong cast post adds everywhere 1 month before casting hold it at a hotel ask for a conference room it'll cost about $200 find a crew film students pa's (also make sure they have reels it's the first step at finding dedicated and professional people). I'll let you know how the shoot goes. Also have at least one rehearsal or more depending on you.

03-17-2005, 09:33 AM
true but didnt DOV SIMMONS telly you ot to make shorts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

03-17-2005, 09:47 AM
Hey guys
well this is what i have to say. BUY these books------"from reel to deal" "the guerilla film makers handbook" and "story" by robert mckee. these books r the best out there. make sure you plan for as long as it takes. Pay everyone, at least $20 a day. i know you cant afford that much so you have to get investors. Prepare a great PPM and go get them. the whole process should take more than 6 months but well workh it. dont shoot until everything is rehersed, stoyboarded, broken down, overheads, budget, etc. getting investors isnt hard and for a dv film u need about $30,000 to do it right. plan a daily budget and hire a AD/PM someone who will stand behind you and also keep track of the money being spent. dont make this hard. its not . its like building a housee, you do it in order. and u do it right. MAKE SURE THE SCRIPT IS THE BEST AND ABSOLUTELY MARKETIBLE AND KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. you want to sell the film right? hire the right people. Good DP, actors , crew and u wont have to worry about very little thing cause they know what to do. Dont give result direction to actors and make sure they know everyting about character. Filmmaking is a great fun exhausting experience so dont make it hard but fun. if you can pull it togeter then you will become a stronger person.

if u want to make cheap dv $50 movies with bad audio and crap lighting then continue to do so but dont plan on working in the industry. REMENBER THIS IS A BUSINESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! if u want to do art go to film school or to europe but the Glaumor of hollywood isnt there. MAKE EVERYONE BELIEVE IN YOUR PROJECT AND DONT GIVE UP CAUSE ITS ALL UP TO YOU BUDDY.

Jim Brennan
03-17-2005, 11:54 AM
true but didnt DOV SIMMONS telly you ot to make shorts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dov says not to make shorts to make money, because they aren't really marketable. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do them to hone your craft, work on ideas and figure out what the hell you are doing. There's a difference

There seems to be a shortage of exclamation pints around here. Anybody know where they are?

Nick Adams
03-22-2005, 08:45 PM
yeah, keeping it down to a few location's, knowing what you have access to and also having a set of trustworthy ( dedicated actors ) the problem with working with friends for actors ( or people who think it may be fun ) is that' real Actors will jump threw hoop's ( in a good way ) because like you they want to have something to show... where friends find it to be a good way to spend saturday... On to a personal story... I was filming a short, and went to a party 50% of the short was filmed, and the lead actor showed up at the party with his head shaved ? He wasn't an Actor... just an associate....

04-01-2005, 09:08 AM
Get ready to wear many hats. My shoot last weekend had my lead actor acting, as well as taking the gaffer role. We also had a scene were several cops surrounded a cabin. We shot it with a couple actors that were wrapped for the night, along with myself and the producer. I also along with directing and shooting, had to throw on a police outfit and run past the camera at a few different angles to make it look there were 10-20 cops, when only they were like 4. In my case with little to no crew, you have to be very creative.

05-24-2005, 12:27 AM

You totally nailed exactly what I was thinking. Being a director on a low/no budget film is basically being the leader of an all-volunteer organization. You have to recruit and evangelize your cast and crew. One of the most important skills required is the ability to get people to commit and stay committed to the project. Part of this is understanding what each person is looking for out of this. It may be experience, a good reel, knowledge, appreciation, a date with the leading lady, whatever!

It's going to take natural leadership ability. I learned the most about doing an indie short film from my experience years ago running a small non-profit educational foundation. I got good at finding reliable people that could commit to a cause for their own reasons. I got good at incorporating their reasons into the mission for the organization. I got good at asking people to do hard things for free. I got good at explaining to each person their role in the group effort. I got good at acknowledging people and remembering to 'feed their souls'. Otherwise they will walk out when the going gets tough (and the going *always* gets tough).

--- Mark

05-24-2005, 07:10 AM
Markran, what you say is very true. Being a good director is about delegating, leadership, being a good motivator and such, especially, most especially when people are working for free! On Hollywood films, directors have the freedom of being complete total assholes to his cast and crew and get away with it. It's a different story for us Indie, no-budget directors. I find your story very interesting. Please share on how your experience in delegation, getting people to do hard things for free, getting people to commit....often I find those the hardest things to do.

05-24-2005, 09:16 PM
"On Hollywood films, directors have the freedom of being complete total assholes to his cast and crew and get away with it."

I guess that's true on medium-sized films. On the biggest Hollywood blockbuster projects, your stars, key crew members and most importantly, producers, are probably influential enough that they can tank your career if they spread the word that you are a total jerk.

I guess my advice is to communicate as much as possible. Let people know that you appreciate them. Thank their spouses for "loaning" them to you. On my last project I ended up with some insanely long days (like one that was supposed to be 12 hours that ended up being 21 hours). The entire volunteer crew (12 people) hung in and helped make it happen. I think it helped that they were seeing shots on the monitor that were awesome. We had to actually break from our location for three hours when we ran over (they were booked for another event). During that time I took the crew to dinner at the nicest Italian restaurant in our entire region. Yes, it was expensive but it turned out to be an important gesture of appreciation.

Other small touches can make a difference such as making very professional call sheets for the cast and crew (you can find examples to emulate online). Also, involve everyone on the crew in at least one pre-production meeting (this is outside of rehearsals for the actors, which are essential as well). Make those meetings fun and get ideas flowing. I usually have the camera there and often we start acting out the blocking of key scenes with various tech crew members taking the positions of the actors to see if we can frame the shot the way we are imagining it (plus it's a lot of fun to see two 250 pound guys awkwardly recreating the blocking of the romantic embrace!)

During one of those meetings I described how I planned to do a crucial scene and one person thought that it wouldn't work on camera. As we talked about it, everyone but me, eventually ended up expressing their feeling that the shot as planned was risky. So, I gave up my cherished vision of this shot, even though I thought they were wrong. Turns out in retrospect, they were absolutely right. The moral of the story is, if your whole crew disagrees with you, then you should listen to them. If you're not going to listen then get a new crew (because you must not hold the current crew in high enough regard to trust their opinion when they are unanimous).

If you have a little money making t-shirts for the cast and crew is a great idea. To save money I've used my laminating machine and color printer to make "All Area Access" crew badges with the logo of the film (note: yes, make a cool logo for the film). The black neck lanyards can be purchased online for $5.00 a dozen. I handed out the badges when everyone arrived on the morning of our first big location shoot. Everyone thought they were super cool and it helped everyone feel like a part of something "big".

The reality is that, as talented as they are, the people on my crew (including me) all have regular day jobs and none of us are probably ever going to move to Hollywood and be in "the business" for real. This kind of indie project is a way for all of us to participate in film making for fun. It's part of the responsibility of the producer/director to inject some of that "Hollywood Magic" in the process. It makes it more fun and reminds everyone of the scope of what we're trying to do and the art form we're trying to be a small part of.

It's also vital that you have excellent "craft services" (this means food, drink, snacks and munchies). It doesn't have to be expensive (you can buy in bulk at Costco), but there has to be enough and chips don't count as food. Food means real food like sandwiches (with chips on the side). And for God's sake show up at that 7 am call on the first big shoot day with some donuts, bagels and coffee.

I think it's also important that the cast and crew see that you take the project very, very seriously. That means you are doing your homework and showing up prepared with scripts, prop lists, storyboards, locations stills etc. It's also a very good idea to have some "motivational" materials prepared for key pre-production meetings. For one I had a mock-up of our movie's poster (click here to see it Everyone flipped out seeing their names on the bottom of that poster.

For another meeting I spent an all-nighter the night before cutting together some rough test footage we had shot in our location. I corrected it (because we didn't have any lights on the test) and put it to music. Watching the footage you could just barely squint and see the ultimate vision starting to come together. That got people excited. Also, at the beginning of the project I already had a "World Premiere" date. Everyone knew the project had to be done by that date and everyone knew they'd be able to come to the premiere with their significant other and see the results of all our hard work. I think that gave everyone an 'end result' to focus on. It also meant that I basically had to spend three days without sleep right before the premiere to finish the edit, but it was worth it. We've all seen projects that don't ever actually get finished. Everyone knew this project was going to get completed, hell or high water.

Last, you need to involve your cast and crew while shooting. Let them know what's going on. For example on the morning of one of our all-day shoots, during move-in and setup at the location, I learned that the 10K light had shown up from the rental house with a blown ballast (they assured us they had tested it but when we picked it up we didn't make them hook it up and prove it, lesson learned). I gathered the entire cast and crew around and shared the news as well as the solution, "Joe has a big enough car so he's going to return the 10K to the rental house. They open at 9 so he'll be there in parking lot waiting for them to open and be back here ASAP. In the meantime we're going to change the shot order to do these smaller side shots that we can do with softboxes first. That means we'll need to reset the dolly and track etc. etc."

It was a setback but the important thing was that everyone knew what the new plan was and had a part in helping. Things always change during shooting and it's not a problem as long as everyone is advised of what changed and why. Otherwise, they'll start to think that the production is not organized.

At the end of our long and difficult production I was very surprised and gratified to receive an old-style chalk clapboard that the crew had chipped in and bought as a gift for me. They chalked in my name on the director's line and all signed it. As great as our movie was I think that was the best moment (well, it may have been exceeded by the standing ovation at the premiere!).

--- Mark


I almost forgot. During shooting I had an extra small camcorder loaded with tape and battery and told everyone in the crew to go get it and shoot some "Making of..." footage whenever they felt like it throughout the day. After the movie was done I edited together those tapes into a cool five minute "Making Of..." video. When I made the Cast and Crew DVDs, in addition to a Director's Commentary track that specifically called out the unique contributions of everyone on the crew, I included this video. Everyone who was on the crew has shown that 'Behind the Scenes' video to their family and friends and every one of them has volunteered to be on any future project of mine. It's a small world and word does get around. If you want to attract a great crew on your second project, make sure you have a very happy crew after your first project. Here are links to WMV streaming versions of the "Making Of..." video.

350 Kbps link: mms://video.power2play.com/mr/MakingOf%20350k.wmv
700 Kbps link: mms://video.power2play.com/mr/MakingOf.wmv

Jay Rodriguez
06-21-2005, 10:37 AM
Excellent thread, love some of responses here.... Especially yours markran, thanks for the information

06-29-2005, 01:12 PM
Markran that was a really cool making of video. Looks like you guys have some nice lighting gear.