Screenwriter/consultant Danny Stack lays out ten tips to help you make a feature film.
Short films are a great way to learn and have some fun, and hey, maybe kickstart your career. However, the industry is awash with short films, and there’s no real money to be made from the format so it’s probably worth considering ditching the short and start thinking feature.
Previously, I noted ‘you can make a low-budget feature with just a little bit more expense and effort than it takes to make a quality short film’. But even with the affordability of tech/kit nowadays, how do you go about making a feature, especially if it’s an indie project with no industry backing? Well, here’s how Tim and me got Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg in the can.
1. Pick Your Genre
Choose an idea/story you know you can do well; something that fits your profile or your previous body of work, plus how you want the industry to view you as you proceed.
2. Start Developing Your Story
With a micro-budget practicality in mind, begin brainstorming your idea from its initial concept to a rough outline, a treatment, a detailed beat sheet, or anything that fleshes out the world of the story so you have a decent grasp on the characters, plot and location(s). This is a video link on how we developed the story for Nelson Nutmeg.
3. No ‘I’ in Team
Start reaching out to local crew, and assemble a core team of people who can get stuff done. Explain to them what you want to achieve, why, and how it’s likely to pan out. Arrange bi-monthly meetings to update progress, tasks and challenges ahead. Hey, you’re in pre-production, no time to dilly daddle! Doesn’t matter that the script isn’t written yet, or that you have no money. Keep momentum going. Crucial at this point: SET A FILMING DATE (or a general target anyway). It’s happening!
Work out how much you can afford to spend and what you can reasonably expect to raise online (via Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc). Friends and family are a great early resource, just to get you started. You may also want to consider small-scale investment possibilities, or perhaps business funding options like Seedrs.
5. Minimal Locations
Still haven’t written that pesky script? It doesn’t matter! You’re a micro-budget filmmaker, you’ve got to do everything yourself or with your core team. But you’ve got your filming date, and you know where the story is set (see stage 2, above), so you can do a recce on where the ideal location is for the film. Note: micro-budget films will generally only have one or two main locations. It mahooisively keeps costs down.
6. Write The Script
Why haven’t you written the script yet? Are you nuts?! Hehe. Better get it done, then. Write that sucker.
The earlier you start the casting process, the more it will solidify the fact that you’re making this film, not thinking or talking about it. It all adds to the momentum. Reach out to local acting groups or have an open call casting. There’s lots of great talent around, right on your doorstep. You’ll also need to fill all your crew positions, too, if you haven’t done so by now. Sites like Mandy, Talent Circle, Shooting People, Twitter/Facebook, and recommendations/referrals are all useful.
8. Rewrite The Script
That script needs some work, doesn’t it? Well, you’ve got a core team working on your behalf picking up some production tasks, so you can spend some time rewriting the script. Get feedback if you can, bounce it back and forth with someone you trust (this is where having a co-writer helps). You could spend forever mulling over the script but get it to a place you’re happy with, and go.
9. Do A Deal
You’ve chosen/purchased/already got your camera, and sorting/sorted out your locations. Other less exciting factors like insurance, transport and catering will come into play. You can do a deal on all of the above, you just have to ask. We were told we wouldn’t be able to afford locations, transport or catering with our budget, but we did a deal, boom, done.
Script? Check. Locations? Check. Budget? Check. Cast and crew? Check. Filming date? Check. Shoot your film! We started stage 1 in January 2014, and got to stage 10 by August 2014.
Ha, that was easy! OK, it’s quite a bit of focused time and planning but nowhere near as difficult as you think it might be, especially if you have a co-writer/producer and a good team helping you. It can be done. GO. FOR. IT.
Danny Stack has been a screenwriter/consultant since 2001. His television writing credits include EastEnders, Doctors and high-profile children’s shows such as Octonauts, Fleabag Monkeyface, Roy, and the new Thunderbirds for CiTV. Danny also writes/directs (his supernatural thriller, Origin, won Best Horror at the London Independent Film Festival 2012), and he has co-written/directed the live-action children’s film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? with Tim Clague.
Danny blogs at http://dannystack.com/