How to Make Your First Feature Film
Are you ready to make your first feature film? Making a movie can be a daunting task – but it’s also easier than ever to read professional scripts, learn about cameras and connect with potential crew members online. Maybe you’ve already made a short. Let go of your inhibitions and try a feature!
Get Your Script Ready
The first step in making your first feature film is finding the perfect screenplay. You might consider writing a script yourself; this way, you”ll be able to convey your own personal vision and have control over the story. If you don’t have money to pay a writer, writing your own script might be the most practical solution. You can also make story decisions based on your production plans – locations, budget concerns, etc. To save money and time, make your script less than 100 pages (1 page equates to roughly 1 minute of screen time).
Don’t rush the writing process; if you’re going to go through all the effort to shoot a feature film, you don’t want your final product to be marred by basic screenwriting mistakes. You can only do so much to fix story problems in post-production – and you won’t want to add expensive re-shoots to your schedule. To learn more about screenwriting structure, check out blogs like Go Into the Story.
If you’re not a writer, you might enjoy directing a script that someone else has written – never underestimate the power of a good collaboration. You can look for an already completed script, or you take more time and provide input at the beginning of the writing process. Keep in mind that if you are not planning to pay the writer, you’ll need to partner with someone who has the same level of experience as you do. You would both need to get something out of the partnership. If you want professional-level work, you’ll have to pay professional-level fees.
Establish Your Budget
Figure out how much you plan to spend on your first feature film. You can purchase software to help you organize everything or use a simple Excel document. Decide if you’ll be doing a non-union or union production (for a union production, you’ll need to pay certain minimums and follow specific rules). Here are some of the items you should include in your budget:
- Crew rates
- Equipment rentals (lighting, camera, sound, etc)
- Incidentals (tape stock, hard drives, batteries, office supplies, etc)
- Permit and security fees
- Location rental fees
- Catering/craft services
- Set Dressing/Art Department
- Set construction
- Color Grading
- Color Timing
- Licensing fees (music, artwork, etc), legal fees and clearances
- Entrance fees for film festivals
- Travel to film festivals
Be realistic about how quickly you can accomplish your filming – although it will cost more, don’t try to cram a 16-day shoot into 13 days. You don’t want to end up with an inferior film.
One of the hardest parts of making your first feature film is paying for it. Aside from traditional Hollywood financing, you can ask for donations or investments from friends and family members through sites like GoFundMe, Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and Seed&Spark. Filmmaker Joshua Overbay wrote on IndieWire that for making a microbudget feature, you have to ask your friends and family and not worry about losing social media followers, but you only get one chance to ask for donations, so make sure you’re ready and won’t need to come back for more. “Once you ask your friends for a favor, it’s much more difficult to get them to do it again,” he says. Check out his article for more great advice about connecting with film critics, finding distributors, etc.
Find Your Crew
With a true budget, you’ll be able to hire professionals. If you’re on a microbudget, you may instead offer new/aspiring crew members credit in place of a usual fee. Recruit your friends or classmates; you can also step into multiple roles (for example, editing the film yourself). Create a profile on FilmUp to begin connecting with potential crew members!
Let Go of Your Perfectionism
Although you should take your time writing your script and planning your film’s budget and schedule, at some point you will have to just shoot the thing. Don’t worry so much about making the perfect film that you never end up making one at all. The more you do it, the better you’ll get – and you’ll also learn a lot during the filmmaking process. Lean on your friends and crew members for help as you embark on this exciting journey!
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