|The Ten Rules of Independent Filmmaking - |
1. MAKE SURE YOUR SCRIPT IS ROCK SOLID
The first thing that most established producers will ask you is, "What's the point of your story, and why is it worth telling?"
When a group of filmmakers spend months shooting a feature or film, they often become shortsighted about how the rest of the world perceives and understands their film. To put it plain and simply, make sure that your story is CLEAR and OBVIOUS - especially the ending.
Whether the film is an eclectic experimental or a poignant drama, make sure that those who read the screenplay - and eventually watch the film - understand the journey on which you are taking them.
A great way to learn about screenwriting is TO READ: Novels, short stories, short film screenplays, feature film screenplays... Rreading the work of other authors enriches a storyteller by allowing them to see how other authors have effectively (or ineffectively) told stories.
The general rule with screenplays is DON'T START SHOOTING UNLESS YOUR SCRIPT IS READY. Often times writers will go through draft after draft and eventually settle for a mediocre product in the interest of time. Don't make this mistake. Remember, it's better to wait to shoot a great film than to shoot a not-so-good one right now. Just don't wait forever!
IN SHORT: Story is king.
2. WORK WITH THE BEST POSSIBLE TALENT
Actors, crew members, performing artists - whomever you end up hiring to work in your production, MAKE SURE THEY ARE THE BEST CANDIDATES FOR THE JOB.
Along with a poor screenplay, the most common weakness of films is BAD ACTING. This does not mean, however, that you need to hire professional actors with years of experience and training. Quite often non-actors perform the best because they're not trying to act.
Whomever you decided to cast in your film, make sure that they can portray your characters interestingly and accurately. Another way to improve their performance is to WORKSHOP them for weeks before you start shooting.
Bad actors can make or break your film. Irrespective of whether you have the most talented crew members, a massive budget, the best equipment or a great screenplay, if your actors do not perform well it will be difficult to attract audiences.
Although you might be limited to working with those crew members who won't charge you anything, WORK WITH THE BEST PEOPLE FOR THE JOB.
If a cinematographer, music composer or production designer has a particular style that would work perfectly in your film, IT DOESN'T HURT TO ASK them to help out.
Up-and-coming filmmakers are always looking for a good project that they can be attached to. Put a package together for your film including such items as an information kit, promo reels, story boards, etc. and pitch your project around. You might be surprised who falls in love with your project.
IN SHORT: Film is about collaboration. Find the best artists for the jobs and don't be afraid to delegate responsibilities.
3. ESTABLISH YOUR BUDGET & STICK TO IT
Anyone who tells you that filmmaking today is expensive is downright lying. Okay, maybe it can cost a few bucks, but with the advent of digital filmmaking and home editing, making a film can be very inexpensive.
Even before the digital filmmaking craze struck, filmmakers were able to shoot critically acclaimed low budget films for a fraction of what others could produce them for. Robert Rodriguez's "El Mariachi" and Kevin Smith's "Clerks" cost $7,225 and $22,769, respectively, and they were FEATURE FILMS SHOT ON FILM. And then of course they was the "Blair Witch Project" which was shot on Hi-8 and 16mm which was shot for less than $30,000 and grossed over $170 million worldwide.
Whether your budget is $10 $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 or $1,000,000, STICK TO IT. It's proven every year that talented filmmakers can make highly acclaimed films within any financial constraints.
The general rule for making a film as cheap as possible is to ASK PEOPLE FOR HELP. Everyone wants to be associated with the next "Blair Witch Project," and quite frankly you might be the person to do it. As with any fundraising, YOU MUST FIRST ASK before anyone gives you a dime, so don't be shy. There are hundreds of organizations and individuals who would consider supporting your production.
To find grants or high-net work individuals, conduct a web search for "grants", "high net worth individuals" or "humanitarians". You can also view the film Grants list on this site. Remember, you lose nothing by asking.
IN SHORT: In this day and age a film can be made for any amount of money. Whatever that amount might be for you, find ways to make your film with it, even if it requires swallowing your pride.
4. AVOID THE MOST COMMON MISTAKES
Bad sound, weak screenplay, bad acting, visible mistakes in footage, bad budgeting… If you take every point from this article and flip it to the negative, it's probably a good list of the most common mistakes that filmmakers make. Avoid them whenever possible.
As many of your mentors will tell you, the best way to learn what to avoid is to make the mistake yourself. We're not saying to start making all possible mistakes in your film, but rather to learn from those that you, your friends or other filmmakers have made.
IN SHORT: If there's a mistake to be made, it's already been made. Do your prep work. Plan and collaborate early on to avoid making mistakes in the future.
5. GET YOUR CLEARANCES DONE - EARLY
Generally speaking a film that is not cleared is NOT DISTRIBUTABLE. This means that if your film infringes on the rights of others, you will not be able to screen it at film festivals or commercially distribute it - this applies to both feature films and short films.
The best way to make sure that everything is cleared is to DO THE LEG WORK EARLY. Quite often filmmakers pursue a production and 4 months into the project they're told that someone else owns the copyright of their film title or even the story concept. There's nothing worse than to be told that you will not be able to finish your film because of something like this.
The most common uncleared material in a film is the MUSIC. Filmmakers often fall in love with a particular commercial song and simply through it into their final mix thinking there won't be any repercussions. Clearing such music at a later date can be very costly or even impossible. The best thing to do with music is to purchase stock music, use royalty-free music or to hire a composer to write original music.
You can find such items on the web if you search for "royalty free music,""music clips" or "sound clips."
One thing that many filmmakers don't know is that any music that was written over 99 years ago is royalty-free as long as you can get the musicians who played it to give you permission to use their version of the song.
There are several other items that must be cleared in a film production. Please visit Clearance Guidelines for more information.
IN SHORT: Make your film as if one day you plan to sell it. You never know who's going to come knocking on your door with a checkbook. The last thing you'd want is to have copyright infringement break a potential distribution deal.
6. PUT A PACKAGE TOGETHER AND PITCH IT TO ANYONE WHO CAN HELP
Whether you have a short screenplay that you want to shoot or a short film with a feature length screenplay, the best thing you can do to market yourself is to make a package and get it to anyone that can help.
Everyone on this planet is separated by only six hand shakes from every other person. Therefore, the chances are good that you know several people who can get your material to those who possess the power to give your career a jump start.
A verbal pitch is important for an artist to have - especially an elevator pitch (a verbal pitch lasting from 30 seconds to a few minutes). However, there's no better follow up or stand-alone sales tool as an informational package.
Another great way to showcase your projects is to create a web site. There are several sites on the Internet that offer free web sites and web tools that alloy anyone to configure a web site.
To find such sites, conduct a web search for "free web hosting" or "free web pages." See "Get Your Video or Movie Seen"
IN SHORT: Make a web site, buy a color printer, get some business folders and put your visions on something that you can show other people, not just tell them.
7. SHOOT FOR THE SKY
The beautiful thing about winning acclaim is that there is no set rule for it. Quite often the most unique - and even obscure feature films and short films - are the ones that take home the most trophies.
Point of the story is - AIM HIGH: you never know where or who will love your film.
IN SHORT: Even though your film might only cost $10 make, you never know what ground it will break or award it will win.
8. SHOW GRATITUDE
Copy, credits, great meals… Gratitude is a concept that too often gets breached. Crew members often end up receiving cold left-over pizza and never see their names in the end credits, let alone get a copy of the film.
If there is one expense that is always worth it, IT'S TO FEED PEOPLE WELL. Aside from the physiological repercussions of feeding people unhealthy food, it's a great way to show your appreciation for their efforts.
Regarding credits, it's always a nice feeling to see one's name in the end credits of a film, even if they donated only a few bucks for film stock or food. Don't hold back when it comes to including names of those who helped you in the end credits. You might be surprised how prone they will be to help you again if you show your appreciation to them the first time.
IN SHORT: Be thankful and show it.
9. GET FEEDBACK
As mentioned earlier, it is very easy to get shortsighted about the story that you are trying to tell - and in the process forget about your audience.
A great way to avoid this is to constantly get feedback about your project. Whether for your outline, screenplay, directing style, casting, post production, rough-cut or final product, previous short film FEEDBACK IS CRUCIAL. Friends, teachers, mentors, and industry veterans pride on providing advice and often it can be integral.
IN SHORT: Filmmaking shouldn't be done in a bubble. Feedback from experts and novices alike might be the most beneficial thing that you get.
Art is about expression, but it is also about communication. The final challenge of a filmmaker is to get people to go see their films. For up-and-coming filmmakers their film often serves as a résumé to gain future work.
Between film festivals, industry screenings, and broadcast, there are several ways to get independent short films and feature films exposure.
Some filmmakers set aside a budget of a few thousand dollars just so they can submit their film to festivals. Though this is not crucial, it can be a great way to showcase your work to film fans and industry professionals around the world.
Remember KEEP YOUR GOALS IN MIND. Whether you want to be a screenwriter, film director, production designer or work in any other aspect of filmmaking, you must constantly strive to achieve your goals and use your previous work to showcase your talent.
IN SHORT: Your work represents your talent. Get it out to as many people as possible and always keep your goals in mind.