So I’ve been doing this “playing make believe” thing for three years now and I’ve dipped my toe into all fields of the game at least once (aside from makeup. Don’t ever get me to do your makeup). So I feel I at least know enough to put on an entire production.
Despite my better judgement and scarily-low bank balance, thought I’d impart some advice onto you guys in a handy-dandy list form for free.
1) Learn About Everything
Do you know the difference between a sound recordist and a sound engineer? How about a Director of Photography and a Camera Operator? What does a producer do? Best Boy? Key Grip?
I know the answers to all these. I’m not asking them to sound smart (though I might whip ’em out to smite a few fools), I’m asking because these are questions you should more or less know. Filmmaking is a highly creative and technical process. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a stinking liar.
When I studied, the course I signed up for took a holistic approach to filmmaking. For the first year they gave us set jobs to do on each set before cutting us loose and just leaving it up to the directors. I cannot stress how invaluable this approach is. Not only did this pinpoint what I was good at and what I sucked at, but it gave me a decent idea on what department does which job, setup times, changeover times, that sort of thing. It gives you an awareness that you should really have when working as a team. Even just knowing your lenses is a great asset.
2) Edit Your Own Work
Time to get computer-literate, all you auteurs out there. Cutting your own flick -as time-consuming and painful as the process is, gives you the best control over the finished product (and is probably a shitload easier than you think). Many consider it as a final do-over of the script. If you don’t know Final Cut from your arsehole then work with an editor you trust, or with someone who has been on the production from day one. A hired-gun doesn’t know your creative vision outside of what’s written on the script. You know your own material better than anyone else on the crew.
3) Don’t Work With Friends.
Filmmaking is highly reliant on cooperation and collaboration. One person goes out of whack and you might as well call it a day.
This is why you should probably not hire your best friend… Unless he’s got a pretty awesome camera setup.
I’m a hypocrite, I know.
I started out working with friends myself, but that only further proved my point: Not everyone you share a beer with, say, is someone you’re going to handle working with for a prolonged period of time. The guy who’s always good for a beer and a fiver might be a complete lazy shit on set. Pick your crew carefully and feed ’em well. The more experience, the better, unless they’re telling you how to do your damn job. More on that later.
4) Your film is not the equipment it’s made with
I fall into this trap a lot. That junky old camcorder that you don’t do anything with because “it’s not good enough?” that’s just as capable as shooting your flick as any professional camera out there. Those lamps you have in the house? Diffuse ’em and you’re good to go. Your mobile phone? I bet that has a voice recording function. Hell, it probably records HD video.
Yeah, the top of the line gear you’ve been lusting over will probably give you a better result. But if your script sucks, your actors are three drunks from your local and your crew doesn’t turn up on the first day, you’re going to have a piece of shit on your hands regardless of whether you’re shooting on a RED Epic or a millennia-old smartphone you forgot you had.
If it’s your first outing, take stock of the gear you have, add to it as you go along. If you have the cash, by all means don’t skimp on production values. But remember, it’s not the equipment, it’s the guy holding it, the script you’re working off, and the actors you’ve managed to wrangle.
5) Your first film WILL suck
Unless you’re an insanely talented wunderkind, your first attempt will be a pile of crap. Great. Embrace it. Watch it back a hundred times and figure out what you did wrong. Show it to your friends, see what they think. Best part about the first flick is that you’ll either like it enough to do it all over again, or you’re going to hate it enough to stick to watching movies instead of making them.
Give yourself the opportunity to make mistakes. Nothing is more crucial to a filmmaker’s career than the occasional fuck-up.
6) Write down everything.
How much do you write down? Honestly? How many ideas whiz through your head and you don’t do anything about them?
Are you a writer? then fucking write. Write every idea you have down no matter how stupid. This is crucial for overcoming blocks and struggles. You can polish a turd, sure, but you can’t polish something that doesn’t exist.
7) Too many chefs really do spoil the broth
A thought experiment:
How many friends do you have who you could tell anything. Like, murdered-a-family-as-they-slept-kinda-anything?
Good. Now halve that number. The end result is the amount of people you’re allowed to give control over your creative process to.
Not everyone has the same idea, and not everyone has good ideas. Don’t punt a draft script into a wading pool of your nearest and dearest because you’ll end up with 15 different opinions and it’ll be a mess. Whittle down your submissions to no more that maybe three people, and make the people with any experience in writing your top priority.
Same goes with the production side of things. Where the camera goes is down to you and the DP, how your actors act is down to you and your actors, so on and soforth. Having fifty people all comment on every aspect is going to be time consuming and pointless.
8) And before you think I just really hate people…
Collaborate as much as you can.
Yeah, I know, the whole “don’t work with friends” thing, but seriously, if you have friends “in the biz”, or arguably close enough to the biz that they could wing it, then get ’em on board. Got a writer friend? Give ’em your script. Photographer? They could know a thing or two about “movie mode”. Musician? You have a composer. List goes on and on. do and learn as much as you can from the people around you. For the rest? There’s film school. Or not.
I don’t claim to know all the answers and what’s listed above is merely my advice from the short time I’ve been doing this. I acknowledge that my creative process is different to yours and hell, you might need 10 different people discussing the validity of your camera angles. But while you’re doing that, I’ll be making movies. Kay? Kay.
Till next time…