What’s involved in making a film?

It can be as simple or as complex as you want. Anybody who enjoys the cinema knows that when the final credits roll they include everyone who has contributed – Director, Performers, Best Boy, Gaffer, Foley Artist, Stunt Supervisor, Make Up, etc.

It usually takes over a hundred people working a year to make a feature film, ten people to produce a pop promo and around twenty to film a documentary. The reason so many people are involved is because films need to be made quickly and on budget.

Many famous directors started by making films completely on their own – Orson Welles, George Lucas, Robert Rodrigues. You may not have the special effects and big budgets of Hollywood but you do have time on your side. Use it to experiment and make a few mistakes. It’s the way to learn. And that’s where the fun begins. Go on; make a film.

Where to start

  • Open your eyes and ears to everything. Look at TV, films, games, the Internet, books, theatre and dance. Listen to your friends speaking, see how your relatives behave. Watch the trees in the breeze.
  • Keep it simple. Start with something that you find interesting – a hobby or a favourite story maybe.
  • Beg or borrow a stills camera. Ask yourself some questions (things like ‘What makes me happy?’ ‘What’s important to me?’) And then take pictures that fit. Begin to frame your world.
  • Fill a scrapbook with images and cuttings from magazines, fashion articles and put your photos in amongst them.
  • Write down possible locations, characters, and action on your notepad.
  • Arrange them and rearrange them, add and take some away until it makes some kind of sense.
  • Think about your ‘narrative’, or story. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • Think about the form of the film. Is it for the Internet, a music promo, a drama, animation?
  • What style is it? Film Noir, a video diary, a fly-on-the wall documentary. Maybe you’ve got your own style. Will the camera be on a tripod, or hand held?
  • Watch other films like yours on video, DVD or TV. Learn from the things they do well and avoid the things they do badly.
  • Believe in your idea absolutely. If you don’t, no one else will.

Preparing for the Shoot

If you’re making the film with other people, organize your cast and crew effectively. Make sure everybody knows their role and what day and times they’re needed.

Give people specific jobs so they can become experts in their field. For example: Sound Recordist – listens to the sound through headphones as it’s being recorded, holds an extra mike if needed.

Camera Operator – frames the picture, sets focus, checks the light and records the action.

The Editor- ‘cuts’ the picture together after it’s shot (see next section).

Producer – is the contact point for the film. Makes sure crew and cast are there on time, talks to the press and organizes the budget.

a Director – has to make sure their vision is communicated. To do this everyone needs to be clear about what the director expects from each scene and each shot.

 

You may also need a Make Up Artist, a Choreographer, a Driver etc. However, you can quite easily make your first film on your own. Make a schedule that says which shots are to be taken where and when (this is called a ‘Shooting Schedule’) and when you’ve completed a ‘take’, cross it off the list. Remember that you may want to shoot ‘out of sequence’, e.g. shoot the last scene first, and the first last. Similarly if the film begins and ends by a tree in the park, it may make sense to film both scenes while you’re there.

Continuity is particularly important in drama. Take a Polaroid camera and take photos to capture details. You may need to come back to a scene days later. When you decide your locations, consider whether you need permission to use the space, how noisy it will be and what the light will be like at the time of day you will need to use it. Is there power available? Are you likely to be interrupted?

If you’re making animation or any computer generated stuff, have a space that you can control. You may need extra lights and you may need to leave work in progress. Make sure people living with you are aware what’s happening, animation needs a lot of undisturbed concentration and patience. But, if you prefer an easier way, you can contact a special effects and motion pictures agency such as VFX LA to make a perfect work for you.

Equipment

For a first film, DV or Hi8 camcorders are useful because they can play your rushes back through their in-built screen and you can also connect them to your TV at home. You can control focus and exposure and experiment with in-camera effects like ‘strobing’. Remember to read the manual; it gives invaluable technical advice.

Film cameras are simple to use and excellent for animation as you can usually expose one frame at a time. In good light they give a colorful (‘saturated’) effect. However sound is limited and each film only lasts 2.5 minutes!

  • If you know someone with a camcorder, borrow it. You can also hire them from some camera shops, local video societies or regional film workshops. Details are available in the BFI Handbook in local libraries.
  • Buy or borrow a film camera. These are second hand (usually silent) film cameras that take Super 8mm film cartridges that last 2.5 minutes a time. The camera could cost from $10-$150 from a local car boot sale or newspaper. You may even find a friend or relative who still owns one. Films cost about $16 including processing.

Whichever camera you go for experiment before you start shooting and again, read the manual. Know how it works and you can get the best out of it.

You may need accessories like a tripod, to hold the camera still, a stopwatch to remind you how much film you’ve used and extra batteries for the camera if you’re going to film outside for a long period of time.

Think about sound. For instance if it’s a music promo, you’ll need to play the music through a portable hi-fi for the dancers ‘on set’. You may also need an extra mike strapped to a pole and plugged into the camcorder (this is called a boom mike). Borrow this with your camera.

Another tip is to record a clean piece of sound from each location you use (called ‘atmos’ or ‘wild track’). This will help give a smooth effect when you edit.

Editing and Post Production

If you use a camcorder, try and find a friend with editing software on their computer. Using a technology called Firewire or I-Link, you’ll be able to transfer your rushes and edit your film electronically. You’ll find software like Premiere and Razor will combine music, pictures and text to create a very professional result.

If you haven’t got techy friends, try using your camera as a play machine and your home VHS or another camera as a recorder. Link them up with SCART cables and use the record and pause buttons to build up the story. Some recorders have an audio dub facility, which enables you to add music or voice.

If you shot on Cine film, you’ll need a viewer and tape splicer or a projector to edit and show your film. You can buy these fairly cheaply secondhand or borrow them from friends, family or film societies.

How do I get it seen?

  • Show your film to as many people as you can.
  • Organize a screening for your friends and family.
  • Look out for competitions in the local papers, cinemas and at school/college. Make several copies on VHS or CD ROM and send your film out.
  • Use the film as a ‘stepping stone’ to your next film. Show it to teachers, local filmmakers and broadcasters. Ask advice about your next movie.
  • If you’d like to study film at college, you can use your film as a way of expressing your interest. Arrange a visit and take your film. They’ll be impressed that you’ve taken the initiative.
  • Find a mentor, someone you admire and who knows a bit about the film industry, maybe a filmmaker who lives locally. Show them your film and ask their advice about the next step. Remember, if you’re meeting your mentor take a friend with you. Stay public, stay safe.

If you’re online and have the know-how (or maybe a friend who’s techy and helpful), there are many film websites that welcome contributions from makers. You’ll need to make your film into a Quicktime or Mpeg and send it to them as a File Attachment.

Careers and Training

Look out for short courses at your local college or independent cinema. If you’re interested in camerawork particularly, a good starting point is a Black and White Photography course. This will give you the chance to establish an understanding of light and composition, which is what all camerawork is about!

Be fanatical about film. Talk to as many people as possible about it. Take advantage of any seminars or talks by filmmakers in your area. It’s important to exploit any contacts you have, so the more people you meet, the more people you can hit on for advice in the future. It’s called Schmoozing and it goes with the territory.

Once you have put on your own event – you might like to think about following a career in film. Watch this space later in the year for more information about jobs, qualifications and courses. Good Luck and Good Filmmmaking!

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