You have an idea and know it will make a great movie. Luckily, with new technologies and the rise of the Internet, almost anybody can become a moviemaker today. But if you want your film to be more than just a flash-in-the-pan YouTube phenomenon, you need to think bigger-- especially with the glut of films now saturating the independent film market. Here are some tips to follow as you plan your next movie.
1. BUILD A PRODUCTION PLAN.
From your film's development to its release, you will constantly have to sell yourself and your project to cast, crew, vendors, producer's reps, publicists, festival programmers, distributors, and the public. Even before you start writing the script, figure out what kind of movie or project you're making. What kind of story are you telling? What genre is it? Who is the intended audience? What kind of budget do you think it would take to make your film? If you have a clear idea of the project, everyone around you will as well.
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK.
Now that you know what kind of movie you want to make, educate yourself by doing some research. Watch as many movies as you can, and particularly films that are similar to yours in genre, story and tone. Watch films that will help inspire and educate you about the process of visual storytelling. Even if you're not writing or directing the movie, get to know the medium as much as possible. Also, watch films that have a production plan similar to yours. If you want to make a movie for under $1 million, look at successful films in that budget range and figure out why they work. Who was involved with the film? How did that film find success? Get as much advice as possible from other moviemakers and never be afraid to ask questions. If you come across looking unprepared, you'll begin to lose control and people will lose faith in your vision for the project.
3.SCRIPT! SCRIPT! SCRIPT!
The screenplay is the core framework for the entire production, so take your time with it. If you feel you can write your own script, great, but make sure you're prepared to go all the way. Read as many successful screenplays, screenwriting books, famous plays, and even novels as you possibly can and do not be afraid of criticism. Surround yourself with a core group of trusted people who will give you uncensored, honest, critical feedback, because writing is primarily rewriting.
Don't even think about starting pre-production until you have a solid script. If you find a writer to work with, make sure you and the writer are ready for the painstaking process of rewriting in order to get the script into the best shape possible. Most importantly, always put your best foot forward. When someone reads your screenplay for the first time, that's his or her first impression of the project and of you as a moviemaker. Sometimes people will read your script again, sometimes they won't; but they will never forget that first impression. Proofread your work thoroughly and fix any typos. That shows attention to detail and that 's never a bad impression to give.
4. ASSEMBLE THE PACKAGE.
If you have a solid script from the very beginning, it shows that you are presenting yourself as a professional and will work to deliver a professional production. With a good script and a strong story, you can confidently approach industry professionals about being a part of the team. Any other creative references (storyboards, visual style books, possible soundtrack selections, etc.) will only enhance your chances of attracting people to the project. The more experienced people you have involved with your film, the better the chance your film has of standing out. You want to make your film as appealing to producer's reps, festivals, and distributors as possible. Don't be afraid to start at the top. If you think Tom Cruise would be great in your movie, just follow the rules and be professional. Contact his representation; make him an offer. The worst he'll say is ”no.” This goes for all of your cast and crew!
5.BUILD YOUR TEAM.
Put people around you who can help realize your vision and bring this project to life. Be realistic about your limitations. You might think you can cast the film yourself, but think about what an established casting director can bring to your project. He or she can help navigate the difficult world of agents and managers and determine which stars you can reasonably make offers to in order to attach them to the project. (This advice isn't limited to casting; it includes every aspect of the production.)
Moviemaking is nearly impossible to do on your own. The process is chiefly communicating and collaborating with other artists to realize a complete vision. Surround yourself with the best crew possible. Do not forget to get a good lawyer with production experience. This is key to navigating the legal minefields of production and distribution, and will help avoid costly delays in getting your film in front of an audience.
Once you have assembled a good team, be loyal and treat them well. The relationships you are creating will help with future projects. You never know when a production assistant may become the next Spielberg, so be nice and respectful to everybody at all times-no matter their rank in the pecking order. Remember, your team is there to help you make your movie.
6.CAST! CAST! CAST!
Always try to get the best cast possible. I know you want to put your friends in your projects, and if you're friends with Leonardo DiCaprio that's fine! But a project is only as good as the worst performance on screen. When you're presenting the film to a festival, producer's rep, distributor, publicist, or even your family and friends, the first question they'll all ask is: "Who's in it?" If you can't put someone famous in the movie, try to get the best actors you can. Union casts are not as unattainable as you may think. Both SAG and AFTRA have low-budget contracts that allow producers the opportunity to put professional actors in even the smallest productions.
There are many ways to get creative with finding a good cast. If you have an interesting role, think of actors who may want to try something new with their careers. Someone who hasn't played a role like the one you're offering may be more interested in the opportunity to expand his or her resume than the paycheck (or lack thereof). Maybe bring the actor on as a producer to entice them further.
If you're unable to get famous actors attached to your project, start thinking realistically about where the project will live. You could make a film like Napoleon Dynamite which, though it is remembered for having a cast of unknowns, is actually peppered with a number of experienced actors including Diedrich Bader, Jon Gries, Haylie Duff, and Tina Majorino. The movie's casting director/executive producer had nearly 15 films to his credit before Napoleon Dynamite. Even though it comes across as "the little indie that could", this movie had a great strategy behind it and solid professionals involved.
Of course there is the argument for films like The Brothers McMullen and Clerks, movies made by a small crew of novices. But as any wise producer's rep will tell you, you also have to look at the state of the festival world today. It has changed a lot since Ed Burns and Kevin Smith went to Sundance. There are only a few festivals that will get your film in front of distributors, and these are huge and expensive events to put on. As a result, they need to attract recognizable faces to attend their festival and what better way than accepting films with those faces in them? Sure, festivals also find small and unique movies, but if you want a better fighting chance to get som exposure in an overly saturated industry, get the bast cast possible.
7. FIND FINANCING WHEREVER YOU CAN.
One of the hardest jobs for an independent producer is trying to raise money. Who do you approach for financing? Everyone! Family, friends, dentists, banks, credit card companies, etc. If you decide to invest in your own film, be realistic that you will probably never see that money again. But at least you have a showpiece!
Movies are an incredibly high risk investment, so first, you should approach people who are excited just to say they get to be a part of the moviemaking process. Entice potential investors with your best package (great script, professional cast and crew, etc.) and give them an executive producer title if they are a major financial source.
Remember, you have the most to prove with your first production, so start small. Pick a project that doesn't have explosions, expensive stunts, or crowd scenes. You do not have to compromise on quality, just find a story that you can tell in the most cost-effective way. If you're trying to get money from sources inside the industry, you're probably competing with the likes of some very well-known moviemakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, who often finance their films independently. Who do you think is more likely to get the money they need first? You or the guy who directed There Will Be Blood?
8. GET CREATIVE.
Where there's a will, there's a way! Just because you don't have a huge amount of money doesn't mean that you have to give up all the on-screen value. Time is money, and if you spend time applying for film grants or trying to make more creative deals to get better talent or more experienced crew, you will be adding value to the screen with fewer direct costs. Try to entice people with backend points. Figure out what resources you have available and how you can use them for locations, food, equipment or anything else that can help with your shoot.
9. WHAT IF YOUR FILM’S NOT THE NEXT SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE?
You made your movie, got rejected by Sundance and now have no idea what to do. Keep worldng it! Talk to producer's reps, enter more festivals and keep pushing forward. Try to find the best possible home for your film, but be realistic that it might not be with a major distributor. This production may not have been the next Little Miss Sunshine, but your next project might. Start thinking about your next film as soon as you finish principal photography on your current one. Post-production and the sales process can take a while, which affords you the perfect opportunity to assemble your next project. When your current film is screened, bought and/or released, you have a brief window where people are more likely to pay attention to you, so be prepared to make the most of it. You may not end up making any money from this first production, but it could become invaluable to your future career in the movie business.
10. ALWAYS BE THANKFUL AND APPRECIATIVE.
If you're making your first film--or any low-budget, independent film for that matter--a lot of peopleare doing you a favor. Be polite, thankful and appreciative. Like my grandmother always said, "You attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar."
This article originally appeared in MovieMaker Magazine's Complete Guide to Making Movies, 2009.