Back in 2004, after I shot My Most Difficult Case, I decided that my next movie would be a feature. I felt I was ready for it, but seven years have gone by and no feature yet. I’ve started to consider some of the difficulties I’ve run into. I hope that will help me overcome them.
I expect that my knowledge and views will change and become better organized. That is why I call this version 1.0.
It’s a Lot of Work
A feature takes a long time to make. Sometimes years. A short can sometimes be shot over a weekend, sometimes even a day. That just isn’t possible with a feature. You need be enthusiastic about your movie and stay enthusiastic about you movie for the duration. No only do you need to be committed, but you need a cast and crew that are committed.
The Story Must be Captivating
As an independent first time feature makers you can’t do a typical “Hollywood” movie. You will never get the stars that you’d need to make it work. Without name stars, the movie’s concept needs to attract the audience. The story must inspire the cast and crew to want to see the movie made. You can’t do it alone. The parts must attract actors. They want a challenge. They want to show what they can do.
It isn’t too hard to come up with new ideas and concepts, but ideas and concepts that captivate people don’t come on demand. They just pop up unexpectedly. I always believed that the way to have a lot of good ideas is to have a lot of ideas.
You Need Money
Even if you manage to find people who will volunteer, because of the time commitment they need to give, you should pay them at least a token amount. You’ll need to feed them and cover their expenses. I enjoy making films more than raising money, but you can’t do the former without the latter.
A Script for a Feature is Harder to Write
You might expect that the script for a 90 minute feature would be 9 times the work for the script of a 10 minute short. A 10 minute short can be built around a single idea. A feature is not just 9 shorts strung together; they need to be linked by higher level ideas.
A feature script must be planned before you start to write. I find that stifles my creativity. I need to find a way to shift back and forth between a creative mindset and an organizing mindset. Maybe collaboration with someone else would make that easier.
The Characters Must Be More Realistic
In a short movie, you can get away with superficial characters. In a feature the characters need to be deeper. Not only that, but they must change through the course of the movie. In my shorts I’ve often just thrown in character traits to give the impression that there is more to the character. For a feature my characters I have to create a coherent whole person.
You Need to learn Your Craft
You can’t make a good movie without learning how to do it. Studying the work of others does help, but much of the skill can only come from you own experience. It can be hard to start on a movie that will be bad, and you know that your first attempt will be bad.
Realistically, every project is an opportunity. You start out knowing little, so your early work will be “bad.” Still, you want to make a movie worth watching. That is worth asking an audience to watch. I’ve tried to design some of my projects to hone specific skills I’ll need.
The Key to Success?
I believe that what you need to succeed is to have a concept that is strong enough to draw people and energy to itself. I experienced this with Line of Taxis. As the project progressed it started to take on a life of its own. I never felt, as with other projects, that I had to “get out and push” to make it happen.
It is that kind of concept that you need to find for your first feature. It will bring you the support and energy you need to go all the way to the finish. It will bring you the audience you need to make the movie a success.