I’ve recently wrapped production on my third feature, OF DUST AND BONES, and quite honestly, it was one of the most fulfilling creative experiences of my life. It got me to thinking about the essence of filmmaking, and the crucial elements that will lead to a happy time and a successful films, the most essential advice for anyone starting out. Here in super-condensed form are five points I think EVERY first time filmmaker should know:
1) Make the movie you want to make. It sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy. Don’t make a film that you think people want to see, don’t make a film that you think will further your career. Make the film that is in your heart, the film you MUST make, the film that you will love with every fiber of your being – because then no matter what happens with the film, you can’t fail. You feel bulletproof. Even if it doesn’t get into the buzziest festivals or garner the acclaim that you hoped, I promise you, you will still be proud of it. And honestly, I don’t think you have much of a chance to make a great film, unless you make one from your heart. So if you do nothing else: make the film you want to make.
2) Don’t plan your distribution AFTER you finish your film. Ignore this advice at your peril. Most first timers still harbor the illusion that their film will go to a great festival and get picked up for distribution. That is not going to happen – or it might, but that’s the equivalent of winning the lottery. Don’t make the plan for your film winning the lottery! Plan your distribution early and you will have the greatest chance for success in getting your film out there to the audience who love it. If you wait until after your film is finished, you will be tired and it will be overwhelming, trust me. So plan it from the start when you are still buzzing with energy for your film.
3) Budget and schedules are the foundation stones for success. If you don’t have experience with these things, you MUST have someone who does. Your budget must be smart, making sure the money is going on the screen and also fiscally responsible, meaning that your investors have a real chance of recouping their cash. Your schedule must be doable and realistic. Nothing will kill your film faster than an insane schedule where you have to compromise the quality of your film, because you just don’t have time.
4) Hire the right people for each job. The right people don’t necessarily mean the most experienced – often people with a lot of experience are unable to think out of the box. Across the board, the right people are people who have some experience (perhaps on short films, commercials and music videos) who want to do the job their being hired for and want to excel in it. They are people who are inspired by the film you’re going to make together and who will go the extra distance to make something special. This is as true for cast as it is for crew.
5) Enjoy it. This may sound trite, but seriously: you’re making a film, not curing cancer or fighting a war. You don’t have to prove anything, making a film is not about your ego. Let yourself get into the flow of creativity and be in that zone of ego-free joy, and your film will be better for it. I guarantee it. It’s easy to turn it into a stress party, but forget about shooting your script and focus on making a film. Filmmaking is a privilege – if you’re making a film, you’re very lucky; be humble, be grateful and enjoy every minute.