You've got a movie to make. You're busy! So before we waste any of your time, let us tell you whether or not we can help you produce the next Brothers McMullen or Blair Witch Project. First, we're assuming that you've written or obtained a screenplay. Secondly, we're assuming that you will be able to procure (from parents, friends, credit cards, theft, etc.) at least $15,000. If you don't have $15,000 or more . . . sorry, but miracle workers we're not.
If you've got the script and the money, we can help you. We're going to tell you how to navigate the three major steps involved with making any movie: pre-production, production, and post-production. If you follow our advice (and have any talent), you'll be ready for the film festival circuit, fame, and riches. Oh, and maybe a cocaine habit too if it all works out.
1. Follow our pre-production advice
The first step in making your movie is putting everything in place before you ever have a camera: polishing your script, finding actors, rehearsing, and putting together a team of technical folk who can work the scary machines like cameras, tape recorders, and lights. This is what's known as pre-production.
1.Use points and screen credit if possible
2.Get a Director of Photography
3.Purchase film at a discount
4.Find actors, props, and costumes
5.Scout locations and hold rehearsals
Use "points" and screen credit if possible
Trust us; you aren't the only one who wants to see his or her name in lights. Many times offering just the opportunity to work on a real film is enough bait to bring friends on board. Your first question at every stage of movie making should be to ask yourself, "Who can I get to do this for free?" One way to get people to work for free is to offer screen credit -- you know, the blame that rolls at the end of a movie.
If you can't get people to work for free, it's time to dole out the "points." Points, you will come to learn, are the lifeblood of no-budget movie making. When you have very little cash to distribute at an early stage in the life of the film, one way to entice talent to join your project is to promise them a percentage of the film's profits. These are the points. Oh, and in case you never got to algebra, you've only got 100 of them. So be stingy with those suckers, they're finite and you'll want a bunch for yourself.
Get a Director of Photography
When you start the process of converting your screenplay into a film, the most important asset you can acquire is a knowledgeable Director of Photography. Almost every movie has both a Director, that's you, and a Director of Photography, not likely to be you. A Director of Photography, or DP, is someone who has a technical understanding of how the camera works, what film to use, and how the lighting will affect the feel of a scene. On a big movie, the DP makes all the pretty pictures and oversees a crew of several cameramen. On yours, the DP will be behind the camera himself. The Director is usually more concerned with the overall story and the acting, and tells the DP how (s)he wants it all to look.
One of the best ways to get a DP is to scour local film schools. While there are a few specialized film schools around the country, most colleges and universities have film departments, so you are bound to live nearby some source of technical talent. To search, you can (1) check the yellow pages for local film schools and/or (2) go to filmschools.com, an online directory of most of the film schools/departments that have web sites. From there, you can get a phone number or email address of the appropriate contact person, give him/her a call, and then get your butt (physically, not virtually) over there to check out their bulletin boards for announcements. These places will almost always have a board with the names and business cards of aspiring DPs.
Another source of great technical advice and talent is the Film Arts Foundation. Based in San Francisco, this organization has a national reach and it serves as a cooperative for amateurs and emerging professionals interested in film. Members join up to subscribe to its magazine and to connect with other up-and-coming members of the film community. Check out the site, even if you don't want to become a member – you'll get great info, and perhaps the names of DPs in your neighborhood.
Once you get some leads, call prospective DPs and ask them to send you a demo tape of their work. You should be able to tell from watching their previous projects whether they can handle your needs.
Purchase film at a discount
The issues involved in purchasing film are numerous and complicated. You'll need to decide whether to use 16mm or 35mm, what speed stock to buy, where to develop it, with whom to store it for safekeeping, etc. Make sure to consult with your DP.
Film is quite expensive. For feature length movies, which are usually around 90 minutes, the film could cost around $27,000. And that figure doesn't even include the cost of developing it and all the wasted footage you won't end up using. But don't despair: companies like Kodak and Fuji have been known to give discounts to both students and low-budget productions. Think about it -- they make the real money off productions that use thousands of times more film than you ever will, and if you are a burgeoning talent they will want to get you using their product so that you'll keep buying it when you're a big mogul. Use your small-fry status to your advantage as often as you can.
Find actors, props, and costumes
When looking for actors, try to use your friends. Surely you remember someone who did a credible job in your high school or college rendition of Our Town. If not, don't worry, there are professional entities who specialize in farming out talent to productions. If you inquire, they will send you headshots--big glossy photos of the faces of actors and actresses--who you can then contact to arrange an audition.
The cheap way to get your hands on props and costumes is to borrow from friends and family. Of course, it won't cost much to go down to the local thrift store or Salvation Army to pick up a few items either. But if you want something more specialized or upscale, there are companies that can help you, and to find some, look under Costumes in your local yellow pages.
Scout for locations and hold rehearsals
Don't fool yourself into thinking you can make the next Bond movie for less than ten grand. We hope you've written or obtained a script that involves realistic settings like local bookstores and coffee shops. If you have any place near you that you think would be cool, just go talk to the owner or manager, let them know you're doing a small project, and ask them for their permission to stop by some time. If you're worried about getting into legal trouble, you can check these books out to show you how to write up a release -- the legal document allowing you to use a location or someone's image on film -- for the proprietor to sign: (1) Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos: A Practical Guide to Planning, Filming, and Editing Documentaries of Real Events, (2) Lights, Camera, Action!: Making Movies and TV from the Inside Out, and (3) Making Movies: The Inside Guide to Independent Movie Production.
Ideally, you'll be able to rehearse particular scenes in the same location where you plan to film them. No surprise there. But, if you're using a location that you don't own or control, you may not have the luxury of using the space beforehand. In that case, obviously, you'll need to use your apartment, your parents' basement, the local school gym--wherever. Just be sure you make arrangements to have space somewhere. You can't show up on the day you expect to film without having gone over the scenes. Unless, of course, you want that celluloid gold film stock spilling uselessly through the camera at the rate of $5 a second.
Plan the shoot rigorously with your DP, minimizing as much as possible the number of days you will need to rent equipment and to take people's time. This may involve shooting some sequences out of order if they happen to be set in the same location. It's harder to do, but it saves time and money
2. We prepared you well, so don't stress over production
The next stage is, not surprisingly, "production," and it's what you think of when you dream of Hollywood: you sitting in a canvas chair telling actors how to deliver their lines and giving instructions to the guys filming it all. Maybe you'll have a megaphone, maybe not.
In many ways, this supposedly glamorous portion of the project is the most mundane. For a start, it is the shortest of the three stages, so you will be mistaken if you think it's all there is to do. But even when it is underway, it is usually just the rehashing of things you have already practiced in pre-production: the actors will be costumed and rehearsed, the set will be scouted and dressed with props, and the DP will have organized the crew. Of course, it will be incredibly stressful for you, knowing that any screw up will cost you money if the film is being wasted or if you get behind and have to rent anything for longer than you anticipated. But in many ways, this is the ideal time for you to hand the reigns over to the DP to let him or her stress about it all and earn the big bucks, or more likely, points. You've already developed your artistic vision through the script writing and rehearsals -- so while you should work with the DP to make sure your vision is accurately captured on film, resist the urge to micro-manage the technical issues. Let the DP do his or her job.
3. Follow Our Post-Production Advice
The last step is -- can you guess? – "post-production." This is a long, tedious step that no one really thinks about before making a movie but which is probably the most important one in the whole process. After all the glam actors go home, you're left with several cans of film. That doesn't equal a movie, Scorsese. So buckle up.
1.Find a Film Processor to develop the film
2.Find an Editor to transfer the film and edit it
3.Hit the festival circuit and hold a screening
Find a Film Processor to develop the film
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When the beast is finally in the can, you'll be psyched -- but you're still a long way from being finished, darling. Just like with your own camera, the film isn't worth a thing until it's developed and can be shown to the smiling relatives. So get your DP to help you find a good film processor. All a processor does is develop all the rolls of film you will have shot. It's like dropping off a roll at the local drug store -- just a hell of a lot more expensive. Don't worry though, you can get discounts if you're a student -- or can pretend to be one -- and, again, 16mm film is a cheaper option. But for about 10 hours of footage, expect to pay around $3000 or $4000. For this step, you'll probably have to send your film to LA where most of the best and cheapest processors are. No matter where you shoot, this may be the best option since these guys are professionals and are used to receiving film from projects all over the world.
Find an Editor to transfer the film to video and edit it
Once you have the film developed, you are going to need to get it into the hands of a fairly skilled Editor. An Editor is simply someone who is familiar with computers and the process of editing. Accordingly, the Editor oversees the process of editing, which is where you take the bits of the film you want to use and put them in the right order. Editors are usually film school students or recent graduates stuck in boring day jobs making motivational corporate films and pre-flight safety videos while pining for the fun stuff at night. And you can find one and compensate him or her in all the same ways you did for your DP.
How editing works
Remember, there is going to be a ton of film you shoot that you will not end up using: actors will mess up lines or things will go wrong. So you'll have to throw out a decent amount of footage. And from the footage you have left, you may not necessarily want to present it in the same order that you recorded it. Sometimes you may be forced to film the last scene first, for instance, because of the availability of actors or locations. If you were to edit that footage, you would need to cut that scene from the beginning of the film and put it at the end.
But these days, no one edits a movie by slicing up the long streams of film and taping sections together; the process is all done on computers. The drill: you transfer it to video by renting a huge machine called a Telecine. This gizmo runs the film though some sort of equipment that can take the images from film stock and transfer them onto videotape. Once the film is in the video format, you can edit the images by uploading the video into a computerized editing system -- either Avid or Media 100 -- and handle the editing on a computer.
It's all kind of complicated, you see, and that is why getting an Editor is pivotal. Just as your DP was your technical guru for the first stages of the film, an Editor will guide you home. He or she will know how to get access to the Telecine and editing systems that you will need to use to edit your film. With your input, he'll get you your finished product, which brings us to our next item.
Hit the festival circuit and hold a screening
Once you have some type of finished product (even if it's just video) you'll need to start hitting the festival circuit. Film festivals are essentially singles bars: studios and distributors who are looking for content mingle with aspiring artists who have made films, and everyone wants to go home with someone.
To enter a festival, you will need to get your hands on a list of many of the festivals held across the country, when their deadlines for entry are, and how to obtain an entry form. The best place for all this information is on the web at yahoo. Some of the most famous independent festivals are:
1.Sundance (Park City, Utah)
2.Slamdance (Park City, Utah)
3.Tribeca Film Festival (New York, NY)
4.SXSW - South by Southwest (Austin, Texas)
Festivals can cost as little as $10 or as much as $100 to enter, so you may have to be frugal. Typically, you send off a video copy of your film, plus the entry form and fee, and if you have been able to generate any publicity about your project, throw that in too. Convincing your local artsy newspaper to drop by the set one day will be a good way to get press coverage, and the people reviewing festival applications would rather read those than have to sit through another hour of home video footage. Sell yourself.
If you start getting into festivals, you will want to up the stock of your project by holding distributor screenings. Filmmakers typically hold one of these in LA and NYC. The idea is that you rent out a nice small theater or screening room, invite distributors and studios to send someone to attend your screening, and then have them appraise your project and bid against one another to purchase the rights from you. If you think you've never heard of a distributor, you're wrong. All the major movie studios -- Sony, Warner Brothers, MGM/UA, Disney, Fox, etc. -- do a lot of distribution. A good way to find one would be to see who distributed a movie that you really liked or thought was like yours.
To find a place to screen your movie, just call a local art house theater and ask them if and when they have space free. You may have to rent it, but then again, they may be interested in hyping their Indie feel by giving it to you gratis. To find the addresses and phones of a bunch of theatres near you, you can use the yellow pages, or you can go to moviefone and type in your zip code and nearby zip codes.
Remember, the ultimate goals of a filmmaker are to have the project distributed to theatres around the country, and to be recognized as a talent and offered financing for future projects. Festivals and distributor screenings will be your prom and if all goes well, you'll be well on your way to living a cushy lifestyle amongst fabulous celebrities.
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