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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Top 10 General Tips when making a short film:

Here are some General tips you might find useful (or not) when making a short film. They apply to pre-production, production and post-production. Hey, maybe they even apply to ordinary life too :)
Hwy am I posting them? Well, why not! It's a saturday and I've got the time to type rubbish so there.
These tips are in no particular order and please note that I sometimes don’t follow any of them myself!

1:Love the script: or at least like it or aspects of it such as a particular sequence or character. There is no point making something if the script is crap – it’s as simple as that. Why the hell would you wanna make a film based on rubbish? The writing part is the initial idea, getting what’s in your (or whoever wrote the story) head down on paper. Lots of people say, “Oh, I’ve an amazing idea for a film”. Oh yeah? Well then write it down and see how good it is. It’s surprising how crap your idea can turn out to be when it appears in the written form.If you write your own scripts, put as much detail as you can into them. Vague stuff like “and the man sees a car exit” could have been “the shadowy figure of a man steps out from the doorway and watches as an old fire engine red Cadillac speed away into the low descending fog”. The more detail in the script, the more ideas and visuals will come into your head when it comes time to make the damn film.
A script is hundreds of “amazing ideas” moulded together to form something that will be the blueprint for your movie. Remember, a great script does not ensure a great film. There’s lots of crap that can happen in between to mess everything up!

2:Have limits: this goes for things like schedules and your own abilities. Learn to love your schedule. It encourages you to get things done and allows you to appreciate what progress you’ve made. The same thing goes for the limit of your own ability. If you are rubbish at modelling, then you cannot seriously expect to make that photo realistic Statue of Liberty model you want for your film set in New York. Maybe you should hold back until you are comfortable enough with the whole modelling process. If you can’t rig or animate a sack of flour – let alone a human character – then maybe you should spend a little time learning to do a few ‘easier’ practice tests first.
Know how far you can push the tools at your disposal. Some software can do things they weren’t designed for but recognise that should the software fail, you’ll be right back at square one again.

3:Keep an open mind: Ok, you’re making a fantastic 3D animated short film which is going to win millions of awards and you will become the first short filmmaker to become a billionaire. And you don’t give a damn about anyone else’s work or advice because you are better than all other mere mortals. Hmmmm. Keep an open mind. Watch what others are doing, have den or are starting work on. It’s amazing what you’ll be able to take back and work into your own mighty masterpiece. If you’re doing something in 3D then don’t restrict yourself to just 3D. Look at 2D work, flash animation, and live action. Read books, newspapers, pick a random page on the Internet on a random topic and read that. You might stumble upon something useful that could completely change your thinking/understanding of your film.

4:Be organised: similar in some ways to having limits. Plan as much as possible. Keep a list of things you need to do and things that are done and can be filed away. Know where you can find important files, models, etc and keep them at close hand. Name and label your files appropriately – this is a major issue with editing footage. Make regular copies of all important files and documents. The better organised you are the easier it will be to get things down and if something goes wrong then you should find it easier to retrace your steps and get things up and running again.

5:Know your audience: this is a biggy. Your audience could be the entire population of California, your next-door neighbours cat or simply just your own humble self. Whoever your audience is, you should gear your film towards them. Keeping this is mind when making your film will keep you on track. (BTW, our audience is mainly escaped mental patients and fishmongers)

6:Know what your doing: simple, really. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then nothing will get done. In live action filmmaking you will annoy the cast and crew who will be standing around waiting for your words of wisdom. In solo animation land, you’ll probably just end up staring at your computer screen like a moron. Making a film is all about ‘making’ it. It doesn’t get made in your head. It just doesn’t work that way – well not yet anyway. Learn how to operate the camera, animate a character, and build a scene in your software packages, whatever. You are the driving force behind the film and you need to be the one leading the way, all the time. The main thing is knowledge. If you don’t know what’s going on then nothing is gonna happen.

7:Let the style find you: Some people complain that they don’t have a particular ‘style’ or that they wish they had the style of someone else. Don’t go looking for a particular style; let it come to you instead. Style can be mechanical, such as a way of lighting, designing a character, a way of acting. But even these are developed over trial and error. Van Gough had a style. But he didn’t always paint that way; he developed that swirly paint technique over time. Tim Burton has a style, so does Ridley Scott. But in both their cases they sometimes became slaves to the ‘style’, forced to make ‘quirky’ movies – in Burtons’ case – or fill every scene with smoke and neon – Ridley Scott’s case. Style appears when people recognise specific characteristics in your work. Don’t force it; let it come naturally.

8:Challenge yourself: sometimes you put no effort in and you can make something that people really enjoy. Other times you work your fingers to the bone and nobody gives a damn. Making films is not easy. It requires time and effort. As in the examples above, sometimes the effort just doesn’t seem to pay off. But always keep note that no matter what others think of your work, good or bad, it’s only yourself that has to live with the results. Ask any well-known Hollywood director or actor what their own favourite film is and they will most likely praise something obscure and little seen by the public. The effort you put into your film may not always be appreciated by viewers but, just like the Hollywood director or actor, you will always have a fondness for the one that challenged you the most.

9:Remove Negativity: maybe you have some people working on your movie in different capacities. In live action this will be your cast and crew. In animation it might be someone doing the music or modelling something for you. But at the end of the day, the film is yours and you cannot afford to waste time dealing with other peoples egos as well as your own! If someone starts acting in a manner that messes with your head or simply is so error prone that they ruin everything they touch like some form of anti-Midas, get rid of them. You can mess up fine on your own without adding other clowns into the mix. It doesn’t matter if they are a best friend who loaned you a kidney – if they aren’t up to the job they’ve gotta go. Then there are some people who set out to ruin your day. If you are unlucky enough to come across this kind of person then watch out for the warning signs before it’s too late: turning up late; always having an excuse for why things went wrong that they should’ve dealt with; loosing stuff; not paying attention; making up obvious lies. There are millions more clues to spot these ‘types’. Avoid these people like the plague.
Then there are the annoying ones who walk around with a cloud of doom over their heads all the time. They say stuff like “that can’t be done”, “such and such wouldn’t do that” or the most annoying is when they yawn. Why the hell do these people turn up on film sets or want anything to do with filmmaking? Never surround yourself with negative people or situations. They destroy creativity and inspiration. At the same time don’t surround yourself with groupies, either. Praise should only be handed out when something particularly good is done, not all the time. If you feel that you are getting praised a bit too easily then you are not pushing yourself enough.
Avoid stoners, too. There opinion can sometimes be very useful and helpful as they can spot inconsistencies in editing and fine details. But a lot of the time they just ramble on about absolutely nothing and waste time! Would you trust a stoner to fly you in an airplane? The why would you have ‘em involved in your movie?

10:Realise there’s always someone better: No I’m not trying to dampen your spirits, but this is important. Realising that there is always someone better at something than you are. No matter how hard you try and how much you push yourself, you can be damn sure that somewhere out there, in another town or country, is a person who can beat you. Competition is important. If you don’t have true competition then you cannot possibly judge how good you really are. Knowing that there is someone else better than you at particular things help you put stuff in perspective and give you goals to challenge yourself. A boxer who beats every body in his path is only as good as the people he fights. The same holds true for filmmaking. If Steven Spielberg had just sat back and counted his money in the eighties he would never have made Jurassic Park and Schindlers List in the same year. He could’ve made Jurassic Park with Muppet show-style puppets on strings dangling in front of the camera and saved himself an awful lot of work but he looked around, saw people like James Cameron, and said “damn, look how cool those effects in T2 are, why can’t mine be like that?” and pushed the boundaries of moviemaking. Rivalry encourages better work. Embrace it.

10 ½:Never give advice: Ohhh, I think I’ve messed up this one ;)

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