Sunday, August 14, 2011
5 Random Thoughts on Movie Making
As I am trying to piece together our first feature film, I started to think about what I've learned/taken from the short films I've made over the years and how I can put that in use on a full length feature.
1: Make sure the effort is worth the wait.
When I first started making movie's I began with a borrowed video camera from school that I messed around with while making a stop-motion animation. I can't remember what the film was called. I can't even remember what it was about!
All I really remember is the massive size of the camera and tediousness of manipulating inanimate objects around a tabletop one frame at a time. It was mind-numbingly boring work but it taught me something important: if you're gonna spend a lot of time on something make sure the final product is worth it!
2: Choose a medium that suits your goal.
I started in classical animation (the drawn on paper stuff) and this was mainly becasue I liked watching cartoons as a kid. I was also pretty good at drawing.
But being able to draw doesn't mean you can animate!
I hated classical animation with a passion.
This was way worse than the stop-motion 'experiments' because you had to physically draw a 3-dimensional object on a flat 2-dimensional plane...and make it seem believable.
This was waaaaaay too much for my attention span to cope with.
2D animation was not for somebody like me.
I realised that live-action would probably be a better bet to enable me to display what I wanted to show. I alter wet back to animation (the 3D kind) when I felt that live action didn't suit the topics and style I wanted to pursue at that time.
Just use the medium that suits the project .
3: Use what you've got.
Live-action film-making requires expensive equipment and a crew. Well that's what some people seem to think. I think otherwise.
When I started messing around with live-action films I used what I could get my hand son: a TOMY black and white toy camera.
It connected to a TV by a 15ft cable (which meant you could only film within 15ft of the telly) and recorded to your video recorder.
The sound recorder was the camera, and if you stood more than 6ft away you couldn't be heard.
This sounds limiting but in reality it forced you to make choices about what you could film and how you could film it.
Limited choices are good. Too many choices make you waste time thinking about your options. When you have no optns you just get on with it!
Editing was done in camera. You filmed in sequence. Occasionally I got more 'extravagant' and hooked up two video recorders and recorded what was previously 'filmed' on one tape back to a different tape. This allowed me to rearrange sequences and also to add music and effects.
Ah yes, music and effects.
Let me tell you about this: I used the SONY PLAYSTATION and a copy of the 'game' MUSIC to create the soundtrack. This I recorded onto a cassette tape (there was no way for me to record the music directly out from the PLAYSTATION). Then I would play back the tape cassette as it was pressed up against the TOMY video camera's little microphone as it recorded using the previous 'dual video recorder' set-up I spoke about earlier.
I had no money and no way to get my hands on 'proper' equipment like the 'professionals' use.
So what?! Use what you have and make the most of it.
4: Plan carefully but be ready to scrap your plans.
Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It's an old saying but it's true. In fact you could add to that: 'anything that can go wrong will go wrong...and even worse will happen on top of that!'
Everything from locations, crew, actors, equipment, weather will most likely let you down in some way.
It's just the way things work. You therefore set out form the beginning with a plan of action of what to do in the case of a disaster happening.
I remember on a short film I made that I went around looking for a particular location that I needed. I knew one which was written into the script. I had used it before many times with no problems with. I had filmed there in a guerilla style (no, not wearing a monkey costume) without the owners knowledge. This time I decided to ask for permission because I knew I'd spend a few hours in the place. Well, I asked and was sent on a wild goose chase to get forms for insurance and all sorts.
I shouldn't have bothered. This really messed up things. I had written the script with that exact location in mind for the express reason that I was sure I could get it. I thought I'd planned things out but I had instead put all my eggs in one basket.
I eventually found a far better location and it cost me the grand total of....a box of chocolates.......and that was expensive by my humble standards!
But the process of being refused the location I have banked on messed up my time and forced me to scramble. When you scramble you make mistakes. That's not good.
I had storyboarded the movie based on the previous location. Anyone who knows me will know that I storyboard shots quite a lot. But since the experience of losing that planned location I no longer cling to my storyboards like I once did.
Storyboards are a blueprint. They are there to give you ideas or try out ideas. I use storyboards for inspiration but then shove them back in my pocket and do what seems right at the time. What looks good on paper doesn't look as good in reality.
So my point is (after the long-winded talk that has gone before!) is to think things out as best you can but always ALWAYS!) be prepared to toss those plans in the bin and move on with another plan.
5:Don't just do what 'they' do.
First of all who are 'they'? 'They' are the so-called 'professionals', the ones you see with the fancy equipment and the big budgets. When 'they' make a movie it is like a military operation; and like a military operation everybody has a particular role that they must stick to or everything comes crashing down.
Low budget film-makers are not trainee 'professionals'. If you make a film, no matter how short or seemingly insignificant, you are a film-maker. Just felt like I had to get that out of the way.
The thing is, 'they' have set practices for the way things are down. the majority of these things are set in stone based on the previous experiences of movie-making down the years. Every so often somebody new comes along and adds another little trick to add to the list of established routines and procedures that the professionals use.
Which is good, but when something stops being new and becomes merely a procedure it loses its charm. The people who decided it'd be cool to release mainstream movies using handheld 'wobble-cams' were probably seen as wacky but now that they process is overused it beocmes annoying.
I'm personally sick and tired of hearing some movie being promoted as 'gritty' simply because the camera is moving about like a spastic monkey.
Low budget or real independent film makers shoul''d borrow some of the techinques and practices of the mainstream 'pro' lot...but not just go crazy copycatting fancy crane shots or whatever.
A perfect example is the crazy idea of low budget film makers spending a load of money on making their 'prosumer' camera look more 'professional'. A big fancy matte-box stuck on the front of your camera may make you look 'cooler' to those passing by but I don't see how it helps in any to make the actual film any better.
Are people gonna sit and watch your movie and comment on how wonderfully professional your matte-box looks? No. Because they won't see it!
If it doesn't make the film any better then it serves no purpose (unless you really need a big fancy matte-box becasue you are filming your movie entirely in a permanently brightly-lit area...like the SUN).
The same goes for crew. If you don't need a clapper-board person then why have one. Do it yourself if you can. Or get one of the actors to do it.
If you are obsessed about having a long list of credits at the end of your movie just like a 'real' film then invent a bunch of names and shove 'em on at the end credits!
I did that once a long time ago and I still cringe at the thought. Why? Because nobody cares! nobody reads the credits apart from the people who worked on the film, and I seriously doubt your imaginary crew will be too worried about seeing their names on the silver screen.
Independent film-makers need to be what they are: independent. Copy the good things that mainstream film-makers do but be aware that you are not mainstream. Play to the independents strengths of freedom and speed: get the shot and get out of there.
Well that's all I have to say for the tie being but I'm sure I'll have some other crap to add at a later stage.
Any comments to add you can make here on the blog or else email directly to dwarfedfilmsinfo[at]gmail.com
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