Friday, January 01, 2016

So You Wanna Make a Film in 2016 - Here's How!

The 7 films I've made using this method.

This post is actually from 2012! 4 Years ago!!! Eek! I think I had just finish Derelict! Double Eek! Now I know I'm not a very active filmmaker, and I haven't made a film in a while (life happens), but I believe on the info still stands, and it comes from years of practical experience and getting small films made. 

This is for people starting out, young filmmakers making their first film, dipping their toe into the pond for the first time and might be finding it hard to find those simple, practical pieces of information to just get started. It's a daunting prospect, so here are some helpful hints that should help you take those first steps.

First, I should mention, I don't make money at it, and if you go down this road chances are you wont make money at it either. I make my own films without support or financial backing. I've never made any profit making films. I've sold a couple yes, and I have made some money, but I've only ever broken even once. In saying that, I don't do it for the money! And I'm sure you don't either, so, I'd be happy to share with you how I get my films made. 

Here’s a 10 point breakdown (I go into much more detail below):

1. Get the script right.
2. Get people you know and trust involved early on.
3. Get a good cast.
4. Makes Sure people are committed.
5. Raise some funds, but don't worry too much about it.
6. Schedule you film.
7. Set a Date! Move toward it.
8. Feed people.
9. Communicate with people.
10. When directing, be assertive, confident, sure and put yourself in the centre of the room. You're the leader. You're the reason everyone's here. Remember that. 

OK, so here we go!

In putting a film together it begins with the script, as you know, I think this is the most important and crucial stage. It's so easy to get excited and run in all guns blazing without a finished or ready script. What will happen is your film will being to fall apart, you might get it shot, but in the edit, everything you should have spent time on in the writing will be become all to apparent. It's worth spending time on the script, besides, that’s the only free part of the process! So take advantage!

Me writing the yet-to-be-produced "Ghoster"
When the script is ready and you want to start putting it together I would begin with a crew, people you know and trust. They don't have to be professionals, they don't have to be the best in the world, but so long as they know what they're doing and understand what you want. Try to find a DOP first, a good sound recordist is important (sound is KEY, especially at this level, you can get away with a lot visually, but if you have bad sound - your film is ruined!) - the rest of the crew will come as you move forward. 

I would suggest keeping it to a skeleton crew, 8 - 10 people. At this level, everyone's going to be pitching in and doing multiple jobs. But I would say some important jobs (aside from camera and sound) would be continuity, you really need to have someone paying attention, taking notes and pictures, because if you're shooting out of sequence it can very quickly get out of hand. An Assistant Director, 1st AD, someone to watch the clock, keep things moving and make sure everything and everyone are in the right place at the right time, someone who can take away the distractions and allow you to concentrate on directing and be creative.

Patrick O'Donnell and I in rehearsal on "Derelict" 2012
Then begin to cast. You may know some actors already? Do any suit the parts? Maybe friends or colleagues have worked with actors they like? Meet with them, tell them about your script, see if you like them and could work with them. Make sure you see their work too. A mistake you don’t want to make is getting someone just because they're interested. This goes for crew too. I've done this before and if they're bad it will damage your film and make it less believable. It will also be a nightmare to edit. You still need good people. You still need to do the best job you can, even if it is on a tiny budget and even if everyone has agreed to work for free and/or on deferral contracts (where you agree to pay them the daily minimum at least if and after the film goes into profit). They’re signing up to work, not hang around for a week. That being said, most people are eager to work, and if they've said yes it's because they want to work and believe in your project, and you.

Speaking of budget, if you want to shoot an independent short film, or even feature, you can do a lot with goodwill (people giving their time for free) - couple of things to remember, if people are working for free talk to them, let them know what's going on, let them know they are appreciated and thank them for their time. But don't let them get away with not working. If they are going to commit to helping then they need to help and not hinder! You can do this nicely and easily with a speech at the start of pre-production and again at the start of principal photography - something to the effect of "Thanks for coming, you're appreciated, but we have a tough week ahead and I need everyone to help me make a film we can all be proud of..." kind of thing. If someone is taking the piss and just getting in the way don't be afraid to ask them to leave.

Feed people!!!

Very important. In your budget make sure you have money to feed people, it's only fair! A well fed cast and crew are a happy cast and crew. A table with plenty of snacks, cookies, bars, plenty of fruit and sandwich making stuff, lots of water and tea and coffee. And one hot meal a day. Perhaps making soup available daily too. You can tell them there will be food, snacks and a hot meal, but perhaps suggest getting breakfast before they come and having dinner at home. Save yourself some cash.

Base Camp - Derelict
Schedule your days realistically. I would suggest starting with breaking your script up into locations, even if in a house - shoot in one place until you have all the shots are got and then move on to the next location. It's easier and less time consuming that way. (Unless of course you're going handheld and following people in and out of rooms, it doesn't apply then) 

Again, if people are working for free, try to keep the shoot short, a week, two weeks max. If people are giving up their time their probably making financial sacrifices or passing up other opportunities, be conscious of that - but don't let it distract you, again, if they're committing to you then they've made their choice. But it's only fair that you don't ask too much of people, you might lose some good will otherwise. Ways around this if you're running over is to pull people aside and let them know what's going on, keeping people informed helps more then you think it will, or paying them, even if it's a small amount.

OK, back to budget and how to raise it.

1. Community fundraiser:

Have a fundraiser where you live. Find a venue, put on a comedy, rock, table quiz night. Charge people a small amount at the door €5 or €10, and then sell raffle tickets while the entertainment is going on to win sponsored prizes (you'll have to have local businesses donate prizes, this is also easier then you think... you will get people who will rudely dismiss you, which is humiliating, but you'll get more people who'll gladly help) I made €1000 for a short by doing this.

2. Auction:

Do you have artist friends? Do you know prominent artist? Have them donate work, set a reserve, which they get (if sold) and agree that you get the profit of the whatever is sold (some may even give you all the money) Go to a local gallery, art centre, something like that and ask them if you could host the night there, put on some wine and a light buffet. 

note: You will have to spend some money to do this. The old Spend money to make money. You will also have to do a lot of leg work to get people in the doors. Advertise. Posters. Try and get on local radio. People are also pretty good about sponsoring this stuff, just ask, the worst they can do is say no.

3. Online Crowdfunding:

This is becoming increasingly popular. I've used it twice with great success, on two films, 140 and Derelict (my current film) Kickstarter is an American site and only available to American users, for now, but you should have a look at the pitch videos and other projects just to see how people put them together and how they pitch them. IndieGoGo is similar site you can sign up to from anywhere ( in Ireland). And I believe there are others out there now. 

Again, you have to push it and put the leg work in, no one's just going to just show up out of the blue and give you cash, you have to shout about it, get on facebook, twitter - It doesn't matter if you hate those sites, you want people to get behind the project you have to let them know about it and social networking is the best way to do that. We’re in the age of digital media and social network, it’s only an advantage to the independent filmmaker, use it… again – It’s Free!!!

You will need some cash, for food, some equipment rental, travel expenses, insurance and things that will inevitable pop up during the shoot. But you can make a film for next to nothing if you're clever and tenacious enough. You can get a descent short for €2000 if you want to put a little cash in to be sure. Don’t be a afraid to ask for things, for sponsorship, for free stuff, water, food, equipment, you never know what you might get.

With regard to equipment, lights, cameras, all you may need - get in touch with a local rental house, tell them what you're doing and ask if there is a way they can help, either by giving you a discount or by lending stuff for free off season, often places will do this, if they're cool they'd rather help out a young filmmaker then see the stuff lying there. After all, you may be a very good future customer and you're going to go to the place that helped you out first!

But I would say, don't let money stop you from making a film. If you want to make a film, you should. If you believe in it and start it, the money will come. Often, when people put money into a project it's not because the believe in the project so much, it's that they believe in you, and like to see people doing something creative and positive. So go do it, start it and it will happen.

It's a tough road, no question about that, and at some point you will ask yourself why you started it, I still do! But it is also very rewarding, and once you've made this film you're just going to want to get onto the next one.

Here’s a 10 point breakdown:

1. Get the script right.
2. Get people you know and trust involved early on.
3. Get a good cast.
4. Makes Sure people are committed.
5. Raise some funds, but don't worry too much about it.
6. Schedule you film.
7. Set a Date! Move toward it.
8. Feed people.
9. Communicate with people.
10. When directing, be assertive, confident, sure and put yourself in the centre of the room. You're the leader. You're the reason everyone's here. Remember that. 

Two bonus points:
Be nice to people.
Put some money aside for the wrap party!!!

Hope that helps you somewhat! As I said at the start, everyone’s journey is different so you may find your own ways of doing things. Tap every resource you have, you’ll get there.

Couple of books you should read to: Digital Filmmaking by Mike Figgis and Producing With Passion: Making Films That Change The World by Dorothy Fadiman and Tony Levelle (which is about making documentaries but so much of how to get a film up and running applies). Two of the best books I’ve read on how to make a film, because they’re practical, simple, constructive and inspirational. 

Addition: Funding - When looking for funding go to you local Council, they usually have an arts fund, ask about it. Some other organisations you may not expect may also have arts or education funds, some charities do, ask around, you might be surprised what you find.

Addition II: Equipement - What do you need? Camera, sound recording devices, lights. If you have no money, shoot on your iPhone. Seriously, the iPhone 6s has 4k recording now. With a 64gb memory you can record up to 20 mins of 4k footage. That's more than enough. You may need a lens adaptor, and an app to strength your cameras capability, but it's possible. You also have the Movies app on you phone, so we're basically walking around with a HD movie studio in our pocket, use it! 

Check out Filmic Pro to expand your phones capability.
Check out Moondog Labs for lens adaptors.

You use what you can. However you can get it made, that's how you do it, the most important thing that the script is good, tight and concisely telling the story you want to tell.

By all means ask around, if you know someone who's willing to loan you a RED, sure go for it. But be prepared to post it too. Do you have the capabilities to edit 4K? Think about that too, if 1080i will do, and you can cut it on your home computer yourself, then that might be the way to go, instead of painting yourself into a 4k corner that you may never get out of!

You may not chose to shot with lights, using available light, it is possible of course, just be clever about it. Can you write the script around available light, set scenes in the day instead of the night? Close to a window? If you make these decision early on in the script writing stage you can incorporate them into the design of the film and indeed the story. It will also save you a lot of time trying to block on the day.

I'm not an expert on sound, except to say it's vital. I tend to hire a good recordist and have them hire the equipment they need. Before the shoot we discuss the script, and ideas for each scene. See if you can find a good recordist, or go to a rental house and ask advice. You can find out a ton of info online, but I'm old school, I like getting out and talking to people, the people who do this everyday.

Addition III: Post-Production - This is a big one. Something I missed out on back in 2012 because I had just started on post-production for Derelict and quite honestly, I wasn't prepared for it and it harmed the release of the film. So, lesson learned, and lesson shared.

Make sure you are prepared for post-production at the very beginning, it is as important, if not more important, as the shoot. This is where you will finish the film, and realise the vision you set out to make. You will edit it, color it, composed the score, export it to however many formats you need to and then market it, put it out into the world, get it to festivals, get it distributed, or sold, or streaming somewhere. You are after all making this film to share with an audience, the trick now is to get it to the audience.

So part of your budget needs to be set aside for all that. Don't forget it just so you can get the film shot, if you don't have it, then you're not ready. Trust me, there is nothing worse than getting lost in post for a year or more. You need to keep the momentum of your film going all the way to it's release.

If you are thinking about crowdfunding, take a look at Seed & Spark, it is a newer crowdfunding platform that is solely for film, but not only can you raise your funds, but they offer a distribution platform too. So as you build your audience while you're raising funding, you hang onto them, and present the film to them when it's complete.

Entering Festivals:

I would recommend getting it to festivals, don't just put it up online, I know you're excited to share it, but there are often rules, which include not publicly broadcasting your film before sale. If you do, you may rule yourself out of festivals and sales. 

Getting it into festival can give your film some prestige, making it more commercial and sellable, and a more attractive prospect for other festival. Aim for the big ones first, a big premiere at a prestigious festival can really help your film. And awards don't hurt either. I know we're not in this for awards, but whatever gets your film in front of an audience. 

Once your film is ready, get yourself over to Filmfreeway and start entering, Film freeway is great, very user friendly, and a useful sliding scale so you can set it to your budget, even if your budget is $0, it shows free festivals. You can also look at Short Film Depot, it's an older site, but I've used it since making Emily's Song over 10 years ago.

So go on, go make a film in 2016, send it to me when you’re done! And don’t forget to enjoy yourself! You’re living your dream after all.

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