Feeling lost and unsure where to start with your next film? Learn all my tips from all the lessons I've learned in getting my film projects off the ground.
I'm speaking to YOU, the amateur filmmaker with no idea how where to start, or how to generate the motivation to make a film.
It's tough. It's tough for everyone, no matter how good your idea is, or how long you've been doing it, because the biggest trait you need is GRIT.
In this blog post, I'm going to cover....
- How to summon up the motivation needed to begin the mammoth task of producing / directing a film?
- How to generating killer ideas that you REALLY want to film
- The art of screen writing - how to tell those stories.
- Beginning the process of writing
- Figuring out what professionals you'll need - directors, actors, cinematographers, set designers, artists & musicians.
- Stuck? Ask people! How to engaging & building a powerfully supportive network of creative film contacts who will WANT to help you.
- Fleshing out your damn script
- How to organise & hold killer rehearsals to make your film DYNAMITE
- Committing to film - How to set the date & gain commitment from your collaborators.
Being an artist takes a lot of punches. You must be able to endure the obstacles & defeats in even attempting to get into the ring, let alone going the 12 rounds with life, in order to create your film.
I have a few ways that I personally motivate myself.
- 1 - Meditate on death._
I know it's morbid, but life truly is short. People die every day. Including your loved ones, and even you too will die. Scared yet? You shouldn't be.
What you should be scared about, is not giving it your best shot during the time you are alive. Make the most of your gifts & contribute back to society in the ways that you want to. Making a film is a great place to start.
I think about the legacy I want to leave, and the way I can do that, is by collaborating with artists in giving them an opportunity to practice their craft communially (be it acting, writing, cinematography, sound & set design), as well as leaving behind a film that took a lot of love, care and determination to create.
If I can do that till the day I die, then that's all I ask for.
I also think about the loved ones that I've known who have passed. They've believed in me, instilled wisdom in me, and perhaps even supporting me as a child. The least I can do to honour their spirits, is to create a career out of my gifts for them.
If meditating on this, every day, doesn't motivate you, then you need to search your soul for a stronger reason to make films. I guarantee that. Because if you aren't burning in your soul to make a film, the chance it will get made is a giant MAYBE, along the chance that it will be good.
So getting motivated comes from understanding that life is short, is what lights a fire under my arse enough to pick up a pen and paper, then write & plan.
- 2 - Get Inspired or Get Jealous_
This may sound selfish and narcissitic, but welcome to the world of art.
Filmmaking is a highly complex problem solving project that spans days, weeks and months, whilst combining emotionally driven narratives, along with artistic / technical expression.
You must be in tune and touch with your emotions, along with that of others in order to work at your best in filmmaking.
The way that I get inspired or jealous, is by watching films, reading scripts / novels, & seeing plays of not only top of the line artists, but that of my peers too.
I read 100 scripts, watch 400+ movies, see 1 to 5 plays a year, read countless blogs and (when I have the time) novels.
Sometimes, I will dissect them and analyse them to actively learn from them, but other times inspiration or jealousy strikes.
It doesn't matter so much what I think of them then, but how I feel about it in relation to my own art form.
This may come from an insecurity within me, but it serves my artistic process. If I look to my peers, getting accolaides and getting recognition, then I may ultimately use that as kindling to spark the fires of creation for myself.
But what isn't sustainable, is having that throughout your career. I may get off my ass to write & film out of inspiration and jealous, but I always have grit, persistence & determination to see the story through.
Nevertheless, regardless of the less positive aspects of creating, I made a pact with myself when I started to make art professionally... my core reason - the heart of my reasons to be an artist, is to serve society & help give back to others. This is the core motivating factor for me, and nothing that comes out of my inspiration or jealousies comes above that.
To be a filmmaker, you must have an idea that serves as your guiding star. When you become lost in the artistic process, you can always turn to your guiding star for a solution or an answer.
If you have writer's block, or need a good idea, then these are my ways of getting the core nugget of a film story down...
- Use your life. It's simple. Everyday you come across characters, experiences & circumstances that are DYING to be portrayed in your film.
There is a good maxim that I live by
The only difference between a funny person and a comedian, is that the comedian writes his jokes down.
The same can be said about a filmmaker. You have to be a writer in the early days of your career. It's hard to wait for a killer script. You must start by yourself.
Use every moment of your life. Find the relatable bits that you feel could be portrayed cinematically.
I personally shot my latest short film 'Garden Variety' which was inspired by my grandfather's struggles with dementia. I used all of the emotions & mental thoughts that those struggles provoked within me, and found a way to write it out into a script.
This was truly carthartic for me, as unfortunately, my grandfather died 3 months after we wrapped the shoot. However, the gift of making that film, was that it prepared me for my grandfather's mortality.
Regardless - I use every bit of my life as inspiration for my scripts. And there is no reason why you shouldn't either.
- 2 - Read the news paper / social media Inspiration strikes at any time. Reading the newspaper, you can uncover crazy circumstances like Austin Bombings Suspect Dead.
Imagine writing a film about that, where we follow two police officers on the hunt for a serial bomber before his next package strikes.
Then start altering the premise in a unique way, tackling the treatment of this story (perhaps it's cinema verite style? Neo-Noir?) the choice is yours.
Regardless, if your imagination allows you permission to alter the elements and make the story yours, then no one will ever know what inspired you because you'll have transformed the initial stimuli into something greater than what it is was.
As always, approach this ethically and with respect.
- 3 - Recreate your favourite movies
Get inspired by your favorite movies & directors by recreating them. After all, Martin Scorcese's - The Departed is a complete remake of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's - Infernal Affairs. But the transformation of the source material was exceptional.
When you use your favorite movies, you canthen alter and tweak every single portion of it to your liking, creating an entirely new derivative. The world is your oyster.
Telling the stories that you want to tell
Truth be told, the more you understand about your life, the better your film career can be. After all - do you really want to be writing comedies, when your natural inclination is to make arthouse films about musicians?
In short - the more in touch you are with your lifes values, upbringing, interests & experiences, the stronger your art will be. After all, the best artists are the ones in tune with their soul.
- 1 -Values - What do you stand for? Values are defined as...
The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
For instance, a personal icon of mine, Tupac Shakur, valued equality & justice above all. This resonated throughout his work as he touched on areas such as police brutality, teenage pregnancy, inequality, racism, gun violence etc.
These were values that he personally cherished and kept close to his heart, sparking his creative mission in life.
What I ask of you, is to write down your values as you see them in the world. The more these float around your subconscious, the more in alignment your ideas will be within those very same values.
- 2 - Upbringing - How were you raised? The nature vs nurture debate is over. They're both at work within our formation. Everything that happens to us in our childhoods, informs how we will operate in the world.
Due to this, when you understand the themes of your upbringing, you will understand the stories that you have a natural inclination & interest in telling.
These are the most powerful areas for us to mine.
For myself, I grew up near the poverty line, as the only child of a single mother on welfare. My school life was a miserable existent of apathy, laziness & bullying, but it was also very rough and tumble, living in working class Reservoir, Victoria.
I'm always going to be interested in telling stories about drugs, violence, crime, drama, youth, masculinity, gangsters, war heroes, single parents, only children, working class - as these are the themes & archetypes of my upbringing.
That's not to say I won't & can't work outside of those themes, but I truly think they are the threads which bind my life together, and will spring up, in some way, in any script that I write.
- 3 - Interests - What do you want to explore? Do you have an interest in boxing? Then make a movie about boxing. The rule here is simple. Boring filmmakers make movies about interests that aren't interesting to them. Unless you are truly willing to drop your biases and can respectfully research a subject to film, the best thing to do is stick with what you are interested in.
Sylvester Stallone wrote Rocky as an allegory for himself, as well as basing it on his interest in boxing after watching Chuck Wepner. The same could be said for you.
- 4 - Experiences - What experiences have you endured? Every artist draws from their rich emotional experience in life. We all have our own stories to tell, especially as we generally become the arbiter of certain niches, worlds & communities.
Perhaps you're an Indigenous person with a unique perspective on your childhood upbringing, or you have an experience in fighting as a mixed martial artist.
All of these experiences can either determine the story you tell, or the way you tell it. Imagine a horror film directed by a mortician? I'd be interested in the idea of that.
Writing the damn script
- 1 - Paragraph Synopsis
Start out with a simple paragraph synopsis. Make the most condensed version that you can of your story, in 25 to 50 words.
- 2 - Writing the treatment
This is completely optional, but a treatment will give the outline of the entire script in a more condensed form, allowing you to play around
- 3 - Story Beats
Again optional, if you think you're struggling to understand your own stories' structure, then read it out, plot point by plot point. Make sure the plot point is the smallest minimum advancement of the story. Drinking a glass of milk isn't a plot point, unless it's filled with poison. Right?
- 4 - Preparing to Write It Play some music, set a time, set a date, make a place, get a bottle of water, a good cup of coffee and just write. If you can afford it, get Final Draft 10 or CeltX (which has a free trial) but if you can't, start learning the structure & standards for film scripts and write it in Word.
- 5 - Re-write & re-write - over and over again. Continue the writing process once your first draft is done. You have a real need to push forward and examine every choice you have made, in order to make this script the best it can be. Don't be precious about your ideas. Find the core of the story and strip it back to those essential elements.
Engaging & Building a network
- Networking Go to plays. Go to acting classes. Speak with acting schools. Go to universities & speak with their film/acting department heads. Go to short film festivals & competitions. Do extras work. Work as a crew or cast member on other people's films. Go to Meetups for filmmakers/writers/actors.
Figuring out what professionals you'll need - from directors, actors, cinematographers, set designers, artists, musicians.
Casting Actors & Organising Rehearsals
Where to find actors
In Australia, there are a plethora of places and ways to attract actors. In my opinion, the best places to find actors are...
- 1 - Shooting Locations
Go an network with the actors you work with. If they like you, you're more than likely to get a yes.
- 2 - See plays
Go and have a look at Local Plays. More often than not, the actors will be available to talk to after the play. Don't be afraid - actors at this level are more than happy to look at scripts, just don't be pushy or needy.
- 3 - Meetup.com
Go to Filmmaking & Acting meetups to find committed professionals in your area.
- 4 - Contact Acting Schools
Places like Melbourne Actor's Lab, 16th Street & Howard Fine are always happy to help serious filmmakers pitch their films to actors for auditions. Don't be afraid, just email them.
- 5 - Starnow.com listings
Starnow is one of the biggest independent websites to cast actors & crew on. This is a sign of a commited project. Go and purchase the subscription, and don't think twice.
- 6 - Post on Facebook Groups
Facebook groups just have so much reach. You'll be able to cast a wider net for your project's rehearsal listing by submitting on these Australian & Melbourne focused groups. [https://www.facebook.com/groups/AustralianShortFilmNetwork/?ref=group_browse_new]
- How to create a casting call
A casting call is essentially the meeting where the key crew (producer, director, casting director & pre-cast actors) meet with actors to gauge whether or not they'll be a good fit.
I recommend that you give the choice of a pre-made monologue or to work with the script you have.
Looking at their own monologues that they've committed to memory are great, but they don't show their short term committment. You'll always walk away with a better understanding of a person's work ethic if they have less time to commit to an audition.
You don't want to cast a talented actor who is too time poor to devote to your project.
I would post a casting call on Facebook in the groups mentioned above, or host it up on StarNow.
Synopsis To show what the project is about. If the themes & story resonate with the actors, then it'll attract committed applicants which is the aim here.
Character breakdown This is super crucial in order to make your applicants understand the intentions you or the writer have, with the character. The script contains all the clues, but a brief breakdown will also show that you understand the story more, as you are ultimately the arbiter of how this project will come across.
Proposed Filming Dates You would hate to waste both your own and the actors time with an audition, should you both not be mutually available.
Bio about yourself The relationship between an actor & a director needs to be based on rapport and trust. Telling the actor about yourself can add value & trust to the relationship form the beginning.
Your audition resources are going to be limited, but my go tos are always the following...
- Libraries / Officeworks Both of these locales may have free rooms available for meetings or rehearsals. Use these spaces when you need to, for a free and low cost way of auditioning your actors.
- Pubs/Restaurants (Free/Paid) A lot of these places have locations that aren't in use. It's great if you aren't afraid to chat with the owner and offer your wrap up party + sponsorship to them. Be aware of background noise though.
- CreativeSpaces.net.au - (Paid) Great if you're in a pinch. Ranges in price from $7.50 an hour. I've booked in last minute locations and rehearsal spots here as well. An underrated gem, but can be costly. Go with it if you need it.
Selecting the actors
Always look for the following traits in selecting your actors. Some of these are common sense, whilst others are more important, and others still require a trained eye.
Voice Listen to the actors. They must interpret the script and character with their voice properly. Make sure that they can be heard, without broadcasting (a trait from theatre actors that will spoil takes). A distinctive voice is paramount to any character.
Physicality The physical change of the actor to the character is super important as well. You do not want a person, limited in their bodies ability to tell a story. It must be truthful and vibrant in movement on the screen, otherwise you may as well film a mannequin.
Emotional beats Look for transitions in their acting. If the actor is feeling something inside, their thoughts, eyes, body, emotion & tone will change. This is another necessity in the grand scheme of things.
Preparing your first rehearsal
If you're going to prepare for your rehearsal, the place to start is by analysing the script. No one expects you to know the characters more than anyone, but you are expected to facilitate the process of finding out what the script is about.
Every actor comes with an offering, when they present their interpretation of a character. Offerings are great, but your say as a director is final. However, it is incumbent on you to listen to the actors. Dictatorial behaviour shuts down creativity and can be very disrespectful. If you have hired trained actors, then don't disrespect their years of training as they may give you something that adds a cherry on top of the immersive quality of your film.
Again, there's no expectation on you to know everything (and being a know it all shuts down collaboration), but there is an expectation for you to have worked on the script interpretation the most.
Without working harder than the actors in understanding & studying the story, you'll fall behind in answering their questions with confidence, and hurt the cinematic translation of the actor's interpretation.
I would always start off with a simple reading. This will loosen up the actors and get them to find the rhythm of it.
However, if they've committed the lines by this point, get them to run the scene and demonstrate the character's behaviour.
Always set your rehearsal dates a week in advance to avoid hurting your actor's confidence in you, by pulling or changing rehearsal dates/times last minute. Everyone is busy, and you must show respect to their schedules!
Setting a date & going forward.
- Set a date. Set a date. SET A DATE!
If you want people to take you seriously, then set a date. Period. This the shortest tip of all. You'll understand why when your film is made, instead of being a pipe dream.
Good luck with these tips!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions