Making a film is by no means easy and many people spend a lifetime talking about their film ideas, going to courses and workshops etc, without ever getting around to making anything. That is why I admire anyone who has actually gone and shot a movie – good or bad.
However, here’s a little advice from someone with a lot of editing and shooting experience – time spent planning in pre-production will save you a fortune in post.
I’ve recently been editing some footage from a first-time filmmaker who’s has shot a movie abroad. It’s made on a very low budget featuring locals, family, etc. It was also shot by a camera operator who had little or no experience. Oh, and they didn’t bother at all with a sound recordist. The result is it would actually be cheaper and better to shoot the entire film again than to try and fix the sound and picture issues in post production. In fact most of the footage and sound is completely unsalvageable.
So here, for your benefit are some tips from Robo Films for the first time filmmaker.
1) Have a script that you can actually film.
As I have said many times to clients “there is no button marked VIDEO MAGIC”. If you want your footage to look like ‘The Matrix’ (a common request) you will need a Hollywood budget. Visual FX are time consuming and expensive. Think about available locations, props, lights, costumes, people. Yes you can digitally create a crowd scene but it’s probably cheaper to by drinks for 50 of your mates to turn up and be extras for a day.
2) Get good sound.
Many people seem to think that sound recording isn’t very important in a film. I’ve come across dialogue that has been shot with the camera’s top mic from 20 feet away – pretty much all you could hear was wind and traffic. The director seemed to think this could be cleaned up using software but if the dialogue is not there nothing short of a time travelling sound recordist will bring it back. Yes, there is software which can help clean up BACKGROUND noise but if the loudest thing on your clip is wind then that’s what you’re stuck with. Use a boom and/or clip mics – or make a silent movie. The golden rule is simple – get your microphone as close to the source as possible. A cheap microphone close to the person speaking will sound a thousand times better than the world’s most expensive mic 10 feet away.
3) Turn off everything ‘AUTO’
If your camera operator is not experienced they will often use the auto focus and iris settings. These are fine for videos of your cat dancing to The Spice Girls but will often ruin your shots. Recently I had some footage of a couple of characters who were about 10 feet behind some chicken wire. The operator had auto focus on so naturally the actors were just a blur and the chicken wire was in detailed sharp focus. The camera’s auto focus chip has no idea about your artistic intentions and will simply focus on whatever is in the foreground. The same goes for auto iris. I have seen so many shots ruined by the camera exposing for backlit subjects, a dark jacket, a cloud passing the sun. Best advice, don’t have your film shot by someone who’s read the camera’s manual the night before. Use a good DOP who knows how to light, expose, focus. It’s a skilled job and it will make a whole world of difference.
4) Get help
There are lots of people out there who want to gain experience in film. If you have a good script or idea then there’s a strong chance that you can assemble a small crew for free or for expenses. People don’t get into this business for the money – if that’s what a person is interested in they’ll probably get a job in the City – they get into it because they want to make films and will want to be involved in your film if they believe it will be great. There are lots of sites out there for independent filmmakers to find crew, from DOPs to caterers.
5) Log your footage
I recently was presented with 25 hours of footage on a collection of unmarked SD cards. Nothing at all was logged so I had no idea which clip was in which scene or what the good takes were. By not making simple notes and capturing the files as he went a long the director had wasted a lot of money paying for an editor to go through all that footage and organise it into a project. Once again, something so simple to do during filming could have saved a lot of time and money in post production.
Finally) Show some restraint.
You see all those buttons on your camera that do fancy effects like solarize, invert, starbust, mosaic? Whatever you do don’t touch them. And while you’re at it leave that ever so tempting zoom control alone, unless you want your film to look like a clip from ‘You’ve Been Framed’.