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  • Writer's pictureVanessa Rocha

Let's Make A Film

In our world today, it is very easy to pick up a camera and film something. It can literally be a tour of your bedroom, a rant you’ve wanted to make public for a long time, or simply a flower growing in your backyard. Nowadays, anyone can do it. However, making a film is hard.

To create a blockbuster that would guarantee fame, fortune and just about anything in the world, is not as easy to make. Everyone knows that it takes good connections, money and the right talent to make a “successful” film, but it’s not just that. To make a good film, you need to know what makes it so good, and how it makes it so good. Knowing that a realistic plot and realistic acting, as well as an able-bodied crew, aren’t the only things that make a film interesting; it takes a lot of theory, patience, effort and the input of a whole team.

It is a group effort. Whether it is a team of five people or five hundred, a good team will always make a successful film, even if it doesn’t garner the Hollywood amount of attention.

Learn The Subtext, Take The Risk

The first thing to do, before you buy that expensive RED camera, or that bulky Sony, you need to do your research first. What that doesn’t mean is, don’t go for the camera with the best specs (by all means go for it). It means, before you go for it, think about the kind of films you want to make. Sometimes a phone camera can do more for you than the most professional equipment on the market.

The kind of research you need to do is everything from the theory of what makes a film great, to the kind of shots you need to produce, to create a certain effect. In this way, you’ll be a step above your competition. You’d easily be able to make a great film even with the most outdated equipment, because you’ll know how to manipulate it, in order to create an effect that you won’t be able to get on that RED or Sony camera.

Not only that, if you know the theory, the history and the techniques, to create a film, you’ll be able to create one that targets a specific audience. In a lot of ways, it’s better to target a niche, or a specific group of people. When you do, you’ll guarantee yourself a returning base. If you targeted the masses, and you create a film with elements that don’t quite mesh together, your film will either be a one-hit-wonder, or it’ll be a box office flop. That’s why major studios and production companies tend to make the same kind of films they’re known for. Even if they look different, peel back the layers of subtext and hidden meanings, you’ll find the same story or the same theme running through all of them.

Once you learn all of this, then you can start learning the practical, or if you’re doing the practical while learning, get even more experience. Start small, learn with others, and earn their trust, and when you’ve grown in your experience, then you can start trying to network with even bigger names. Of course, not all of us will get to that stage, and maybe you’ll find yourself veering off in another direction, but that is all part of the journey. Once you know what you’re capable of, you’ll know which area of film you should be in, or if you should be in film at all.

Set The Scene

To see if you’re ready to film with the big leagues, then try this exercise with me. Imagine you’re on a film set, what is it like? Is there a crowd of people watching the set, or is it an intimate space? What role do you play? If you’re not the director, who is? What are they like? How is their directing style? If you are the director, who else is on set with you?

If you see yourself already working with the big names, then chances are you’re not ready. The best you’ll probably get on that set is being a runner (or errands boy/girl). The best in the business already have their teams with them, because they’ve been working with them for a while, and trust them with their visions. Unless you know someone in their inner circle, you won’t get that head of department title. The best credit you’ll get with them is as a runner, if any credit at all.

If you see yourself in an intimate set, you’re probably ready, but you don’t quite have the connections to get you to those Hollywood sets, with those Hollywood names. Of course, you might not want those big blockbuster sets and actually prefer being independent. That’s ok, as long as your goals are realistic. When you’re starting out, it will be tough, there will be a lot of competition, and a lot of people out there who have more experience than you do. Don’t get discouraged. It’s not about them, it’s about you and your determination and ambition. It’s about learning from them and learning on your own.

Like I said, be realistic with your goals. The big Hollywood dreams or the film festival recognition may be a pipe dream right now, so work towards smaller goals first, before setting your sights on that pipe dream. The first thing you need to decide is what kind of films you want to make. I don’t mean what genre of film. What I mean is what style are you looking for, what kind of messages do you want to send out to people, who do you want to make these films for? What kind of film do you want people to be inspired by? When you figure that out, then you can start writing your script or at least planning the plot.

It’s Not Just One Vision

Remember, the film isn’t a one-man or one-woman show. It is a team effort. While your idea might have inspired and sparked the project, it is the collective effort of your cast and crew that create its final result. Of course, at the start, all filmmakers, will take up many roles, considering their crew has yet to be fully built, but once you do start making films regularly, you need to remember which roles you are fulfilling. If you’re a screenwriter, don’t try to be director, if you already have one. If you’re a focus puller, don’t direct the sound mixer. If you’re set designer, don’t tell a DOP what to do. It is not your job.

You are part of a team, and chances are, your team already know what they’re doing. They know what the vision is. They know what the director and producers want and most likely agree with them. Yes, it does take a lot of negotiations between all of you, and yes, there may be points where you disagree, but that is all part of what it means to be on a film set, and to be a team. If the problem is something you can fix, then prove to them you can fix it, as long as it’s within your jurisdiction.

For example, if you’re a DOP (or Director of Photography), and the way your director is directing doesn’t make sense in terms of the visuals on the camera, don’t try to undermine his/her directions, instead compromise. Find a way that works around them. If a certain shot doesn’t make sense in a scene, try a different angle. If there are other ways to shoot a scene, tell them. Negotiate, don’t dictate.

Prepare To Communicate And Communicate To Prepare

One of the most important parts of film production is communication, if you haven’t already guessed. It requires a lot of negotiations and compromises, because everyone will have an opinion on what the film should look like. Your screenwriter will most definitely have a different vision than your DOP, your producer will have a different vision from your set designer. With all these different ideas floating around the set, you’ll need to be open to them.

Your communication lines need to be as open as possible, and as non-judgemental as possible, because some of those ideas could be used to create something that has never been done before. If your mind is closed, and if you’re not willing to listen and try, then your film won’t have the impact you wanted, or will be seen as a mess of shots put together.

Similarly, you need to be prepared before going into production. Have your team ready long before you set a date to start shooting. In that way, you’ll be sure that everyone will be on the same page as you are, or as your producers and directors are. You might dream you’d be working on ten films at once, in the next few months and years, it’s not going to happen right away. In fact, successful films take more than two years to prepare and shoot. This is because it requires a lot of negotiations, a lot of compromises and a lot back-and-forth, before a film is solidified enough to shoot. So, don’t be afraid to spend time on speaking to your people.

A Film Is Not Just A Project, It’s Alive

Once born, an idea for a film grows, especially if it has many drafts, redrafts and edits. The idea and plot will grow, because it won’t just be one person’s idea anymore. It will be the collective effort of the team. Everyone will have a say in the story because everyone is responsible for one aspect of it, and if it doesn’t make sense in the reality of the story, then it won’t make sense to the audience.

So, while a film might be the end result of your project, you must remember it isn’t just a project or a commodity. It is alive, and if it inspires your audience, they might just keep it alive even after you’re done with it.

That is why you must remember, when making a film, don’t just think about what you want as a result. It is not just your film.

As I said before. It is easy to pick up a camera and film something, but it is much harder to make a film.

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