The #1 Film Marketing Tip

Writing and producing my first feature film was a learning experience in so many ways. I think I ended up learning more in that year about business than in four years of school. While making a film is a creative act it is just as much a business experience as well. And the one aspect of the business where we fell flat on our face was marketing.

“There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about.” – Oscar Wilde

There is a reason that studios have large marketing departments and spend millions on commercials, billboards, banner ads, and bus stop advertisements. They need to make sure people know about their movie and hopefully get excited to see it. Without marketing many, if not most, movies would never make back what the studios invested in them. Word of mouth only goes so far.

As an independent filmmaker you don’t have a large marketing budget. You likely have a small budget (or none at all) and are going to be doing much of the marketing yourself. In order to make the most constructive use of your limited time and money you need to have a plan. The key to your marketing plan is to:

Know your audience

The only guaranteed audience for your film is your friends and family. Hopefully your audience ends up much larger than that but you cannot reach everybody. The mistake we made was thinking that our audience was going to be “people that like indie movies.” Even in the nineties when Kevin Smith, Christopher Nolan, and Robert Rodriguez were making their first films, and inspiring a generation of filmmakers, you could not assume that if you made it people would see it. Plenty of films never saw light at a festival let alone made their money back. And back then they were more expensive to make and there were a lot less of them.

The lesson is that not everybody is your audience but you need to find out who your audience will be and learn about them. Work hard to establish a niche for your film that you can leverage for your marketing.

Here are some ways to find your niche audience:

Learn where your audience hangs out

Find out where your audience spends time both online and offline. Spend some time at those places and get to know them. Learn what excites them and what upsets them.

One idea that will help with the rest of these is to look for Twitter hashtags that your audience might follow. Posts with those hashtags will likely link to blogs or events that your audience reads and attend.

Learn what issues are important to your audience

In the marketing world there is a concept known as a “Call to Action”. The process goes roughly like this:

  1. Show them the status quo
  2.  Show them an improvement on the status quo
  3. Tell them that by doing X they can move from step one to step two

“Having a boring summer? Could it use more sex and explosions? Come see Blockbuster Movie X!!!”

Niches already have a status quo and issues/causes that call them to action. If you can tap into those issues then you can hopefully invoke the same sort of response with your marketing.

(One thing I found interesting about becoming a parent was that so many commercials and movies had a much larger emotional effect on me than they did prior to having kids.)

Create a character profile for your audience

Creating a character profile is a helpful tool for the script writing process but it can also be a helpful tool for the marketing process. By picturing your audience you can create a more personalized marketing campaign. People respond better to marketing targeted to them.

Speak their language

Finally, when you are doing your marketing use the language that your audience uses. You’re not going to use the same words to market your tween fantasy movie as you would a retirement age romantic comedy set in India. The more you learn what words and phrases your audience uses, and what news and issues they respond to, the more genuine your marketing can be. You’ll be speaking to your audience rather than speaking at your audience.

Start now

It is never too early to begin marketing your film, and as an independent filmmaker it is necessary, so start today.

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Why we cut our sex scene

When filming what we referred to as our neo-noir feature we had to make a lot of difficult decisions regarding the script, budget, locations, casting, and editing. Sometimes those decisions involved heated arguments. Cutting one of our two sex scenes was not one of those times.

There were three reasons why we cut the scene.

Ran out of time

This was the last scene scheduled to shoot on a night shoot day and it was already pretty late. We had a full day of shooting the following day. We were running behind schedule as we had an issue with one scene where we couldn’t get an actor to deliver a line properly. (English was their second language and they couldn’t nail the proper inflection.) I think we ended up doing thirty to forty takes before giving up. It still jars me when I watch it.

Anyway, we really wanted to nail the last scene we had scheduled before the sex scene and we knew that to do so we weren’t going to be able to rush it. That as also our last night at that location. Adding another half day at the end of shooting for the sex scene didn’t sound appealing nor did adding a couple of hours to an already long day for an exhausted cast and crew. Because of the next reason it made for an easy decision.

sobaka postcoitus

Didn’t contribute to the plot

One of the rules of screenwriting is that each scene should advance the plot. (On another project the “rules” of screenwriting caused some very heated late night arguments for us.) In this case, and really many cases, the sex scene did nothing to advance the plot. What was important was the fact that the lead had hired an escort and had sex with her.

Our solution was to keep the scene where the escort arrives at his house and they have a glass of wine (that was shot at a different location than the interior bedroom). Fade to black. Fade in to her getting dressed. The audience knows they had sex and we saved the cast and crew from having an extremely late night. Problem solved.

Didn’t contribute to the greater world of cinema

It was really mighty naive of us to think that our film would make any sort of meaningful contribution to the greater cinema conversation. However I think naivety is a necessary trait for the independent filmmaker. Without our honest belief in our scripts we would never make our films or be able to convince others to join our mission. Without our belief in the finished films we wouldn’t unleash them into the world for others to criticize. And without our belief that the next one will be even better we it would never be made.

What was obvious to us was that our writing of that scene was not innovative in any way and that the filming of it wouldn’t be either.

Sometimes the decisions you make on set are ones that you should have made during the writing process. And sometimes the decisions made on set are ones you regret during post. In this case we have no regrets and I think our film was stronger in the end because of it.

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How to Come Up with Article Ideas for Your Movie Blog

If you are not content marketing for your movie then you need to start today. Ideally you have been doing it since at least the beginning of pre-production. Independent filmmakers can use all of the free marketing they can get.

Here are some ways to come up with a long list of ideas to write about:

Answer the questions that people ask you when you tell them about your movie

Every time that somebody asks you a question about your movie write it down and then write a blog post about it. By asking the question that shows that at least that person is curious about it and the chances are that others will be too.

(Also, ask their permission to add their email address to your mailing list.)

Articles about your niche

You have picked out your niche right?

Go to where you niche hangs out online and see what they are discussing.

Ask questions

Think about question that you would ask your favorite filmmakers. Ask it as the title of your blog post and then have a one-sided discussion about the question.

Or, if your favorite filmmakers are on Twitter you can ask them then publish your question and their response on your blog.

Anything unique or special about your locations

It is not just people that have backstories. Places have them too. Tell the history of your locations. The local historical society might be able to help you out. If you are shooting in LA (even guerrilla style) there is a good chance that somebody has shot something there before. Name drop those productions.

If you shot in a foreign country or someplace that was particularly photogenic then post some photos with comments. If it was a foreign country then write about your daily interactions with the locals.

Even if your whole movie was shot in your parents’ house you could write up a funny post showing pictures of what it looked like when you grew up in the 80s compared to stills from your footage. History tidbits could include where you snuck your first beer or had your first kiss.

Where did the idea for for the script come from?

If you remember tell the story of how you came up with the story for your movie. Was it from a movie you watched or a story you read? From a couple you spotted at a coffee shop? A relationship or break up you had? A party you went to in college?

Plot points

If you have any plot points that would be newsworthy in real life you could write fake new articles about them.

Questions Asked in Online Forums

Quora, Yahoo Answers, Reddit Filmmakers, etc. all are full of people asking questions that you can answer on your blog.

Articles in Variety or Deadline Hollywood

A lot happens in the film industry. Spend an hour browsing an industry news site and see if there is something that you have an opinion about and could provide an alternative point of view.

Comment sections on industry sites, Reddit, etc.

The same as above. See if an article has any particularly interesting article that you could reply to in the form of a blog post.

Social Media

Ask the people that follow you what challenges they are facing with their films. Write content that helps them overcome those.

Look at what the people you follow are sharing. If you find interesting what they are sharing there is a good chance your followers will as well. You can also see what questions that their followers are asking them.

YouTube

There is a ton of content on YouTube. Try searches for your niche, your locations, or filmmaking and see what the most-watched videos are about.

Interviews

You can interview your cast and crew, fellow filmmakers, and people related to your niche in any way.

Roundups

Do roundup of articles (either external articles or articles on your blog). Provide a small paragraph of summary for each as to why you liked it and what your audience would find interesting about it.

News

A big story in the news that is related to your niche can provide a great opportunity for you to write an article about that event and to mention your movie in it. There is a chance that your article will be picked up by Google News which could lead to lots of exposure.

Time is of the essence with this strategy as nobody reads day old news.

Amazon

It might not be obvious but Amazon is one of the largest search engines on the Internet. They only search their own databases but they get millions of queries a day. You can see what books or products are popular in your niche and create articles around them.

Commentary Tracks

Commentary tracks are gold mines of information for filmmakers. Find some good movies with commentary tracks by filmmakers you respect and watch them. Pass on your favorite bits of advice to your readers.

Or grab a few beers and record your own commentary track with your friends about your favorite movie.

Difficult Decisions

Creating a film is a series of difficult decisions. It starts with writing the script which is followed by the difficult rewrite process where you change dialogue, cut characters, add or delete scenes, and possibly change your title.

That is followed by casting decisions, crew decisions, filming decisions, editing decisions, festival decisions, and distribution decisions.

Every one of those decisions can be a blog post where you provide the background, the decision you made, and your reasoning behind it.

Lists

Lists are a cheap, but easy, way to come up with an article (see this) but they often generate a lot of discussion. You can do top ten movie murders, fifty movies to see before you die, five 80s movies that will live on forever, etc. Would probably be best if the list can relate to your movie or niche in someway.

After you come up with your list of blog ideas

Start writing. Like filmmaking, writing is hard work. It helps to treat it like a job and schedule a block of writing time on your calendar every day or two.

Make sure you have a way for your readers to sign up for your mailing list on each blog post page.

You are not restricted to blogging either. You can, and maybe should, try a couple avenues for content marketing. You could do a video blog on YouTube with a series of short videos. Make sure to ask people to subscribe to your channel at the end of every video.

Another way of reaching your audience is with a podcast that people can subscribe through iTunes or one of the many dedicated podcast apps.

And of course there is that mailing list that you should consistently (but no more than once a week or so) send emails to.

Notice that with each of those methods the person is giving you permission to continuously put your content in front of them. You cannot ask for a better position to be in.

With each method you should point people to the other content that you are producing.

Remember, without marketing few people are going to hear about your movie, so it will be worth your effort.

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Set filmmaking goals for the New Year

While many wait until the end of December to set their New Year’s resolutions (a common one might be to get in shape in order to better handle long days on set) it is never too early to start planning for the following year.

I thought I would share with you a planning method that I came across a few years ago and really enjoy doing as it forces you to write down your goals and really think about what you can do to achieve them and, conversely, why you are not achieving them now.

The method is called the Dreamline and I believe it was Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Workweek fame who popularized it. (You can download his template here).

In it your write down the things you want to do, be, and have in the next year and the very first step you can do today to move towards those goals. Then write down the step you can take tomorrow and the step you can do the day after that. I believe the effectiveness comes from breaking a large goal down into smaller steps and maintaining motivation by completing (and checking off) smaller tasks.

Examples of doing:

  • Writing a feature script.
  • Filming your script.
  • Taking a trip to Italy for the Venice Film Festival.

Examples of being:

  • Able to operate your camera of choice.
  • Fluent in Spanish.
  • A full-time filmmaker.

Examples of having:

  • Funds to film your script.
  • A new camera.
  • A manager or agent.

Every goal starts with one small step. Set the goals that matter the most for you and the steps will be pleasurable (as you are getting closer to your goal) rather than painful (treading water).

As many of those things come with a cost the second part of the goal is creating a budget. Every budget has two sides you can work on: income and expenses. You’re adding in expenses to achieve your goals so you will need to either decrease expenses or increase income (hopefully both). Some pain in freelancing on the weekends will be a small price to pay to be in a much better place in twelve months.

Good luck with your goals and may you have a very rewarding year.

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The Buy-and-Share Business Model for Movies

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One of the benefits of seeing movies in the theater is the shared experience. That even translates to home when watching a movie on the couch with a loved one or your family (sometimes those are even the same people). But what if you could buy an electronic copy and share it (legally) with a few of your friends and family?

Right now when you purchase an independent movie you can either download or stream one copy. The buy-and-share business model would include multiple license/download keys so that the buyer could watch it and share it with a few of their friends. (I remember a video game from my youth, Command and Conquer Red Alert, included two CDs so that you could play against your friends over a network.) Hopefully those friends would like it and recommend it to more friends (who would need to purchase it to be able to participate in the conversation) and the network effect would take hold. The filmmaker could watch this play out on Facebook or Twitter.

If this model were to be successful, and no guarantee it would be, I do not think you could charge more for the extra license keys. People do not make a decision to recommend a movie to others until after they have watched it. It would be more like going back to when people loaned VHS and DVD copies to their friends.

Downside of this is that word-of-mouth is so important to sales and you might be cannibalizing that to an extent as people send the license keys to people that would otherwise have bought it based on their friend’s recommendation.

The question then is whether or not more people would buy the movie when they can share it than would have when they’re only buying a copy for themselves? Lots of things would factor into the answer including quality of the movie, star power, niche, timeliness of message, etc. So you probably would have to answer on a case-by-case basis.

As an independent filmmaker the goal should maybe be to maximize for eyeballs rather than revenue as buzz can have a snowball effect (an avalanche of buzz will draw in sales). A trickle of sales will likely remain nothing more than a trickle.

Just a thought experiment I had…

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12 Months to a Feature Film

If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to make a move, or if you just wanted to introduce more stress into your life, then this is the blog post for you. With this twelve month movie making plan you will end up with a finished film in your hands (technically on your hard drive) and take up all of your waking moments in the meantime.

Sound good? Then you have what it takes to be a filmmaker.

No matter how your film turns out this is going to be an extremely taxing, educational, and rewarding year. The lessons you learn are ones that will serve you in any industry or job you find yourself in. Try to enjoy the process.

12 Months to a Feature Film

The plan here is geared towards a no-budget or extremely low budget film.

January: Brainstorm script ideas

Obviously the first step towards the big screen is to figure out the story that you’re going to put to paper. You might already have some ideas written down or have had ideas pitched to you by your friends, family, and hair dresser. (“You know what would make a good movie?”) If your idea bank is empty then there are worst ways to find one than getting outside (of your comfort zone) and experiencing life, culture, and the things your town or city has to offer. A simple walk through a different part of town can provide a new canvas or, at the very least, some extra oxygen for the brain.

You can observe a lot by watching.

You can observe a lot by watching. – Yogi Berra

Meet people and let them tell you stories. Have your own hookups, heartbreaks, adventures, and misadventures. Rich experiences can create more compelling words on the page.

If you received a compound fracture of your fibula from falling out of a tree on a crazy New Year’s Eve and can’t leave the couch in January then you could try to generate some ideas by watching movies and imagining them in a different setting. Slumdog Millionaire in South Central. Shawshank Redemption on Mars. (Actually that one could be good. The wheels are already turning. Penal colony on Mars where the warden puts the prisoners to work mining minerals…)

One other thing to start doing in January is saving money. Every dollar you save is one less you have to raise.

Stress Level: 1

February: Outline script

“A whole month to outline a script?” is what you are probably thinking right now. Absolutely. I’d argue that this is where the real work lies in the writing process. Perhaps you can slack on this if you are targeting the mumblecore genre but if plot is important to you then this step demands your effort and attention.

If you need help with this step I highly recommend that you read The Writer’s Journey or another book on screenplay structure. Save the Cat! is quite popular.

Post-Its

There is no right way to outline a script. A word processor, spreadsheet, or a notebook would work. Many people like using 3×5 index cards with a scene summary on one side and detail on the other. Alternatively you could try newer software such as Trello or Workflowly. What is important is laying out each scene, seeing how they relate to each other, and make sure that each one pushes the plot forward in some way.

Try to write towards your budget by utilizing locations and props that you have available to you at little or no cost. (That Mars penal colony script might not be the best idea afterall.)

Stress Level: 3

March: First draft

The script will practically write itself since you did such a good job outlining it. You already know what is going to happen in each scene so now you only need to fill in the dialogue. Of course it isn’t exactly that simple but a good outline makes the writing process much easier.

To finish a ninety page script you only need to write three pages a day over the course of the month. Very doable if you’ve done your prep. A script is more white space than not.

There is a ton of screenwriting software available (Highland on the Mac is my current favorite) but you don’t need it. There are free templates available for every word processor. You could even use a spiral notebook as Quentin Tarantino does. Don’t worry about formatting. Just get the words on the page.

Stress Level: 5

Writing

April: Second draft

While I have a whole month blocked out for a second draft I actually think you should take the first week doing anything but looking at your script. A little time away gives a fresh set of eyes and you might find that a scene you loved doesn’t advance the plot and needs to be cut. It is hard to make those decisions when you’re knee deep in the writing process.

One suggestion is to spend that time creating a movie poster you can use for your fundraising materials. Or take a vacation. It will be your last one in a while.

At some point this month have a couple friends come over for a bottle of wine and read your script out loud while you listen. Movie dialogue isn’t necessarily natural but you’ll catch when it sounds wrong.

Once you have finished your second draft then get a few people you trust to give you hard, honest feedback on it. That is likely not your mom or girlfriend. Maybe ask in Reddit Screenwriting as they have a weekly thread dedicated to this very purpose. If there is one thing that strangers on the Internet do it it is offer criticism.

You’ll likely do another draft at some point over the next couple of months but I urge you not to maintain a constant rewriting process. You have too many other tasks to take care of. You’ll also be surprised as how different the movie that comes out of the editing process is from the one you set out to shoot. Once you have a script you’re proud of stop writing.

Stress Level: 4

May: Raise money

The first step towards raising money is creating a budget by breaking down your script and creating a spreadsheet that shows the locations, cast, props, and wardrobe for each scene. Assign a cost to each component and calculate the overall dollar figure required. Pad it by at least 25%. (Moviestud.io can help you with this process.)

You remember those friends, family, and hair dressers that have been pitching you movie ideas? Now is the time to go back to them and tell them that you’ve been thinking a lot about their idea and think it has blockbuster potential. However you have this other project that you need to do first (“it is how Hollywood works”) to clear your plate for their film. The best way for them to speed up the process of seeing their story on the big screen is to fund your current project. (“To get Matt Damon attached to your project requires him seeing another film we’ve done together.”) Works every time.

Actually, almost never works. But friends and family are often the people that will help you fund your first film.

Alternatively, you’ve been saving a lot and have written a script that doesn’t require much. That works too.

You might want to consider creating a production company for making your film at this point.

If your budget is bigger than you can raise from friends and family then you should check out Film Notes. It is a wealth of information on fundraising for independent films.

Stress Level: 7

June: Cast, crew, and locations

Ideally you have some friends who possess some technical knowledge and share the same filmmaking dream as you. Even better if they own some of the equipment you need. Don’t worry too much about that is it can be rented. It is better to have a dedicated crew member than a slacker with a light kit. Professionals require being paid (actual money rather than points on profits that most likely never materialize) but will act like professionals and take great pride in their work. It is up to you to weigh the costs and benefits for your situation.

You can cast your friends if they can act (many people that want to can’t) otherwise you can turn to local theatre groups, a local university, or Craigslist. Depending on your location you can try one of the casting websites (might not work for small towns).

For both your cast and crew you’re going to want to make sure that they truly buy into your vision. Pay them if you can. But whether you’re paying them or not when the stress level rises on set (and that will happen) you do not want people who will up and quit in the middle of the shoot–possibly undoing days of shooting if it is somebody in a key role.

Location Scouting

Take pictures of your locations from every angle and, if possible, at different times of day to see how the natural light changes. This will help with the storyboarding and scheduling process later.

If you are planning on having music created specifically for your film then it is never too early to get started with that process. You want it mostly ready by the time you start post-production as you don’t want anything holding up the editing process. Start talking to musicians.

Stress Level: 6

July: Props, wardrobe, and scheduling

Ideally your low-budget script was written with props and wardrobe you already have available to you in mind. Most medium sized cities will have places you can rent what you don’t have. Posting an ad on Craigslist might help you fill them out. Number each so that you make sure you have what you need each day of shooting.

Scheduling is a taxing exercise of trying to line up needs (scenes to shoot) with assets (cast, crew, locations). The script breakdown spreadsheet you created during the budget process will be the operating document for the scheduling process.

Make sure you get any conflicts from your cast and crew up front and then hold them to the schedule. Any last minute changes on their part will let down you as well as everybody else working on the movie.

Stress Level: 7

August: Rehearsals, storyboarding, equipment, and food

When shooting a low-budget film you run up against a lot of constraints. You won’t have the luxury of going over budget to add shooting days. You’re going to have a set amount of time each day, at each location, with your cast and crew. Preparation is key.

Two ways to prepare to make the most productive use of your time on set is rehearsals and storyboarding. Storyboarding gives you a good idea of how to set up the scene when you’re on set. You’re not married to shooting it that way, and, in fact, you should try different things on set, but it will save you time setting up each shot if you have given it a lot of thought before you even step on set.

Rehearsals will help your cast get comfortable with you and each other. More importantly it will help them know how you want them to deliver their lines when shooting. It is easier and cheaper (in both time and money) to experiment during rehearsals than it is when pressed for time on set.

Unless you know you are going to be making at least a film a year it is probably best to rent equipment, particularly if your budget is small. Try to put as much of your budget on screen as possible. Do not put this off to the last minute. Call around to rental houses early to make sure they will have the equipment you need available when you need it.

Since you should have already completed your scheduling you’re going to know what meals you’re going to need to provide. Do not underestimate the importance of food to the cast and crew that are giving you their all during the long, grueling days of shooting. Create a menu that provides quick, cheap, and filling meals that you can either create yourself or have somebody help you with. Or, if you have the budget, hire a caterer.

Make checklists for everything. Your call sheets can, and should, include lists of everything needed for each day of filming. Double check them and then check them again.

Stress Level: 8

September: Production

If you’re making this with a very tiny budget then there is a good chance you’re planning on working around your’s, and everybody else’s, day jobs by shooting on weekends. There should be nine weekends over September and October which works out to shooting ten pages a weekend or five pages a day. If you’ve raised a larger budget you might be taking two weeks off of work and shooting two weeks straight.

Make time to shoot establishing shots for every location as they will come in handy during editing. Do not forget to capture room tone. Log every take. It will save you hours later when you’re reviewing footage.

Do not be afraid to move on if something is good enough. Every shot won’t be perfect. Pick your battles.

Stress Level: 9

October: Production

Finish shooting.

Hopefully you have been able to review footage along the way as this schedule does not allow time for reshoots. If during the editing process you find that you just did not get the shot you needed you might end up out of luck due to a location not being available, cast not being available, or, as happened to us, an actress cutting off her hair. Make sure you have something useable in the can for each shot before moving on to the next one.

Stress Level: 10

November: Rough cut

Congratulations! You just shot a feature film!

Celebrate

At this point you are drained both physically and psychologically and deserve a week off to breathe deeply and appreciate what you have accomplished. It is a huge accomplishment that you’ve worked all year to achieve.

Once you have caught up on your sleep you will begin review your footage and assembling a rough cut. You can get free music to add to your film. Choose wisely as you will be surprised at how much music can add or subtract for a scene.

Like you did with your script I would recommend taking a week off after constructing your rough cut so that you are able to take a step back from your emotional attachment and look at it with a set of fresh and objective eyes. So, have a great Thanksgiving!

This is another opportunity to get feedback from people you can trust to give it to you straight.

Stress Level: 5

December: Final cut

This month you will really tighten up your edit and start seeing what the final film is going to look like. Be judicious with the editing. The audience doesn’t need to see people enter and exit every room or the minute of everyday life (notice how nobody ever goes to the bathroom in the movies unless it is for comic effect?). In general start a scene right before the dialogue or action that moves the plot forward and cut right after. Pacing is a key component of how an audience receives a film.

Editing can very rewarding and a final opportunity to be creative. Have fun with it. Try new things and don’t be afraid to scrap hours of work. You’re at the finish line.

When you have decided you have the final cut (a hard decision as you can go on tweaking forever) get your cast and crew together for a viewing party. Some drinks, some food, and a screen is all you need. You’ll have a lot of fun reflecting back on the late nights, mishaps, and flat out disasters that you experienced together. New friendships have been created that will serve you personally and professionally in the years to come.

Hopefully this has been an enjoyable experience for you. Ready to start over again next month?

Stress Level: 6

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Christopher Nolan’s low-budget film tips

These are notes I took on an interview Christopher Nolan did where he shares the low-budget techniques he used to make Following. The video is embedded at the end and I recommend that any new filmmaker take a half hour break and watch it.

 

Following

Use your own resources. Borrow equipment. Use the things around you to make a film.

Strip it down. (Remove the technical stuff.)

Learn to shoot a short film in a weekend.

Look at the natural lighting of a situation and try to enhance that.

(Have your actors) stand by the windows.

Create a sense of heightened naturalism.

He shot Following in black and white because with the speed he had to work it would have been hard to get anything acceptable in color.

The nice thing about black and white is that you remove one massive set of variables in terms of balance of lights with natural daylight.

Only use one camera unless you need multi-camera for stunts.

Learning framing through the lens is a three dimensional process.

Learn how to block a scene through the camera rather than through a monitor.

If you’re looking at the monitor instead of through the camera you’re looking at a two-dimensional image and you’re not thinking about your physical relationship with the performers.

Don’t use zoom lenses. Physically move the camera.

Keep the camera inside the physical space (of the room or place you’re shooting). Don’t drill holes in walls, etc.

Have the first scene to be a very controlled, competent piece of filmmaking.

With no budget films guns don’t work very well.

Identify the things that betray the budget to the audience.

All filmmaking is a balance between technical expertise (and the technical expectations of the audience) and storytelling.

Get a good technical foundation.

Look for the most expedient technology–technology that can get you to where you need to go. Hold onto what is going to give the best quality to the film–what is going to give the richest feel to it.

Always try to intercut scenes if possible. If you end up with a gap it allows you to work around it.

You’re not going to be able to cover everything. You’re going to have to decide what are the important things.

There is a narrative connection made through objects in a film.

One thing you can do with very little money and very little time is to shoot an insert.

Sound is the hardest thing for a no-budget film.

Do dry takes without running the camera (for sound).

In the film noir/crime genre the characters are defined through action.

Working in the crime genre buys you a lot of freedom to experiment narratively.

With every film you can’t view it as a stepping stone to another film. You have to really enjoy it for what it is.

It is a massive advantage to have the script for your next film ready when your current film is on the festival circuit. However writing a script while finishing a film can distract you from finishing it. It is best to concentrate on finishing the film.

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Interview with Kent Lamm (The Hands You Shake)

Kent Lamm, the man of many hats (including writer, director, and producer) of The Hands You Shake), took the time to answer some questions about its production. It was a low-budget feature film ($12,000) that was filmed in Los Angeles. His comment about the “final cut” really hit home with me.

The Hands You Shake# of cast: 26

# of crew: 4-5

Production location: Los Angeles

Production budget: $12,000

Cost of crew:

A weekly fee for the sound mixer (who brought his own gear)

Cost of meals (daily):

Averaged about $6 per person plus snacks

What were some things you did to make limited dollars go farther?

The other producer, Chris, and I always kept the crew to a bare minimum and shot very fast. We had extensive pickup shooting, which we went out and shot ourselves for a month or two after principal photography so we wouldn’t have to feed the cast/crew. We cooked cheap bulk meals when we had time (we did a taco day, for example). This was the first feature for the DP and sound mixer, so the DP worked for free and the mixer worked for much less than his normal rate.

Without giving away the plot were there any props or locations the script was written around?

Chris and I knew we would use our apartment for the Hico scene from the beginning. Other than that, the script wasn’t written around any locations/props we already had in mind.

The Hands You Shake

Describe the post-production process.

Over a year of editing, including a lot of After Effects work, much of which I had to learn as I went along. At a certain point we decided to do the score ourselves, so we had to learn the music software as well. Finally, we thought we had a final cut, then we chopped out 20 minutes and had the actual final cut.

What would be one piece of advice you wish you could give yourself at the start of production?

Eat more.

How can we watch The Hands You Shake?

TheHandsYouShakeMovie.com

What is next for you?

We have a script we need to film next; however, we will only do it once we’ve put together a real budget. The Hands You Shake and the $6k feature we made before it (called Bad is Bad) were our “film school.” I doubt we’ll ever make another no-budget feature. Too many compromises.

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Interview with Lance Karasti (Cult)

Cult is Lance Karasti’s first feature. It tells the story of a youth Bible study that heads towards a group suicide. He graciously spent some time answering my questions on the production process and how he was able to make the film on small budget.

Cult# of cast:

The primary cast was the 7 people in the Cult. There were several extras and guest roles throughout the film.

# of crew:
I handled all things camera and lighting while directing, and Abe Diaz was our sound man. He recorded sound and operated the boom mic simultaneously. Besides our core crew of 2, Nate Hanninen and Al Skomars would become crew when not in shots. I intentionally had them sitting in the back of the group so I could use them as dolly grips and slaters quite often.

Production Location:

About 75% of the film was shot in my parents house with the remainder being shot at various exteriors around my hometown of Duluth, MN.

Production Budget:

It is estimated 10K was spent from the time of deciding to make the film to completion and distribution. As this was a low budget film, I planned to make it based on things I had access to in order to up my production value.

Cost of meals:

This one of the biggest things people don’t usually think of. You have to feed your crew. At the end of the 10 day shoot about $1000 was spent on feeding everyone.

What were some things you did to make limited dollars go farther?

Keeping most of the movie in one location really helped things. I didn’t have to pay to use my parents house and we weren’t spending half of everyday just moving from location to location. This allowed us to keep the total shoot days down.

I also had to creative with some of the equipment we were using. I used a wheelchair as a dolly. My dad does metal roofing so I had access to some long metal panels which we used as a dolly track.

What was the most difficult shot in the movie?

Two come to mind.

1. There was this 2 minute unbroken take of an argument between two characters. I really wanted to get the intensity right and so many things can go wrong in that long of a master shot. We were shooting without coverage so the shot had to be perfect. I think we did about 40 takes.

2. There is a scene where the Cult leader yells some very awful things at one of the members. Nothing about this was technically challenging, but we all felt like we needed to watch some cartoons after. It was just one of things that was so extreme that I was dreading the day of shooting it. I’m glad we all erased our comfort zones and got through it, because it was one of the most effective scenes in the film.

Describe the post production process.

I was actually editing everyday after our shoots, so I had a rough cut done within a week of shooting. The most difficult to edit was the opening scene which was running at 25 minutes. That scene really determined the pacing and context for the rest of the film so I spent a lot of time trying to get it exactly right. Every time I made the smallest change I had to watch the entire film because it would effect how everything flowed. The whole point of the opening is to demonstrate the functioning of the group and the control the leader has. I eventually got it down to 15 minutes.

I planned to put the film in black and white before shooting started because I knew I wouldn’t be able to light properly for color (It was my first time DPing) and my camera didn’t handle color very good anyway. I also knew I wanted this film to be in black and white for tone and story reasons, but I did spend a lot of time color correcting trying to see if I could keep the film in color. Even if you desaturate to black and white in post, you still need to color correct and grade it, because that effects how the black and white will look and match.

Abe Diaz handled sound design, which had to have been immensely difficult. All of our actors were spread around the country for college so doing ADR wasn’t an option. I think he did an incredible job even though it was his first time doing sound design for a feature film.

What is one piece of advice you wish you could give yourself at the start of production?

Start trying to build a fan base immediately. Before you shoot, as soon as possible.

How can we watch Cult?

You can rent or buy Cult via Vimeo on demand at: cultthemovie.com

What is next for you?

I’m currently shooting my next feature film titled “Artificial.” The official synopsis is: A young photographer is recruited by a mysterious visionary to help design a program that will recognize beauty. We will be shooting this film in blocks until the end of next summer. You can like it on Facebook to get updates and BTS. www.facebook.com/artificialmovie

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NaScrWriMo? Use National Novel Writing Month to write a screenplay

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month.We’re one week away for the start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). That is where participants write a novel (50,000 words) from November 1st through the end of the month. Last year 310,095 participants took part. Overall over 250 NaNoWriMo novels have been published.

This is a great excuse to get that screenplay that has been festering in the back of your mind out on paper (well, into a PDF). The induced peer-pressure of taking part in the event might be the kick in the butt you need.

Start by working on an script outline (give Trello or Workflowy a try) over this week. Then when November 1st rolls around you’re itching to start writing.

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