Future Of Filmmaking: Will You Be Replaced By A Robot?

In case you haven’t noticed, filmmaking is changing. And the future of filmmaking is now.

In years past, if you wanted to make a movie, you had to raise enough money to not only cover the film and equipment, but you paid for your DP, your camera operator, someone to pull focus, someone to load the film, someone to lay dolly track and someone else to push your dolly.

If you wanted to create an awesome movie on a budget, you shot Super 16mm. Once the film was in the can, you paid to get the film processed, color corrected, transferred to video, edited “off line” and later blown up to 35mm. And all these steps were considered an affordable option!

Then you crossed your fingers, hoping to land an awesome distribution deal. Can you imagine trying to make movies like that? It’s easy to understand why most would-be filmmakers never took action.

Future Of Filmmaking

Photo © Dmytro Tolokonov / Dollar Photo Club

Future Of Filmmaking: Will You Be Replaced By A Robot?

With the emergence of awesomely inexpensive production technology, making a movie is getting easier. And everything has changed.

It’s been over a decade since I’ve heard anybody in the filmmaking community seriously consider shooting their first feature on film. And why would they? These days, if you want to make a great looking movie, you grab your $2,000 DSLR camera and you start shooting.

That’s it. No film stock. No silly processing costs. And no transfers to video.

You simply take your camera out of the bag, point and shoot. Then you edit on your computer and upload to several of the video on demand websites. And you can start selling your work to the world.

This is an AMAZING time to make movies, right?

Or is it?

For the first time in history, filmmakers are experiencing what happens in other industries when robots start producing comparable goods for less and less money. You get an overwhelming supply of inexpensive product in the marketplace, which devalues the market as a whole. Couple this with the demise of traditional DVD distribution, and you can understand why it’s difficult land a killer payday.

Considering these unfavorable odds, why would any filmmaker risk millions on a budget when there are less opportunities to make the money back? This is our new paradox as filmmakers.

Producing product is not the problem. It is easy to make a backyard indie.

The real challenge is keeping budgets low enough to increase the odds of recouping, while at the same time creating movies that people actually want to see.

This seems obvious.

While there are no guarantees in this or any business, aside from making an awesome movie, here are three things you can do to increase your odds of success:

  1. Know your target audience.
  2. Have a plan for reaching your target audience.
  3. Cast actors who have a large social media following.

Having spent the last half-decade working in marketing and distribution, I can tell you that most filmmakers completely ignore these steps. Most never take time to sketch out a marketing, sales and distribution strategy for their movies. And as a result, most movies end up dying in digital obscurity.

Don’t do that.

How to Break Into The Film Industry

If you’re wondering how to break into the film industry, you’re not alone. Nearly every successful filmmaker has started from nowhere. The problem is, there is a big catch 22 in the industry.

Unless you’re known, nobody will take your calls or read your screenplays or produce your ideas. And unless you get your work produced, it is really tough to become “know.”

When I first started, I did what you’re doing. I sent out countless query letters. I gave my screenplay to friends of friends of friends who knew (or at least claimed to) know someone in the film industry. I checked my email and mail frequently… And guess what happened?

Nothing happened.

Sure, I got the occasional rejection letter which sometimes included feedback. But most times, I sent work into the Hollywood abyss. That was pretty much the end of it. And as I type these words, I cringe at the experience. I sincerely dislike asking permission.

The turning point for me came when I realized the secret on how to break into the film industry. And I guarantee you will probably not like what I’m about to share… Because this secret is only for the most serious filmmakers. Are you ready?

How To Break Into The Film Industry

Photo © Tarikh Jumeer / Dollar Photo Club

How to Break Into The Film Industry

If you are wondering how to break into the film industry, the secret is simply:

>> You need to stop asking permission.

Seriously. You need to stop sending query letters. You need to stop hoping that someone will notice your brilliance and your talent. And above all, you need to quit relying on someone else to do the heavy lifting for your career.

Instead, you need to become your own production company. And you need to focus first on the movie you can make this year.

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

For some of you, that means you’ll only be able to make a two minute movie for YouTube. That is okay. Make that movie.

For other filmmakers, answering this question means that you’ll have to put your twenty-million dollar blockbuster script in a drawer and make that low budget horror movie you’ve been thinking about.

By doing this, something amazing will happen.

You will stop waiting around for everything to be perfect. You will take action. And  as a result, you will gain the confidence that comes from doing. And ironically (and I don’t fully understand why the universe works this way) – As soon as you stop focusing on how to break into the film industry, and you start doing the work, you will start breaking into the film industry.

If you need more inspiration, I suggest you check out these filmmaking resources.

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking by Adam Patel

I started screenwriting when I was ten. I wrote epic stories that took place in weird and wonderful worlds. They were both spectacular and breath-taking. The only problem was that they would have required a budget in the hundreds of millions to produce.

About two years ago, I got a punch in the face from the fist of reality, and became a producer because I realized something very important. In independent film, he who controls the money, makes the rules. Literally – you can have anything if you can pay for it.

Producing changed the way I thought about writing. And here I share with you my screenwriting tips on writing for low budget, based on mistakes I’ve made. Screenwriting Tips

Screenwriting Tips For Low Budget Filmmaking

I hope these five screenwriting tips can serve as both a lesson and a career strategy to new screenwriters and producers.

1. You’re a screenwriter. Imagination is never your problem.

Writers know how to write. They know how to think imaginatively and create worlds and stories which can have audiences on the edge of their seats, or take their breath away. Unfortunately, before you write the next Lord of The Rings or Avatar, you’re going to have to do something a lot more low key. Why? Because YOU have the power to make a cheap film yourself. And your first credit is the first step on the road to being able to one day write your own fantasy epic and having a realistic chance of seeing it on screen.

2. Write something that you can produce yourself.

Many writers are arty people. I’m one. I know. We’re a right brain lot. We dream. We concern ourselves with possibility rather than probability and practicality. So when you raise the idea of producing to a writer, sometimes they’re not that keen. But there’s one reason why writers might want to produce in the very beginning: Because it means you don’t have to find a producer.

So write something that you can produce yourself. It’s going to be a story you can tell cheaply (unless you’re a rich person). And the aim of this is not to make the best film ever made. It is to get your first writing or producing credit on a feature film. Of course, make the best film you can. But if it sucks, don’t worry about it too much. Your next film will be better.

3. Write for locations you know you have access to.

One of the greatest challenges of a producer is to find locations for the actors to play out the scenes in the script. Location rental can cost a lot. And sometimes locations can be difficult to find and or get access to. When I wrote my first low budget film, I had written what I thought was a decent script. And it probably was. The problem was that although it had very few locations, they were not locations I could easily access. And when I came to produce the film, I quickly realised this. It was a hard learned lesson. So I had to go back and write another film that I knew could be filmed in locations I had access to.

4. Write something with a lot of talking.

Complex action sequences take a lot of time to shoot. The first time I got on a film set, back in 2011, I was amazed by the kind of time lighting takes. So if your film contains a complex action sequence with lots of different shots making up a sequence, you’re asking for a very long and painstaking shoot. It is your first film. Keep it simple. Think soap opera. Talking heads. Talk is cheap. And it is your challenge as a writer to find ways to make that compelling and interesting. (Soap operas put me to sleep!)

5. Maintain creative control.

At the end of the day, following these screenwriting tips for low budget filmmaking is about keeping the power in your own hands. Don’t write anything that you don’t have the skills or resources to film yourself. If you spend months or years waiting around to get a producer attached or to get a certain actor attached before somebody is going to give you production money, your destiny is not under your control. It is in the hands of others. And you cannot control other people.

Keep your shoot simple by limiting both the locations and the action. Talking really is cheap. Writing for low budget is like having a producer (yourself) looking over your shoulder when you write and catching you in the act of writing something that will be impractical for you to film.

I hope you enjoyed these screenwriting tips and genuinely wish you the best of luck with getting your first film made. For most of us it is an adventure we’ve been dreaming about since childhood. I hope my advice helps you make it happen!

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Adam Patel is a British screenwriter and producer who has worked on several independent films. You can visit his blog for more film making articles and content as well as news of his latest projects. And if you like it, please follow on Facebook!


Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?

Aspiring screenwriter: Go Hollywood or go indie?
By, Screenwriter Jurgen Wolff

Because I’ve written a few books about screenwriting I sometimes get questions from people just starting out on their careers. One query that has started coming up more often recently is whether it’s better to chase the Hollywood dream or get involved with indie films, including ones made for the web.

Well, as Socrates once said, “That depends.”

Hollywood is hard to crack. At any given time, people tend to say it has never been harder, but maybe that’s actually true as far as mainstream feature films are concerned these days. It won’t have escaped your attention that the trend is toward movies with huge budgets. Knowing that a picture is going to cost $200 million or more makes decision makers prefer to go with writers and directors with a track record.

Sometimes they do gamble. For instance, they got a guy who’d never directed live action to direct “John Carter.” The outcome of that one probably set back the cause of risk-taking for a few years. On the other hand, maybe that was offset by the success of “The Artist.”

Of course hiring a name director is no guarantee of success, but it gives the decision makers more of an excuse: “His last three were big hits, how could I know this one wouldn’t be?”

The upside of screenwriting for Hollywood

If you do break into that small circle of (mainly) guys who are tapped to write the big summer action pictures, the financial rewards are considerable. The smaller the pool of A-list writers, the more they get paid. It also gives you power. If you write a couple of hits and want to direct, you’ll get the chance. If you want to make a small picture that nobody think will make any money, if they want you badly enough for a big script assignment, you’ll get that, too.

You will also find entities like HBO and Showtime will be interested in hearing your ideas, if you decide at some point you’d like to do a series.

The downside of Hollywood

The power I referred to lasts only as long as your projects are a success. There can be a lot of reasons for a movie to fail other than a bad script. The first time it happens they’ll cut you some slack. If it happens again, the phone calls will slow down. Three strikes and you’ll wonder if your cell phone is broken.

Also, your power doesn’t extend to having final say on what happens with the script. Even the hot writers get rewritten. How’s your tolerance for seeing other people make those decisions without you? Once you’ve turned in your draft, generally they don’t want to have you around any more. As a courtesy (actually, to satisfy the Writers Guild agreements) you’ll get a copy of the script after everybody else has finished messing around with it. A few of those experiences and you may get into the habit of pouring yourself a stiff drink before you turn to page one.

The upside of indie films

The definition of independent cinema has always been a bit vague, and now that people are starting to make films directly for distribution on the web and having success with documentaries and a variety of harder to categorize formats it’s getting even more blurred. For the sake of this discussion, though, let’s assume that we’re talking about anything from no- to micro- to-low budget, and distribution via DVD (not for much longer), or Netflix, or other means via the web.

The upside is that you can write a story that doesn’t have to bring out the teen audience in massive numbers on opening weekend. The breadth of the subjects you can deal with, the pacing options, the opportunity to experiment are all huge advantages.

You’re much more likely to remain involved in the later stages of production, too. Generally indie producers and directors are happy to have the writer around to make adjustments that may be needed during the shoot. It’s much more likely to end up being the story you wanted to tell.

When it comes time to promote the film you’ll probably be asked to help with that, too, because there’s no big star involved who sucks up all the media attention.

There’s also a new model emerging of raising finance through crowdfunding, which Jason has written about on this site a number of times. The idea that you don’t need to convince a banker or manager of an investment fund of the viability of your story, that you can pitch it to your final customers, is exciting and this method of financing is only going to grow.

The downside of indie films

Money, lack of. Starving for your art can be romantic for a while, but eventually you do want to eat something other than peanut butter sandwiches. You may want to start a family, buy a place of your own, take a nice vacation once in a while. All the stuff that sounds hopelessly middle-class when you’re 20 seems a lot more attractive when you hit 35. Of course some indie films break out and make a lot of money, but it’s far from the norm.

The low budget can also impact the quality of the final product. Even if nobody changes your words, the limitations in terms of the cast, the sets, the number of shooting days, and so on can mean the film isn’t as polished as you’d like.

Above I mentioned that you’ll be more involved all the way along, from raising the money to helping to market the film, and I classed those as positives. It’s actually a mixed bag because all that takes time. It can eat up a lot of time you could be spending writing.

What’s the bottom line?

I think it comes down to what you value and your temperament. If you’re a good team player and can separate your ego from the process, and you are excited by the lifestyle that comes with earning a lot of money, then Hollywood may be your best bet. That’s especially true if you like the kinds of films they’re making.  If you think they’re crap, don’t kid yourself that you can fake it. Never works.

Even though you’ll have to be able to put your ego aside, you’d better have a strong one to start with. Confidence is a prerequisite. Even arrogance is rewarded in Hollywood more often than it’s punished—assuming you have the writing chops to back it up.

If your primary drive is to tell stories and your values are not heavily weighted toward material things, the indie route is more your thing. There are a number of indie filmmakers whose definition of success is that they make enough money on their last film to be able to make the next one.

If I were starting out today, I’d go for the indie route.  But, hey, maybe that’s because I love peanut butter.

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Jurgen Wolff has written more than 100 episodes of television, the mini-series “Midnight Man,” starring Rob Lowe, the feature film “The Real Howard Spitz,” starring Kelsey Grammer, and as been a script doctor on projects starring Eddie Murphy, Michale Caine, Kim Catrall and others. His books include “Your Writing Coach” (Nicholas Brealey Publishing) and “Creativity Now!” (Pearson Publishing). For more tips from Jurgen Wolff, also see www.ScreenwritingSuccess.com

Audio Production Engineer

You can’t fix audio in post  I mean, you can. Assuming you have the money and the time to record ADR and hire a group of audio professionals, you can probably fix some of your audio. But as guest poster Tony Tartaglia shares, having a skilled and thorough audio production engineer is an essential part of making a quality, polished film:

As an audio production engineer, I have viewed a lot of independent films and documentaries, and the one thing that stands out more than the quality of the filming and special effects, is the soundtrack, or lack of a proper one. Many independent films and documentaries sound weak or hollow, and in others, the music bed overpowers the dialog tracks.

What makes the audio weak or hollow? Most low budget film makers use a quality camera with an attached microphone, so the distance from actor to camera is the same distance from actor to microphone, greatly reducing the sound pressure level arriving at the microphone while allowing other noises to enter the microphone. The further the microphone is from the source, the more open and hollow the sound is.

Try this experiment. Video a friend speaking any lines at a distance of two feet, now do the identical shot from a distance of twelve feet. It should be quite obvious which one sounds better. The shot from two feet will sound better but look bad, while the one shot from twelve feet will sound bad but look great.

A common remedy for this bad audio is to add music to the track. All this does is further bury the dialog, making the film a chore to listen to, and detracting from the essence of what is being said. In some cases, there is so much noise in the audio tracks, that the film is not even worth watching.

Just to be fair to the videographers out there, I researched two Sony professional handy cameras: the DSR-PD150 which retails for approximately $1300, and the HVR-Z7U which retails for approximately $4000. I found a very curious fact. The two cameras sport the same microphone: the ECM-XM1 which retails for $129. Apparently, the extra $3000 for the HVR-Z7U went into the video capturing and not the sound capturing. Why?

Sony, as with all of the other professional camera manufacturers, realizes that the onboard microphone is for reference audio, and not for the sound track. On board microphones that are rigidly attached to a camera body pick up every noise that is generated within the camera and, worse yet, every noise that is transmitted through the camera, the “handling noise.” For anyone who’s been to a live event and someone bumps into a live microphone or tries to grab a live mic out of a stand, you know what I mean.

Professional sound companies use two microphones that conform to industry standards: The Sennheiser MKH-416 which retails for just under $1000, and the Schoeps CMIT5U which retails for $2100. These microphones are used in dialog acquisition by the boom operator for the sound recorder, and the purpose is to place the microphone closer to the speaker or actor than the camera. Trained boom operators can move the microphone to and fro without generating noise, thereby getting a cleaner sound. This is where it starts, getting the cleanest sound possible into the film.

Next time we will look at the roles of the on-set sound team.

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Tony Tartaglia holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree awarded from the International Academy of Design and Technology in Tampa, Florida and owns his own mixing and editing studio. Tony can be reached for consultations and audio production through his website at [email protected]