The story of getting a film made ........again!

Make a low budget feature film – 1

OnceOkay, so nobody’s succeeded in talking you out of it, you’re hell bent and determined to create your feature length movie and make the industry sit up and take notice. Well that’s good, you’re gonna need all that vim and vigor to get to the finish line without losing your marbles, house or family or maybe all three. I don’t want to scare you, but I do think, before everything else – be aware of exactly what you are taking on. Remember I’m not advocating this route, but if you do take it, don’t re-invent the wheel. We’ve all been inspired by the low budget breakout films that have stormed film festivals and went on to catapult their creators into power positions within the industry. What you don’t hear about are the countless efforts that have ended up unfinished, the only relic being a shoe box full of memory cards. And that can happen you unless you carefully plan your venture and that’s where this post begins. At the end of the day if you can end up with a movie that you are proud to include in your CV, then you have succeeded and whether you realise it or not, you have also advanced your career.

Blair Witch ProjectI know it’s a cliche but it’s true, if you fail to plan – you are planning to fail. So I would suggest pushing out the first day of photography by 12 months. I know that sounds a lot, but more than likely you’ve got other obligations and I presume you don’t want them to suffer either. Don’t throw away any advantages that don’t cost money and time is one. When it comes to low budget you’ve got to think carefully about the story you’re going to tell in this sense, keep cast numbers small and locations few, because if you don’t, it will cost you.

First things first, get your hands on at least half a dozen successful low budget features. Films like “Paranormal Activity”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Following”, “Once”, “His & Hers”, El Mariachi”, “Open Water”, “Blair Witch Project”, “Clerks” there are any number. Watch them then watch them again and read reviews, then ask yourself, what got these films noticed and compelled people to pay to see them? If you don’t know how to write a script – learn. Keep the script to under 90 pages and when it’s ready spend some money on quality coverage. A good source is Script Pimp because apart from industry recognised development notes, it’s also a pipeline into the industry.

Paranormal ActivityWhile your script is in development, you can be getting on a with a few other things, such as gathering your core group together and nailing your locations (as few as possible, check out some films shot almost entirely in one room – “12 Angry Men”, “Dinner with Andre”). Enthuse them with your story and vision and they’ll be only too willing to help out and learn to delegate, you won’t have the time to do everything. First off find someone who’s nifty at building websites and a whizz on Facebook and Twitter because now’s the time to begin to build awareness and an audience for your film. Hopefully that same person will be savvy in traditional media also, don’t ignore old media. But the most important role you will have to fill is that of producer.

If you’re writing and directing, as much as possible keep your concentration on the creative side. What your looking for is someone who has demonstrated an ability to plan and execute plans and basically get the job done. Together draw up a strip board (if you don’t know what that is – look it up) from the script, it’s gonna take a bit of time, from this you can pull a shooting schedule, there’s lots of software out there that will help you get the job done. Ensure you have rain cover in the schedule. Once again in the spirit of “preparation is key”, you as director should draw up a story board (again – look it up). You don’t have to stick rigidly to it, but don’t walk on to your set without it, it instills confidence all around that you know what you’re doing – you’ve got a plan.

ClerksI’m taking for granted that you’re not going to be in a position to pay cast or crew. Most everyone else can get up to speed, but if you have to spend money, then spend it on you camera operator. He or she is going to at least ensure that your shots are properly lit and exposed, the composition is good if not inspired and movements are logical and smooth and one other place to splash the cash (if you have any at all) is your sound recordist. There’s nothing as bad as getting to the edit, finding your film looks great, performances are great and your sound is shit. Just don’t go there – you have been warned.

As for your cast, one good tip here, populate your story with young people as much as possible. They’re simply more available and more willing to do it for nothing but the chance of stardom. Go to “end of year” shows put on by acting schools, remember the vast majority of great actors started there and you could find the next Colin Farrell or Eva Birthistle.

I’m not going to touch on funding in these posts as there are a million ways to do it and it’s something you should figure out for yourself. When you have your cast gathered, spend whatever time you can rehearsing them. By that I don’t mean going over scenes interminably, but rather ensuring everybody knows and understands their characters and the world they inhabit. You’re looking for that magical moment when the talent take possession of their character.

Other than that remember, many people are joining you on a journey you have instigated. Be appreciative of that fact, treat everybody with kindness and respect, but at the same time make sure as much as possible that you stay on schedule. Making a film can be a heap of fun, but only if you get it finished.

Other posts on this subject will follow and I may update this one as I go. Good luck with your film, I hope it knocks them sideways. Speaking of “Sideways”……….!

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  1. Patrique De Condom says:

    Greetings to all in the 2ed best hurling county in the country (bet that hurts).
    I watched ”Secrets & Lies’ on the recomendation of this website.
    I really enjoyed it . Its one of those the more you think about after the better it gets. But my Gawd there were some very slow passages in it but over all very good. Can you recommend anything else in this kind of jaunder?.

    • Hi Patrique,

      If you liked “Secrets and Lies” then check out pretty much any Mike Leigh film or Ken Loach or Shane Meadows. Speaking of Shane, Channel 4 are currently running a season of his films together with a 4 part TV drama which builds on his excellent film “This is England”. A couple of my personal favourites of Leigh’s films is “Naked” and “Happy Go Lucky”.


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