Five Useful Filmmaking Tips (That You Can Do Today)

As a filmmaker, if you aren’t making movies, you are thinking about and planning for your next movie. But as you know, the challenge of actually making your movie can sometimes feel overwhelming.

So if it’s okay with you, I’d love to share some filmmaking tips so you can take action and make your movie now. Here are five filmmaking tips to get your movie made this year.

Five Useful Filmmaking Tips

Photo © bepsphoto / Dollar Photo Club

Five Useful Filmmaking Tips

1. Answer this question: One of the most important filmmaking tips is to ask yourself the correct questions. Seriously. One big reason you haven’t made a movie is because you’re still waiting for everything to be perfect. I have news. Nothing will ever be perfect. Better that you take action on the movie you can produce this year than wait around. Here’s the question:

Given the resources that you have right now, what is the movie that you can make this year?

2. Get your hands on a good screenplay: Without a great script nothing else matters. But when you’re shooting on a budget, you also need make sure your story falls into the resource parameters discussed in step one. If your screenplay does not fit the parameters, you either need to alter your story or get a new script.

If you need help coming up with some screenplay ideas, you might enjoy 101 Short Film Ideas or my Write Your Movie system.

3. Load your screenplay into the Lightspeed production management software. This is one of the best innovations, possibly ever. You load your screenplay and create a script breakdown. In addition to this, you can later use this software to manage your production. (Please note, I get paid to refer people to this site – so use your own due diligence.)

Convinced it will work for you? Sign up for FREE by going here.

4. Take your schedule and create a budget: After you break your screenplay into all the necessary elements, you will create a budget so you can assign a price tag to each element. If you find your budget is not inline with your cash limitations, you either need to raise more money or you need to repeat steps one through four.

5. Create a Crowdfunding Campaign: There are three reasons you would want to create a crowdfunding campaign. Firstly, a crowdfunding campaign allows you to test your movie concept before you actually make your movie. If successful, your concept may work in the marketplace. Secondly, crowdfunding allows you to test the reach of your social network and expand it. And finally, a successful crowdfunding campaign will give you some necessary cash.

Anyway, I hope these filmmaking tips help you get one step closer to your filmmaking goals. And if you’d like more stuff, you might want to grab a copy of my Filmmaker Action Pack.

Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

Script breakdown and film scheduling is essential for any serious filmmaker.

Let me share the following, fictional yet typical filmmaking email.

(I get these types of questions every couple weeks.)

Hi Jason –

I wrote this really awesome movie about space travel, time travel, the end of the world and I’m really looking to get it produced. The problem is, I don’t know how much it will cost. Can you tell me how much it will cost me to produce? Thanks!

To some, this type of email might seem a little silly.

script breakdown

I mean, how the heck can anybody take a movie concept out of thin air and decide how much the movie would cost to produce?

Truth be told, there are many factors to consider.

You have to find out if the filmmaker is planning to utilize CG or actual, physical sets. Will the filmmaker cast his next door neighbor or Will Smith? Will this movie be shot on film? On HD Video? Or some crazy mix of 3D?

And those questions only begin to scratch the surface. You still need to think about payroll services, production tax incentives, worker’s compensation… It’s enough to make your head explode. And all of these variables – every single one – influences the budget of any movie.

So these questions, plus about a gazillion other questions need to be answered before you can even think about creating a budget, writing a business plan or seeking investors to get the money. And the bigger question is this:

How do YOU decide how much your movie will cost to produce.

The starting point is taking time to complete your script breakdown and schedule your film.

Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

Don’t get overwhelmed. You can do it.

And let us be totally frank for a moment…

As a filmmaker, there will come a time in your life when making a feature film becomes a driving, burning desire!

Making your first feature is the rite of passage into the world of professional filmmaking.

Assuming you’ve become comfortable making short movies, then making your first feature will be just another step in an exciting career.

I am  assuming you’ve written, or you control the rights to a fantastic script that you would like to produce. So you next need to figure out just how much your movie will cost.

Script Breakdown

Your script breakdown begins with having a screenplay you are happy with.

Once the script is locked, any modification you make to the story or schedule, no matter how minor or major, will subsequently impact the budget.

My producer friend Forrest Murray always says the script, schedule and budget are the same document. You’ll need all three to make a movie… But in the process, if you change one document, you’re actually changing all three.

This is why your script breakdown is essential. Without it, you will have no idea what your movie will cost.

Action Steps: Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling

I wanted to share a few tips on how to complete your movie script breakdown. Performing this task and then completing a film production schedule is necessary before you determine your budget.

Here are some some steps to help you break down your script.

1. Number Each Scene

Once you lock your screenplay, you should then go through the script and number each scene. You do this by placing a number next to each slug line. What is a slug line? It’s the little line that explains where each scene takes place.

It looks like this in the script:

INT. JASON’S OFFICE – DAY

Once you number each scene, you will want to actually measure the scene. Since screenplays are usually printed on paper eight inches tall, every scene is measured in 8th’s of the page.

You will go through each scene and measure the length.

The reason for this measurement has to do with the length of your movie.

For example, if we assume that each page written in proper screenplay format – Then we can also assume that each page equals at least one minute in screen time.

So if we come upon this scene:

INT. DINER – NIGHT

And let’s say this Diner scene measures 4/8th (or half the page) then you can guesstimate that the scene will be roughly 30 seconds long in screen time.

2. Highlight Each Element

In addition to knowing final screen time, this information will help you determine how long it will take to actually shoot the scene (and also which cast, crew, props and equipment is needed to shoot the scene), which will influence your schedule.

…And your schedule influences your budget. Again, your script, schedule and budget are related!

Speaking of elements, you will want to go through the script and highlight each element, for each scene. Some common elements include locations, characters, props, make up, wardrobe, picture vehicles and special FX…

All of these elements cost money.

You’re “breaking the elements out” so you can eventually put the elements in your budget.

3. Determine Shooting Schedule

Once complete, you will want to figure out when you want to shoot your movie and how long you plan to shoot. You can determine this by choosing how many pages you want to shoot per day. For example, you may decide to shoot 5 days on and 2 days off, or 6 days on and 1 day off. Or maybe you want to shoot your movie over a few weekends.

Keep in mind that unions have rules on how you schedule your movie.

In addition to time constraints, you will want to consider momentum. Filming your indie film over a series of weekends may seem convenient. But doing so can actually diminish the creative flow and can make it tough on cast and crew holding jobs outside of the production. Sometimes it makes sense to just marathon your movie schedule.

Get your movie done so you can get it to market as soon as possible.

Many motion picture professionals make a living just breaking down, scheduling and budgeting movies.

This should tell you it’s a pretty complicated and creative area.

As a first time feature filmmaker, it would be great to partner with an seasoned 1st AD or Line Producer who could guide you through the process. But because a lot of filmmakers do not have money until they actually raise the money, hiring a UPM or 1st AD is out of the question.

So this leaves only one alternative. You must complete your own script breakdown and film scheduling. In my opinion, there are two components to this process. You will need a script breakdown education as well as script breakdown software.

Luckily there are quite a few resources to help you.

And in full disclosure: I believe in the efficacy of the resources I’m about to share. But I do have affiliate agreements with both providers. This means they pay me to promote.  So make sure you conduct your own due-diligence prior to making any purchases, both here and everywhere on earth.

Script BreakdownScript Breakdown and Film Scheduling Online Course for Indie Filmmakers:

This online course offered by Industry veteran Peter Marshall answers the ever important question.

“How do I know if this shooting schedule is realistic?”

A lot of new filmmakers go into production on a film and find out a few days into production that their production schedule was completely screwed up. In some cases, these unfortunate filmmakers find out that the schedule was totally unrealistic.

As a result, the cast and crew ended up with tons of overtime pay, a bad attitude and YOU ended up running out of time and budget.

The goal is to avoid these headaches.

Peter worked for over 25 years in the industry.  He know (better than most) that a properly designed shooting schedule is crucial for your budgeting process.

If you would like to find out more about Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling course, click here.

Film Scheduling Software: LightSpeed eps.

One of the most exciting software programs to help you with your script breakdown is called LightSPEED eps.

In addition to being an awesome script breakdown and scheduling program, LightSPEED eps allows you to centralize your production information and provide secure access from your computer, wireless device, from anywhere in the world.

Watch this brief script breakdown video:

With this web-based production management software, you can provide your your production team with current information from anywhere in the world.

In practical terms, let’s say you are based in LA, but your First AD is based in NYC. You will now have the ability to oversee all aspects of your project. If something changes, you will be able to notify your staff of critical updates in real time!

After getting a face-to-face demo with the management team, I left the meeting convinced that LightSPEED represents the future of script breakdown and production management.

Because these guys are very indie filmmaker friendly, they have provided Filmmaking Stuff readers with a FREE trial for one user. If you would like to find out more about the LightSpeed EPS script breakdown and film scheduling software, click here.

Film Production: 3 Tips To Avoid Crying On Set

You need to Create a Plan B for your movie. You need to cover your butt!

Here is how it happens. . . 

You plan everything out for your movie months in advance.

jason-brubaker-digital-film-distributionYou get the locations, picture vehicles, actors, crew, stunt professionals — And then for some reason, two days before you begin production some crazy series of events take hold and everything falls apart.

Your picture vehicles disappear, actors quit the project, crew members take on another job that pays more and the stunt people. . . Wait, you hired stunt people? What kind of indie film are you making?

At this point in the whole mess, you probably start to cry. (I would.) Then your girlfriend stops talking to you. You take up smoking cigarettes and start drinking heavily, straight from the bottle.

You sit alone amongst the ruins of your production.

You could have been somebody. . . You could have been a contender. . . 

If only you would have created a plan B for your movie.

Planning For The Unexpected Saves Headaches

The thing is, if you can maintain a good attitude and roll with these kinds of setbacks, you’re gonna find out that each day on your movie set is just another day in paradise.

That being said, you can eliminate a lot of frustration if you prepare for these unexpected events in advance – just in case.

Film Production: 3 Tips To Avoid Crying On Set

Keep this in mind. Whatever could go wrong, will go wrong!

That’s just the nature of indie film. Heck, at times it’s the nature of the universe.

It’s your job to plan for this sort of stuff.

  1. How is your budget looking? Do you have enough money to pay for your movie and also account for the unexpected? If not, you’ll run out of money. I promise.
  2. Create backup locations… Seriously. You need to do this. Just in case.
  3. One more thing, talk with some insurance professionals about insurance for both your workers and equipment. While you’re at it, make sure you talk with a qualified attorney regarding legal protection.

You just never know!

If you’re interested in checking out some popular resources, I invite you to visit: www.MakeYourMovieNow.com

Three Ways To Cut Your Movie Budget (And Increase Production Value)

Coming up with an accurate film budget can be a sobering experience. You either find out that you need to raise more money or cut your budget entirely.

And if you’re anything like most independent filmmakers, both options suck.

But don’t worry.

I’m here to help you. In a few paragraphs I am going to offer you some ways to cut your movie budget while actually increasing your production value.

Cut Your Movie Budget

And heck, you might even apply one of these ideas to your movie project and come up with an even more awesome, creative solution than what you initially thought about.

Cut Your Movie Budget (first things first. . .)

If you’ve been following filmmaking stuff for any length of time, you know how much I enjoy helping you become entrepreneurial in your filmmaking.

That means, I would love to see you get your movie made!

And as an entrepreneurial filmmaker, it is important to understand that there are a lot of ways to bootstrap your movie – even before you take time to raise money to make your movie.

Your initial breakdown and schedule will organize the elements of your movie into smaller, more manageable chunks.

This is an important step because it allows you to analyze the scope, scale and availability of your elements.

And once you have your initial breakdown and schedule, you will then get an idea of how all of these variables will fit into some sort of schedule.

After you sorted out your elements and your schedule, you’ll then take the information and plug it into your budget.

Here’s a short video I put together for you with ways to cut your movie budget.

Assuming you’ve planned for an ideal execution of your movie, most likely your project will cost considerably more than the money you actually have.

As I mentioned earlier, when this happens, you have two choices:

  1. Get more money.
  2. Cut the budget!

Three Ways To Cut Your Movie Budget

Assuming you’re not going to get any more money, here are three methods you can utilize to cut your movie budget without degrading the production value of the movie:

1. Revisit your network and let everyone know you’re making a movie. Provide a shopping list of everything you’re looking for. (Food, Locations, Special FX, Picture Vehicles, et al…) Chances are, someone you know, knows someone who has what you need – for FREE or at least at a discounted rate.

2. Think creatively. Even if you don’t have money, before you give up on the super awesome element, think creatively. Is there any way you can barter or trade? In small towns, sometimes the promise of free publicity is all business owner needs to offer up a location for free.

3. Modify your screenplay. If all else fails, go back to your screenplay. Yes – We all agree that having snow on the ground would really set a cold mood for your story. But at 10K, are you sure it’s necessary for your story?

Get Movie MoneyAs a filmmaker, I think you’ll have plenty of time in your career to produce movies with unlimited budgets.

Seriously. Do well with your small projects and then “level up” to bigger projects.

But if you an train yourself to overcome financial shortcomings with creative alternatives NOW, including some simple ways to cut your movie budget, I wouldn’t be surprised if you continually discover magic.

Seriously. It is totally amazing what you can accomplish with a little creativity. But here’s the kicker, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Keep this in mind as you push forward!

In your opinion (in the comments section below), what are aspects of filmmaking that do no require money?

How To Finance Movies With VOD Sales Projections

Do you know the most popular question filmmakers ask me?

I’ll give you a hint. It has to do with video on demand.

Ready. . .

Without too much variation, the most popular question is: “Can you provide some VOD sales projections?”

I understand the motive behind this question.

Believe me, I do.

You’re a filmmaker. You either made an awesome movie and you’re trying to use VOD sales projections to convince your partners that VOD is the way to go. Or you are in the process of making a movie and you need to convince your investors that VOD is awesome. In both scenarios, you’re trying to find proof that movies make money in VOD.

I get that. . . But. . .

Let’s make one thing clear. Asking for VOD sales projections is asking the wrong question!

If you dig around, examples of VOD Sales successes are out there. Check out what The Polish Brothers did. And if that’s not enough, Google the case study around Indie Game the movie.

But the truth is, one filmmaker’s past success does not guarantee that your movie will be successful.

Read that statement over and over again. And if you need a little more clarity, take a look at what the cat is saying here:

VOD Sales Projections

Realizing that VOD sales projections are BS is essential for your success. And I am going to explain how you can use your new found understanding for good, very soon…

But before I go there, let’s talk about why people invest in independent film.

Why Investors Invest In Indie Film

Independent movie investors invest because (aside from having an appetite for risk and an interest in the film business) most of these people want a return on their money. If you are doing things by the book, you probably created a marketing strategy as part of your business plan. This plan provides prospective investors an overview of how investment dollars will be budgeted, spent and hopefully recouped.

In the past, trying to convince investors movies were a good investment involved projecting returns based on speculative data. To guess how much money a movie may make, filmmakers would compare their project to other successful movies.

Creating indie movie comparables is complete BS.

The reason for this is simple.

Just because you make a low budget horror movie does not guarantee your movie will have the same success as Paranormal Activity.

In fact, Paranormal Activity is an outlier. It is not a fair comparison. And using breakout hits as examples, while ignoring the thousands of unsuccessful horror movies made each year, is short-sited at best and I dare say a little unethical.

Video On Demand Sales Projections

Given the birth of VOD distribution, as a filmmaker you now have the ability to access and enter into a non-discriminatory marketplace as soon as your movie is ready. And because many of these marketplaces exist online, much of your sales will come from internet traffic.

This is actually awesome news.

It means that you can boost your sales by using a very common marketing concept called…

[Seriously… Are you ready? You are about to receive the secret sauce of modern, indie movie marketing.]

More important than VOD Sales Projections is:

Conversion Rates

What is a conversion rate?

Conversion Rate Defined, According to Wikipedia:

Your conversion rate is the proportion of visits to a website who take action to go beyond a casual content view or website visit, as a result of subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators.

Conversion_Rate

In other words, if you send one-hundred people to your movie website and two people buy your movie, your conversion rate is two percent. This is profound. This is life changing for indie filmmakers!

Question: Why should filmmakers be enthusiastic about the internet marketing, nerd concept of conversion rates?

Answer: If you know your conversion rates, you can model and potentially project more accurate movie sales projections from day one.

But before you start noodling around to find your conversion rates, it helps to answer the following questions:

Modern MovieMaking Model

  1. Who Is Your Target Audience?
  2. How Large Is Your Target Audience?
  3. How Will You Reach Your Audience?
  4. What Is Your Marketing Strategy?
  5. How Many VOD Sales To Break Even?

While I won’t get into the actual mechanics of marketing and selling your movie here (My Action Guide How To Sell Your Movie provides you with an actual step-by-step plan for getting your movie seen and sold), I will simply note that a marketing plan must now be included with your business plan.

The Secret VOD Sales Projection Formula

When you create (or refine) your marketing plan, you must now include some marketing math.

Truth be told, math is a weak subject for me and I dare say, most of the filmmakers I know. But luckily there are many spreadsheet templates that allow you to test several conversion rate scenarios. You can use these scenarios as a guideline to ballpark the potential ROI for your movie.

Here is a basic website conversion rate calculator you can utilize: http://bit.ly/17TSCrt

Before you get overly excited (like I am) calculating your movie website conversion rate is only one metric to determine your movie’s potential for profitability. You still need to figure out how to price your movie. And at the same time, you will need to determine how much targeted internet traffic will cost you.

Generating Internet traffic is the result of executing four strategies. You can either get free traffic online, free traffic offline, paid traffic offline or paid traffic online.

For the sake of this example, I am going to incorporate pay per visit advertising. With pay per visit advertising, you simply pay for someone to visit your movie website.

One example of Pay Per Visit traffic is StumbleUpon. It’s a social bookmarking site that also allows you to pay for semi-targeted traffic. This works well if you have a movie with a dose of controversy and a strong hook.

And again, if you’d like more info on specific traffic generating strategies, check out my indie guide to distribution.

Ok. Here is our first example…

Let’s assume only 1% of the targeted folks who actually visit your website, buy. Then how many visits will you need to sell 100 units?

100 units = Our goal for this ad campaign.
$.05 = Amount you may pay advertiser per visit.
X = Number of Visitors Needed to buy 100 units if only 1% buy.

(X).01 = 100 units
EQUATES TO: X= 10,000
THEN 10,000($.05) = $500 paid for targeted traffic.

So in other words, if you were lucky enough to get a 1% return, you just paid $500 dollars in pay per visit advertising to sell 100 units of your movie. But let’s go one step further. Let’s assume you’re like me – and you hate order fulfillment and shipping. So you decide to let a company like Amazon’s Create Space or iTunes (or some other popular marketplace) handle your order.

Video On Demand For Rent (Electronic Sell Through)
100 units ($3) = $300 – 50% paid to marketplace = $150
minus $500 paid for advertising = -$350 NEGATIVE

In this VOD rental scenario, the Pay Per Visit Ad numbers don’t work, unless you like losing money.

Video On Demand For Download (Electronic Sell Through)
100 units ($10) = $1000 – 50% paid to marketplace = $500
minus $500 paid for advertising = BREAK EVEN

In this VOD download to own scenario, the numbers work a little bit better. Assuming you’re lucky enough to get 1% of your money returned, at least the advertising pays for itself. But unless you can increase your conversion rates, pay per visit advertising is going to be very difficult method for returning money to your investors.

Physical DVD Sales
100 units ($20) = $2000 – 50% paid to marketplace = $1000
minus $500 paid for advertising = $500 in profit.

Ah ha! If you’re fortunate enough to get 1% return on your pay per visit advertising, you can see how physical DVD’s (or units) sold at $20 dollars may offer a slight profit margin. In other words, in this scenario, for every $.50 cents you spend, you get $1 dollar back.

So let’s tackle the bigger problem. Let’s try to get a return on our 1Million dollar movie, selling physical DVD sales and using pay per visit advertising alone:

Movie Budget = 1 Million dollars
Physical DVD Sales using Pay Per Visit Advertising

$1,000,000 divided by $20 per unit = 50,000 Units

Since we will give 50% to the marketplace for all sales, we will need to project for double our budget.

100,000 units = Our goal for this ad campaign.
$.05 = Amount you may pay advertiser per visit.
X = Number of Visitors Needed to buy 100,000 units if only 1% buy.

(X).01 = 100,000 units
EQUATES TO: X= 10,000,000 (Yes, TEN MILLION people.)
THEN 10,000,000($.05) = $500,000 paid for targeted traffic.

100,000 units ($20) = $2,000,000 – 50% paid to marketplace = $1,000,000
minus $500,000 paid for advertising = $500,000 in profit.

So to break even, you would need to sell 100,000 units and make $2,000,000.

Some Sales Conclusions

Based on this scenario, as a filmmaker you will (obviously) need to expand your promotion beyond pay-per-visit advertising!

But importantly and most AWESOMELY, you can treat your movie business like any other small business. With VOD Sales projections, you can find the marketing formula that works for your movie and crunch your numbers until you find a scenario that brings you profits.

Create a plan that included your marketing costs in your budget.

While there are no guarantees in any business, having a plan for marketing, sales and distribution sure beats the old days when your only plan for ROI involved crossing your fingers in the hopes someone will offer you a profitable, traditional deal.

While these may not be the VOD Sales Projections you were looking for, hopefully you now realize the power of knowing your conversion rates.

Treating your movie business like any small business simply means you don’t have to ask permission. You can make your movie NOW! And your prospective investors might take notice…

Also, can you do me a favor? If you liked this filmmaking article, could you kindly retweet or share this article with your friends?