PDA

View Full Version : Hardest Thing About Making Your First Film?



Guest
10-10-2004, 07:18 PM
From everything I've heard, making your first film is like a death sentence. People act like there's no possible way to direct a good first feature.

My question is, why? Can experienced filmmakers tell me what is it exactly that makes it so difficult to make a good first film. Where does everybody mess up? What is the HARDEST thing about making that first film?

Garden State and Primer weren't bad. Those were first features. Then again, M. Night made a few terrible movies before the Sixth Sense (and a few terrible movies afterwards as well).

thanks,
chris

Mike_Donis
10-10-2004, 07:39 PM
Well, I'm not saying that I'm an *experienced* filmmaker - I've made one feature in my life, mostly I've done shorts...

But, the main reason I think is because in general, it's HARD to make a good movie. And anything that's hard to do takes practice. The first time you played baseball, were you good enough to make it into the Major Leagues? Anything difficult takes time to learn the ins and outs of, and filmmaking is no different. In fact, I'd say that filmmaking is probably one of the hardest things to do in the world (successfully, at least.)

Some first time movies can be good, no doubts. But using Garden State as an example, Zach Braff has acted in many things - he's seen many directors (and professional ones at that) work, and so he's probably got more experience without having done it himself than your average joe.

So while there are examples of first features that blow people out of the water, they are usually few and far between.

Barry_Green
10-10-2004, 08:29 PM
The reason it's difficult is because the overwhelming majority of people who do it, rush into it *long* before they're actually ready. *The easy accessibility of equipment, and assistance, has people thinking "I can make a movie!" *Well, yes, they can, but probably not a good one...

For some reason people seem to think that movies are not as difficult to make as other works of art.

For example, how many people here really, truly think that in order to make a painting, all they need to do is buy some brushes and some paints, and have "a really good idea"? *Ain't gonna happen. *Unless you're that one in a million prodigy, your first painting is likely to be horrible. *And that's where the learning process starts.

How about music? *How many people think "why, this music thing can't be all that hard, let me pick up a guitar, and I have ProTools to edit with, and my own CD Burner... I'll just make my first album this weekend and I'll be a millionaire!" *Um... this is typically not the path to a successful recording career, y'know?

Many first-timers seem to think that a lifetime of watching movies somehow prepares them to make their own "epic". *As if somehow a lifetime of listening to music (and playing "air guitar") somehow makes someone qualified to release their own triple-platinum album. *Doesn't happen. *It takes years and years and years of practice and study, and playing the guitar until your fingers bleed, before that first album comes even remotely into the field of possibility.

And so it is with movies, except a hundredfold, because unlike the other disciplines, movies rely not just on the artist himself/herself, but also on the cooperation of others (from several, to several dozen, others). *Compound the enormous difficulty of coming up with a truly artistic expression, by the difficulties of organizing and managing a cast and crew of dozens of disparate personalities, as well as fundraising and financing, and it should become apparent that filmmaking is the *hardest* of the arts to succeed at.

It is also, apparently, the one with the strongest draw (along with the performing arts). *I don't meet many aspiring painters, or many aspiring sculptors, but it seems like everyone is an aspiring director, or actor, or singer.

Making a "movie" is not all that difficult, if you define a "movie" as 90 minutes of footage. *Making a watchable movie, one that affects people and makes them feel emotion and cry and cheer and applaud, well, that's a whole different story. *It's an extremely difficult task, and rarely accomplished by first-timers.

And even the first-timers who do succeed are not overnight successes. *Robert Rodriguez had made dozens, if not hundreds, of short films (which were winning awards at festivals across the country), gotten himself published as a comic strip artist, and enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin film school before he ever attempted "El Mariachi". * As for "Garden State", I don't know Zach Braff's story, but he's got a film degree from Northwestern University and has been professionally acting for 15 years before attempting his first film. *I'm sure he did plenty of homework and studied the art of storytelling thoroughly, as well as learning an incredible amount from interning and studying how the "pro's" do it, before attempting it himself.

The world is full of "overnight successes", but a quick look at any of their backstories will usually reveal that they spent a good 10 or 12 years trying before they met with "overnight success". *So it can certainly be done, but unless you're the one in a million prodigy, the one who plays the piano by ear etc., you'll have to do an intense amount of homework before you'll be skilled enough to create a good film.

Guest
10-10-2004, 08:50 PM
I completely agree with both posters. There's no substitute for experience and making a movie is probably one of the hardest things to do in the world. But every first-time director goes into their movie with either more or less experience than the next first-time director. My question is: what is the most common pitfall for a first-timer, regardless of experience? The one thing that there's NO WAY of knowing how to handle unless you've actually directed a movie before?

Mike_Donis
10-10-2004, 09:25 PM
I don't think you're asking a question that can be answered realistically - what will be problematic depends entirely on the specific director and what his strengths and weaknesses are...

THiNSPiRiT
10-10-2004, 09:30 PM
that post by Barry has to be one of the DVXuser forum's top posts ever. So true and speaks so strongly to the majority of the people on this board...

I can tell you the number one pitfall though:

Thinking that everyone else working on your film is as interesting in making the story happen as much as you are.

It's not their creative idea, they didn't come up with it, they don't have the same passion and desire behind it. If they don't have faith in your film, they won't work on it unless they're going to get paid. You need to take other people's lives, plans, and self-interests into consideration. You might think "I have such a great idea for my film, everyone will bend over backwards to make it happen" This couldn't be further from the truth. People will only help you on a film if they're going to get something out of it themselves. If what they get out of it to themselves is that they help to create a great story then great, or if it's to help out a good friend that works too...

Just be considerate of other people and don't give filmmakers a bad name by making other people miserable for the sake of your film... also, FEED YOUR CAST AND CREW!!!

Jim Brennan
10-11-2004, 10:04 PM
Yes, feed them. Often and well.

To me it doesn't matter how hard it is. But then again I still haven't done a feature...only shorts. I think that's a good road to take because you deal with the same kind of problems, but they tend to be less complex, and you deal with them for shorter periods of time.

But even if it is hard (which it is) that shouldn't discourage you. Just be realistic about why you are choosing to do a feature. (I'm assuming that this is your first foray into filmmaking) Is it just because you can? Would it hurt to do a few shorts first? Maybe do a 15 minute film around one of the key sequences in the feature. It will give you an idea about what you are facing. But hey, I don't think I would have taken that advice, so maybe I shouldn't be giving it. I like to think I can pick everything I need to know as I go along. Even though I am constantly proving myself wrong.

I also have to say, that on every film I've done, I learned something that made me want to re-shoot by the time we wrapped. I know you have to get your experience somewhere, but I'm glad that I got a lot of mine shooting family and friends with my Canon ZR-20. If I had shot that way on a feature, I'd be broke and divorced.

Ultimately, filmmaking is very complicated. That is the root of the difficulty. It is part art, part science and part synergy. The more experience you have the more you understand the process. That leads to fewer problems because you know what you need to take care of before the shoot, and how to deal with problems during the shoot. (Okay, some of the problems anyway). I've done a number of shorts, and I am still amazed at how much I forget, or overlook. Sometimes it's hard enough doing one job. As an independent fiilmmaker/director you do a dozen. I guess if you have a good, core group of people willing to help you out, that makes a difference. But like thinspirit says, it ain't their baby. Ultimately, it's all in your lap. If you think you are ready for that, go for it. Some people swim better their first time in the deep end.

There is one first time director that I think made a good film. Troy Duffy wrote and directed the Boondock Saints. Although it was hardly a cinematic triumph, it was very well shot and (IMHO) visually interesting (a bit trite, with a so-so script, but I liked it). But he had a 6 million dollar budget and a very experienced DP/cameraman, to whom he gave free reign

GenJerDan
10-12-2004, 12:11 AM
From everything I've heard, making your first film is like a death sentence. *People act like there's no possible way to direct a good first feature.

My question is, why?

Guessing here, since I won't know for sure for a few months, but...

Trying to do too much. Trying to get everything you (think) you know how to do into it. (That includes using every new toy you have.)

Going to one extreme or the other...either copying someone else's work, or carefully avoiding doing something anyone has ever done before.

Not standing back and actually looking during all phases of the project.

Not remembering that it is story story story before anything else.

But, like I said, we'll see.

Dan

David Jimerson
10-12-2004, 06:51 AM
I have the feeling that one of the hardest parts (tangentially referenced by Barry) is dealing with the fact that your film doesnít look like a multi-million-dollar Hollywood production. It just wonít. You can make it well, but you also need to set realistic expectations. As Barry said, your first film is your first film. Itís going to suck by most conventional means Ė but you LEARN from it.

Check out the original student film version of ďTHX-1138,Ē available on the DVD special features. There are many things about it that are cringe-worthy if you compare it to the full-feature version . . . but chances are, your first film is going to look much more like that than the feature.

AND THATíS OK. To quote Buddy Fiddler, ďkid, NOBODY hits a hole-in-one their first time at bat.Ē

natob2
10-12-2004, 08:29 AM
. *My question is: what is the most common pitfall for a first-timer, regardless of experience? *The one thing that there's NO WAY of knowing how to handle unless you've actually directed a movie before? *

Here's my take on this as a producer...

Being a successful filmmaker is all about being proactive. The skills needed to become effectively proactive require experience. A new filmmaker will meet obstacles that they have not prepared to react to. This is a pitfall and weed-out time for many aspiring filmmakers.

Just prepare the best you can and accept the fact that you will hit obstacles. Many of which seem impossible to find around. But if there is a will there is a way.

I could write pages upon pages on this topic. But there is no substitute for trial by fire.

Guest
10-12-2004, 10:18 AM
Shane Carruth who wrote, produced, directed and starred in Primer is a good example. Here is a link to how much time he invested on his project before jumping into filming his first movie. It's www.primermovie.com/story.html

Chris Messineo
10-14-2004, 08:50 AM
Barry - awesome post.

It is amazing to me how many people try to make feature length films without the proper preparation.

I am dying to make my first feature film, but I have been honing my skills and learning the craft on a variety of short projects so that I will be ready when I attempt to tackle the big beast.

Chris

THiNSPiRiT
10-14-2004, 09:42 PM
Depending on the style of your feature though you can learn tonnes more on one feature than several shorts and it'll take you the same length of time.

Mike Donis worked on a feature film with only a few shorts under his belt, he probably could've used more experience before jumping into such a big project, but because the film itself was being worked on part time with a small cast it was able to be shot over a good length of time and the amount of knowledge learned from making that film has been invaluable to his filmmaking (i would know, i saw the film he made afterwards)

Jim Brennan
10-14-2004, 10:07 PM
It is all about doing the best with what you've got at the time, and each experience builds on the last. But I'd be curious to see if that learning curve is visible in that first feature. Can you tell which parts he shot earlier due to the difference in quality?

THiNSPiRiT
10-14-2004, 10:53 PM
yup, you actually can... although there are discrepancies based on how rushed some of the later stuff is...

the very first stuff shot compared to the very last stuff shot shows a huge difference in directing ability and filming...

krestofre
10-15-2004, 08:47 AM
As someone who is just about to wrap shooting of his first feature and enter post, here are some extra thoughts:

The story behind getting this film made is an interesting one, and I'm sure everyone here could tell his or her own production story, but after having the ground pulled out from under me at just about every stage of making this film I think one of the most important things to remember is to persevere. There were so many times that some major piece of the film would just fall apart and as I was about to throw in the proverbial towel a solution would present itself. Eventually it got to the point where just finishing the film was an act of stubbornness and will, but nothing did (or will) stand in my way. The film is not Oscar worthy (I'm not even sure it's festival worthy) but darn it, it's MY film. It's a small portion of a dream come true. I think that first film has to come out of a love of filmmaking rather than a desire to break into Hollywood. If you love the film like it's your child then any pitfalls will be avoided and any problem will be solved. As other people have indicated, the film will suffer for it, and it won't look like a picture made by a studio, but it will be invaluable to you as a director. My background is completely in post production. I work as an editor, and have been branching out with my own time and money. I like to think I knew what I was getting into before I started rolling camera, but the truth of the matter is that I'm leaps and bounds beyond where I was when I had just finished the script. To me THAT'S what the first feature is about. It's getting you ready to make your second feature, which is getting you ready to make that third feature.

Even if my second and third feature look just as unpolished and unreleasable as my first, it won't stop me. I love making movies. It's everything I've ever wanted to do even though I'm losing more money then I'll probably ever make with it (at least my wife understands.) ;)

I'm probably rambling at this point--I have a tendency to do that. I'll close this post now. Hopefully something in it was worthwhile.

Chris

Oh, one more thing. If I had to pick the most valuable lesson I've leared for me as a director it would be to never act in my own film. Oy vey! Anyone who can act and direct at the same time has more talent then I do. You can rest assured that any subsequent films will not have me in it. :D

Jim Brennan
10-15-2004, 09:09 AM
"Even if my second and third feature look just as unpolished and unreleasable as my first, it won't stop me. I love making movies. It's everything I've ever wanted to do even though I'm losing more money then I'll probably ever make with it (at least my wife understands.)"

First off, your wife and mine should have lunch...and maybe a few cocktails. *Mine bought me my camera because she actually believes in me.

But I couldn't agree more. *I know we talk an awful lot about the technical here (which is important), but it's the passion that matters most. *We make movies because we love to MAKE them. *SUre we all want to make them as well as we possibly can. *But I think most of us would go on making bad ones than to not make any at all. *I would also rather see a low tech, poorly lit, but passionate film than the latest thing from Jerry Bruckheimer.

Chris Messineo
10-15-2004, 11:49 AM
I would also rather see a low tech, poorly lit, but passionate film than the latest thing from Jerry Bruckheimer.

Jim, while I agree with this in spirit (I do love independent films), I think too many film makers take shortcuts. *Halfway decent lighting is not that hard to learn (or even that expensive to do) for example.

When I see independent stuff with poor lighting, acting, writing, or whatever, I think why couldn't they have tried a little harder. * I've watched hundreds of short films on the Internet and most of them are horrible. *They usually are accompanied by this description "me and my friends got this idea on Friday, filmed it on Saturday, and cut it on Sunday." * Then they are surprised when you don't love it on Monday.

I guess I am saying, I can forgive small budgets, but I don't have a lot of patience for people who won't put in the effort to do a quality job.

Sorry for the mini-rant,

Chris

David Jimerson
10-15-2004, 12:08 PM
What's a "passionate" film? I'd think it would have to be where the filmmakers tried their hearts out to get everything right. "Poorly-lit" probably would not fall into that category. Lack of effort shows.

Mike_Donis
10-15-2004, 12:09 PM
Took the words right out of my mouth, Chris

Jim Brennan
10-15-2004, 12:46 PM
Okay, I see your point there. I guess what I'm trying to say is that doing is the best way to learn, and don't let ignorance stop you from trying. The worst thing that can happen is that it sucks, and you learn from it. I don't mean that you shouldn't do your due diligence. I guess I come from a background of making lots of shorts for me to learn from. I started out on my home video camera with some friends and family acting. The results were predictably bad, but I learned things that I couldn't be taught. Each film was to me, like a semester of guerilla film school. My only investment was time and a few cases of beer.
But I agree wholeheartedly that lack of effort shows. Thanks for keeping me on track

Mike_Donis
10-15-2004, 12:59 PM
And I also agree with you wholeheartedly on that one, Jim!

Chris Messineo
10-15-2004, 01:02 PM
Jim,

I think we are on the same page.

People should definitely get out and film, that is the best way to learn. I always tell people my first short was my film school 101.

But at the same time, I spent 4 months doing preproduction on that film, working every week-end, so that when it came time to shoot it I was as ready as I could be.

Chris

Cheesesailor77
10-18-2004, 09:45 PM
not nearly as poignant as the rest of the thoughts but...

A huge reason first timers suck, myself included, is because Film is one of the very few art forms u cant just go do.

I play bass and drums, and i can plug in or pick up some sticks whenever i want, i could practice 10 hours a day until i was the best musician i knew.

I bought my self a dvx, and my first dvx project is next month... see how that works?

No one picks up a guitar for the first time and jams out some hendrix, but they can sit in their room and devote themselves until the do. Films take just as much time gathering equipment and convincing ppl to help than they do actually making them, probably more. And once everything is set up and ppl are waiting, looking at u to make magic, NOW is the first time u've had to practice, and in a week or two, u have to wait another few months before u can practice again.

So yeah, ur first project wil stink, mine did, as most likely the next few will too, that's why im saving my good ideas until i can see up on the screen that im ready.

Its all about practice

Kidster
10-19-2004, 05:27 AM
Everything said here in these posts are so true. To get the best you can offer, a director must pay close attention to detail. It is of upmost importance when directing anything, whether it's a feature length film or a 30 sec spot. Also I think THinSpirit said best. Finding and surrounding youreself with a cast and crew that is as passionate about the project as you are is very tough to find. I have been in the pre-production stage of my first feature for 5 months now. Trying to get the best crew and cast that I can on the small budget that I have($26,000). Things were going well, headshots coming in, I had about half of the film cast, when all of the sudden a large conflict occured with myself and the DP. The problem was over the shooting schedule. The script is 94 pages, 8 characters (with any real dialogue) and 14 locations. No special effects, car crashes or gun fights. It's a comedy. So, I planned on trying to get as many days as I could out of the free (deferred pay) cast and crew and all agreed to 18 long days of shooting. And now the DP, feels that 18 days is not near enough time to get it done right. I wish we had more time, but getting a dozen people to work (for free) past 18 days is asking way too much. So the DP, said that if we didn't extend the shooting schedule to 32 days, that he would be wasting his time. So, the problems continue, but we will get through them.

Guest
10-19-2004, 09:28 AM
I think your DP is being unreasonable. For that kind of budget, 18 days is pretty good in my book. Indies these days even do it in 12-14 days. I'm in preproduction myself. I've been honing the script for the past three years and originally, I intended to hire a director but I've decided to direct it myself. Preproduction is quite a task. I hope to start filming in February/March. I still have to decide whether I'm going to use multiple DVX cameras or just one. What do you guys think? I've also been hearing good things about this super 16 so I'm now confused whether to use DVX or super 16 but I'm still hoping DVX.

Since I'm just a novice too, I'm trying to do my best to avoid the mistakes that first timers make. I've two shorts that I hope to make before the end of the year just for experience's sake. I'm reading a lot of filmmaking books but theory alone does not cut it so I'm going to be out there experimenting. I'd also love to have a sit down with anyone of you guys in the LA area just to pick his/her brain over coffee/lunch/dinner (I'll pick up the tab).

vic

J_Barnes
10-19-2004, 09:53 AM
Theres two ways to look at this:

1. Your DP is correct and you aren't allowing him enough time to shoot the film.

or

2. Your DP is correct and he doesn't have the time he needs to shoot the film.

What I mean is that his concerns probably come at a reason. Either you aren't affording enough time based on locations/actors/script/timeline, or your DP doesn't have the experience or abilities to acomplish everything he needs to acomplish under your alotted schedule.

Either way, he wasn't going to get the job done for you so it's best that you part ways. Shooting 94 pages in 18 days ammounts to about 6 pages a day over who knows how many setups. Once you consider those shooting requirements and add 14 company moves in 18 days, my suspicions tell me that your DP might have been right to jump ship.

That doesn't mean that it can't be done, but looking at it under those terms, I think I would have made exactly the same demand he did.

Also, I'd suggest that you get used to asking too much, it's often the only way things get done.

Jim Brennan
10-19-2004, 10:54 AM
I have to agree about possibly parting ways. If a guy is telling you he can't do it in that time, it's not the same as saying it can't be done.

Did he give you specific reasons? Because on the one hand people are generally aware of their own limitations. On the other hand, part of being a director is to help people go beyond their perceved limitations.

Of course a lot of it depends on the script. 6 pages a day on one film is not the same as on another. I've shot as much as 16 pages in one day, but it was all very chatty stuff. A lot of over the shoulder and 2 shots.

If you have a lot of set-ups and locations for example, he may be right. If you haven't done so, I'd sit down and get details, maybe get together what you think your shooting schedule should look like. If he starts bringing up some valid and specific points about why it's not enough time, you might want to rethink your position, or find a way to shoot it more efficiently. That might mean a new DP.

Kidster
10-19-2004, 11:05 AM
Well the 14 locations is a bit misleading. All but 3 of them are located with in 4 miles of each other. I understand that lighting IS cinematography, and that he wanted to do the best possible job that he could. However, he was saying that he needed 2 hours to light each setup ( not each location, but each and every setup) etc. I wished he would have said something 3 months ago, so I could have been using that time with someone that is on the same page as I am.

J_Barnes
10-19-2004, 11:19 AM
It's not unusual to have a DP walk on a project the day before and get something good out of the experience. In the end, having someone leave a project when they don't have full faith is the best thing that can happen to the project.

Also, 14 locations is 14 locations. It doesn't matter if they're 10 miles apart or 3 floors apart, it still involves a significant movement of resources that will sap energy and momentum from an overworked crew. A company move rarely goes as well as you think it can.

2 hours can be a lot of time to light a set up and it can be too little time...it depends on the location, equipment, crew and requirements of the camera. Just because he's saying he wants 2 hours, doesn't mean he's going to take it either...any good technician will pad their requirements a bit to afford them a little latitude where they need it.

How recently did your shooting schedule come up? Had you ever discussed it with him before? Had he ever voiced concerns about the timeline? How experienced is he?

If he's experienced and you're not, why aren't you worried yet?

There's a way to get a lot done in a short amount of time, but cinematography like acting, is an art you can expedite only at great expense.

Kidster
10-19-2004, 12:03 PM
No, I'm not worried, just a bit bummed that it didn't work with the guy (DP)
How experienced am I? This is my first feature and my "directing" experience is in TV. Golf show, Crime TV show, commericals etc. And with my TV experience, I learned that your show or in this case movie is most often times as good as your budget. However, knowing this was gong to be a low budget film, I wrote the script to accomodate the money. 75% fo the story is daytime. So, we don't have a real budget to pay actors and crew, and especially not for 32 days. I am not trying to copy or emulate a Hollywood type of film, and in my opinon, if a low budget movie tries to copy the bigger budget hollywood style, they will fail. This also would have been the DP's first feature as well.

The shooting schedule has been known since our first meeting, so it was no surprise. I suspect that he feels a bit overwhelmed. As I do at times, but my vision keeps me focused. And I like the no "holding back punches" opinons on this forum to be very helpful.

J_Barnes
10-19-2004, 12:06 PM
I'd completely agree with you...it sounds like he's become overwhelmed, in which case he'd doom your project anyway, right?

COnsider it a blessing for you both, and if you still want to use him later, you can talk to him about your NEXT project.

Jim Brennan
10-19-2004, 12:16 PM
Sometimes circumstance can be a bitch, but it probably is for the best. And if he's known the schedule along and is only now raising objection, he might not have been the best person to work with regardless of how much time you had to shoot.

Barry_Green
10-19-2004, 12:30 PM
No matter what else happens, you've got to replace that guy with someone who can do the job. There's been great advice on this thread, but it all comes down to: he's saying he can't do it. So if you try to do it, with him, you'll fail. Unquestionably.

You've got to immediately start casting around for DP's who are experienced with 18-day shoots, someone who knows how to work FAST. You've got to listen to your people, if they say they can't do it, what they mean is, they can't do it. Which means it won't get done. You've got to replace him with someone who can do it.

Barry_S
10-19-2004, 02:13 PM
Your DP is telling you he either won't or can't work on your film. He's asking for you to cut him loose, but making it seem like it's your decision. Or he's got some serious cold feet. Occassionally, a 2 hour lighting setup is justified in a low-budget indie, but you need someone who can generally do it in 15-20 minutes. Some prima donna or inexperienced DP doing 2-hour lighting setups would last exactly one day on most indie productions. I agree with James, that it's a blessing to be able to replace him before the shooting starts. If he's playing games with you now, then it's only going to get worse under the pressure of the production. You'll know you're talking to a professional when they say that they'll work within your schedule or just flat out say no.

Young-H._Lee
10-20-2004, 06:27 PM
I'm going to go a bit off tangent and add some of my thoughts on the original discussion on making your first film. Everything that has been said on this board has been valid and is justifiable.
However, my argument of a good filmmaker making a GOOD film is based on a person's gifted ability. Meaning, innate ability - or talent. If a person was not born an artist then as hard as he may try may never amount to a Da Vinci. It's an unfortunate reality and I know that much of the "self-empowerment" talk of our time focuses on beating the odds, but I think everyone has their lot in life and each lot has its limitations. This by no means - means that one cannot become successful and find happiness and satisfcation as a filmmaker or whatever they choose to pursue, but simply my point is if you were born left brained and are a purely analytic thinker with no artistic talent, then you can only develop your artistic skills to a point where there will be diminishing returns and you can never achieve the potential that a natural Da Vinci could in a lifetime.

I came to be convinced of this in my own life experience. Growing up in high school and graduating college, I was frequently pressured to be academically successful in math, science, computer programming...etc. And coming from an Asian family, the expectation on me from friends and family to excel was enormous. But as hard as I tried, I never did. I failed many classes in college as a computer science major - despite my efforts of trying hard. I could NEVER EVER grasp highly abstract concepts as fast as my classmates - concepts relating to data structures, data bases, computer vision, and furthermore apply those theories into writing computer programs. I got C's D's and F's all the time...its a miracle that I graduated. I had to get help from TA's, professors, pulled frequent all niters and drink lots of coffeee...omg I looked like hell through most of my college career. My point is, my brain is just not LEFT BRAINED gifted analyitical, logical...I know relaly smart people who could pick up these abstract comptuer concepts and math concepts in a snap. But I coudl never. Now granted if I kept trying and trying and trying, I could probably develop into a pretty successful comptuer scientist...but only to a degree. I would never in my life become half of John Carmack (lead programmer of ID's DOOM game).

So I think in the same way, a good filmmaker is already born a good filmmaker. A good filmmaker has strong visualization skills, can see shots in his head and even edit those shots together and just has an innate sense of what works best in film. It takes practice to learn, but the one with the true gift is the one who will excel even in their first film. While some of us might not be the best filmmakers and aren't innately gifted to be so, I think we can still be very successful, it willl just take a little longer with a little more practive to get to Spielberg level

So, to all of you filmmakers, keep aspiring, keep learning and more power to you ;)

Btw, I have YET to make a DVX film and show you guys...so I'm not trying to be condescending or anything!!

J_Barnes
10-21-2004, 06:20 AM
Just to offer a dissenting opinion about your assessment of your own abilities:

I don't see how a GOOD film is predicated solely on one person's innate ability. As film is so collaborative and communal, a good film is never founded solely on one personís efforts. Furthermore, the process of collaboration is built not on creativity but on logic, reasoning, strategy and analysisÖall function traditionally assumed to be part of the left brain.

Even complex orchestrated music at its most creative and inspired moments can be broken down into mathematics and logic.

Humans develop to a state where testing shows them to be ďhighly creativeĒ right before we begin school. Because of the emphasis on logic and reasoning, by the time we enter adulthood only 2 percent of us maintain the innate creativity we were born with.

I cannot see how anyone is born to be a filmmaker, we may be born to be creative, but we must learn to be filmmakers. Filmmakers are born of years spent in front of television sets. Itís not a gift, itís a skill based on a heavily organized and regimented presentation of storytelling. Filmmaking, whether or not we admit it, is based on an intricate web of rules and logic. The process of filmmaking is one of collaboration, delegation, negotiation, diplomacy, leadership, decisiveness and perseverance.

We talk about our storyline in terms of logic. We compose and edit our shots according to a spatial visual logic. We apply formulas to our writing process. We apply reasoning when collaborating with our actors and creative craftsmen.

I donít disagree with the spirit of what youíre saying, but instead I suggest that filmmakers are far more logical in their approach to their ďartĒ then most other artists are. Because that logic doesnít manifest in numbers, equations and chemical compositions, people tend to think that itís purely a creative endeavor. Iím simply suggesting that filmmaking is a HIGHLY logical process, with logic and reasoning dominating creativity in nearly all phases of the creation of a film. Iíd suspect that many of us performed under par in school, but that doesnít translate to a propensity towards creativity and a lack of reasoning.

I donít think thereís such a thing as a born filmmaker. I think weíre a bunch of creative logical people whoíve learned to think about story in visual terms.

Weíre evolved couch potatoes.

Also, for those interested in further readingÖhereís two articles about why the left/right brain theory might be total bunk:

http://williamcalvin.com/bk2/bk2ch10.htm

http://www.rense.com/general2/rb.htm

Jim Brennan
10-21-2004, 06:41 AM
Good/evil
yin/yang
male/female
logic/emotion
whisky/beer

Balance: without it we'd all fall over.

J_Barnes
10-21-2004, 06:59 AM
What was so facinating about reading about left brain/right brain theory is the idea that all the scientists totally missed be boat about how the brains actually interact to acomplish tasks. Instead of focusing on the back and forth between the "logic" side and the "creative" side, the focused on the individual aspects of function that seemed to be dominated by one or the other.

It seems more likely to me that the logical portions of our brain govern and regulate the creative process and that the creative process has some governing and regulating power over the logical process.

For me, I see logic and creativity as being symbiotic in all endeavors, and the creative artists I've come to respect most have been some of the most logically ordered thinkers.

Andy Warhol, Frank Zappa, Chuck Palahniuk, Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Willem de Kooning, etc. All inspired and occasionally manipulative artists trapped within highly reasoned, logical and calculating brains.

When you have creativity with no logic, you tend to have artists that are highly inconsistent or just plain crazy...like Thelnoious Monk.

natob2
10-21-2004, 07:40 AM
Kidster,

Your shooting this in STL right?

If your DP bailed on you I have a recommendation for a STL DP who is quite good with the DVX, he shot a spot in my spec reel and did a nice job. (its on my web site, its the Bud Light spot) Skill wise he very good, personality wise he is the best DP I have ever worked with.

He might be willing to look at and consider your project. Shoot me an email if you would like to talk with him.

Young-H._Lee
10-21-2004, 08:29 AM
Hi Barnes

You make some good points about filmmaking as a logical craft, in that storytelling must follow a certain logic. That I do agree with. I also agree that filmmaking is dependent on all the things such as leadership, delegation and teamwork. Yes. However, my preassumptions to my argument were on a director's previsualization abilities, and simply, just how good he is at telling a visual story. In other words, if a director was like God, and simply could make a movie simply by creating everything he needs by imagining it, how good could it be? Kind of like a single guy making a computer animtion.

Now obviously there are far more gifted people in directing than others and that is why some people's movies suck and some people's movies rock. (even if we make an assumption of standardization that both people had the same resources and time at their disposal) And that is why there live in film history great cinematic directors.

While they are well learned in cinematic skills, I don't believe that everyone was born with a clean slate and whoever worked harder or got lucky was the one who became a great director. They had to have innate talent that they carried through their lives.

Yes, we have to have logic in our storytelling, but isn't this just like how gifted computer programmers need to have creativity in their logic to make better programs?

Humans are rational and logical, but the ones who are more rational and more logical, tend to be better at that, and the ones who are more creative, and more dynamic, those are the ones who generally will make the better films.

GenJerDan
10-21-2004, 08:39 AM
Humans are rational and logical, but the ones who are more rational and more logical, tend to be better at that, and the ones who are more creative, and more dynamic, those are the ones who generally will make the better films. *

Yep.

And, as far as I'm concerned, I 'd rather watch a badly made film that has a heart and soul than a technical masterpiece that showed not a whit of creativity.

Dan

J_Barnes
10-21-2004, 09:58 AM
Abel Ferrara, Steven Spielberg, John Waters, Terry Gilliam, Robert Altman, Sidney Lumet, Woody Allen, John Cassavetes, Alex Cox, Frances Ford Coppola, and John Frankenheimer.

Thatís a group of directors that runs the rainbow between pragmatic logic and uncensored creativity. If you start to separate them into categories and look at their successes and productivity, you might find that sheer creativity does not always make the better body of work.

Iím just suggesting that creativity is in abundance, far more so then we appreciate. Itís the skillful application of creativity that is lacking in most every art, and I think thatís what separates the artists from the inspired.

Ideas are fun, but products sell. Thereís something to be said for the fact that filmmakers like Alex Cox and Abel Ferrara, who drip creativity and inspiration, generally donít build a significant audienceÖwhile pragmatic and reliable directors like Steven Spielberg, and Robert Altman thrive and trade upon loyal viewers.

The badly made films with heart and soul are great, everyone loves themÖbut perhaps thereís a reason why John Waters has the career he does and Steven Spielberg is where he is.

(again, not an argument for or against anything, just a thought I had)

glassblowerscat
10-21-2004, 09:42 PM
I think it's important to realize the role of sheer dedication and perseveranceóin fact, being too stubborn to realize it's impossible to succeed in this business.

I think there are probably lots more people around than you would think who are capable of the skillful application of stunning creativity. But most of them burn out or get discouraged early or are unwilling to make the sacrifices necessary to really pursue it to its limit.

That's one of my goalsóto be too hard-headed to know I can't possibly succeed.

Ryan

Jim Brennan
10-21-2004, 10:15 PM
My old guitar teacher is far and away the best musician I have ever met. I think he sells insurance or something now. Talent is important, but I'll take tenacity, thank you very much.

IsraelHoudini
10-26-2004, 12:53 AM
taking this on from the view point of talent...and the computer programming major in college:

i am and have been an artist (pencil, pen ink, painting, now digital) my whole life. i majored in fine art, and then commercial art. but i am an extremely non 'artsy' person. i dont do the 'this piece represents my deepest inner thoughts on the nature of the universe through this little red spot over here" kind of crap.

and, i must say that through observation of the artistic community, (and those classmates whos parents and teachers were never honest about thier kids' lack of talent)there is one observable, provable fact: you have talent, or you do not. there is no in between state. some are better than others by virtue of how much time they have spent perfecting natural talent and fusing creativity with hard work and dedication and practical knowledge of the tools of one's chosen trade.

it is a natural born instinct. if you have it and choose to use it, then you can make your work/craft/etc better. you can improve over time. you can hone your skills into a finely tuned machine of creativity and hard work. but if you do not have it, no matter how much you work at it or practice or study, you will still fall far short of what the naturally talented can do with minimal training.

so the question becomes: do you have natural talents that imbue you with the ability to create films?

equipment, and even experience, and practice are virtually meaningless in the absence of talent. it will be more work than you can possibly imagine to create a first film...but with talent it will come naturally and will show through the end product however rudimentary.

your first film should answer the question.
if you find that talent is not forthcoming (it should be recognized by outsiders not associated with the film who view it) then the next hope is to surround yourself with people who do have natural talent.

joel schumacher said once in an interview that he thought filmmaking would come easy to him on his first film becuase he believed he was destined to be a director. he said it was a monumental disaster. in viewing his filmography, it is evident when he did find persons of talent to work with, and when he was allowed to do his own untalented thing (tigerland, vs batman and robin). you be the judge.

glassblowerscat
10-26-2004, 06:29 AM
I don't know how many Joel Schumacher movies I've seen, but it's a little harsh to accuse the guy of having no talent just because one or more of his films have been cheesy or flopped. Maybe he's just bad at picking projects.

I agree, in a limited way, that you either have it or you don't. But some people clearly have it more than others.

Jim Brennan
10-26-2004, 08:39 AM
Obviously the issue of "talent" is both debatable and difficult to quantify. Largely because few people on the outside see what goes into an individuals "talent". How many hours, how much work, how many mistakes are made. I think that singing is a good example to use because it requires nothing more to develop than the raw material you were born with. It does seem apparent that some people are blessed with better voices than others. Does that make them more talented? Or is is the talent in the possibly intuitive way they develop that voice? Certainly there are examples of people who were not born with a great voice, but have learned to master the craft of singing. Are they talented? Is their talent (if they are talented) in their ability to create something where they had little aptitude?

It's all too confusing to me, and I think that those who consider themselves not talented too often use the term "talent" to explain away what they have chosen not to do: work hard at a specific task for a long period of time. I'm not saying that there aren't people who have more natural ability than others. Someone with no "talent" for filmmaking (whatever that might be) can work very hard and not produce something as good as a more talented filmmaker. I just think that it matters less than we often think. Tenacity, humility, hard work, and a willingness to learn are all more important in the final picture (IMHO). If for no other reason than it puts our destiny back in our own hands. If it were only up to the gifts we were born with, we wouldn't get to choose what we want to do. I won't accept that.

Voytek_Stitko
10-26-2004, 09:28 AM
The hardest thing about making your first film is that you are not experienced in making feature films.

But it is like a first kiss, first relationship, first time seen country, first time tasted apple. It is like climbing the mountain for the first time. It is entering unknown.
It is like a death itself.
It is like a miracle of life.

When you are on the set of your fist feature, dont really know what will happen next.
So, it is like watching good movie. You want to know what will happen next. But you dont.

Lets make a movie!

voytek

J_Barnes
10-26-2004, 10:00 AM
Voytek's posts are a lot of fun if you read them using J. Peterman's voice from seinfeld.

Jim Brennan
10-26-2004, 10:26 AM
heheheh. Yes, that does the trick for me. Perhaps you could insert a picture of a nice duster, or wrinkle free slacks next to the post.

Voytek_Stitko
10-26-2004, 10:49 AM
which one you are talking about?
this short fatso or this crazy one which opens the door like crazy .... ?
;D

J_Barnes
10-26-2004, 10:52 AM
Neither. The one that owned the clothing catalog that Elane worked for. He was very worldly, very philisophical and very dramatic in his speech patterns.

Funny stuff.

Jim Brennan
10-26-2004, 10:54 AM
Neither actually. *J Peterman was Elaine's boss for a while. *He ran a catalog clothing company called the Peterman catalog (Based on the real one) *Next to some of the pictures were dramatic anecdotes by Peterman. *He was played by the actor John O'Hurly, who has a very theatrical, somewhat bombastic delivery. *It was some of the best stuff on the show (IMHO)

EDIT: J_Barnes beat me to it.

natob2
10-26-2004, 12:51 PM
I think the greatest talent a filmmaker can have is the determination and persistence to get past a couple of horrible films and all the criticisms and insults that come with them.

Even my mom told me to do something else after my first couple films. But I ignored her and everyone else.

However, I do believe there are tons of people out there making films whose real talents lay elsewhere. I think good filmmaking also takes some level of intelligence.

Voytek_Stitko
10-27-2004, 09:24 AM
Talent? What's that?

1) You have to learn the film language
2) Next you have to learn how to talk using this language.
3) And in the end you have to have something to say.


Then, just do what you are doing all the time.
Talk.

PS Dont you think ?

c.g._eads
10-29-2004, 02:49 AM
I think this thread has taken an interesting turn. However, after reading all the threads, while I've found some interesting and informative answers, I'm yet to find that great advice to my original question. That warning. "Make sure you do [this] over everything else." Maybe I'm being selfish. But I feel that answer is out there.

Let me give you an analogy. I've been a reader (for features) for a long time. Somebody asks me "what's the biggest mistake a first time screenwriter makes?" That's simple. They meander. They don't focus. Everything from the scenes to the subplots to the main plot go on and on without purpose. I guess that's the kind of answer I'm looking for here.

thanks again,
c.g.

p.s. this thread has been very enjoyable to read!

David Jimerson
10-29-2004, 04:18 AM
I don't think there is any ONE thing, other than "make sure you have film (or tape)." A film is a HUGE undertaking and there are THOUSANDS of things.

EVIL_HOMER
10-29-2004, 04:43 AM
The J Petterman suggestion really works! (sorry Voytek)

In my Vast experience...

(shot my first short film a month ago)

It isn't IMPOSSIBLE to make a good first film however you will make mistakes and encounter obstacles

How you overcome these obstacles and stay on track is the secret

My advice for a first timer is practise shoots or allow for reshoots. Be true to your vision but know when to take other opinions on board

Finally, It doesn't matter how well you can tell a story ... if you haven't got a good story to tell

J_Barnes
10-29-2004, 07:20 AM
Since you raised the question a second time, I'll do my best to answer it from my own personal perspective and opinion.



My question is, why? *Can experienced filmmakers tell me what is it exactly that makes it so difficult to make a good first film. *Where does everybody mess up? *What is the HARDEST thing about making that first film?

The problem is that I donít believe there is any one specific point where every first-time filmmaker fails. I donít think there is any one specific thing that trips up first time directors. I think there are certainly a few hazards that tend to be more common then others, but that doesnít mean that avoiding them results in a successful picture.

Hereís a couple of assumptions that can be assumed to be general hazards for first time filmmakers. (Obviously, every first time filmmaker comes from a different set of experience, talent and luck, so nothingís universally challenging).

1. Lack of experience. Reading all the books in the world will still prove you unprepared for certain situations and problems. Unfortunately, there are just some things that must be learned as theyíre encountered, so no amount of study will lessen the hard knocks youíve got to take. The reason why so many second films exceed the first efforts is because the director/filmmaker has practical experience in the application of his education.

In some sense, youíve got to be shot at before you can learn to shoot back.

2. Overconfidence in the material. The truth is that everyoneís first film stinks, but at the time we think itís the greatest story since the bible. We all think what weíve written or developed is revolutionary, inspiring, landmark and compelling but it rarely proves to be anything other then a mediocre first film.

This overconfidence in the material causes us to generally reject constructive criticism, artistic suggestions and collaborative interpretations as we position ourselves as the great defenders of our perfect script. In protecting our idea, we usually hamper itís development by rejecting ideas that might genuinely improve the work as a whole.

3. Unrealistic expectations. The movie in our head is not the one that ends up in the can. This leads to some serious depression in some cases as we try and reconcile our production with what we expected it to be. Coming into a project with very realistic expectations about the story, production, post and eventual public reception allows us a lot more freedom in the execution of that project, and greatly reduces the agony experienced when things arenít going as well as you imagined them.

4. Bad budgeting/business. 99% of all first films are failed by their preproduction phase (thatís a guess, not a real stastic). In general first time filmmakers donít afford their project the correct funding, time, equipment and personnel. Trimming the fat of a budget until it fits an unrealistic figure simply results in a production with no contingency. When something fails, as it always does, it becomes exponentially more difficult to make up your shortfalls in time and money.

5. Untested Professional relationships. In general, youíre working with people youíve never worked on a production with before. Anyone whoís been on a long production of any kind knows that peopleís personalities can change completely under extended duress, so the first time filmmaker is rarely prepared for the interpersonal conflicts and divergent personalities that can sink a production. People often lose friendships over difficult projects, and first time filmmakers tend to rely more on their friends for assistance then anyone elseÖleading to professional relationships that are often tainted by personal history. Its difficult to tell your best friend that he stinks as a camera operator and then expect him to still go to the pub with you.

On the opposite end, you also find yourself working with professionals that you have no personal relationship with, and you have to put faith in their professional abilities without a serious understanding of their abilities.

6. Lack of POST PRODUCTION experience. Editing a film makes you a better filmmaker. Thatís just a fact. A person with a general lack of direct editing experience doesnít have a practical understanding of location sound, continuity, shot flow, spatial relationships in the edit and pacing. Without significant editing experience, you invariably wind up over or undershooting your scenes, leaving you with either too few shots in the edit roomÖor an inflated budget due to your excessive coverage. Most films die in the edit room, not in the production stage, because itís only in the edit that we finally see every little thing that we ruined or forgot in the process of shooting. Itís only in going through that agony a few times that we come to a strong understanding of whatís needed in production to ease your post work.

7. Lack of quality assistance. Itís hard to get good people to work for free. People that are good at what they do tend to get paid for it, even paid well in a lot of cases. If you donít have the money to pay for a crew, you simply donít have access to first tier production help. That will always reflect in your production efficiency and the final product.

8. Insistence on authorship. Now this is a tricky one, but itís one that I firmly believe. The majority of first time filmmakers kill their film by consciously or subconsciously insisting on sole authorship of itís creation. We get wrapped up in this idea of being the sole creative force on a film, so much so that we visualize the ďA film by _______Ē credit appearing on a big screen at the premiere.

This insistence on sole authorship causes us to hamper our production by not considering creative input from others. Actorís interpretations are rejected when not explicit in our script. A DPís lighting and angle suggestions are not considered because they donít match up with our mental storyboard and all helpful adjustments to our production are generally rejected so that they wonít taint our claim of ownership over its creation.

In summation: I think itís mostly a lack of perspective that kills first productions. What it all boils down to is the fact that we dream up an idea of what the final product will look like and we typically donít properly prepare or afford ourselves the resources to accomplish that final product. I think most first films stink because they have toÖwe learn more that way. It hashes out those that will persevere and those that will disappear.

The first film is really just the first step in our film education, so it will never meet with the expectations we apply to it.

(anyway, that's just my idea of why...)

Jim Brennan
10-29-2004, 09:25 AM
Jeez, I'm going to print that out and tape above my friggin desk. You can't expect to avoid all those mistakes the first time around. But you can mitigate them with good prep, and the right attitude. Excellent post.

c.g._eads
10-29-2004, 12:16 PM
I agree. That was exceptional advice. Very much what I was looking for. There's only one difference between your comments and my project. My script really is great!

:)

Jim Brennan
10-29-2004, 04:02 PM
Of course. You wrote it. ;)

c.g._eads
12-05-2005, 12:23 PM
2. Overconfidence in the material. The truth is that everyoneís first film stinks, but at the time we think itís the greatest story since the bible. We all think what weíve written or developed is revolutionary, inspiring, landmark and compelling but it rarely proves to be anything other then a mediocre first film.

This overconfidence in the material causes us to generally reject constructive criticism, artistic suggestions and collaborative interpretations as we position ourselves as the great defenders of our perfect script. In protecting our idea, we usually hamper itís development by rejecting ideas that might genuinely improve the work as a whole.


This is a very interesting point and one I think about often. Being able to accept constructive criticism. The problem is, if you can't *see* someone else's point, if you can't *understand* it, it doesn't matter if it's a better idea or not. Because for almost all choices to work, you have to understand them, you have to believe in them. So to just give in to an idea because everybody says it's better, probably won't work, since you don't grasp how it helps your story, and thusly cannot implement it correctly. I know this sounds weird, but I'd rather someone execute a bad idea they're passionate about, then try a better idea that they don't understand.

dougspice
12-05-2005, 06:03 PM
This is a really great thread. It even diverged to deal with a very specific practical problem midway through, then reconnected to the original point and delivered some really solid wisdom. For what it's worth I agree entirely with Barry and J. Barnes' analyses.

yagfxg33k
12-06-2005, 07:55 AM
My first film - Was all about compromise. To wit:

I had a dog in the film. Had to scrap that at the last moment and come up with a new scenario.

I had 2 dolly+crane shots. After seeing what was involved in getting those shots the way that I wanted them in a rehearsal, I scrapped them and re-did the shots.

On the day of the shoot, my lead actor could not make it to the set due to a paying gig needing them for some re-shoots. After shooting around them and finally getting the word that they would indeed not make it to the set, I grabbed a crew member and had them fill in the role.

The result:

The lack of the dog and the re-designed shots were actually better then what my first design was.

The crew member turned actor was actually much better suited to the role and performed better then the SAG actor that I had lined up for the gig.

Is it a good film? Everyone that has seen it enjoyed it and laughed at all of the right spots. This includes people that do not know me nor had any idea I was involved in the film.

Am I satisfied? No. I wish I could have done a lot of things better in the film. Hence, the next film that is in development now :)

My advice to a first time film maker:

Be prepared. Have backups for ALL gear that you can reasonably have.
Rehearse your crew. Especially if it's their first time.
Have lots of food on the set and serve at least 1 hot meal.
Be flexable. Ask yourself: What do I have to lose?
Enjoy yourself. It's supposed to be fun IMO.

MsManhattan
12-06-2005, 08:56 AM
I went to a forum last night on shooting in HD, and the head of Guardian Entertainment was one of the panelists. He offered a great piece of advice on filmmaking in general, budgeting in particular:

"Every nickel you spend should be visible on the screen. Except craft services -- feed your cast and crew well and they will work a lot harder for you."

I agree -- and essentially, if they are working harder for you, then every nickel you spend on craft services will, indirectly, show up on the screen as well.

(I mention this because in scanning this thread I see that many people have mentioned feeding your crew. Over the course of all the shoots I've managed in the last year, I've learned that this detail can not be overlooked...)

As for the point that every nickel you spend should be visible on the screen, that is a great way to frame many of the creative decisions you will have to make, because, unfortunately, you will always have a tug of war between creative aspirations and budgetary constraints. So, when you are trying to make those difficult decisions, frame your compromise in terms of "Will I see that nickel on the screen? Is this expenditure essential to telling my story?"

Another great point that he made, and that the other panelists agreed with, was the importance of having an experienced crew. I must second that emotion -- my partner and I started off with the rather lofty goal of forming our own crew -- a "possee" if you will -- and we would all learn together as we went along, and we would, in the long run, have a tight, close, reliable team. That approach has had some benefits, but I think it has also made things harder on us in some ways. As one of last night's panelists noted, "Without an experienced crew, you won't be able to pull off your great ideas."

So, it definitely pays to have at least a few experienced people around, particularly in the areas of sound and camera. When my partner and I finally decided to hire some folks who were more experienced than us, it really paid off -- we can see those nickels in the final product.

Of course, most people on this board are here because they have the DVX and they want to shoot and, ultimately, they want to DP. If you want to DP, or DP and direct, but you aren't very experienced, get a second camera person who has more experience than you and an AD who has more experience than you, and let them guide you -- solicit and take their advice and guidance.

OK, just some random thoughts -- I got really psyched after the forum last night, and have been going over all these things in my mind ever since... :)

yagfxg33k
12-07-2005, 06:42 AM
My crew was totally non-experienced. What I did was this:

I spent 2 days rehearsing the setups with the DP and the sound guy / boom operator. I did an additional day training my sound guy.

I did a full crew rehearsal where we went through every setup.

On the day of the shoot, things went very smooth. It can be done.

insanityfw
12-10-2005, 11:05 PM
There has been some great insight into first features and how hard it is on this thred. it's interesting to see what people value and what their experiences have been.

One thing that I keep in mind going into my first feature and even now going into my second is that it's true that it's hard and that you should be preppared and take criticism, but at one point you have to trust yourself to just go and do it. Good bad or indifferent.

Of course you need to put your best foot forward which doesn't mean you have to be the best, becaue that's subjective anyway. Too many people give their time to help out so don't waist it.

On the positive side, once you've jumped the first-feature hurdle you never have to go back over it again. That will feel like a breath of fresh air one of these days.

thanks for listening.

adrianp14
03-22-2006, 09:31 PM
i have a theory(pardon my spelling, i live in mexico) alot of first time directors make really good films, so i ask why?! cause they have a DP that has ALOT of experience and i think the DP or someone else is on the set and doesnt let the first time director screw up, it kinda make sense, just look at your first shorts, are they as good as what you did 4 shorts later? would your short films turned out better if you had a 20 year veteran helping you? of course, but we or at least me dont have veterans on our side.
i screwed up my first shorts and i still do, but i learn something new everytime i direct something.
and to give mi 2 cents on the subject of this thread, its your first film, you have never done it before, its like riding a bike, you can read how to ride a bike, but then you get on the bike and you fall down, the more you ride the bike the more you start doing stunts on the bike, taking more chances, getting better at riding a bike and that sums up mi experience in directing, hope this helps :D

Andrew Brinkhaus
03-22-2006, 09:49 PM
The reason it's difficult is because the overwhelming majority of people who do it, rush into it *long* before they're actually ready. *The easy accessibility of equipment, and assistance, has people thinking "I can make a movie!" *Well, yes, they can, but probably not a good one...

For some reason people seem to think that movies are not as difficult to make as other works of art.

For example, how many people here really, truly think that in order to make a painting, all they need to do is buy some brushes and some paints, and have "a really good idea"? *Ain't gonna happen. *Unless you're that one in a million prodigy, your first painting is likely to be horrible. *And that's where the learning process starts.

How about music? *How many people think "why, this music thing can't be all that hard, let me pick up a guitar, and I have ProTools to edit with, and my own CD Burner... I'll just make my first album this weekend and I'll be a millionaire!" *Um... this is typically not the path to a successful recording career, y'know?

Many first-timers seem to think that a lifetime of watching movies somehow prepares them to make their own "epic". *As if somehow a lifetime of listening to music (and playing "air guitar") somehow makes someone qualified to release their own triple-platinum album. *Doesn't happen. *It takes years and years and years of practice and study, and playing the guitar until your fingers bleed, before that first album comes even remotely into the field of possibility.

And so it is with movies, except a hundredfold, because unlike the other disciplines, movies rely not just on the artist himself/herself, but also on the cooperation of others (from several, to several dozen, others). *Compound the enormous difficulty of coming up with a truly artistic expression, by the difficulties of organizing and managing a cast and crew of dozens of disparate personalities, as well as fundraising and financing, and it should become apparent that filmmaking is the *hardest* of the arts to succeed at.

It is also, apparently, the one with the strongest draw (along with the performing arts). *I don't meet many aspiring painters, or many aspiring sculptors, but it seems like everyone is an aspiring director, or actor, or singer.

Making a "movie" is not all that difficult, if you define a "movie" as 90 minutes of footage. *Making a watchable movie, one that affects people and makes them feel emotion and cry and cheer and applaud, well, that's a whole different story. *It's an extremely difficult task, and rarely accomplished by first-timers.

And even the first-timers who do succeed are not overnight successes. *Robert Rodriguez had made dozens, if not hundreds, of short films (which were winning awards at festivals across the country), gotten himself published as a comic strip artist, and enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin film school before he ever attempted "El Mariachi". * As for "Garden State", I don't know Zach Braff's story, but he's got a film degree from Northwestern University and has been professionally acting for 15 years before attempting his first film. *I'm sure he did plenty of homework and studied the art of storytelling thoroughly, as well as learning an incredible amount from interning and studying how the "pro's" do it, before attempting it himself.

The world is full of "overnight successes", but a quick look at any of their backstories will usually reveal that they spent a good 10 or 12 years trying before they met with "overnight success". *So it can certainly be done, but unless you're the one in a million prodigy, the one who plays the piano by ear etc., you'll have to do an intense amount of homework before you'll be skilled enough to create a good film.
Yes, Barry, YES!

Aditi
01-30-2008, 02:18 PM
I feel much better after reading the posts. I just shot my first fiction and it seems utterly useless after the edit. I have been trying to motivate myself to re-edit but went into depression. However if I look at it as a project and not a masterpiece of a lifetime then things seem brighter... I have learnt a lot from this experience, even if it is a failure hopefuly I will not make the same mistakes next time. Feels good to know that everyone goes through the 'first film anxiety'.

Melvin Harris
01-30-2008, 06:09 PM
Wow!

I feel like garbage after reading these posts!

I pay my bills as a school teacher and you all sound like the districts with your innate talent arguments and decades of experience arguments; why even try?
Where is the hope for the bright eyed dreamer that wants to create art? Sure it's alright to be a realist and realize that it takes work to be a good filmmaker, but it takes work to be good at anything. This is exactly why our children can't wait to drop out and why some filmmakers give up before they even try.

IMHO, not that it has any value what so ever, the hardest thing about making a first feature is the paralyzing fear and doubt partially bred by the fact that people whose opinions you have come to respect truly believe that the first of anything by anyone will be inherently awful (yes, that is exactly what you all said, read your posts again like a noob trying to find his way). First, you have to know yourself, then your story, then your market, and when you do, unequivocally and with neolithic confidence, then and only then do you begin assembling a team to bring that vision to life... and fear and doubt will only be fuel for your creative fires (esoteric, I know, but true- and as a musician with recordings and a published author, applicable to other disciplines also).

Now, to clarify a few things, regardless of what anyone thinks I am secure in what I want to do and how I want to do it. I marvel at the talent of others but believe in my vision of the world and strive to perfect it and deliver it. I don't really care about critics, or accolades, I just care about telling good stories.

I think that forums like this would be great if they concentrated on truly developing a director's personal style even if it is done by assimilating an amalgamation of other's best qualities, rather than why you're gonna suck. Who knows how many people you have run off with the same old "look to your left and right, these people won't be here" blah blah blah rhetoric... I mean who wants to read that the hardest thing about making a first feature is the fact that you're a no talent noobie choad, there's enough of that already!

Ted Spencer
02-01-2008, 06:18 PM
The problem is that I donít believe there is any one specific point where every first-time filmmaker fails. I donít think there is any one specific thing that trips up first time directors. I think there are certainly a few hazards that tend to be more common then others, but that doesnít mean that avoiding them results in a successful picture.

Hereís a couple of assumptions that can be assumed to be general hazards for first time filmmakers. (Obviously, every first time filmmaker comes from a different set of experience, talent and luck, so nothingís universally challenging).

1. Lack of experience. Reading all the books in the world will still prove you unprepared for certain situations and problems. Unfortunately, there are just some things that must be learned as theyíre encountered, so no amount of study will lessen the hard knocks youíve got to take. The reason why so many second films exceed the first efforts is because the director/filmmaker has practical experience in the application of his education.

In some sense, youíve got to be shot at before you can learn to shoot back.

2. Overconfidence in the material. The truth is that everyoneís first film stinks, but at the time we think itís the greatest story since the bible. We all think what weíve written or developed is revolutionary, inspiring, landmark and compelling but it rarely proves to be anything other then a mediocre first film.

This overconfidence in the material causes us to generally reject constructive criticism, artistic suggestions and collaborative interpretations as we position ourselves as the great defenders of our perfect script. In protecting our idea, we usually hamper itís development by rejecting ideas that might genuinely improve the work as a whole.

3. Unrealistic expectations. The movie in our head is not the one that ends up in the can. This leads to some serious depression in some cases as we try and reconcile our production with what we expected it to be. Coming into a project with very realistic expectations about the story, production, post and eventual public reception allows us a lot more freedom in the execution of that project, and greatly reduces the agony experienced when things arenít going as well as you imagined them.

4. Bad budgeting/business. 99% of all first films are failed by their preproduction phase (thatís a guess, not a real stastic). In general first time filmmakers donít afford their project the correct funding, time, equipment and personnel. Trimming the fat of a budget until it fits an unrealistic figure simply results in a production with no contingency. When something fails, as it always does, it becomes exponentially more difficult to make up your shortfalls in time and money.

5. Untested Professional relationships. In general, youíre working with people youíve never worked on a production with before. Anyone whoís been on a long production of any kind knows that peopleís personalities can change completely under extended duress, so the first time filmmaker is rarely prepared for the interpersonal conflicts and divergent personalities that can sink a production. People often lose friendships over difficult projects, and first time filmmakers tend to rely more on their friends for assistance then anyone elseÖleading to professional relationships that are often tainted by personal history. Its difficult to tell your best friend that he stinks as a camera operator and then expect him to still go to the pub with you.

On the opposite end, you also find yourself working with professionals that you have no personal relationship with, and you have to put faith in their professional abilities without a serious understanding of their abilities.

6. Lack of POST PRODUCTION experience. Editing a film makes you a better filmmaker. Thatís just a fact. A person with a general lack of direct editing experience doesnít have a practical understanding of location sound, continuity, shot flow, spatial relationships in the edit and pacing. Without significant editing experience, you invariably wind up over or undershooting your scenes, leaving you with either too few shots in the edit roomÖor an inflated budget due to your excessive coverage. Most films die in the edit room, not in the production stage, because itís only in the edit that we finally see every little thing that we ruined or forgot in the process of shooting. Itís only in going through that agony a few times that we come to a strong understanding of whatís needed in production to ease your post work.

7. Lack of quality assistance. Itís hard to get good people to work for free. People that are good at what they do tend to get paid for it, even paid well in a lot of cases. If you donít have the money to pay for a crew, you simply donít have access to first tier production help. That will always reflect in your production efficiency and the final product.

8. Insistence on authorship. Now this is a tricky one, but itís one that I firmly believe. The majority of first time filmmakers kill their film by consciously or subconsciously insisting on sole authorship of itís creation. We get wrapped up in this idea of being the sole creative force on a film, so much so that we visualize the ďA film by _______Ē credit appearing on a big screen at the premiere.

This insistence on sole authorship causes us to hamper our production by not considering creative input from others. Actorís interpretations are rejected when not explicit in our script. A DPís lighting and angle suggestions are not considered because they donít match up with our mental storyboard and all helpful adjustments to our production are generally rejected so that they wonít taint our claim of ownership over its creation.

In summation: I think itís mostly a lack of perspective that kills first productions. What it all boils down to is the fact that we dream up an idea of what the final product will look like and we typically donít properly prepare or afford ourselves the resources to accomplish that final product. I think most first films stink because they have toÖwe learn more that way. It hashes out those that will persevere and those that will disappear.

The first film is really just the first step in our film education, so it will never meet with the expectations we apply to it.

(anyway, that's just my idea of why...)

This is an excellent post!

David W. Richardson
02-01-2008, 08:42 PM
I admit I haven't read all of the responses here, so if this has already been covered then my apologies.

But I think it comes down to money.

When you go to make your first feature, chances are you're doing it on an extremely small budget -- because it's hard to get a lot of money to make your movie before you've proven you can even make a movie in the first place.

When you have a small budget, you cut corners. You shoot on weekends and holidays, which drags the overall shooting schedule out to months, or even years. People get tired of it. YOU get tired of it. Then it becomes a burden to work on the thing at all.

Being inexperienced, you forget the one thing you need more than anything else -- EXPERIENCE. By that I mean experienced people -- DP, sound, lighting, acting, etc. You tend to choose people you like, or people who wow you with their enthusiasm -- instead of seasoned pros. You go for the kid fresh out of film school with his own camera package to DP for you, when you should be choosing the guy who has DP'd several features and who can show you a reel with the kind of style and quality and attention to detail that you're looking for.

You tend to cast actors who stand out in your mind, instead of digging until you find the really GREAT actors. The people you cast really wowed you in auditions, but when you get them up on the screen they seem two-dimensional and shallow.

And you forget to give it time. You get impatient if it takes the gaffer a couple of hours to setup the lighting, or if it takes the DP an hour or two to get the camera setups just right. You forget that beautiful images are an art -- and artists work in painstaking detail that you and I can't even begin to fathom. If you want a beautiful product, you have to give your artists time to do what they do best.

The one other mistake that I think people make when making their first feature is -- they use a script that's TOO good. Okay, I know that flies in the face of convention -- which says your script should be GREAT! But too often it's the filmmaker's pride and joy -- his 'baby' -- the script he's had in his mind or on paper for years. Face it -- you don't have the resources to do justice to your 'baby'. Set it aside and do something simple. Something easy. Something you don't have your whole heart and soul poured into.

Your first feature is practice. It's basic training. Do it well and you might even be able to sell it. But save your IMPORTANT scripts for the time when you've got your sea legs, learned your lessons, and know what you're doing.

Good luck!

filmman
02-02-2008, 08:34 PM
Hardest thing about making your first film?

Knowing who will buy it or pay to see it.

This is the 21st Century, everything has changed.

If you were making your first movie even a few years ago, you had to worry about 'will it bomb in the theaters.'

You don't have to worry about that now. A low budget movie isn't going to make it into theaters.

Make a movie. Don't spend your life savings on it. Don't borrow money to shoot it. Make sure you will survive financially after making it.

Are you a filmmaker? Go ahead and make a movie :-)

ifownlee41nite@mac.com
02-02-2008, 09:18 PM
I have yet to make my first film. I work on other film maker's projects learning as much as I possibly can. From working on different projects I have learned one of the best thing that a film maker can do 1st time out or otherwise is be prepared for anything. Before working on some ones set, and seeing first hand how things should be done I truly believed that film making was completely an artistic undertaking. I know now that making a film is in some ways less artistic, and more business oriented. I believe many first time film makers make the mistake of believing its not work, when it is. Its setting a goal for each shooting day and getting it done. Yeah, of course there is an artistic side to film making, but when it comes crunch time you have to get the most out of what you have to work with. Things happen so you have to be able to roll with the punches and make decisions on the fly walking that fine line between give and take hoping not to sacrifice your true vision. After all time is money in most cases, and feeding your crew only goes so far. Keeping with a time line, and budget will help in many ways. I know from personal experience that I would rather work on projects that are scheduled out properly so that I can plan around it. People have lives outside of working on your 1st film so keeping to a consistent schedule that they can work around is favorable.


But thats just what I think.

kookooframe
02-09-2008, 02:12 AM
Just sneak premiered my first feature which I wrote and directed. It came out good. Who woulda thunk it?

Directing this low budget feature was the greatest single test of my artistic, physical, social, financial, and organizational resources. I am not a flag waver but boy I never felt so American as I did when making that picture -- American in the sense of being a jack of all trades, trusting your own experience to find solutions to challenging situations.

I think even at 45 I was just barely old enough to have the worldly experience to handle it. I only lost my cool once during the whole production, and that was when a special effect didn't work out just as we were losing light. It was supposed to be an explosion scene. It just didn't work. So in desperation the DP lit a sparkler just under the camera and I blew some cigarette smoke across the lens. The sun set and we all went home dispirited and a little embarrassed at our lame attempt.

One of the takes of the sparkler shot worked perfectly. When we showed the movie, people asked what special effects package we used! (Sparkler Studio 1...?) So my fellow directors, as the Dalai Lama says, "Sometimes not getting what you want can be the greatest stroke of luck." No need to lose your cool even if things go bad. You'll work out something.

Four quick suggestions for the first time feature director: 1) get pro actors even if you have no money to pay them. Feed them. Praise them. Love them. 2) cut dialogue to the bone. And then in post cut dialogue to the marrow. 3) the story must have some kind of personal axe to grind -- audiences recognize this and will respond. It is called passion. 4) use a tripod.

kookooframe
02-09-2008, 02:24 AM
And a big number 5 that may be most important: HIRE A SOUND PERSON. If you pay no one else on the film pay the sound person. Audiences adjust fairly easily to a bad image but get bored and walk out on bad sound. Conversely, good sound can make a low budget image seem almost intentional, as if it is more a stylistic statement than a limitation.

thematthewbone
02-21-2008, 04:42 PM
for my first film the thing i had the biggest problem with was letting go of the words i wrote on a script and letting the actors do their acting.

in the end they were right and i was wrong and their takes on the dialogue almost always made it into the last cut.

kookooframe
02-21-2008, 05:54 PM
Actors, I've found, are generally respectful of the words in the script. So it's important to make sure the dialogue is the best you can get before giving it to them. Many actors can make bad lines sound passable. But passable merely makes for a mediocre movie.

The best situation is to have good dialogue with good actors. If an actor has a better suggestion for a line that just isn't working, then I would trust the actor.

One good test, especially if you yourself are not a good actor, is to read the line aloud. Is it easy for you to say? Does it feel labored or unnatural to you? If so, it will probably be tough for a good actor to really nail, although you may get something passable, due to the acting talent.

iakeij
02-22-2008, 09:40 AM
I agree to a certain extent. I also think that it is important for a director to look at the actors/actresses as collaborators, understanding their creative input, that they are not mere puppets to fulfil the director's vision, but rather a creative individual that can possibly bring in an alternate perspective or dimension.

That is probably why some people say that director's don't necessary "direct", but rather make decisions. And it is the cumulative of smart/intuitive/creative decisions that can bring about good performances (be it acting or camera).

jiekai

yoclay
02-28-2008, 02:59 PM
The hardest thing about making a first film is, GETTING THE MONEY.

thiefcity
03-03-2008, 08:16 PM
Fear.

El Gato Negro
03-09-2008, 11:10 PM
not choosing the right crew and not collaborating with them, is a common pitfall for first time directors. you got to trust the people you work with. most first time directors never have a one to one meeting with key crew members. never get a feel of their experience and attitude.

Jmtasu
05-04-2008, 05:14 AM
hmm, instead of answering this, I will just talk about some of my expiriences.

I directed my first film about 6 months ago.

There were huge mistakes made, but in the end the film actually turned out pretty good. It has major flaws, but it also has moments of genius, which for me was really neat to see. It was also a story that had never been told before -in this way I mean, so whether people like it or hate it, no one says it's not creative.

I hate the film, it makes me litterally want to puke when I see scenes from it, I am that sick of it, I have to totally rely on other people to judge it at this point. Of the people I trust it's about 50/50 whcih feels like a huge sucess to me for the amount I hate it.

It was one of the greatest expiriences of my life for a lot of reasons.

For me, making a movie is actually very easy, the process at least, I had AD'd 2 features, and done lots of shorts. Other than the mental drain, daily stress and everything like that, it was cake, well maybe not cake, but it wasn't brain surgery.

Now making a good movie, now that's not easy at all.

I look at the whole process as an expiriement, so I will kinda talk about it in that way.

First I acted and directed in it, probably not the best idea. My acting was actually quite good, but it did affect my directing greatly, the movie would have been better had I not acted in it. - strange thing is I havent had an urge to act since!

we had under 100k and had I believe 60 locations - in the script we cheated these down drasticall... 60 locations on a small film, really stupid.

We had 56 speaking roles... Wow, really stupid.

We spent a ton on sound, and still managed to screw it up!

The storyline was not straight forward, it followed about 5 different lines of though, was very internal, very subtle, very complex... Not a good idea for a first film. I am not joking when I say I want my next film to be a horror or romantic comedy, trying to make this film work totally drained me.

However all that being said, we actually did pull it off. My AD who had about 30 films under his belt would always joke with me "you have no clue how insane what you are trying to do is!"

Seeing the whole process from the directors view, just changes your view so much. I thought I was going to be prepared having AD'd, nope, it's totally different. I can't put it into words, it's like being a different person.

Also doing your first feature, you are discovering how much you can push people for the first time. Sometimes the experts know better, sometimes they do not. Sometimes what they know is right in their mind, and most people's minds, but it is not the vision for your film.

Just directing the composer, and seeing how much I could push her to get what I was looking for without taking away what she was good at.

Working on a sound mix and seeing what was fixable, what was not. Seeing how much and where to push him to get the best final product.

Doing the film greatly improved my ability to know this for my next feature.

The thing I was really not prepared for was the insecurity of the crew. This was a young crew on a very low budget film, and they were doing funny things, and I just didn't understand it at first... Then I realized they were afraid of shadows, afraid of lighting weird, putting people purposely out of focus, getting shots that were'nt typical... Because they were thinking it would look bad on them, that people would see harsh shadows and blame the gaffer or DP even if the director asked for it... After I realized this, I had to drastically change the way I directed the crew, even allowing the crew to direct a tiny bit themselves so they could see it from a new perspective.

I was lucky, I had amazing actors, and we all got along, and it was a truly fun set. I still stay in touch with most of the actors and am often honored when they tell me how great of an expirience it was for them.

I also had an amazing producer who fought for me like I was her brother.

I wanted to shoot in a unique way, I had the film planned to a tee, but sometimes I wanted to make it feel like it was unplanned, more fluid and I quickly learned this is a big no no, the crew freaks out when the director looks indesicive... I fixed this by starting with showing the exact shots I wanted, then when I got the shot I would say - hey we got some extra time, lets play around a bit - some of the best things in the movie came from these play times... I took this to an extreme one day after a couple rough days of shooting and I told everyone we were way ahead of schedule on the day, we didn't have a lot to shoot, so we called the entire day "Play Day" I told everyone that no idea is too stupid today. Two actors made up a scene, the gaffer tried something, the DP tried something, and it turned out awesome!

I had to learn all this stuff on the fly, and I am sure that will always be the case, the difference, this was the first time. You don't even know what you don't know, you don't know what you can do, when you are pushing too much and franky, when you are wrong.

But I am telling you, if you have the ability, make a feature, even if it's not complex, even if it's a 10k feature shot on DV... Going through the entire process, well there is nothing like it.

-Oh also make sure you finish, the amount of people I know who have started and never finished a feature, well it's just sick. Don'y get too attached, it will never be perfect. And an imperfect finished feature is better than the unfinished perfect one... So unless you plan on being the one hit wonder, finish it.

I can't even explain what a better director I am now for it, shorts are just cakewalks now.

reading J Barnes point by point post, I just found myself nodding a lot! =)

Oh and give great craft services, it makes people work harder and they respect you a lot more. I fully believe it is evolutionary built into our systems to do just about anything for free food! - ever known rich people that say, hey free food? it happens all the time, it never ceases to amaze me.

my 2 cents

Ted Spencer
05-04-2008, 09:57 AM
Great post, jmtesu. Lots of very valuable info there. Thanks!

Is there some way we could see your film?

JonathanLB
05-04-2008, 09:41 PM
The reason it's difficult is because the overwhelming majority of people who do it, rush into it *long* before they're actually ready. *The easy accessibility of equipment, and assistance, has people thinking "I can make a movie!" *Well, yes, they can, but probably not a good one...

For some reason people seem to think that movies are not as difficult to make as other works of art.

For example, how many people here really, truly think that in order to make a painting, all they need to do is buy some brushes and some paints, and have "a really good idea"? *Ain't gonna happen. *Unless you're that one in a million prodigy, your first painting is likely to be horrible. *And that's where the learning process starts.

How about music? *How many people think "why, this music thing can't be all that hard, let me pick up a guitar, and I have ProTools to edit with, and my own CD Burner... I'll just make my first album this weekend and I'll be a millionaire!" *Um... this is typically not the path to a successful recording career, y'know?

Many first-timers seem to think that a lifetime of watching movies somehow prepares them to make their own "epic". *As if somehow a lifetime of listening to music (and playing "air guitar") somehow makes someone qualified to release their own triple-platinum album. *Doesn't happen. *It takes years and years and years of practice and study, and playing the guitar until your fingers bleed, before that first album comes even remotely into the field of possibility.

And so it is with movies, except a hundredfold, because unlike the other disciplines, movies rely not just on the artist himself/herself, but also on the cooperation of others (from several, to several dozen, others). *Compound the enormous difficulty of coming up with a truly artistic expression, by the difficulties of organizing and managing a cast and crew of dozens of disparate personalities, as well as fundraising and financing, and it should become apparent that filmmaking is the *hardest* of the arts to succeed at.

It is also, apparently, the one with the strongest draw (along with the performing arts). *I don't meet many aspiring painters, or many aspiring sculptors, but it seems like everyone is an aspiring director, or actor, or singer.

Making a "movie" is not all that difficult, if you define a "movie" as 90 minutes of footage. *Making a watchable movie, one that affects people and makes them feel emotion and cry and cheer and applaud, well, that's a whole different story. *It's an extremely difficult task, and rarely accomplished by first-timers.

And even the first-timers who do succeed are not overnight successes. *Robert Rodriguez had made dozens, if not hundreds, of short films (which were winning awards at festivals across the country), gotten himself published as a comic strip artist, and enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin film school before he ever attempted "El Mariachi". * As for "Garden State", I don't know Zach Braff's story, but he's got a film degree from Northwestern University and has been professionally acting for 15 years before attempting his first film. *I'm sure he did plenty of homework and studied the art of storytelling thoroughly, as well as learning an incredible amount from interning and studying how the "pro's" do it, before attempting it himself.

The world is full of "overnight successes", but a quick look at any of their backstories will usually reveal that they spent a good 10 or 12 years trying before they met with "overnight success". *So it can certainly be done, but unless you're the one in a million prodigy, the one who plays the piano by ear etc., you'll have to do an intense amount of homework before you'll be skilled enough to create a good film.


I thought that was a great post, Barry! Funny, but so TRUE. I feel this way myself, actually, before I got into film I had this idea that I would graduate film school, and because I'd have all of the tools and a great location and a fairly good idea, nothing too original but something that would flow nicely if done right, entertaining, etc., I thought I'd just shoot a feature almost right out of film school just to see what happens. Then the more I learned, the more I realized I don't know! For me the analogy is more like when I first started working out and had little muscular strength. I had to consider 30 minutes a good workout, and light weights were heavy to me, so it took a long time before I could sustain an hour or more of heavy lifting, I didn't just start out doing heavy weight. Filmmaking is the same thing to me. I like doing music videos, corporate work, commercials, etc. to start because they are all short shoots and I don't believe I have the stamina mentally yet to shoot for 12 hours a day day after day on the same project and have it turn out great. I know I need more experience doing the little things right before I can move up.

I'm not even really prepared to direct a five-day shoot for a short film yet, to be honest. Could I do it? Sure. But I will be more ready for that by year's end, because I have very high standards and I want to be able to do more than just make it, I want to make it very good. A feature is like Everest in my opinion, you really should have done everything else before you try to tackle that, and it would be advisable to have done a number of short films before you tackle a feature. Short films are like really mini features, much smaller in scope and stress, so better to master that art before you move up. There is the fact that shorts are, for the most part, a bit of a waste of money on the pure financial side, but then again it costs money and takes time to hone your craft, and it's a LOT bigger waste of money to pour 10x as much into a feature that turns out like crap.

I think it's a lot better to be humble about directing a feature, like taking the time to feel ready, than to be too aggressive and end up with a stinker and possibly heavily in debt. I would say for me, I'm quite alright with not directing a feature for another 2 years minimum, but if I hadn't done a feature in 5 years I think I'd be a bit frustrated by that. I have no interest in features right now, too much to learn, I want to tackle projects where I know I will succeed to gain the confidence to move up to bigger projects. I think Robert Rodriguez did something like 22 shorts before he directed his first feature? Sure, a lot of them were garbage, but that's the point, it took him time to hone his craft, and I think his last short or at least one of the last ones won a bunch of film festival awards, so he was sufficiently ready to tackle that challenge, even if he was a rebel without a crew! haha

pia12254
05-14-2008, 10:17 PM
I think one of the hardest things about making a first film is not being so depressed by the result that you never go and make a second...and a third...and so on. :D

I know that answer is kind of "cheating" but the first one is really just a giant mess for the most part...at least with mine. Looking back now I cringe/laugh/cringe when I watch my first films. But if you can get past it and really start to hone something in each film (acting/cinematography/story etc.) then you start to see progress.

But you have to allow yourself grace with the first few efforts...

JonathanLB
05-15-2008, 07:42 PM
I wouldn't want to be making gigantic mistakes by the time I got to a feature. There's really no excuse for that in my mind, you have to be prepared to undertake that type of project. You should have done some long shoots before, or sustained projects over a period of time, and have people you trust who are true professionals on your shoot, who can watch your back when things start to become stressful or you start to forget details here and there. The script should be really well polished before shooting starts, whether it's a $15,000 film or a $150 million film. It's really important.

I wouldn't jump into a feature because if I'm going to finance it, the first one has to be a very, very good movie. I wouldn't make a feature if I didn't think I could pull it off extremely well. Right now, I don't think I could, so I'd rather wait.

Jmtasu
05-16-2008, 10:26 PM
Thanks Ted,

If you want, PM me your Address and I can send you a copy. I might be a little slow though, heading to Vancouver for a couple weeks.

Oh and my website just went up a few days ago

http://www.corpserunmovie.com/

Zak Forsman
05-16-2008, 11:02 PM
a lack of experience. your first goal should be to partner with someone who has it.

mburgh
05-17-2008, 02:14 AM
Everything said here in these posts are so true. To get the best you can offer, a director must pay close attention to detail. It is of upmost importance when directing anything, whether it's a feature length film or a 30 sec spot. Also I think THinSpirit said best. Finding and surrounding youreself with a cast and crew that is as passionate about the project as you are is very tough to find. I have been in the pre-production stage of my first feature for 5 months now. Trying to get the best crew and cast that I can on the small budget that I have($26,000). Things were going well, headshots coming in, I had about half of the film cast, when all of the sudden a large conflict occured with myself and the DP. The problem was over the shooting schedule. The script is 94 pages, 8 characters (with any real dialogue) and 14 locations. No special effects, car crashes or gun fights. It's a comedy. So, I planned on trying to get as many days as I could out of the free (deferred pay) cast and crew and all agreed to 18 long days of shooting. And now the DP, feels that 18 days is not near enough time to get it done right. I wish we had more time, but getting a dozen people to work (for free) past 18 days is asking way too much. So the DP, said that if we didn't extend the shooting schedule to 32 days, that he would be wasting his time. So, the problems continue, but we will get through them.
If I had 18 days and 14 locations, I'd get nervous too. That's a lot transportation, set-up, break-down, lighting, feeding, lost people, angry location owners. Is there a way to cut down the number of locations? Your DP is right to be scared of this shoot. Have you read Dov S.S. Siemen's from Reel to Deal? You might want to check it out before you find yourself in deep water. Look at Reservoir Dogs - First Feature. Most shot on one location. When you're not driving around trying to get everyone to the right place at the right time (a dream if there ever was one) you can concentrate on performance, lighting, sound. If you want to have that many locations, you and the DP drive around, shoot exteriors, then do the exteriors in a single, adaptable location.

Good luck, man.

Emanuel
05-20-2008, 08:55 PM
There are several first time/glance masterpieces... :-)

DaveD
05-21-2008, 09:12 AM
I made my first feature as a Producer/Writer. I got a DP who knew how to do things visually and a director who knew how to work with actors. I learned a ton and when it came time to direct myself I knew a hell of a lot more than if I had jumped in as a director the first time. So I think pacing yourself removes a lot of the sting of the first film.

And as Robert Rodriguez suggests, make some bad films by doing everything yourself. It's the best way to learn. Right before I graduated college I did a film that was one big experiment. None of it was orthodox. It ended up sucking. But I learned a ton. I know WHY certain things don't work rather than just seeing not to do it in a book. Elements of the film were really cool and unique, though so I've incorporated the techniques into films I've made since then.

But since I've jumped all around the question: The hardest part about making your first film is getting it in the can. Unless you're really lucky, it takes an enormous amount of determination.

Tim Joy
05-23-2008, 05:31 PM
The hardest part for me has always been editing.

I edit my own stuff, and it's hard to separate the roles of Director, Writer, and Editor. I feel like someone else would be able to pull off those cuts that I wouldn't think of, because "I was there and that's not what happened".

Some great tips in this post. I love hearing all the ways people have screwed up, cause when I make those same mistakes I can say, "Oh yeah, I heard about this before, and I thought I could sneak by without falling into this pit of hell. Now I REALLY know."

The other hard thing for me is being "present" enough to judge the acting, lighting, sound, blocking .... all at once, especially when trying to wear so many hats on the set. There's no time to watch playback, and if the acting is off, but I wasn't paying attention enough to notice, then that shot suffers.


These challenges are what attracts me to making movies. It encorporates every artform into one, and they all have to be top notch for your movie to be good. Gotta love it!!!!!

Lumiere
05-26-2008, 01:11 AM
The best education in film is to make one!
Stanley Kubrick

Bob Gruen
06-03-2008, 06:46 AM
Hardest things

Raising the money
Writing a truely great script
Paperwork and legal compliance
Finding the right cast and crew (harder when you're not in LA / NYC) Bob

Clint Nitkiewiz Hernandez
06-05-2008, 12:26 PM
I been hustling and learning, practicing, experimenting, and more learning all aspects of film for the past 4-5 years. Im 22 now. My first feature film is being shot in 3 weeks. Wish me luck. Im sure all my work has paid off, now it is time to show it to the world.
http://www.newelementproductions.com/onestorythemovie.html

nadalpiantini
06-05-2008, 02:46 PM
My case:
Hardest thing is finding people believing in you and your project.
When you say "im gonna make a movie" its like utopia.
Im shooting "EL MANUSCRITO" in spain (not my country, so i dont know anyone), zero budget and just my hvx/sgpro combo. When i posted some ads in the local actors webpage, some actors just said that i wanted nude chick pictures!!!

Oh! when i did my first post in the production page...

GregorySinger
06-16-2008, 10:43 PM
The hardest part for me has always been editing.

I edit my own stuff, and it's hard to separate the roles of Director, Writer, and Editor. I feel like someone else would be able to pull off those cuts that I wouldn't think of, because "I was there and that's not what happened".




The ONLY way to make a good movie is to separate yourself from the material, to be able to CUT the best shots you have, if they don't fit the film. Directors fall in love with footage too much and fight tooth and nail in order to keep the beautiful shot in the film, at the expense of it. My latest film project, we ended up cutting 70% of the dialogue because it WASN'T WORKING. Hinting at something happening made for a much better film than having the actors tell everything that's going on. Our film is turning into an amazing piece of work
that is being recognized by industry people. We probably will premiere at either Sundance or SxSW and hopefully get a deal there.

Gregory Singer

nadalpiantini
06-18-2008, 01:09 PM
Hinting at something happening made for a much better film than having the actors tell everything that's going on.

Gregory Singer


VEEEEERY WISE!!!

DavidBeier
06-20-2008, 04:16 PM
Well, I have yet to make a feature but I'm in the middle of a pretty in-depth short (end up being 30-40 minutes) and I'm learning a lot. I made a ton of films in film school doing everything myself but this is the first where I've had an actual budget (very small) and a professional crew (rather than a bunch of fellow film students).

For what it's worth, I've learned the following by working on this sucker.

1. Get a good DP and trust him. - You don't need someone to plan your shots for you (you should be doing that as a director) and he doesn't need to be an "artist" so to speak, but you need someone who's a real craftsman and a hard worker. Someone who you can tell what you have planned to and he'll say, "give me 20 minutes and I'll get it done." I owe my DP so much. He sometimes takes longer lighting stuff than I'm comfortable with but I leaned quickly not to tell him how to do his job.

2. Get a good sound guy - Bad sound makes a film seem amateur-ish. I made the mistake in this movie of hireing a sound guy with a good reputation who then baled on me 12 hours before the shoot for a better paying gig. This made things miserable and I'll have to do a lot of ADR now as a result. Make sure you have someone who will cover the sound so YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT!!! Location sound usually isn't artistic the way visuals are. You can take some time to discuss with your DP how to light something but you just need to get a guy who can "get" the sound for you and not have that in your mind.

3. Don't direct from behind a monitor or camera! - Even if you're a visual guy, make sure you walk up to your actors and talk to them face to face. Don't give them direction from far away. It makes it seem like you don't care about them. I got told this last night from my lead actress. She hit home that, even though she's done some real films (i.e. those with budgets in the millions rather than thousands); I was one of the few directors who would take the time to speak to her as an equal instead of just instructing behind the camera/monitor. She said it made a big difference and I'll always use that from now on.

4. Tatoo Murphy's Law on your chest - Things will go wrong. NEVER plan something under the assumption that everything will move like clockwork. I realize the temptation is there. I succumb to it because we could only afford to pay the crew for a certain number of days and so I gave us TOO much to do on those days in order to make the movie happen. That was beyond stupid and I'm paying for it now.

5. Infinite patience - No matter what happens, NEVER lose your cool on the set. Period. Everyone looks to you to lead. Don't ever seem out of your element. Actors who are generally insecure will get scared if you seem angry, frustrated, or scared. Your crew who you are probably not paying or not paying very much is going to lose faith in you. Keep calm. Give yourself a smoke break if you need one. Pretend you're acting in a play and you have to play the part of the very calm/patient director. Just never lose your cool.

6. Let everyone feel like they're part of the movie - This helps a lot. Make sure everyone involved has seen the script. Have meetings where you talk about what you want to accomplish. Ask advice occasionally even if you'll never heed it. And, if you're going digital, go ahead and play back some of your good shots for cast and crew just to keep moral up. I've lost track of the number of times showing my actors/producer/crew a really nice shot we just got gave them a boost for a few more hours.

7. Seperate yourself from the movie - Some scenes are worth taking the time to do perfectly. Others you have to either cut or just get them done. Learn where the heart of your film is and learn to compromise. It sucks but it's essential. Not everything will come out just like it was in your head. Some times you'll have to settle for "good enough" at this level. Just make sure that you get it perfect for those few key moments and that will hopefully make all the rest worth while.

8. Work with professionals - This doesn't neccesarily mean how much they get paid, it just means work with people who won't screw around with you. There are a lot of flakes in this business. You don't have the time or energy to deal with them when you're making a movie. Anyone with a big ego, trouble focusing, inability to work with others, or any other issue needs to go. At this level, you're better off with someone competent who be on the mark than a genius who's going to have temper-tantrums.

Drew Ott
06-20-2008, 11:44 PM
David that post should be a sticky.

Excellent advice.

Ted Spencer
06-21-2008, 12:06 AM
Excellent post, David. Thanks.

JonathanLB
06-22-2008, 03:24 AM
Well, I have yet to make a feature but I'm in the middle of a pretty in-depth short (end up being 30-40 minutes) and I'm learning a lot. I made a ton of films in film school doing everything myself but this is the first where I've had an actual budget (very small) and a professional crew (rather than a bunch of fellow film students).

For what it's worth, I've learned the following by working on this sucker.

1. Get a good DP and trust him. - You don't need someone to plan your shots for you (you should be doing that as a director) and he doesn't need to be an "artist" so to speak, but you need someone who's a real craftsman and a hard worker. Someone who you can tell what you have planned to and he'll say, "give me 20 minutes and I'll get it done." I owe my DP so much. He sometimes takes longer lighting stuff than I'm comfortable with but I leaned quickly not to tell him how to do his job.

2. Get a good sound guy - Bad sound makes a film seem amateur-ish. I made the mistake in this movie of hireing a sound guy with a good reputation who then baled on me 12 hours before the shoot for a better paying gig. This made things miserable and I'll have to do a lot of ADR now as a result. Make sure you have someone who will cover the sound so YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT!!! Location sound usually isn't artistic the way visuals are. You can take some time to discuss with your DP how to light something but you just need to get a guy who can "get" the sound for you and not have that in your mind.

3. Don't direct from behind a monitor or camera! - Even if you're a visual guy, make sure you walk up to your actors and talk to them face to face. Don't give them direction from far away. It makes it seem like you don't care about them. I got told this last night from my lead actress. She hit home that, even though she's done some real films (i.e. those with budgets in the millions rather than thousands); I was one of the few directors who would take the time to speak to her as an equal instead of just instructing behind the camera/monitor. She said it made a big difference and I'll always use that from now on.

4. Tatoo Murphy's Law on your chest - Things will go wrong. NEVER plan something under the assumption that everything will move like clockwork. I realize the temptation is there. I succumb to it because we could only afford to pay the crew for a certain number of days and so I gave us TOO much to do on those days in order to make the movie happen. That was beyond stupid and I'm paying for it now.

5. Infinite patience - No matter what happens, NEVER lose your cool on the set. Period. Everyone looks to you to lead. Don't ever seem out of your element. Actors who are generally insecure will get scared if you seem angry, frustrated, or scared. Your crew who you are probably not paying or not paying very much is going to lose faith in you. Keep calm. Give yourself a smoke break if you need one. Pretend you're acting in a play and you have to play the part of the very calm/patient director. Just never lose your cool.

6. Let everyone feel like they're part of the movie - This helps a lot. Make sure everyone involved has seen the script. Have meetings where you talk about what you want to accomplish. Ask advice occasionally even if you'll never heed it. And, if you're going digital, go ahead and play back some of your good shots for cast and crew just to keep moral up. I've lost track of the number of times showing my actors/producer/crew a really nice shot we just got gave them a boost for a few more hours.

7. Seperate yourself from the movie - Some scenes are worth taking the time to do perfectly. Others you have to either cut or just get them done. Learn where the heart of your film is and learn to compromise. It sucks but it's essential. Not everything will come out just like it was in your head. Some times you'll have to settle for "good enough" at this level. Just make sure that you get it perfect for those few key moments and that will hopefully make all the rest worth while.

8. Work with professionals - This doesn't neccesarily mean how much they get paid, it just means work with people who won't screw around with you. There are a lot of flakes in this business. You don't have the time or energy to deal with them when you're making a movie. Anyone with a big ego, trouble focusing, inability to work with others, or any other issue needs to go. At this level, you're better off with someone competent who be on the mark than a genius who's going to have temper-tantrums.

That is all really great stuff, and totally true in my experience as well. The director has to keep his calm, I'm always shocked when I hear about big directors throwing fits or something. It just doesn't seem right. If I was producer only, I'd be more likely to be that way, and that's why I like having a producer aside from myself to play "bad cop" if necessary. Unfortunately that's the only way some people respond. And I do pay, and I do expect professionalism from my crew. If they don't want to act professional I'd prefer they leave my set immediately, I'm in Los Angeles, all of these people are replaceable at a moment's notice. I even keep a 50 page document of contacts for every position with me, so it will take me if I'm really unlucky 5 minutes to hire a replacement. Everyone here should understand how replaceable they are, and it never should have to be said.

But on the set, the director has to seem calm and collected *especially* when things go wrong, not "even if" things go wrong, because of course they will. I had that happen on my last music video, where we were running short on time for that segment of the day, and the DP and 1st A.D. told me it was one scene or the other, but not both. Of course I wanted both, I thought of the scenes and it was my project. But I said, "Ok... give me two minutes." I knew that I had no more than 120 seconds, literally, because of course we were in a time crunch and we'd only get one scene anyway. So I stepped aside and asked for no distractions and looked at my shot list, the song's lyrics, and thought about what I was going for in the video. I ultimately realized I could convey the message I wanted by doing just one of the scenes if I added something else to it, and I made my decision in about 45 seconds. I said, "Ok let's go to the office set and do that." I didn't want to seem nervous about it or angry or frustrated, because that just puts more tension on everyone else. Let the 1st A.D. apply that tension if necessary, not me.

I've really only worked with professionals in my career, besides a few student films in my brief time as a student, where I had quite enough working with amateurs who don't know anything. After that I realized if I wanted to be a pro I have to surround myself with other pros who make me look better, not worse.

DavidBeier
06-22-2008, 11:30 AM
But on the set, the director has to seem calm and collected *especially* when things go wrong, not "even if" things go wrong, because of course they will. I had that happen on my last music video, where we were running short on time for that segment of the day, and the DP and 1st A.D. told me it was one scene or the other, but not both. Of course I wanted both, I thought of the scenes and it was my project. But I said, "Ok... give me two minutes." I knew that I had no more than 120 seconds, literally, because of course we were in a time crunch and we'd only get one scene anyway. So I stepped aside and asked for no distractions and looked at my shot list, the song's lyrics, and thought about what I was going for in the video. I ultimately realized I could convey the message I wanted by doing just one of the scenes if I added something else to it, and I made my decision in about 45 seconds. I said, "Ok let's go to the office set and do that." I didn't want to seem nervous about it or angry or frustrated, because that just puts more tension on everyone else.

I've got a similar story for you. Before we started shooting, no one on this sucker had ever worked with me on a film and, while they liked my previous work, no one had really seen me in "director mode." I'm a small guy who speaks softly and I'm a new city so I don't have any rep here. One week before shooting, the owners of our location decided they weren't giving it to us for free and we'd have to pay for it if we wanted the hours we asked for (two days). It wasn't a lot I guess but it would cause our budget to go over and I certainly don't make a whole lot of money. My producer and location guy where trying to find ways we could still get it for free by just slipping in for a few hours each day (something which was impossible considering we had 15 pages to shoot in two days). I sat there, listened to them say totally un-realistic things like, "well, we could get it for four hours the first day but there might still be people there..." before I finally looked up and said in a totally calm voice, "Fuck it. I'll pay for the location." They both stopped and asked "what?" I said again, "I'll pay for it. We'll get there at 8:00 AM just like we planned and stay for the full two days. It's not worth trying to find a way around it. Now let's move on."

I then immediatly started going into how we'd handle the following days and what preperations needed to be made. After a few seconds my producer, who is this giant ex-mafia guy, said, "stop." I looked up and asked why to which he replied, "you're starting to scare me."

If nothing else, my money and that meeting at least bought me the reputation with those I was working with that I don't screw around.

david_p
04-20-2018, 06:22 PM
i just stumbled on this thread reading every post. a very good thread so i though i post to pop it back up to the top of the list as its one of the better threads I've seen on DVXuser. its old but much of it still applies IMO.

david

vcassel
04-20-2018, 07:55 PM
Being TOO eager to collaborate with my talent and allowing an actor to do things physically that weren't in the script effectively making some scenes very hard to cut together.

Batutta
04-21-2018, 09:33 AM
Being on my feet all day. I'm an editor, so I sit on my ass all day, and while I keep in shape by running 25 to 30 km a week, the only thing that prepares your body for standing all day, is standing all day.

Zak Forsman
04-21-2018, 01:39 PM
Biggest lesson on my first film (which was around 2007, I think) was learning that I did not in fact have to confer with the actors between every single take. Often, we're on the right track and just need to go again. The other thing I've gotten much better at is to not let indecisveness lead to "gathering options" but rather to have confidence in the plan and "get what we need", if that makes sense.

OldCorpse
04-21-2018, 06:47 PM
Very nice thread, and a great resurrection! Some fantastic posts (though, IMHO, not necessarily the ones that garnered the most praise). Now the original post was all the way back in 2004... that's almost 15 years ago! So, that makes me curious - there have been many changes in the industry since then, not just the obvious ones of equipment, financing, distribution and the economics of it, but also in acting trends, where the audience taste and attention is at etc.. It's a different time from 2004! I therefore wonder: has the role of the director changed insofar as some advice to first time directors that may have been super useful back in 2004 is now irrelevant or less important, while other considerations appear or move to the forefront?

It might be an interesting exercise to update this thread, by those who feel like it, or who have gathered experience since then? The thing is though, imagine you just directed your first film in 2017, how would you know how it compared to had you made it back in 2004... since nobody makes a first movie twice :)... food for thought!

David Jimerson
04-22-2018, 11:22 AM
The other thing I've gotten much better at is to not let indecisveness lead to "gathering options" but rather to have confidence in the plan and "get what we need", if that makes sense.

I think that's one of the biggest and hardest lessons to learn. I've watched directors on major sets still struggle with this one.