first film

A Guide to Getting Your First Film Made (On The Cheap)

Alright, so you’ve just graduated and you’re eager to make your first feature film. And you’re broke. Let’s just assume everyone reading this is broke. Where do you go from here?

Here are some tips to help you get started on your quest to create your own low-budget feature film, outside of the comfort of school:

Rule #1: Make a List of Everything You Have

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So you have a script written, but you need actors, a cinematographer, editor, costumes, craft services, and maybe even a director.

We all know that filmmaking is expensive, but if you’re a first-time filmmaker on a shoestring budget you’re far from a Hollywood level of production quality. So take some time to make a list of all the locations, equipment, actors, crew members, or props you might already have access to for little or no costs at all.

See if any of your friends have time or tools. Got a camera? That’s somewhere to start! And once you’ve made a list of everything you have that you can make a film with, that leaves…

Rule #2: Make a List of Everything You Need

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Reverse budgeting works: figure out what or who you need. That’s all a budget is. Now, itemize everything and everyone on that list. Do your research. Figure out how much you’re able to get for cheap or zilch.

There are three ways people pay for the budgeted line items:

  • pay now (cold-hard cash)
  • pay later (deferred payment based on profits made from the film)
  • pay through product placement (sometimes referred to as “in kind,” or the “you scratch my back/I scratch yours” deal).

Rule #3: Locations Are Expensive

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Ever wonder why so many low-budget movies seem to take place in just one location? Rodrigo Cortés’s “Buried.” Steven Knight’s “Locke.” Steve McQueen’s “Hunger.” Michael Snow’s utterly sublime Wavelength. Even Barry Jenkin’s Oscar-winning film “Moonlight,” with a story that takes place throughout many decades in a character’s life, only has a handful of on-screen set locations throughout.

Every time you add a location to your story, you add in more costs and even more time. Keep that in mind when budgeting. Always remember your paperwork too. Paperwork is super important.

Rule #4: Sound is King

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You may be fretting about whether you have the most streamlined, high-tech, newest and hottest camera on the market for your first film project, but we’ll let you in on a little secret: Having good sound is equally important.

Just look at any documentary to see how good-quality audio can make a professional difference. You can find more creative solutions to shoot compelling visuals with a cheaper camera or very little lighting equipment, but audiences will be far less forgiving if your audio is impossible to listen to.

Rule #5: Have the Rights to the Music

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If you know someone who can do your soundtrack, if you can hire someone for cheap, or if you can make music yourself, go that route for sure.

But definitely, definitely do not use music that you have no rights to.

There are so many urban myths surrounding fair use laws and licensing, but the simple truth is that you can’t use anyone else’s music effects or soundtrack without their permission. Charles Burnett’s “The Killer of Sheep” wasn’t released for nearly 30 years for this very reason.

Get permission in writing if you can.

Rule #6: Thinking On Your Feet Is Okay

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If you went to film school or made some short films in the past, you’re probably well aware that it is often the case that things don’t go as planned when on set or in the editing room.

You may have spent months or even years writing the perfectly crafted script or creating storyboards and shot lists that are detailed to the teeth, but all of that is likely to change any given minute you spend on set. Let’s be real: problems happen all. the. time.

All legendary filmmakers have had to deal with this. What is their secret? They see these “problems” as creative opportunities. And as most film junkies know, some of the best scenes in movie history were completely improvised.

Rule #7: Marketing

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For most filmmakers, this is the hardest part. You’ve spent sweat, blood and tears making your baby, and now you need to deliver it to the people.

The toughest part after your film is made is getting people to care. We wish there was a catch-all tip for marketing indie movies, but there isn’t. However, we will say that marketing is something you need to be thinking of from day one, when you first begin writing the script. Throughout the process, reach out to professionals and hire a professional if you can.

What is your best advice for first-time feature filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below! And learn more about filmmaking at the New York Film Academy.

 

Technical Tips for First-Time Filmmakers

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Every person dreaming of becoming a professional filmmaker had that same special moment: You were watching perhaps one of your favorite films of all time when suddenly you thought, “I want to make movies too.”

Of course, not everyone who has this moment actually ends up following through with their goal. This is because anyone can see a great movie and think they can make something just as good, if not better. But the reality is that filmmaking requires dedication, hard work, and a great deal of problem-solving. First-time filmmakers must grapple with this reality, and not let the challenges of filmmaking overcome its rewards.

To help first-time filmmakers through their challenges and joys on the set of their first movie, we’ve rounded up some helpful advice on some of the more important elements of filmmaking. We hope this helps first-time filmmakers keep their vision clear and their chins up as they make their dreams of movie magic a (sometimes hard-won) reality.

Framing and Camera Work

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When actually filming your scenes, you have a wide variety of choices for framing your shots. Here we cover only 12 of the many camera shots that everyone involved in filmmaking should know . While there are exceptions, using the same type of shots throughout your scenes will result in a dull experience.

Instead, study the different types and purposes of the repertoire of shots you can use. By becoming familiar with different shots and incorporating them into your work, you’ll learn how to establish the rhythm of a scene along with the point of view. Tracking shots, pans, and zoom-ins are are also very powerful tools when used correctly.

Casting and Acting

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Many young filmmakers, when casting, put too much emphasis on the physical appearance of the actor. They often make the mistake of casting someone who “looks” the part, rather than the better actor. “The Graduate is a good example. The main character of Benjamin Braddock, was described in the book as looking like Robert Redford and not at all like Dustin Hoffman. But Mike Nichols had the courage to cast Dustin and, as a result, the movie is a classic.

Many young directors are seem to be fearful of casting actors more experienced than they are. They fear that the actor will see that they don’t know what they’re doing and embarrass them. But this is the furthest thing from the truth. If an experienced actor takes a role in your film, it is because they share your desire to make the picture better.

Directing

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Directing a picture can be a challenging experience, even for professionals. However, when you’re inexperienced and not only directing but also producing, catering, being your own assistant director and even being the transportation captain, it can be downright overwhelming. As a result, inexperienced directors often make the mistake of letting their minds wander while the camera is rolling. As soon as they call “ACTION,” they start to think to themselves, o kay, I have this shot, so after this I’ll move over there to get that shot and I have to remember to get that prop ready and don’t forget to call t he location about the schedule change tomorrow and… “CUT!” Then they find themselves in the editing room wondering, “where was I when that was happening because that is not what I wanted in the shot.” The New York Film Academy encourages our students to be in the moment, clear their minds while the camera is rolling. Because no matter how much they’ve prepared, if it’s not happening while the camera is rolling, you didn’t get it.

Editing

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Here’s a little trick NYFA New York City’s Chair of Filmmaking, Claude Kervin, recommends for those times when you get stale from watching a scene over and over and over: Flip the image left to right. Copy the scene and have the software create a mirror image. Part of the reason we feel stale is that we are anticipating every rhythm and movement in the scene. Flipping it left to right adds just enough new information to make our brains feel that we’re watching the scene anew!

Sound & Music

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A good movie requires the perfect combination of images and sound. In fact, sound is often your most powerful tool for conveying emotion to the audience and making sure they feel what you want them to feel. Without sound, it’s much more difficult nowadays to create a mood for your scenes.

While sound effects and dialogue are important, music also plays a vital role in delivering a captivating film experience. Music is also used to create an emotion, and different music works better for specific moods. Our advice: Watch a few movies from different genres and pay attention to the sounds and music they chose. Sound and music are infinitely adaptable to tone, style, and genre, and you’ll find that what worked great for “The Lord of the Rings” wouldn’t be very effective in a horror or romantic comedy.

Do you have any solid advice you’d like to offer first-time filmmakers? Let us know in the comments below!