Are you constantly searching the internet for advice on how to make your own movie? Do you find tons and tons of “expert” advice that doesn’t seem to lead you anywhere?
Does you movie career seem to be stuck in neutral?Regardless of where you want your film career to go, sometimes it can seem impossible to break into the business. How do I get noticed by the studios? How do I get Scarlett Johansson to return my calls?
I think that is when most of us arrive at the following conclusion: I have to just make my own movie to showcase my talents. After all, what better way to demonstrate your talents at moving making than in a real movie?
But I think this is also where most movie makers get bogged down, and your average internet filmmaking guru is absolutely zero help.
Lets take a look at the typical kind of advice that you seem to find floating around on the internet.
Good Advice that is actually bad for you
Here is the type of advice that sounds good on the surface, but ultimately has a very negative effect. In particular, this is the type of advice I see coming out of a certain village of so called “experts”.
- Hire a good DP/Assistant director/Gaffer/Editor/Composer
- Pay the actors and crew. Offer deferrals if you can’t pay
- The camera is the most important piece of equipment.
- Use storyboards to play your shoot
- Continuity errors will destroy your film
What’s wrong with all of this advice?
The above advice isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s almost all good advice on its own. The problem is how seriously you take the advice. Will you worry so much about these things that you ultimately won’t finish the film? Lets go through these things one by one.
- Hire a good (insert crew member): Not bad advice, but chances are you might not know any good crew people, unless you’ve followed my advice to find top quality crew. Furthermore, you probably can’t “hire” anyone, because the word hire involves paying…which involves the money you don’t have. If you can hire professional crew, then more power to you, but don’t let the fact that you can’t hire someone prevent you from starting. If worst comes to worst take six friends and assign them positions. Teach them how to use the equipment if necessary. Ultimately, a camera that is in focus and not over exposed is all it takes to finish a movie. The only exception I would make, is that you should always find someone who knows something about sound. I also recommend that even if you do hire a crew, make sure to keep the crew small.
- Pay the actors and crew. Offer deferrals if you can’t pay - Absolutely pay if you can. But I emphasize if you can. Don’t let the fact that you can’t pay stop you from shooting your movie. There is someone out there that will work for free, for whatever reason. People need stuff for their reel, resume builders, or sometimes you might find someone like me who will shoot for you in exchange for using the footage in tutorials to teach film making. Secondly, NEVER offer deferrals. Deferrals have a way of ruining your life. You will probably never pay them, but everyone will expect you to pay them. Think about it…if a deferral actually entices someone to work for you, then obviously they must expect it at some point. There are three things that end up happening:
- You never pay – You never make any money on the film, so you never pay. This only pisses off those people who expected to get paid. More than likely they won’t work for you again.
- You make just enough to pay – You manage to sell the film off, but the deferral costs have gotten so high that once you pay everyone you owe, you’ve made zero…or worse you might still owe a little to some vendor. People will probably work for you again. However, they’ll probably expect you to pay upfront this time, and since you still don’t have any money you can’t.
- You hit film making lottery and cash out big time – You premiere at Sundance or go to AFM and sell the film for 3 million dollars, pay back the investors, and pay back the deferrals. Everything is great right? Probably not. More than likely its taken you a few years to accomplish this, in which time, all of the people you owe have written you off. Now they suddenly hear about the huge sale you made. They think about the big paycheck coming in the mail. Only then do they see that compared to your $3 million, their deferral (which was probably scale or less) feels pretty small. They feel like they were just as much invested in the film as you were….why do you get to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, while they only make a few thousand? Believe it or not…this is more likely to happen when you offer deferral than if you just ask for free work. The reason being is that if you offer a deferral the person feels like they haven’t been paid yet. If they work for free, the work is done and they’ve moved on. More than likely if they see the film they’ve worked on sell for $3 million dollars, they get excited and feel their work was worth something. Now they might be famous…now you might call them and offer them a paid gig on their next movie.
- The camera is the most important piece of equipment – WRONG, WRONG WRONG. That’s sort of like saying “The steering wheel is the most important part of the car”. That’s not really true. Yes, you have to at least have a steering wheel, but you certainly don’t need to spend $15,000 on the best steering wheel you can find. It is extremely easy to get bogged down in trying to find the best camera. You find someone willing to let you borrow a DVX100, and it seems like just the next day you see footage from an HD camera…and you think “The DVX is nice and all…but I want to shoot HD”. So you spend six months that you could have been shooting with a borrowed DVX, raising the money to shoot HD with a Sony PMW-EX3. Then by some miracle you find that money, but the same day you see some footage from a RED…and now the movie just won’t be right unless its shot on RED. Gear mania is an ever escalating addiction. There is always something a little better, and if you keep pushing for the best you’ll never actually start your movie. The real truth:
- Shoot with the best thing you can find – Just shoot with whatever you can find. Whatever you can afford to rent or borrow right now is good enough to finish your film. The simple truth is that an audience can accept bad looking video if the story is good. If the story is interesting, even a web cam is good enough quality to keep people watching. But no matter what camera you end up using the reality is….
- Sound gear is the most important equipment – An audience will watch a web cam video if its good enough, but won’t watch an IMAX movie for ten seconds if the sound is terrible. Bad sound is just too terribly distracting to ignore. The the camera is the steering wheel of a car, the sound gear is the engine.
- Use storyboards to play your shoot – I’m sure you’ve watched tons of DVD extras where they show you all the storyboards from your favorite movies. In the real world, story boards are next to useless for shooting the majority of scenes. The reason – storyboards are static and linear. You’ve movie is dynamic and will be shot non-linear. If you are shooting a chase scene…then yes, story boarding is a great idea because the scene will probably be best shot in order. However, if you are shooting a dialog scene you will probably shoot one characters part, then another character, and then a third character, and so on. What will be 35 different storyboard frames might actually be done in only 3 separate shots. Also, unless you have meticulously measured every location and you are using a previs software like FrameForge3d, more than likely you’re storyboards will be extremely different than the real location. More than likely only 3 out of every 100 storyboard frames will look anything like your finished product. The only thing I would ever storyboard is linear action like a chase, or a special fx shot.
- Continuity errors will destroy your film - They won’t. Please stop worrying so much about them. I can’t tell you how many sets I’ve worked on where the entire crew freaked out because no one was sure if they accidentally moved a cup on the dresser. I’ve even been on one shoot where the director was worried that the pattern of a blood stain was different from one day to the next. If you waste too much time on things like this, you’ll end up not getting all the shots you need, and may never finish the film. The truth is most audiences don’t notice half of the stuff that is going on. A movie audience wants to suspend its disbelief. People want to believe everything you are telling them. Check out Movie Mistakes.com to see just how many big Hollywood movies have mistakes in them. So what should you be worried about?
- The actor – The audience is looking at the actor. If they are wearing a blue shirt in one shot, and suddenly wearing a pink shirt when you cut back to them, obviously people will notice. Avoid things that are glaringly obvious. Fortunately, this sort of thing will only happen if you have a long break between shooting, such as a scene that ends up being shot over several days. Simply take some snapshots with a digital camera each time you go on a break, finish a scene, or wrap at the end of the day.
- The unexplainable - The audience will ignore, forgive, and forget just about anything that is even remotely explainable. Does the actor jump from one side of the room to the other, with not enough travel time in between? No problem, cut to a long take of a cat on the window sill and then cut back. Most audiences will probably accept this without a second thought. So the trick is if you find two shots that clearly don’t edit together, then you put some random insert such as something in the room, or a different actor doing something, and the audience will assume that the change happened during that time in between. If it is reasonable that something could have happened (even if its a bit far fetched), while you the camera wasn’t looking…then I wouldn’t worry about it.
Now that I’ve gotten you thinking critically, tommorrow we are going to talk about The only film making advice you really need.