The toughest part of making a movie is getting started. Many would-be filmmakers sit around all year waiting for everything to be perfect. Not you. The sooner you realize your movie will never be perfect the better. This frees you up to get started on an idea (any idea) and start making a movie.
As a filmmaker, taking action is always better than making excuses for why you can’t make your movie. But I want to caution you. When it comes to making a movie, there is a lot of crappy information out there. Most information tells you that making a movie is impossible without foreign pre-sales, star power or getting a major deal with a movie studio. But there are other ways. . .
The Minimalist Guide To Making A Movie
Taking action involves looking around, making a tally of the resources that you have right now and deciding to pick up a camera. Depending where you are in your career, getting started may seem like an insurmountable obstacle. If this describes your situation, you’re in luck.
When I started my career, I was stuck in my small town and I did not know anyone in the film industry. So I took any job I could. My first gig was mopping floors at a local production company. And eventually, by some miracle to end all miracles, born of equal parts luck and blind determination, I was able to eventually produce a movie.
And you can too. Can you imagine the excitement, emotion and applause of a packed audience during the premiere your first movie? Imagine walking down the isle to claim your award… Can you imagine yourself in the Q&A session? Smell the popcorn? Then what are you waiting for?
Step 1: Screenwriting
Your screenplay is the blueprint for your movie. Without an awesome screenplay, making a movie is very difficult. I know some filmmakers are interested in making an “experimental” movie (without a script.) But I don’t suggest you do that. If you would like to write a screenplay, here are some professional tools that I recommend:
For screenwriting, Final Draft software is the industry standard. Additionally, you can also use Movie Magic Screenwriter. But I never used it. And if money is tight, there is FREE screenwriting software called WriterDuet.
Once you have the tools, it is important to remember that nothing happens until YOU take the time to write. Set aside time to write at least one page each day. And give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft.
Screenwriting Action Plan
- Explain your story in one sentence. What’s your hook?
- Everything in your screenplay costs money. Consider the movie’s budget.
- Ice, Snow, Rain, Sun, dogs, lighting bolts and children are worth avoiding.
- If you decide to produce your movie, hire a seasoned Production Manager.
- Hire a GREAT First Assistant Director. Not some film school kid either.
If you need extra help, research this screenwriting course. In this system, you receive writing tips, an action guide and a fill in the blank writing workbook, so you can finish your screenplay this year.
Step 2: Script Breakdown
After you finish your screenplay, the next steps is to break it down. A script breakdown allows you to create a schedule and a budget your movie. To complete this process, you take everything in your script (wardrobe, stunts, locations, characters, props, et al.) And you put these elements into a schedule.
Because this is your “initial breakdown,” you will use this information to estimate your budget.
If this is script breakdown process is new to you, I recommend you take a look at Peter Marshall’s Script Breakdown and Film Scheduling Course. His course shows you the fundamentals of a breakdown.
Three Types of Filmmakers
- Employee Filmmaker (indie producer works at a production company): An employee filmmaker is someone who gets a job at a production company.
- Freelance Filmmaker (indie producers hired on a per-project basis): As a freelancer, you get hired
on a per-project basis. Then when the production wraps, you go back to seeking your next job.
- Entrepreneurial Filmmaker (indie producer creates his or her own projects and hires other people): In this scenario, your goal is to find a good screenplay, raise money and make your own movie!
Step 3: Get Movie Money
Like most filmmakers, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I would find an investor for my projects. One of my friends said I should contact a local auto dealer who owned a dozen dealerships. One day I picked up the telephone and called his dealership. To my surprise, he agreed to meet. So we sat down and discussed making a movie. That was the beginning of a business relationship. For the record, this small town auto dealer is worth sixty-seven million dollars!
Since then, I have met countless rich people. These people get calls from entrepreneurs seeking funding every week. And while establishing a relationship is essential, it is important to have a business plan.
A business plan outlines how your movie will be produced, marketed and sold. It outlines how much money will you need and how the money will be spent. Your business plan will outline how much risk your investors will need to take in order to gain the possible rewards. To create a business plan, you may benefit from some free online templates. Or you may benefit from MoviePlanPro. There you will find a movie business plan kit, which provides you with a step-by-step approach.
Contacting Investor Skills
- Very few investors are out there waiting to throw money at unproven filmmakers. Remove risks.
- What is an asset? A liability? Cashflow? Capital gains? Figure this out first.
- Write a business plan. Contact an attorney. Finalize you paperwork.
- Find the biggest business in your town. Call the owner and request a meeting.
- It takes seven meetings before you build a relationship. Don’t give up.
As a word of caution, always contact a lawyer before you pitch your project to anybody. Your lawyer will have suggestions on how to legally approach prospective movie investors.
Step 4: Get A Lawyer
When it comes to making a movie, the moment you start putting your project together, you’re in business. At this point that many filmmakers get a business card and set up a website, touting the wonders of their projects. This is also a time when many costly mistakes are made.
How you establish your filmmaking business can have legal and tax ramifications. As such, the moment you decide to start putting a project together, you should also seek out the legal and tax advice of qualified professionals. After meeting with these folks, you might find that operating your production company under the protection of a corporate entity (such as a corporation or LLC) may provide you with basic safeguards.
The steps of setting up a business entity are pretty simple, but they could be a little costly depending on your state (or country) laws and tax liabilities. Also, as a general disclaimer, I am not qualified to offer legal or tax advice. So I can only talk about my own experience – which may not be right for you.
Protect Your Movie Business
- Talk with an attorney about how to protect your assets in the event things go south. Do this before you do anything else!
- As a second line of defense, talk with a qualified insurance broker about your goals. Common insurance packages include production insurance, liability insurance, workers compensation insurance and Errors and Omissions.
- Make sure you get releases singed by everybody. This includes the obvious stuff like your cast and your crew and the less obvious stuff like locations.
When it comes to entertainment attorneys, you might consider researching Gordon Firemark. He runs Firemark.com and has very informative podcasts, full of valuable legal tips for independent filmmakers.
Step 6: Film Funding
Raising movie money becomes much easier when you have a network of rich and successful friends. If you have not already done so, check out Tom Malloy’s business plan template. Different from all the other BS out there, you will discover some little-known strategies on how to find and make friends with rich people.
When it comes to making a movie, sometimes knowing rich people is not enough. Many prospective investors will want to see some proof of concept. And one way to accelerate traditional film funding is to incorporate crowdfunding. Aside from raising money, the more important aspects of crowdfunding include testing, proving and pre-selling a concept.
A small crowdfunding campaign allows you to test the footprint of your social influence. When crowdfunding attempts fail, it could mean the concept is not interesting to the marketplace, or your social media reach is limited or a bit of both. It is better to correct these hiccups prior to production. To get started with a crowdfunding campaign, visit my friends at IndieGoGo.com
Three CrowdFunding Tips
- Study the pitch videos of successful campaigns and test a pitch video for your project.
- Always include a one dollar perk. While transactionally small, you may benefit from the social reach of your contributor. Some of their friends may decide to fund you.
- Update your funders frequently. Many initial funders will actually contribute a second time when they see your project is gaining progress
You must never forget that you are creating a product. So before you approach any prospective investor, you need to first figure out how your project will make money
Step 7: Final Budget
Finalize your script. Get it to a point where you aren’t going to keep changing things. Once you get to this point, consider it a locked script. Number your scenes. Then break down your script again, and create your final shooting (production) schedule and budget. How much money you have to work with?
If you find you don’t have enough you have two choices. You can get more money. Or you can modify the script and schedule to fit your budget. A big rule for making a movie is everything will cost you money. Sometimes these elements are negotiable. For example, I know a guy who got both food and locations for free in exchange for product placement.
If you have the money, I suggest working with a seasoned physical producer, line producer or production manager to help you get organized. These professionals work to make sure your movie stays on budget. They then tweak your initial schedule as needed to stay within both your desired budget and time parameters.
The Final Budget
- Everything in your movie costs money. Always negotiate for a better offer.
- The Line Producer and 1st Assistant Director should be your first hires. They will help you with the day to day minutiae so you can focus on getting your movie made.
- If your budget is greater than your money – you have two choices. You can lower your budget or modify your script and schedule
Additionally, if you’re going to direct and produce, having these professionals on your team will open the door to relationships with a great 1st AD. The First Assistant Director keeps your movie on schedule
Step 8: Prepping For Production
The quality of your production depends on your preparation. When you get the money, pick a date for production. You are now entering the phase of pre-production. The most important aspect of making a movie involves preparation. In fact, the quality of your production depends on quality of your prep.
I emphasize the planning aspects of pre-production, because many filmmakers crash and burn during production because they didn’t have a solid plan. Go back to your lawyer and get help with your contracts and releases. If you’re short on cash, do a web search for lawyers for the arts in your state. Since many of these folks will be working for free, expect a lot of “no’s” before you find the right fit for your show. You can make your jobs easier if you find someone with film production experience.
If you are using a Line Producer and 1st AD, both of these professionals will help you hire the cast and crew. They may also know a thing or two about tax credits in your state. Tax credits can be used to help further incentivize prospective investors to hand over money. This is invaluable!
Prep For Production
- Take time to visualize each day in advance. Picture every camera set up and every shot. This will help you outline an efficient day.
- Make sure you get plenty of sleep. This sounds silly. But making a movie is tough work! You will need every ounce of energy you can muster to make your movie happen!
- Remember that you are making a movie because doing so is fun. Your goal is to enjoy every minute on set, as you’re doing what you want in life
To make sure your production goals are executed in such a way that you get the most movie for your hard earned money, you will need to check and re-check with your department heads to make sure everything is AOK. Assuming you have a plan A, plan B and a plan C, you’re ready to shoot your movie!
Step 9: Movie Website
Your movie website is essential for filmmaking success Create a website specific to your movie. Then make sure you have a way to get site visitors onto your mailing list. Additionally, have a place on your site for press, so that they can grab your press kit and materials.
To get started, you will need a domain name and website hosting. To do this, set up an account with a filmmaker friendly company. More ideas for movie hosing and domain selection can be found BlueHost.com (Bluehost pays me to promote… )But it is the company I have used for many of my movie websites. When you set up the site, make sure you use your movie’s title in your link. For example, in our environmental movie, we reserved: ToxicSoupMovie.com
You can search for an available domain here:
Once you have your website hosting, hire a web designer to create a website for you. If you already spent all your money making the movie, then check out a service called fiverr.com – On this site, you’ll probably find a dozen people who will create an awesome website for a whopping $5 dollars!
Website Tips You Need
- Keep it simple. Your website should tell a visitor where they are and what to do next!
- Your movie website should provide a trailer that fans can watch.
- Stream your trailer from YouTube. Aside from being the second largest search engine on earth, the service is free and has a social networking component built in.
As you get into production, you will later want to add a movie trailer. This will help drive traffic to your website, which will increase the size of your mailing list. To build your mailing list, check out AudienceList.com – This service allows filmmakers to capture leads from their movie website, build a mailing list and set up email newsletters. (They pay me to promote, but I use them for everything.)
Step 10: Get it Made
Once you have all the above stuff checked off the list, you’ll want to meet with your department heads and make sure everyone’s needs are being met. Assuming you’ve maintained limited locations, with a limited cast and crew, you will probably still be baffled by the amount of questions that come flying at you.
Seriously, you would think you’re making a gazillion dollar movie. But questions are simply indicators that people care about their work and the movie. And they want to make it a success. Trust your team and be rewarded. This goes without saying, but don’t be a jerk. Seriously, you’re making a movie. It’s a real accomplishment and it’s one of those great things you can do in life. In fact, it’s quite awesome. So push forward. ENJOY! Did I mention you need plenty of sleep?
During production, try to constantly get press to come out and profile your movie in the news. The goal is to leverage the media, create buzz and hopefully get people to your website and get them to opt into your
newsletter mailing list.
Last Minute Filmmaking Tips
- Walk before you can run. If the only movie you can make this year is a three minute movie for YouTube, grab your cheap camera and make that.
- Make sure you have adequate food on set. If you do not have much money, food is your currency. Don’t skimp for the cheap stuff either. Get good stuff.
- If you have to cry on set, just make sure you go somewhere nobody can see you. When you cry on set, everybody looks at you like a weirdo and you erode credibility with your cast and your crew.
After the WRAP, have a wrap party. And trust me when I tell you this – try not to sleep with anybody in your cast or your crew. Also, if possible, monitor your alcohol intake. You are a professional. Act accordingly.
Step 11: Post Production
The edit suite is your final rewrite. After you recover from your hangover, you’ll probably start editing the movie. This is the phase in making a movie called post production. And it really is the final rewrite of your movie. In the past, all the talk and buzz in the world revolved around Avid. Now you’re like Avid who? Then it was Final Cut Pro. And now most people are saying you should use Adobe Premiere. If you have a Mac, get yourself a copy of some of this software. It’s powerful and affordable. Enough said.
If you don’t have a Mac, find a friend who does. And if you don’t know how to edit, you should find a friend for that too. Your first edit will be rough. Screen it with a group of people who have never seen the movie. Get feedback. Then take the feedback and refine your edit. After that, take a week off. During your downtime, do not look at the movie or play around with it.
In this way, you’ll come back to the edit suite with new perspective. Refine and refine again. Have another small screening with people who have never seen the movie. Take notes. Then take those notes back to your edit suite. Add some sound FX to your movie. Clean up actor dialogue and rough areas. Remember, audio is often more important than visual.
Edit Your Movie
- Don’t be an idiot. You will need to cut at least five minutes out of your movie, if not more. Many directors keep the long scenes. That is a snooze fest.
- You’re in a dark room for hours on end. Please make sure you shower and maintain your hygiene. I don’t know why, but edit suites smell funky.
- Quit asking people on your payroll for an opinion. Many want you to hire them again, so they will be inclined
to sugarcoat their opinions. Get opinions from people who aren’t involved in your movie.
Screen the movie again with a new, small set of people. Take notes. Go back and refine. You will probably repeat this process many times until the final cut of your movie meets your standards. Just remember, less is more.
Step 12: Sell Your Movie
You are now responsible for the success of your movie.When you have a cut you’re happy with, then you can implement your sales strategy. For example, will you go to film festivals? Sales agents? Film Markets? Because finding traditional distribution deals (that actually pay good money) are rare, you must always plan your own marketing, sales and distribution.
To get started, you will need to create a trailer, refine your website, set up a Facebook page, YouTube channel, and a newsletter will allow you to build a relationship with your visitors. Refine your trailer so that it helps you sell your movie, without giving the entire story away. Make sure your trailer includes a backlink to your website. Once you complete the trailer, upload it to YouTube and all the other video streaming sites you can think of.
Most filmmakers make a website with all sorts of bells and whistles. Your website should be simple. You should have a trailer, an “about” page, a “buy now” button, links to your social networks and your opt-in audience list.
How To Sell Your Movie
- Remember video stores? Neither does my kid cousin. Video On Demand is the future. Get it?
- If most sales agents are attempting to “pick up” your movie for iTunes, and you can get your own movie onto iTunes, why do you still need the validation of a middle-man?
- If you want more information on how to market and sell your movie, check out: HowToSellYourMovie.com
- Did you create your movie website yet? What are you waiting for?
- Just because your movie is in iTunes, Amazon and VOD marketplaces does not guarantee sales. You still need to market to sell your movie.
You don’t have to build an audience. But you do need to figure out where your audience congregates online. Then you need to make a plan for getting in front of your audience. With this said, now might be a good time to research this film distribution training.