Independent filmmaking is a great way for first-time filmmakers to dip their toes in the water and learn the ins and outs of movie-making without the resources that come with studios and higher budgets. While making a film, even on a lower budget, takes a lot of time and effort, anyone can do it with the right dedication and preparation.
Below, we’ll walk you through a step-by-step guide on making your first film as well as offer additional tips so you can really make your film shine before submitting it to festivals.
Step-by-Step Guide For First-Time Filmmakers
The list below operates as a helpful tool for first-time indie filmmakers. However, keep in mind that every situation is unique. This guide provides a general overview but it can be helpful for you to sit down and create your own list of everything you think you will need and want to remember for your film. That said, this step-by-step filmmaking guide is a great jumping-off point to help lead you in the right direction if you really have no idea where to start.
1. Script First
The script is where everything begins, so before you start doing anything else, make sure the script is complete. When you start getting into the casting and the creative storyboarding, you’ll need to have a finished script to work from. It’s okay if things in the script end up changing along the way, but you should try to ensure you have a good script to work with from the start as it provides the blueprint for everything else and helps set the tone.
2. Define Your Budget
Before you start rounding up cast and crew and paying for rentals or making any other purchases, you need to clearly define your budget. If you start spending on things without knowing exactly how much you have to spend, you can easily go over budget and find yourself hitting delays because you can’t then afford other things you need like location and editing costs.
So make sure you round up all your funding first and have a good idea of how much you have to work with. From there, you can start making a list of everything you’ll need and how much you want to allocate to each item on the list.
3. Gather Your Cast and Crew
Teamwork makes the dream work, so it’s important to make thoughtful decisions when assembling your team. These are going to be the people who help you bring your vision to life, so it’s important to make sure you are selecting the right professionals to help you accomplish your goals.
The first person you should hire is a producer, as they can help you and offer guidance when it comes to budgeting, location, and selecting cast and crew. And as for the cast, don’t focus on getting big-name actors just to give your film recognition. Big actors cost big bucks, and you should save that money for other, more important things.
4. Creative Planning and Storyboarding
Next comes the creative part, taking your script and turning it into a creative storyboard that lays all of the scenes out as well as the shots you want to include. It’s important to break down your film scene-by-scene so you can get a good overall picture of how everything flows and will tie together. This also helps your cast and crew have a clear idea of what to expect. This will also help you get an idea of the various places and locations you’ll need for shooting.
5. Scout Locations
The locations you choose play an essential role and help you bring your story to life. So make sure you allow yourself enough time and budget to lock down locations that will strengthen your story and enable you to create a believable setting for your audience.
6. Create a Schedule
Once you have your team, your storyboard, and your locations, it’s time to start creating a shooting schedule. This can sometimes be the tricky part as you’ll need to keep everyone’s individual availability in mind as well as the availability of the location. You’ll also need to match up everyone’s schedules with the time of day you need to shoot for the scene, such as if you need shots at night, at dawn, or during the day.
7. Secure Permits, Props, Rentals, Etc.
Next, it’s time to start securing any permits you might need and acquiring props, rentals, costumes, and anything else you require to start bringing everything together. If you are working with a tight budget, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family for items they can lend you for free so you don’t have to spend all your money on rentals or purchases.
8. Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
It’s also important to allow your actors plenty of time to rehearse. If anyone feels rushed and unprepared, it will likely come across on camera. Not allowing enough time for rehearsals can also create a very tense and stressful environment when it does come time to start shooting. So make sure you allow your actors enough time to really craft their characters and get familiar with their roles.
9. Make a “Production Bible”
A great way to ensure you have everything you need before shooting is to create a “production bible.” This is like a binder that will contain everything you need from shot lists and scene layouts to character notes and scheduling. All the information you’ll need should be in your production bible so it’s easy to find and access.
10. Over Prepare, Communicate Openly and Respectfully, and Start Shooting
There is never such a thing as over-preparing, so spend as much time as you need getting yourself and your team ready. Be sure to communicate openly and respectfully to avoid conflict and make sure any questions are answered before you start shooting so everyone is very clear on what’s happening. This will ensure a smoother shooting process.
That said, there are always setbacks. It’s important to prepare yourself for this and to be ready to embrace spontaneity in case anything doesn’t go exactly according to plan. In fact, it’s smart to have a backup plan that will better help you adjust to any operational delays. Delays happen, but they can also affect your budget, so the more prepared you are for setbacks, the better, as it can help you minimize loss.
Again, the best way to plan for these things is by ensuring the lines of communication are open and by over-preparing. You can also stay ahead by creating a risk assessment of anything that you think could go wrong and how you want to handle it if it does.
Additional Tips for Making Your First Film Shine
Below are some tips that you can use during pre- and post-production to really help your film stand out before you start submitting it to festivals.
Make Your Motion Graphics Pop
If you’ll be including any motion graphics in your film, these tips can help you ensure they look high quality:
- Start with a drawing board to conceptualize your ideas
- Make sure you use the right program like Cinema 4D or 3DS Max
- Include a combination of 2D and 3D elements
- Try mixing practical elements with digital elements
Try Using a Drone for Epic Shots
A great way to give your film that higher production value appeal is to use drones for aerial shots. Aerial shots always look cool and can offer different perspectives of the location where you are shooting. However, if you’ve never used a drone, keep in mind that there is a learning curve, so either hire someone who knows how to use one or give yourself some time to learn if you really want drone footage in your film.
Don’t Skimp on the Editing
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how good the shooting went if your editing is lacking. Editing can often make or break a film. So make sure you’ve got a good editor on your team to really give your film the finesse it needs. If you yourself are handling the editing, taking some video editing classes online can help you up your game.
There are numerous options available to give you the skills you need to edit your film like a pro, from Premiere Pro classes and After Effects classes, to courses on using Final Cut Pro and Adobe Captivate Training.
That’s a Wrap
While this guide might not touch on every single aspect of making a film, it does cover all the bases. So if you’re just starting out, the list and tips should help steer you in the right direction. Just remember that there’s no such thing as over-preparing, so before you start, make sure you create your own list of everything you think you’ll need to address to ensure you’ve got everything covered.