PRODUCTION: FROM START TO FINISH
Like a story, production has a beginning, middle and end. But if you've never done it before, it can feel quite overwhelming not knowing how or where to start. Equally, knowing when it's finished often trips people up too
Not to be mistaken for the script, 'the idea' is the nugget-gem behind all projects. It's what gets us out of bed, out the house on weekends, filming to late into the night. Without the idea, we wouldn't have very much to do or look at. So what's your idea? What is it you want to bring to life? I primarily work within film, but perhaps you've got something else in mind. What's important is that you have something. Often it's simply something you want to say - which is the key to any good idea. I'm not a huge talker of my own feelings. I can moan occasionally about something that particularly bothers me, but otherwise I am quite private. I don't feel a need to post my thoughts on social media everyday, but instead, whenever I get that inner-monologue running, I observe it as though an idea is beginning to birth - what do your thoughts tell you you're interested in? What topic, injustice, or person do you think about most? Once you have something you want to say, it will require a bit of craft to bring it to life, for people to watch, read or listen to it. You've got an idea? Great. Now the hard work starts.
The script and pre-production
In order to bring your idea to life, unfortunately you're going to need some organisational skills. Unless of course you've got an army of ready-worker-bees keen to bring your creativity to fruition, then perhaps skill this one. But probably not yet, eh? So you're going to have to do it yourself, sorry! It doesn't come naturally to creative people, and its often a hurdle too big for many of us. So much so, a lot of creative people, with lots of amazingly creative ideas, never actually do anything about them. It seems being creative and being organised are at opposite ends of the talent tree. Never fear! What you gotta do is... do it! No matter what. Just set yourselves some goals for the day, organise some stuff that needs organising, and get it made. Because if you don't, your ideas will stay inside your head and no one will ever get to watch/read or listen to them. If you're making a film, the first thing you need to do is transfer your idea into a readable script or detailed breakdown. This is so you can get other people on board, because without it, you're just a rambling salesman that no one is going to trust. I once had a guy pitch me an idea and after just a few seconds, I cut him off and asked for the script - explaining that I find it easier to read an idea than listen to someone talk about it. But inevitably, he didn't have one (yet). So I hung up the phone. True story. Get organised, get yourself a script, start getting it made!
Unless you're very savvy, you're going to need some money to bring your idea to life. It may only be a few pennies, or it might be thousands of pounds. But I guarantee you're going to need some. So you need to start thinking about how much you need - this is called a budget. It's somewhat pointless pursuing something if you haven't thought about your means to produce it - unless of course, you're writing a novel, which is a very cost-affective endeavour. I've always self-funded, mostly for convenience, but also because I don't know anyone else willing to risk their life savings or pension with me. This meant for most of my 20s I worked a part time job whilst making my own short films. It was hard. I'm not going to lie. But it was a huge character-builder, and I recommend it to anyone if they can hack it. Now I'm in my 30s, and I still self-fund my own projects. Have I failed as a filmmaker? Maybe. But the market is just ridiculously tough and there are 1000s of filmmakers out there all vying for the same BFI grant. Also, if you're going to rely on someone else giving you money each time you want to make something, you're not going to make many things. We've all heard of the successful fundraising campaigns, and the filmmakers with rich parents, but I'm talking to the people who have neither of these things. Unfortunately for you you're going to need to set aside your pride and work a few jobs you don't want to work. Save up some cash and get your idea/script made, you'll be proud you did it on your own.
Assuming you're making a film, you're going to have to 'film' (or record in some way) your idea. This is often the most daunting part for most creatives, because it's where everything gets set in stone, and whilst I've got used to it, there is still a huge amount of worry and anxiety that comes along with filming your own project. What if it rains? What if someone doesn't turn up? What if an actor is a diva? What if the idea is shit?!... Don't worry, I've had all of those things happen to me and more, and what happens is... you get through it. Filming and filmmaking in general is a lot in the preparation, but it's also down to how you react in the moment. Things are going to go wrong, it's inevitable. So the best thing you can do is prepare yourself as best you can and wait for the battle. Because it's coming. If you're super lucky that the filming goes swimmingly, well good for you! But I'm sure someone on your set had a stressful day (probably the 1st AD). So be prepared for some hard-work, but it should also be a bit of fun too. At the end of the day, this is the moment you bring your idea to life. You need to concentrate and focus on the task at hand. Filming is unlike anything else I know, it's both frightening and exhilarating (maybe rollercoaster actually?). Get it wrong, it can be the worst feeling in the world. But get it right, and there's nothing quite like watching an actor bringing your script to life. Do the necessary preparation, but be prepared to adjust and improvise a bit. Filming can and will be tough.
Congratulations! You have the film in the can. But is it any good? How much of it do you need to save in the edit? Hopefully not a lot, but the chances are against you. In my experience, filming is such a shit storm, especially on low-budgets, that inevitable something either got missed or was messed up on the day, and now it's up to you and the editor to fix it. Don't worry, I've been making films for over ten years and I'm still fixing things in post. It's the truth, sorry film-school students. Welcome to the real world. You've just gotta get through the day of filming and hope for the best. Now, there are lots of clever things you can do in the edit to make sure no one ever knows that you made a mistake. I can't go into all the details now, but if you learn and practise editing, it makes dealing with your mistakes a whole lot easier and cheaper. Because I've been filming and editing for a long time now, I can tell on set what I can get away with in the edit. It could be cutting a shot, or over exposing a bright window, or chopping two performances together - simple things that might eventually trip you up. If you spend some time in the edit room, you'll learn the craft of filmmaking and it'll make you a lot better filmmaker. Editing is also where your idea is finally cemented into reality - you'll realise how your script could have been better or how better direction could have saved your film. All is revealed in the edit. I think it was Orson Welles who said there are three stages to writing; the script, the filming and the edit, and the edit is your final chance to write your idea.
Lastly, get people to watch it
What's the point in making something if no one is ever going to watch it? Well, lots of reasons actually. Namely, it's called practising your craft. But obviously you want as many people to watch your film as possible. If you don't, you've gotta ask yourself why? Perhaps you've fucked up, or you're embarrassed. Don't worry, I still feel that why with everything I do, I've just learnt to accept that as part of creating something. But you must, must, must get it out there and encourage people to watch it. It's how you learn what worked and what didn't. If you only keep it on your hard drive, locked away, then that's the level of filmmaking you'll stay at. Harsh truths and feedback is the way we learn and grow. So no matter what you do or how it turns out, you've got to get people to watch your film.