Making the Movie

Filmmaking tips, resources, reviews, news and links.

So You Wanna Make a Movie

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 time to make a feature film can be anywhere from two weeks to two decades.

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!

25 Comments

  1. Hey there, I am Navdeep, a guy from Chandigarh, India — a place where Bollywood is the big daddy.

    I write, I act all the time, and I am learning 3D animation as well so that I may touch every aspect of filmmaking. That’s what I was born to do. I live filmmaking, I sleep it, I drink it.

    For a while, people have been telling me that its not possible for a middle-class guy to succeed because it’s a big man’s game. I keep telling them the same thing that you have said: “It’s all about telling a story, it’s all about just taking the initiative, learning from here and there and do it. Instead of going to film schools, get acquainted with the knowledge and do something!”

    At times, I used to feel low-spirited when I see that I barely have money to survive. But now that I have seen that someone who is into this field thinks the same way as I do, man, I’m all boosted up and ready to put my dreams to reality.

    Thank you so much for that!
    A learner called Navdeep

  2. Navdeep, i’m sibi, a photographer from kerala… i too shares same intrest as u. i think my state have got a good name in indian film indutry, for the last few years national film awards goes to films from our state, eventhow our state is very small and only have less than 140 theaters all over… we make great films here…
    what i was about to say is, this years national award for best director goes to ‘salim ahamad’ from our state for the film ‘abu the son of adam’, it is his first film… he waited almost 12 years making money for this film, he sold his property, take some loans, invested all the money he have made…. for his dream film… he dnt even have money to buy the print from lab to send to award…..
    atlast he get wat he deserved….
    navdeep, wish u all the best for achiving your dream… hope, one day we can meet somwhere, not as a ‘learner called navadeep’ or ‘photographer sibi’…. some thing more…..
    sibimanjale@gmail.com , anyone from india who dream of film making can mail me… ive got a canon 55od cam.. every help will be provided…
    sibi manjale

  3. Hello Mr.Ott,
    My name is Damone Harris. I was surfing and came across your site I read your words and felt the inspiration. I am a director/writer/musician/visionary, but in reality im a healthcare worker. making movies is my passion and i made my second short (major turnoff). I knew i wanted to make movies when i use to play with my he-man toys and g.ijoes Now i want to take my passion to the next level thank you for your kind words

  4. Brave words….in future ,I am seeing the revolution of independent film making. Dslr made it possible . Navdeep & sibi, I m Krishna Samiddha form Bihar….and I m mad …mad…very mad about film making…I and my some friends just got all tool to make dslr film…Like Crazy is dslr film which got Sundance award and Paramount buy it for some millions …let do it in India …mail me krishnasamiddhalife@gmail.com

  5. Hi sibi , krishna and navdeep…. I am vikash anand from Bihar. This time i am studying at CUSAT, cochin .. My dream is to make movie with a strong story. I am too crazy about it. After 2 year i will start to search such story. Guys main problem is money. But anyway i will make a movie with a great story.

  6. @Navdeep, Sibi, Krishna & Vikash: greetings.

    It’s good to see Indian Indie film makers/aspirants coming up with such mettle & ideas. I am a s/w engineer by profession & passionate about film making too. Like all indie film makers, I too have faced some problem or the other i.e. money, equipment & actors… but in the process of learning film making, I learned that it is not the equipment or resource that matters; it is the story telling. My friend told me that some Wipro guys made a pretty 20 minute film with just a point & shoot cam and it was well appreciated. True, DSLR have brought revolution in Indie Film making (thanks to guys like Vincent Laforet, Phillip Bloom). So, many aspiring film makers like me are now looking forward to come up with their stories. We live in an era of Facebook, Youtube, Vimeo. You don’t need a production house to show your film to numerous viewers. Make a good one & the whole world will watch it within week. Like Crazy is a brilliant example of what DSLR can do. But it has its budget($250000) & featured actors like Jenifer Lawrence(Mystique from ‘X-Men First Class’). But it won Sundance & made millions.

    If you have a DSLR or any other capable cam/equipment, it’s good. But apart from that do you have a good script? Have you read it yourself & liked it? Have your friends/family liked it? Did you consider other aspects of film making; i.e. actors, cinematography, location, lighting, sound recording, NLE, film look(bokeh & color correction) & most importantly ‘the flow of your film’ !!!

    I have been religiously trying to learn film making(Internet is a great resource) since last two years. The more I am learning, the feeling of ‘how less I know’ is getting stronger. It is really a tedious job to make a film(even one with short duration). One can not make a film alone; will surely need assistance. So, involve people you know. “Don’t be limited by what you don’t have, be Creative by what you HAVE”. Watch people, events & learn the act of story telling. Write scripts, evaluate yourself, give others to read, choose some & start shooting. like it was said, people will forgive your amateur knowledge & appreciate your story. Feel free to negate/argue. I am open to suggestion & discussion.

  7. Hi, I am very grateful for the encouraging tips that have been given here ! I really want to make a short film now and I wanted advice on which camera should I purchase ? Is DSLR 60D suited for the purpose ?

  8. Krishna Samiddha

    March 10, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Maitri
    The 60 D ,like 550d , is jr. brother of 7d . Stainly ka Dubba (Amol Gupte -Tare Zameen Par ) ) , Ragni MMS , Like Crazy etc are made by 7d . you can see Salton Sea- Canon Rebel T2i- 550D – Philip Bloom. So yes you can buy 60d . For vedio 60d is not better then 550d (60d still is better then 550 D ), so buy 550d and save some money for other thing . But if you got extra money then buy 7d not 60d. If need more help mail me krishnasamiddhalife@gmail.com

  9. Hey thanks again, but I am sort of confused. If I wish to start learning by taking a few film shots here and there, then what basic cameras can I start with ? what about the 35mm SLR cameras( not digital ones ) ?

  10. Maitri………Why 35mm SLR….?
    If you have already old 35mm SLR , then use it . It is still good for still. Yes they have not the LCD ,on spot preview ,.But SLR , like Nikon F6 etc , still can give professional picture .
    But you have to buy new camera then go to DSLR . Any Entry label DSLR like canon 1100d or Nikkon D3100 are good enough for still . But 60d , 7d and 5d is better , better and best..
    But you have any interest in video then go to canon. Start with 550d or better. Buy any of then which your pocket allow.
    So start your work with which camera you can get now. It may be 550d , letter you can upgrade . Important thing is your time which are you losing to wait for best camera. It is not camera , it is you who can capture great picture .

  11. @Maitri
    I read your comments & queries. I bought a Nikon D5100 instead of a Canon 550D/60D because I love Nikon & its lenses and D5100 is quite a capable camera. But I was little disappointed because D5100 has no manual control over video. But nevertheless it is still very capable(YouTube ‘Fragments Nikon D5100’; a short film made with D5100). But I would suggest you to buy a Canon if video is your area of interest. With canon you can also get great stills. Though both Nikon & Canon are equally capable.

    If you have money, you can buy anything you wish. But if money is the constraint, then I would suggest the following.

    1.Buy only the camera body without kit lens. Kit lens are good but not great for videos. The money you save by not buying the kit lens can be spent on buying prime lenses.

    2. Canon EOS 550 D(around 34K-35K; body only)
    Canon EOS 600 D(around 45K-46K; body only)
    Canon EOS 60 D (around 54K-55K; body only)
    Canon EOS 7D (around 85K; body only)
    I would suggest you either buy 550D or 7D. The 600D/60D are almost same as the 550D. But 7D would be a big leap & quite capable camera.

    3. Buy Primes because they are fast, great in low light. Professionals don’t use zooming while filming unless until it is absolute necessary. Think of ‘Shot composition’ rather than zooming. But you can buy a telephoto zoom(55-250/75-300) and use ‘perspective control’ for story telling.

    4. Buy a 35mm and 50mm prime and it will be sufficient. You can buy a macro for close-up scenes too. You can start with a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens; it’s only 6000.

    5. Using auto-focus while filming is chaotic. Go manual, use focus shifting for story telling.

    6. A camera is half of the requirements. It is equally important to invest in Audio. Because the inbuilt DSLR microphone is pathetic at best. A video will lose its credibility without good audio. Invest in a good shotgun mic(Rode, Sennheiser etc) and a recorder(Zoom H4N).

    Rode NTG-2 Shotgun mic – 13000
    Rode video mic – 6000
    Rode video mic pro – 10000

    Zoom H4N recorder – 18000

    7. shooting handheld can be chaotic due to lots of shake & vibration. Buy a good video tripod(Vanguard/manforto) along with a DSLR rig (around 7000 in ebay, but I bought the same from local market for 3000).

    8. Surf vimeo video shool; it’s a great site for learning DSLR video shooting.

    As of now, this is it. Feel free to share your thoughts & queries.

    Regards
    Pacific

  12. hey i am fourteen years old and i love movies, and i have started to get interested in the film making process an such. and me and a group of my friends have been talking about a summer project which is making a movie. obviously i cant afford all these expensive and fancy gizmos so i am looking for advice on how i can film a decent movie, visual wise on a budget on less than one thousand dollars. i welcome all advice and tips. thanks

  13. Thanks again for all your help !

  14. You all have to read Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel without a Crew, on amazon for a few bucks (used). You have to. He made “El Mariachi” for about seven grand and rocked the film world. Today it would cost a lot less with digital. Then buy the film for a few dollars and watch the “Ten Minute Film School”. Trust me!

  15. @enrique

    The price above I mentioned was in INR(Indian Rupees) and not in USD. You can buy good stuff under 1000 USD. Buy a Canon Rebel T2i(body only) for around $700. Get one Canon 50mm f/1.8 @ $100-$120. Buy a good video tripod with rest of the money left. Later you can spend money on a Zoom H4N($300) recorder and a shutgun mic i.e. Rode NTG-2($200-$250).

    visit vimeo video school for DSLR film making. But everything comes down to your ability of story telling.

    Good Luck buddy.

  16. Hi, just came across this site and found it useful! I’ve only made one short film but that was just for fun with some high school friends, having the whole video set to a suspenseful movie soundtrack.

    But now I’m in college, about to take cinema classes. But I want to continue making short films and also try to make it into the film festivals. I still don’t get how to come up with a story to tell? What would be the best advice for coming up with a story? I hate to fall in the line of making something that’s already made or make something that doesn’t have a message to it…

    • @Henry,

      The broad outlines of stories have pretty much all been done. Look at what inspires you. Or if you don’t have any personal stories that need telling, team up with a screenwriter whose stories inspire you. Good luck! -JO

  17. thank you for motivating words. I am a script writer based in Zimbabwe. I have been reading material on the net about film production and it has been helpful. Howeve my dream is threatened by lack of equipment especiall cameras which are very expensive. If there is anyone out the willing to assist please your gesture will be deeply appreciated.

  18. This website has been verrrry helpful. I was wondering what is the deal with lenses. Tarantino with 35mm. Super 8. Comments about 50mm. But what does that mean?

  19. Hi John!

    This impresses me and also makes me laugh a bit…I’ll tell you in a second why:

    “The money you sink into a formal education is money that could go into your own film’s budget.”

    I am music producer and have been asked the same questions concerning music. I think that many artistic jobs like musician, film maker, director etc. can’t be taught to be someone professional. Like you mentioned in your post – most of knowledge comes from listening / watching and trying to achieve the same results as your idols…:-)….
    Anyway…I am happy to having discovered your blog – I ll come by from time to time!!!

    Cheers,
    Keno

  20. Hi, if someone can explain this to me, in most film school applications, they require some letters of recommendation. Now if someone has no previous experience in the film making field, does it imply that it is impossible to get accepted there ?

  21. Navdeep please call me ….i am from chandigarh.Want to talk regarding Making pollywood movie MB -9815042221

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