My biggest challenge in creating a new film is deciding what to do first. I have a lot of ideas for stories, articles and movies. I want to do them all. Lately I have been bouncing back and forth between them, and not getting much done.
I really should know better than flitting about from project to project. It is a lesson I have learned many times.
When I made my films Line of Taxis and My Most Difficult Case , I had to make deliberate decisions to stop working on other projects until they were done. Even so, I some times let these projects lag because I got side tracked by other ideas I wanted to pursue.
When I wrote my first feature script, The Anger Trap, I set aside all my other projects. I only wrote for about six hours a day from Monday to Friday, but I had the first draft done in three weeks. I went back later and did another couple of weeks work on the second and third drafts. I think it wasn’t so much the amount of time I put it, but that it was my top priority until I had it done.
Having many project ideas is only part of the problem. There is just so much interesting stuff to read or watch on the internet.
I am re-editing my film “My Most Difficult Case” and over the last few days, I have been going over the materials. I started on this re-edit quite some time ago, but dropped it for a couple years. I have been trying to work out just what I have before I can start finishing it.
Days of going through notes and checking files reminded me just how important good record keeping is. Or rather, they would be if I had been more diligent in my record keeping.
I keep promising to do a better job next time. I really mean it this time.
I find record keeping a rather mundane and boring exercise, but when it comes to putting your film together, good records make life a lot simpler. I find it hard enough to keep track of all the material for an 11-minute film. I can imagine just how much more difficult it would be for a 90 minute film.
I do have logs of the shots on each of my camera rolls. However, the records for the negative cut fell somewhat short of ideal. I had to re-watch some of the original camera rolls to work out which shots I used in the final film. While reviewing my logs, I realized that I hadn’t bothered to log any of my audio. I will be redoing the sound, so that is going to be a problem for me.
One of the things I wish I had done was keep a project diary. I found multiple copies of similar files, and it wasn’t clear which was the “good one” and which were experiments that I didn’t use in the end. A related problem is finding which file is the original file. When I worked as an engineer, I used to keep a project diary that was very useful when I had to trace back what I had done. So, I really should have known better. It would have only taken a few minutes to write up notes on what I did.
I am currently switching from shooting film to shooting digital. One bit of advice I got, from Mr. Garbutt believe, was to continue using slates. In shooting film, you need to slate all your shots so you can link the image and audio later. In the digital world, you record both on the same medium, so you don’t need slates to synchronize the two. But, when it comes to post production, slates to identifying each shot will make the work much easier.
Last week I wrote about the technical aspects of making films. While this is important, I believe it is even more important to have something interesting to say.
I started making films when I was in high school, but I stopped after I finished University. I didn’t make another film for another 15 years. Partly this was because I was busy with other things, but mostly because I felt I had nothing interesting to say. I only began to create films again when I felt I had something to say.
The film business is getting more competitive because digital technology has removed most of the barriers to entry. Just about anyone can make a film now, if they want to. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to give people something worthwhile. That is why I believe that having something to say is so important.
I find that ideas for stories often come while I am not thinking about films. As I contemplate the problems of the world and the challenges in my life, I begin to think about how I would explain my thoughts. This very often leads to a concept for a story.
In the last couple of years, I started to write articles and stories, and then post them on the internet. I was more interested in getting practice writing than making money. I have been doing many more articles than stories. I have found that articles are generally more successful than stories, so I started to write more articles.
More recently, I have started to rethink what I write. I only write articles about subjects where I think I have something worth saying. It may be better for me to take that message and use it as the basis for a story. Stories are a more subtle way to communicate.
One of the stories I am doing now, “Tom and His Incredible Traffic Model” came about when I decided to give up on an article I was writing on transportation planning. I worked for 30 years as a transportation planner and felt I had some valuable things to say. I decided it would be better to do that as a story rather than an article.
I just published a new story today. A Woman Alone in a Cruel World is a story that came to me while I was travelling through China last fall. It came from an event in Chinese history that I heard about. It is mostly about the emotions that people feel, rather than any specific message.
I recently read some postings on Stacy Park’s blog ( http://independentfilmblog.com/) about what she calls “reverse engineering” films. She talks about understanding the film market, both what people what and what they will pay for it.
I have been thinking about similar concepts for some time now, as you can see in my review of Rick Schmidt’s Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices.
Many years ago I read an article about filmmaking in Scientific American that touched on the same subject. The article was about how digital technology was changing the business of filmmaking. They said that traditionally filmmakers developed a vision, and then looked for the money to make it. The new trend was for filmmakers to look at how much money you had, and then develop a movie that they make with that money.
What are the rules you should follow when making a film on a very low budget? I feel it is better to think of them as constraints rather than rules. I see constraints as a challenge to use your creativity, while rules are things you have to do. When you write a sonnet, you are constrained by the standard form of the sonnet, yet poets have created many great sonnets.
I have compiled a few constraints here. I will add more as I think of them. If you have any suggestions please post them.
Small cast. Every additional character adds complexity and cost to the project. It is more of a challenge to maintain flow and interest when the number of characters is small. A film like “Before Sunrise” shows that a good filmmaker can work with this constraint.
Small crew. Again, every extra person on set adds complexity and cost. However, a small crew will limit the types of shots you can get, and can slow you down. When you are developing a project, you need to keep this in mind, since some types of scenes and shots can’t be done with your budget.
Few locations. Moving from location to another adds time and cost to a film. I’ve heard people talk of the “six fuse box rule”. One of the worries about this constraint is that having the same location appear over and over could become boring. Lately I have thought that this constraint can be overcome using green screen. The cost of green screen is getting lower and it is already being used to reduce the need for location shooting. http://vimeo.com/8337356 has some examples.
Shoot digital. While I love film, shooting digital saves a lot of money at the front end. That can make the difference between going ahead with a project, or dropping it.