So you wanna make a movie…
I do. But how?
Well, if you don’t care about it being good — if you just want to learn — pick up or borrow the nearest video camera, grab your friends or family members and go shoot something. Edit it ‘in camera.’ Have fun with it.
But I want to make movies that could get into festivals — major festivals!
Then you’re going to need some time and some money.
How much time? How much money?
The cost to make a feature is a big debate. We’re always hearing about the Blair Witches, the Primers and the Paranormal Activitys that cost next-to-nothing and won festivals and got national releases and made a lot of money.
But most indie films never make money, especially first features. So it pays to be economical until you have a sense of not only how to make a film, but how to sell a film.
You want some numbers? Some books say you can make a full-length movie for as little as $10,000 — some even $7,000. The vast majority of major festival movies have spent more. A lot more. If you want to make your film with professionals — SAG actors and union crew — the minimum is probably closer to $750,000, not including marketing costs.
My advice is, don’t bother raising any money until you know how to spend the money. Invest in a digital camera, a small light kit and basic computer software, then use what you have around for sets, props and costumes. Make short films. Your ambitions will naturally push you to learn and improve with each project.
One last warning on budgets… Budget quotes from the press can’t be trusted. That’s because budget quotes from film producers themselves can’t be trusted.
Here’s why: if it becomes known that the budget for a film was very low, even if the film looks expensive, distributors can use that information as leverage to pay the producer less for the film. Once a distributor buys a film, however, it makes a great story for the press if the budget was low. Most budget numbers quoted in the press conveniently leave out large costs such as marketing, PR, and insurance.
Should I go to film school first?
In a word: no. I’ve studied at NYU and USC. I have friends who have studied film in Florida, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and at AFI. There’s nothing you’ll learn in a school that you can’t learn from reading a few books, hanging around a few movie sets and from going out and making some films yourself. The money you sink into a formal education is money that could go into your own film’s budget.
But won’t it help me get a job?
I thought you wanted to make a movie! If you want to make a living working in ‘the industry’ then yes, I highly recommend film school. Not necessarily for what you learn, but for the ‘networking,’ the relationships and connections you forge there. The bottom line in film is that you have to have films to show off. And the way to have films is to make them yourself. So do it. Right now. I’m not kidding.
Why should I listen to you?
Still here? While I work hard to make this website useful for emerging filmmakers, you shouldn’t just listen to me. You should go to the library. You should watch, and carefully re-watch, other people’s movies. You should seek out more experienced filmmakers as mentors.
But remember, making a movie is really about telling a story — your story. A lot of amateur mistakes in film are forgiven if the story is great. Research and planning are necessary, but the main point is to tell your story.
So get out there and tell it!