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10 Tips for Aspiring Filmmakers

Updated on January 26, 2015

10 Bits of Advice for Anyone Who Wants to be a FIlmmaker

I don't claim to have it all figured out. I've often considered what I need to do to create a great movie that would hold it's own against anything coming out of Hollywood.

The following are the things I have done over the last 15 years to give me the confidence that I would be able to create a reasonably successful feature film. These are by no means the only things you have to do. They're just 10 tips. You need to learn the technical aspects of filmmaking any way you can. You need to know how to edit, shoot, direct, write, produce and make a good cup of coffee before you can be a good filmmaker. These are just some guidelines to get you headed in the right direction...

1. Watch Lots of Movies

Well, duh, right? It's still surprising to me how many times fellow hopeful filmmakers have told me that they just don't have time to watch movies. I'm also often surprised at how behind they are on what is currently out there. If you want to be a writer, you read books. If you want to be a filmmaker, you watch movies. And I mean all kinds of movies. Watch movies you don't like as well as those you do. Try to figure out what exactly makes the good ones good and the bad ones bad.

2. Watch the Behind the Scenes Documentaries on the DVD's

When the movie is over, do you hit eject before the credits are even rolling? You're missing out on a very valuable and free lesson in filmmaking. Most DVD's contain special features including "making of" documentaries. Watch them. See where they set up the lights. Look at where the dolly track is positioned. In your mind, associate that with the shot you saw in the movie. They have to physically get the stuff on film before it can be cut into the movie so try to figure out how they did it.

3. Read Screenplays Before Seeing the Movie

Of course you don't want to do this before seeing something you're really looking forward to, but if there's a movie you're interested in, and you can get your hands on the script before seeing the movie, read it. It's a good exercise to see how you picture the movie and how it actually ends up on the screen. Then you can start to question the decisions you would have made as a director that differ from the actual movie. Would you have made a better movie? Be honest.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting

For the aspiring writer, this really spells it out for you. Whether you want to write novels or screenplays, McKee talks about what has been true about stories since the cavemen first painted on cave walls.

 

4. Practice

Nothing will train you to be a filmmaker better than making movies yourself. But you're not going to get $150 million to make "Spiderman 4" without a track record. Start small. Odds are your first efforts will have a budget of $1 or less. Just make a short film or scene. Practice an action sequence. You likely have friends that would love to parade around in front of your camera for nothing. Use them.

On Directing Film
On Directing Film

Basic theories of directing for the aspiring director.

 

5. Critique Yourself Honestly

Now that you've made your 5 minute, no-budget masterpiece, sit down and look at it honestly. Your friends and family are not going to give you an honest critique because they're all going to say they love it. Look at your movie and say to yourself, "What is the difference between my movie and my favorite movies that I watch over and over again in the theater or on DVD?" The first answer will inevitably be the large sums of money. But there's more to it than that. How does it cut together? How does the action move? Is it interesting? Is the audio any good? Is it lit so you can see what's going on? If you had no connection to the movie, would you actually watch it? It's hard, but you have to be honest with yourself and you have to understand what separates you from the big boys. If you can see where you need to improve and acknowledge that you didn't make a perfect movie, you have potential as a filmmaker.

6. Realize It's Not Easy

So you've been honest with yourself. That short you shot one Saturday with your buddies didn't turn out very good and quite honestly, you wouldn't even watch more than a minute of it yourself if you weren't personally connected to it. Your first efforts aren't going to be great because filmmaking is not easy. Like any art form, it takes practice and skill to do it well. Really successful filmmakers likely have some inherent talent as well. So now you have to ask yourself if you're ready to take it to the next level. Are you ready to really work as hard as you have to to try to get better or do you just think of filmmaking as a hobby that you're not really interested in being commercially successful in? If completing a movie of your own is success enough for you, then congratulations. You're an accomplished filmmaker. But if you dream of seeing your movies on the big screen in front of a large audience, you're going to have to work really hard to do it. This is where many of your friends will decide that filmmaking is boring because making a good movie takes lots of time and effort.

7. Get Realistic and Make Something Real

You want to go to the next level, but you still don't have any real budget to speak of. Now it's time to get realistic with your ideas. What could you do really well for little to no money? There are actors out there just looking for roles so they can get something on a reel. Find them. There are people out there who want to DP and have good camera equipment to do it with. Find them too. Try creating an engaging short film, around 5 minutes long, that won't require a huge budget to make. You'll probably need at least a couple hundred dollars no matter what. Enlist the help of other people who want to be professionals as well and are looking to get some experience under their belts. This is when you start to create that first real work of art. You get a small cast and crew to work with where everybody has their specialty and you go for it like a pro. When you finish this short, it's time to do the honest critique again. It's guaranteed there will be problems with this effort as well. Hopefully, if you've been learning from your previous projects, if you've been honest with yourself and you've assembled a decent cast and crew, you could create something that people will actually want to sit down and watch for 5 minutes.

In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2nd Edition
In the Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing, 2nd Edition

What makes a good cut? When is it the right time to make that edit? Whether you want to be an editor or not, this is a must read.

 

8. Screen Your Work for an Audience

Find a place to screen your work for an audience. I'm not talking about showing it in your living room for family and friends. I mean find a venue and show your movie, preferably to a bunch of strangers. Again, it will be a time for you to be honest with yourself. If you made a comedy, but no one laughs, it's not because they don't "get it". It's because it's not funny. If you made a horror film and no one cringes or gasps, it's because it's not scary. Sit in the back of the venue and try to gauge the audience reaction. If there is no reaction at all, your movie failed. That doesn't mean you failed. It just means that effort failed. Go back to the drawing board or maybe try another audience. If you get the reaction you're looking for, even if your movie is rough around the edges, you're successful. When people laugh or gasp when you expected them to, it gives you a great feeling. It will inspire you to keep going. Even one instance in a 5 minute short where someone honestly reacts to your movie like you intended is a sign that you can do this.

9. Enter Film Festivals

I have an inside scoop for everyone on the film festival thing because I have been a co-director of a film festival for almost 10 years. That scoop is that most movies submitted to film festivals are bad. So get rid of the idea that you have a certain percentage chance of getting into a festival. Also, don't expect to get accepted to Sundance with your first short film. But realistically speaking, 80% of the movies submitted to a film festival probably have a 0% chance of getting in because of how bad they are. They mostly come from filmmakers who were not honest with themselves about how good their movie is. It's like the contestants on American Idol that are just horrible singers, but they thought they were good because their mom, dad and sister told them they were. So if 80% of the movies submitted have 0% chance of getting in, then the other 20% are the ones that you actually have to stack up against. So If you're one of the 20% that made a good movie, your odds of getting into a festival are closer to 100% depending on how much programming they need. If you are getting turned down again and again by festival after festival, consider that maybe your movie isn't as good as you thought and maybe it's time to go back and try again.

10. Make Stuff

You can't be a filmmaker, or by any means become a better one, if you don't get out there and make movies. Learn from every movie you make. Make sure you improve every time you make a new one. Pinpoint what's wrong with even your favorite work and try to do better next time. You will either reach your full potential as a filmmaker one day and you'll never see any improvement, or you'll continuously get better with every project. Any chance to make something is a chance to learn something. Even if you're going to shoot a wedding video, try a new technique or piece of equipment. Learn something every time you turn on a camera or sit down to edit.

Special Effects: An Oral History--Interviews with 37 Masters Spanning 100 Years
Special Effects: An Oral History--Interviews with 37 Masters Spanning 100 Years

From puppets to CG, see "how they did that" since movies were invented.

 

We Made a Movie: AMERICA'S MOST HAUNTED - Fulvew Productions

We made a feature!

The crew of a popular ghost hunting show gets more than they bargained for when they come across a location that's actually haunted.

Rent of by AMERICA'S MOST HAUNTED - Available right here:

Rent it now. Watch it tonight. It's available 24 hours a day!

America's Most Haunted
America's Most Haunted

The crew of a popular ghost hunting show gets more than they bargained for when they come across a location that's actually haunted.

 

TALKING DEAD - Fulvew Productions

This is a short film we made a few years ago for a competition. We won first place and since it has shown at some film festivals and been pretty well received.

Music video for BUMP - OUT OF REACH - Fulvew Productions

This is a music video we made for the Detroit band, Bump. We're very proud of it not only because it came out nice, but also because we successfully pulled off a one-shot video meaning there are no cuts in it at all. The entire video is one shot.

Filmmaker Status Poll

Where do you think you are in your filmmaking career?

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    • pcmitchum profile image

      pcmitchum 3 years ago

      Nice lens, man. What equipment are you using?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hey, I loved talking dead! Directing was GREAT and the story was a awesome. A great concept and similar to that of Frankenstein and Herbert West-Reanimator. My only critique are the two actors... Sorry guys, but you absolutely suck.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      i am 12 years old and i am deciding my gcse's soon, i already decided i want to be a director but its getting serious now, the main few im gonna take are drama, english, history , media and a few more, are they good choices? also i am starting a mini film called royal syblings and its about.... oh it don't matter so any way yeah BYEEEE!!! :)

    • cinefile profile image

      cinefile 5 years ago

      I know a lot of independent filmmakers and #5 is where they fall down the most. They think that because they worked hard the audience should love what they made. It doesn't work that way. They audience only knows (and cares about) what they see on the screen. But there are ways to work smarter and produce a better quality product by using online resources such as GetitScene (I have a lens about it), IndyMogul and other great websites / tools. Totally agree with #7. Know the resources available to you and getthe most out of them that you can. Want to make a scifi epic? Do it. Don't be restricted by your technical abilities because there are too many great resources out there like the ones I just mentioned.

    • profile image

      jawdropfilms 5 years ago

      Rule 1: Never get discouraged!

    • profile image

      Shadrosky 5 years ago

      Nice lens! Good luck!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Some striahg tforward tips here (sorry for horrible spelling) thanks:) good luck for you by the way

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi... Nice lenses you have here, film making is always popular with me :)

    • c randall profile image
      Author

      c randall 5 years ago

      @Rumkosteve: We shot on the Cannon XL2. We also used a hazer.

    • profile image

      Rumkosteve 5 years ago

      some nice atmosphere in Talking Dead. What did you shoot it on?

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      something you forget is that in the film industry the most important thing is connections so many people get in to the film industry not because of talent but because connections who they know and what they are. Most of the time its not about talent but more about who you are and who you know!

    • filmic profile image

      filmic 6 years ago

      some really good tips. Best of luck to you in your career, from other lenses i can see you know your movies and know your films will have both style and substance. BTW i ranked Hearts of Darkness in my Best Documentary Movies lens.

    • profile image

      PixelChimp 6 years ago

      Awesome information about filmmaking! Very informative and well written.

      I'm working on a special effects lens right now and you have given me some inspiration!

    • profile image

      Left_Digital_Media 6 years ago

      @isthisreellife: I did too. The whole article was well written and engaging.

      Left Digital Media

    • profile image

      Left_Digital_Media 6 years ago

      Great looking lens and great subject matter! Fantastic job my friend!

      LLM

      Left Digital Media

    • profile image

      isthisreellife 6 years ago

      Great lens! As a fellow aspiring filmmaker, I really enjoyed the ten tips, particularly the note on film festivals. I was convinced that 90% of the films submitted would probably be better than mine, so thanks for the encouragement.

      I'm definitely going to keep my eye on Fulview. Is there somewhere where I can get regular updates?

    • profile image

      tienlove 6 years ago

      This is a wonderful lens with good tips! Thank you so much for sharing. I've added a link to this on my filmmaking lens. :)

    • Blackspaniel1 profile image

      Blackspaniel1 6 years ago

      Like this lens!!!!!!

    • profile image

      outsource123 6 years ago

      Cheers, that lense was pure awesome.

    • profile image

      carrierbag-team 6 years ago

      Great advise. It's hard once you realise it's not all fun and games. It's a massive leap in effort time and skill required between Mediocre and actually pulling of your vision. But once you finally see a finished product that you know in your heart your happy with it makes it all worth the time.

      For me the most important thing is having the right people around you. On my first major short I had twenty of my friends ons set. They tried their best but it and were great but ended up being a nightmare to control. I;ve now refined it down to my A-Team of four people on set at anyone time.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Do you have a full-length featured film and are waiting to be discovered? Enter the Big Break Movie Contest for a chance to get your movie screened at 50 AMC Theatres. http://bit.ly/blSfO3

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Mate you got it all right, I'm 16 and an aspiring filmmaker and I always tell people how I'm constantly learning from my projects and I'm always up front with the flaws of my work and what I could have done better in my acting ect... Thanks for the confidence boost mate, feel like I'm on the right track. Just finished my first real attempt at a short film, it goes for half an hour and I learned even more for my next go.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Very nice info. I work for a production company that is looking for aspiring new filmmakers. Feel free to check out the at:

      http://filmmakers-writers-actors-unite.blogspot.co...

    • FilmMaster LM profile image

      FilmMaster LM 7 years ago

      Cool informative lens. Definitely 5 star rated!

    • profile image

      markjcarter 8 years ago

      I understand your point Caleb but you have to start somewhere and you arent going to draw the stars or the budget without practicing your skills...

      mj

      Panic Away

    • c randall profile image
      Author

      c randall 8 years ago

      [in reply to caleb2500] I'm sure that's the case with getting Hollywood distribution. However, that wasn't necessarily the point of this lens which was tips on making yourself a competent filmmaker. No one is going to give you that 10 million dollars to make a movie unless you show that you have the talent and ability to make a real movie. Once you're to that point, you're well beyond these tips. These were meant to give someone just starting out some direction in ways that help them become better as a filmmaker so that they can one day be confident they would know what to do with 10 million if they were given that chance.

      I think you're talking about Hollywood style distribution that gets you on 1000 screens nation wide. There's plenty of smaller, straight to video distributors that many people find success with on much smaller films. I personally know a few myself. Distribution is a wide open field these days when you factor in the internet and self distribution methods.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      sounds all good but highly naïve. I've made a feature film and you can do everything you've written and still will fail. At end of the day only a few things matter that you will be asked:

      1. Who's in it?

      2. What is your budget?

      The answer distributors want to hear is "A" list celebrity and at least $10 million. Having a great story, cinamatography and good acting is not enough--thats a pipe dream unless your related to someone( i.e Sophia Copella). All those books on how to make it in hollywood are bull shi#t--hollywood is an incestuos industry--the fruit doesn't fall very far from the tree. To make it --it is best to be related to someone or do like Maralyn Monroe and sleep with someone related to someone. If you really think a well done movie, a good story, etc will get you in the door I have swamp land in Florida to sell you.

    • ctavias0ffering1 profile image

      ctavias0ffering1 8 years ago

      Excellent lens, well done with the tweaking, it's a huge improvement ... now ... what will your next lens be about :-) You deserve 5* for this.

    • Nochipra profile image

      Nochipra 8 years ago

      Cool lens! I had wanted to be a screenplay writer at one time when I was much youger. Tried to write one but didn't do much with it though. Thanks.

    • x3xsolxdierx3x lm profile image

      x3xsolxdierx3x lm 8 years ago

      nice lens man.....5 stars

    • profile image

      Lando_Dylan 8 years ago

      Very practical and useful advice - nice lense