How do you start making movies? Seems like a straight forward question, but it is as loaded as the protesters and officers on the streets of Ferguson after dark. Easy to speculate about from the sidelines, but extremely difficult to navigate when you’re face to face with it. This question is not a matter of right or wrong. It is a question that I have asked myself a thousand times over. And if you’re like me – you have probably wished you would have answered this question before launching yourself head-first off of any number of creative cliffs – all because the story that burns inside of you simple can not be contained any longer. Because you have a desire to do something great doesn’t mean that you have to risk life and limb to accomplish your vision. Here are a few baby steps for how to get started making movies and how to stay alive at the same time.
Step 1: Everything Starts With A Vision
Having a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish is paramount. A vague idea will get you killed! So write your vision down with as many details as possible. Then let them stew for as many hours or days or weeks, months, years as possible. Your passion will tell you that “You have to move now or it will never happen”… but it’s not true. Time will actually help the vision become clearer and more doable.
Step 2: Make Your Script & Business Plan Great
No one builds a house without a blueprint. Ok… maybe some do… but it is very difficult, especially if more than one builder is involved. The blueprint of a movie is the script or screenplay. There is no substitute for a great screenplay. The plot has to be solid. The characters well-defined and interesting. The dialogue natural and not forced on the character. A great script serves as both the blueprint and the foundation. Very very important!
If you need a script but you are not a great writer, then hire a writer or option a pre-written script. There are many talented writers who haven’t had their big break that might be willing to work for cheap if they like your project. An option is like putting a pre-written script on layaway. You pay a small fee upfront to reserve the right to purchase the script down the line. This is great because you do not have to pay full price until you have secured the funds to make your movie. If you’d like to learn more about options – http://chipstreet.com/2010/02/02/ten-things-when-you-option-your-script/ One great site to search for talented writers is http://www.networkisa.org
Step 3: Count The Costs Before You Start
There is a cost to every production. From a small youtube video to your first feature film. And you will pay these cost whether you account for them upfront or not. But the cost for not being realistic is that you will have to absorb the costs yourself. Sometimes, it will not cost you money, but it will definitely cost you added stress, lack of sleep, strained relationships, not accomplishing what you had in mind, etc. etc.
Step 4: Know Your Limits
There are only twenty four hours in a day, and you are only one person. If you’re planning to make anything more than just a talking-head video, you will need a team. A team means many responsibilities spread out over multiple team members. The more jobs that you take on yourself, the less attention you can give to each area. So the quality of your production will suffer. Being able to choose between what you do well versus what you are able to do is vital not only for the health of your movie but for your own mental health. So decide which roles you will fill then find the most qualified crew members to come along side of you. This can start as early as Development, but should definitely be your top priority as soon as preproduction begins. And remember to give your team members the freedom to do their jobs. If you plan on micromanaging your crew, then just do it all yourself…. and plan on dying young.
A great place to look for crew is your state’s film commission. These offices exist to encourage film production in your state, so feel free to take advantage of their knowledge and expertise. You can also search sites like http://www.mandy.com and http://www.productionhub.com to final skilled crew. Of course, placing an ad on Craigslist might be helpful too.
Step 5: Remember Your Why
When things get difficult (and they will), it’s easy to forget why you even started down this crazy path. You have to take time to recharge your batteries, to put fuel in the tank, to enjoy life. Movies are so much fun to watch, but so difficult to get off the ground. If you forget why you started this journey, you might give up before things really get started. So I suggest you watch as many movies as you can (and not as a critic). Simply enjoy the mystery and majesty that you can see sitting in a dark theatre or in your living room or holding your iPhone inches from your face. If you plan to make movies, remembering how much you love them is a good place to start.
Obviously, there are many other steps that are not covered in this article, but if you follow these simple guidelines you will avoid many of the mistakes I made early in my career. Live long and prosper as a filmmaker!
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