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.

Filmmaking As Your Small Business

When deciding on a business, some people choose filmmaking.

Other people open frozen yogurt shops.

I should know. Thanks to the frozen yogurt shop (near my house), I’ve eaten a TON of frozen yogurt over the last year. And without mentioning the business, it sure seems like the owner of the shop is passionate about Yogurt, just like you and I are passionate about filmmaking.

Since moving to LA and producing several indie movies (and more recently working with hundreds of filmmakers in my various distribution roles), I realize the major ineptitude most filmmakers suffer from is a lack of general business acumen.

Filmmaking As Your Small Business

Photo © Haider Y. Abdulla / Dollar Photo Club

Filmmaking As Your Small Business

Here’s the deal. Most filmmakers know about the movie business. And these filmmakers usually fall into one of two categories. Either they understand the studio business or they understand traditional independent filmmaking.

In my humble opinion, I think both arenas are based on an old paradigm. In the studio system, the business revolves around asking a lot of folks for permission.

  1. “I finished this great screenplay. It’s high concept and awesome!”
  2. “Would you please read my screenplay?”
  3. “Can we have a meeting?”
  4. “Did you read my screenplay?”

All of which results in a lot of this: “We have decided to pass at this time.”

As an independent filmmaker, many of us also suffer from a similar permission based way of doing business.

  1. “Mr. Investor, if we are lucky this movie will get into Sundance.”
  2. “If we are really lucky, we will get a great distribution deal.”
  3. “And if we are really lucky, we might get a distribution deal.”
  4. “And if we are really, really lucky we will get a 3 picture studio deal, and we will live happily ever after.”

And that got me thinking about this talk about modern moviemaking. Can we now consider movie making a small business?

I mean, if you think about it, all you need to start a small business is an idea, some start up cash, raw material, production and a customer base – and a way to sell whatever it is you’re selling.  And unlike years past, non-discriminatory video on demand marketplaces provide that… So what would modern moviemaking as a small business look like:

  1. We have a screenplay with a strong, well defined concept.
  2. We know our target audience and how to reach them.
  3. We will need to sell 5,000 video on demand downloads to recoup our investment.

Why should we over-complicate our filmmaking?

What do you think? Can Modern Moviemaking be your next small business?

Your comments are welcome below…

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.

How To Sell Your Screenplay

If you want to know how to sell your screenplay, you’re in luck. When I was working for an indie producer in New York, one of my jobs was to read screenplays and hopefully find a gem.

During that time, I learned some valuable lessons (from inside the production office) that I would like to share on how to sell your screenplay.

How To Sell Your Screenplay

How To Sell Your Screenplay

The goal in Hollywood is to produce product. And as a screenwriter, your job is to create a blueprint for a potential product.

In this case, your product is a new movie. Like any new product, your movie has never been made and is therefore unproven. And because you are unknown, you are asking a company (in this context, a movie producer with a a relationship with a studio or financiers) to produce an unknown product to be marketed to a (hopefully) receptive audience.

To get your screenplay made into a movie, a producer will have to drop whatever projects they are working on and devote months and in some cases, years to get your unproven product produced. They will have to attach actors, financiers and distributors to the project. And that is the easy part.

Every day, these producers will face rejection, obstacles and countless crazy people. They will cry, lose sleep and possibly fail. So if you really want to get your work produced, you need to downplay risk and amplify the reward. With this said, the way I see it, there are four methods you can use to get your screenplay produced.

As a screenwriter, you can:

1. Sell Your Screenplay: Write Query Letters – With this approach, you can write query letters to agents and production companies with the hope of getting your work evaluated. The truth is, someone will read your snail mail. But it probably won’t be the agent or producer. It will most certainly be an assistant. So I suggest writing your letter with the assistant in mind.

All assistants want to eventually move into their bosses’ role. This is where you can shine. What’s in it for an assistant to actually read your work? How will they benefit? Answer these questions in your initial query, and you’ll be ahead of 90% of other writers who merely send out anonymous emails.

2. Sell Your Screenplay: Make Your Contacts Count – Long before I moved to Los Angeles, I found out my actor buddy from college had scored a small role on a popular movie. So I reached out and send him my screenplay. I’m happy I did. After reading the script, he offered to host a reading with some of his actor friends.

Next thing you know, I’m in LA, walking into a room where “real” actors were presently reading and acting out my screenplay. Since I was familiar with many of the actors (because they were on TV and in movies) this was a surreal experience and is still one of the major highlights in my LA life.

You can approach people who know people in the industry and see if they will read your script and make introductions to Hollywood heavyweights.

3. Sell Your Screenplay: Enter Screenwriting Contests – You can send your script to screenwriting contests. If you place well in the contest, your work will get noticed by industry judges. Additionally, a win will give you just enough leverage to contact agencies with your news.

With that said, make sure you only focus on reputable screenplay contests. Have you heard of the contest? If not, can you reach out to past participants and find out about their experiences? This will help you determine the pros and cons of each screenwriting contest.

4. Sell Your Screenplay: Become A Movie Producer – The biggest reason I left my hometown for New York was so I could  work in a production company. I figured if I was on the inside, it would be far easier to add my script to the stack than merely sending a query letter. But what I gained was so much more valuable.

After months of working with the producer, I realized that real power players do not ask for permission to make movies. Instead they ask themselves this key question: “Given the resources that I have right now, what is the feature I can make this year?” Once you start producing (and possibly directing) your own work, you become a powerful force to be reckoned with.

And I’m speaking from experience. After producing my first feature, a lot of good stuff started happening. Aside from selling many units of the movie, everybody involved found bigger and better work. And our writer found an agent with one of the big Hollywood agencies.

Regardless of your strategy, making a movie is risky. Anytime a movie gets produced, someone has risked their reputation and livelihood to make it happen. And here is the quick catch 22. As soon as you are a produced writer, people will often scramble to read your material. To get this this point, you need to actually get something produced.

If you have a screenplay, your story better be better than good.

Wait… It better be great!

Otherwise, do not bother sending it out. And even if your screenplay is great and you find a bunch of industry pros enthusiastic about your material, there are no guarantees. It may still take months and possibly years before you see any money for your work. Just check out the Hollywood Screenplay blacklist for examples.

Sell Your Screenplay NowSo the question is, why depend on someone else to get your movie made? You can do it yourself. If you have been reading Filmmaking Stuff for any length of time, you probably know I would rather climb my own ladder than some ladder I don’t own. Stop asking for permission.

If you liked this article, you might benefit from my entreprenural screenwriting product at: How To Write Your Movie

The Secret of Pitching to Film Investors (Shhhh. Don’t tell.)

I’m going to reveal some secrets for pitching to film investors. But before I do, I want you to know something. There is NO magic secret for pitching to film investors.

The process of finding and pitching to film investors is not nearly as complicated as many people would like you to believe. Pitching to film investors is a numbers game. The more people you talk to, the greater your chances of finding someone willing to invest.

So with that said, it’s important to note that most prospective film investors are business savvy. And they all ask the same question. What is the question?

Inevitability one of the most frequently asked questions film investors ask is:

“How do you plan to make, market and sell this movie and return my investment?”

In the old model of filmmaking, traditional distribution was a lottery. So in response, most filmmakers (especially first time filmmakers) say something like this:

“Filmmaking is risky. If we are lucky, we will get into Sundance and get a distribution deal.”

To that end, most film investors respond like this:

“What? That’s not a business – that’s gambling!”

film investors

Film Investors: The Secret of Pitching

Disclaimer: What I’m about to share is total FICTION and should NOT be used in any business plans you create because I am neither a lawyer or an accountant. And I express my right to free speech as I share this imaginary, yet very pragmatic scenario.

Picture this. You enter a room with a bunch of prospective film investors.

Filmmaker: In our business, we hold the rights to an outstanding screenplay that taps into a well targeted, genre specific audience. We have budgeted the movie for $100,000 dollars. And given the genre, we do not need star talent. We are keeping the budget low – most folks have agreed to work for a salary, and all have agreed to residual compensation in the back end.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: At present, our crowdfunding campaign has allowed us to test the concept. And with sixty days left in the campaign, we have already sourced several hundred donations, giving us $8,000 dollars to pay for our website, marketing and PR.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: Upon completion of our movie, the title will available in all the popular marketplaces, including Amazon and iTunes. And as we speak, in addition to crowfunding, we have already contacted our audience list of 20,000 people (from our last movie in a similar genre) who have expressed interest in this upcoming title. Combine this with several partner filmmakers which will roughly expand our audience footprint to well over 250,000 targeted viewers.

Prospective Film Investors: I see…

Filmmaker: So at the time of release, if we project sales at 2% of 250,000 people. This means that 5000 people will download the movie at 9.99… which will be close to 50K minus a 40%  marketplace fee and a 10% commission to our partners – and we should be able to immediately return $25,000.

Prospective Film Investors: Wow! You really did your homework.

Filmmaker: Each subsequent quarter, we would like to continually re-invest 10% of the revenue into further list building efforts. And we would like to keep 30% for the producer and crew compensation. Which should leave you with a 60% cash dividend, to be paid quarterly. Assuming we can bring in $30,000 per year, in 7 years we will have more than $200,000 in revenue for this title. At that time, $20,000 would have been paid to marketing, $60,000 would have been paid to cast and producers and $120,000 would have been paid to investors.

Prospective Investor: Then what?

Filmmaker: As soon as we pay back the initial investment, we would like to split our revenue 60/40. In other words, the producers and crew would get 60% and you would continue to get 40%.

Prospective Investor: I understand what you’re saying here.

Filmmaker: Of course, there is always the small chance that we could get lucky – if we got a 5% return on our initial campaign, and 12,500 people immediately downloaded the movie at $9.99, our revenue will be close to $125,000 – minus expenses. But I need to remind you that this is not likely. And we would still have to pay a commission.

Prospective Investor: Oh. This makes sense.

Fimmaker: Great. Would you like to invest?
– – –

While I have provided a FICTIONAL example  (talk to an attorney and accountant before you ever pitch an idea) of how some filmmakers may decide to navigate this new movie business, my whole point here is this:

It is important to realize that success of a movie is no longer based solely on handing off the movie to some 3rd party distribution company. If you want to make it in this new world of filmmaking, you need to stop waiting for someone else to manage the business aspects of your movie and your career. Instead you now need to take a vested interest in the success of your project.

If you’re helming your movie project, nobody cares about it more than you. But if you aren’t afraid to provide everybody on your team with a bit of ownership too – you’ll soon be surprised to learn that word of mouth spreads a lot quicker when your entire cast and crew has a vested financial interest in the project.

In this regard, when you win, everybody wins!

Getting movie money begins first with making the call and building relationships with good prospective investors. So if you liked this article, you will love this professional film funding resource I created. Check it out by clicking here.

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DISCLAIMER (again) – I’m a filmmaker – not a lawyer or accountant. I’m expressing my freedom of speech for your entertainment. If you’re still reading this, I want to make it very clear that I made most of those figures up as a fictional EXAMPLE. You’ll have to figure out your own numbers and crunch your own data and make your own relationships with prospective investors. And always speak with a qualified professional before you do anything.