Becoming a filmmaker on a budget

So, you have decided to be a filmmaker. You have watched enough movies, read enough about the process and you want to start making movies. However, there’s one problem: you don’t have enough money to spend on a top of the line camera or expensive software. Do you give up? No! You spend as little as possible to practice your passion. Here’s where to start:

First, you need some sort of screenwriting software. You don’t want to make a movie without having a plan after all! The good folks over at Celtx have a great program for $0. It’s fully functional and will format your screenplay appropriately.  I really can’t say anything bad about it. I also can’t stress how much you need to have a proper story before you film.

Next, you need a camera. If you’re just starting out, really any camera will do. Just make sure you can access the content easily. In other words, make sure you can connect your camera to your computer. Also remember that you do get what you pay for, and an extremely inexpensive camera may need upgrading after some practice.

While we are on the subject of cameras, make sure you get a tripod. Don’t try the handheld effect. Nobody liked it in Blair Witch, and nobody’s liked it since. Tripods will usually run you about $20-$30.

(While you’re acquiring things for production, you might as well start assembling your grip kit.)

After that, now you’re ready for post-production. Time to edit together your first masterpiece. Fortunately, your computer may already come with some editing software. For Macs, you can use iMovie to edit your creations. For PCs, you may need to download Windows Movie Maker. If you bought a camera, you may have some software that came with it in the box. Once you cut your teeth on these, I recommend upgrading to Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere Elements. NOTE: Check to make sure your computer is compatible with the software, or plan to add upgrading expenses to your budget.

Follow these guidelines and you have your first film production! Now get some actors and make a movie!

How to get extras

So, you’re making a movie, and you need a crowd of people in a scene. Unless you know a good flashmob troupe, you should follow these guidelines to make sure you are able to get enough actors for your scene.

  • First, make sure you start asking people early enough. Six weeks is a good place to start. You want to have enough time for people to check their schedules, get time off work, and clear their calendar of any other obligations.
  • Second, ask everyone! Post on Craigslist, ask everyone in your email contacts, call up friends that owe you favors. Best of all, talk to some local acting agencies or acting troupes that are in the area and ask if they would like to attend. If possible, put it up on the news, or an ad in the paper.
  • Next, make sure you have a good bribe. Sure, you may want to stand around for a few hours on a Saturday, but not everyone shares your enthusiasm. If you offer something extra for showing up, it sweetens the deal. Having some food is a must. (Craft services tables are awesome) Offer everyone some gas money, and you might have to turn people away. If you’re making someone drive to a remote location, gas money shows how caring you are of everyone’s time.
  • Make sure you tell everyone what the details are. This should be simple: Date, Time, Location, Address, Directions, Costume, Film Title, Available Amenities, and What Weather to expect. Make sure you include this with all correspondence. And speaking of correspondence…
  • Contact often! Make sure that the people that have committed to helping you don’t forget and bail at the last minute. Especially if there’s a change in any of the important details. Once a week should work.

And then comes filming day, where you’ll be able to work with tons of extras, make plenty of contacts, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Just make sure of one last thing:

Everyone showed up for a reason. Make sure you do not disappoint by being disorganized. 

But that’s a whole other post….

How to Suceed at a Timed Film Competition

As a veteran of five film competitions in two years, there’s quite a few things that I have learned in this time. Some things from success, some from failures. Here’s numbers 1-5 of a million.

Prepare as much as you can in advance. Leading up to the event, you should have some time to acquire your team members and just talk. Chat about some of the movies that you’ve seen lately and have a sense of camaraderie. Also, see what everyone’s specialty is before you start production. Assign some tasks, agree to a certain genre, or just enjoy some company.

Bring food. This is a good way to delegate the task of acquiring food to everybody. Have everybody bring one dish that they enjoy the most. If your competition spans multiple days, plan out the meals for each day. Before long, you’ll have a potluck fit for a king. Just beware of allergies.

Sleep-deprive smartly. Chances are, you most likely aren’t going to spend a third of the competition sleeping, so you’ll be sleep deprived unless you do the following:

  1. Do tasks in shifts.
  2. Rest periodically.
  3. Don’t have someone double up on a major job.
  4. Wait to consume stimulants until after you’ve been up for 12 hours.

With this, you can stay up late and work efficiently. Zombies may make good cast members, but not good crew.

Plan out the whole day. Once you have a rough script, you should have someone make a schedule, planning out which scenes you’ll be filming on each day. Make sure you allow enough time for reshoots and editing. Remember that the schedule is not ironclad; it is a guide to let you know how you are doing.

Work as a team. This has to be the most important advice anyone can give. You all signed up to make a great work of art in a limited amount of time, and you have to do it without being at everyone’s throats. Leave your ego at the door, and work together with everyone. If not, all you have left is a movie that you all hate, and a loathing for the team. Above all, remember that this is supposed to be FUN!

Movie List

Rule number 12 of being a filmmaker is: Observe your craft. In other words, watch movies! Lots of them! Both good and bad movies can teach you a lot about storytelling, cinematography, how to reach an audience, among other things.

However, I have not followed this rule well. There are tons of movies that I have on my ‘list’ that I need to see, yet haven’t.

Well, the excuses end today! I resolve to watch the movies on my list, and learn about them. All movies on this list have never been watched by myself, yet have come recommended, and I want to watch them. In no particular order, the list is:

  1. Mad Max
  2. Aliens
  3. Planet of the Apes
  4. Cowboys and Aliens
  5. Sucker Punch
  6. Moulin Rouge
  7. The King’s Speech
  8. A Clockwork Orange
  9. Gamer
  10. Citizen Kane
  11. Black Swan
  12. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (both parts)
  13. The Social Network
  14. The Aviator
  15. Full Metal Jacket
  16. Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead
  17. Platoon
  18. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
  19. From Dusk Til Dawn
  20. Mariachi
  21. Machete
  22. Avatar
  23. Monsters vs Aliens
  24. 2012
  25. True Grit (2010)
  26. There Will Be Blood
  27. 12 Monkeys
  28. No Country For Old Men
  29. Fargo
  30. Barton Fink
  31. In Bruges
  32. Seven
  33. American Psycho
  34. Scarface
  35. The Godfather (Part 1 and 2)
  36. Coraline
  37. Batman (1989)
  38. Forgetting Sarah Marshall
  39. Seven Samurai
  40. 28 Days Later
  41. Live and Let Die
  42. Body of Lies
  43. Nine
  44. Pirate Radio
  45. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus
  46. The Departed
  47. Amelie
  48. Being John Malkovich
  49. Requiem for a Dream
  50. Saving Private Ryan
  51. The Usual Suspects
  52. Goodfellas
  53. Dirty Harry
  54. Die Hard
  55. The Davinci Code
  56. Surrogates
  57. Deja Vu
  58. Jonah Hex
  59. Vantage Point
  60. Moon
  61. The Invention of Lying
  62. The Losers
  63. Memento
  64. Brick
  65. Taxi Driver
  66. Modern Times
  67. The Maltese Falcon
  68. Planet Terror
  69. Donnie Darko
  70. The Truman Show
So, there it is, 70 movies that I intend to see. Soon. Maybe within a year. Once I watch one, I will post a review.

The Movies You Will Watch in Film School

If you spend at least a semester, or even a week at film school, there are some iconic movies that you will sit through, some more than once. Better yet, it is a great way to see movies that you just haven’t seen yet. Whether you’re just a movie buff, a filmmaker, or trying to learn things on your own, here is my list of movies you will see in film school:

Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run)

A classic from Germany, highlighting how color association can be used to illuminate important characters and objects. It was also shown to highlight how having multiple timelines going on at the same time can actually work and not be confusing.


This usually fills in for the film noir section. By the master of Noir himself, Alfred Hitchcock.

The Gold Rush (Or any Chaplin movie)

You have to see a silent movie. And generally, it’s Chaplin. But to get the most benefit, examine the differences between Chaplin, Lloyd, and Keaton.

Pulp Fiction

I saw this movie three times, and heard it mentioned a thousand more times. Mostly because my film school worshiped Tarantino. But in reality, this is a very good film that illustrates how to link unconnected characters together in a complicated story-line. Oh, and amazing dialogue.