Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Short Films vs. Features and Other Stuff

Your Angry Filmmaker Tip of the Day.

If you're convinced that a major feature is your future, it’s imperative that you start with short films, to learn your craft and build a track record.

Short films should be really short. In the 3 – 8 minute range. I can do 5 or 6 short films for what many people spend on a 25 minute film, which means I'm learning a lot more about my craft and I have 5 different films out in the real world working for me, while other people only have one.
-- from The Angry Filmmaker Survival Guide (coming really soon)

You don’t go to medical school and upon graduation walk in to an operating room and start cutting away on patients. A new mechanic doesn’t tear a new car apart on his first day on the job. If you want to be a pilot you don’t jump into a 747 and say “okay, let’s take off. I can drive a car how much harder can this be?”

Yet most people think they can make a feature when they’ve never made any films??? I don’t understand this.

If you have been to my workshops you know that I stress over and over again that if you want to make features you need to start by making short films. Filmmaking, like so many other things is a craft. The more you do it, the better you get. You learn by trial and error.

When I was in film school I made some horrible films. I made some good ones too, but my bad ones were really bad. And I learned more from the bad films I made then from the good ones. I usually was trying something new and different, something I had never done before. And when I failed I could go back and see why I failed. What did I do wrong and what will I try again in the future.

I always tell people its okay to fail when you’re in school or when you’re making short films. If they’re really bad you will have a short period where you’re humbled and humiliated and then it’s done. You go on and make another short. If you make a bad feature, that sticks with you. People remember bad features, they rarely remember bad shorts.

By making short films you learn about budgeting, script breakdowns, scheduling, casting, working with actors, working with crew and how long it can take to do lighting set ups. Which part of this doesn’t translate in to making features?

Whenever I made my short films I was always looking at something new to learn in addition to making the short. How many set ups could I do in a single day? How much coverage could I get without moving the lights? Was it faster to shoot exteriors or interiors? Lights versus reflectors? What about permits? How can I schedule things better and more efficiently?

I can look at any one of my short films and point to what I learned on each one. On one of my films I was working with actors for the first time and I‘ve never felt like it worked. I learned that if you want good acting you couldn’t just set up the camera and tell the actors what you wanted. You had to work with them long before you ever set foot on the set. I learned on one short that the entire crew and the equipment had to be in as few vehicles as possible. That way no one would get lost, again…

I learned about how important good food is to a crew if you wanted to keep them working. I learned how to put together a good shooting schedule through trial and error, and what to do if you lose a location, or an actor on the day of the shoot.

I learned how to look like a big professional crew when I wanted to, and how to look like a bunch of amateurs when I needed to. I can make a small crew work like a big one and as one of my DP’s likes to say, “I can be one of the best Director/Assistant Cameramen in the business.”

If you have this vision of yourself in front of a big crew sitting on your director’s chair telling everyone what to do and then watching video playback you are in the wrong business.

What making short films has taught me is that I can take very little money and make it look like a lot more on the screen. I can have a crew work really hard and efficient and still have fun. I am relaxed on the set because I know what to do when things go wrong, and sooner or later things will go wrong. I have an alternate plan for all occasions because nothing ever goes exactly the way you planned. If I am relaxed so is the crew. They know that I am on control and no matter what happens it’ll get taken care of.

Making short films gave me the confidence to make a feature when I finally did it. I knew enough about my craft that I could get myself out of any problems that might come up. I wouldn’t have known that without making those 8 short films.

I let my crews do what they do best and I don’t micro manage them because I know what they do best and I have done most of those jobs myself.

When you finally get to make your feature you have to approach it as though it might be the only one you ever get to make. Give it everything you have, and if you have learned your lessons from earlier films, you’ll be just fine.

Other stuff.

Happy Birthday Dad! I hope your day is a good one.

Internet Special!!!!
Go to www.angryfilmmaker.com and check out my films. Between now and August 1st, 2008 if you order any 2 of my DVDs I will send you my Sound Work Book for free! If you want to know about the three types of microphones or what the most important element in Sound Design is then you need this book. It is crammed full of tips on Sound for films. Order any 2 DVDs and you get my knowledge and sound tips for free. Two DVDs will set you back $20 + $10 shipping and handling and for that you get the Sound Work Book (a $10 value) for free. Now that’s a deal!

And just a reminder, I am available to consult on your films.

What do you get out of the deal? You get the best value and advice in making your film. No matter what stage you’re in. I’ve been in the business for 25 years, working on everything from animation to live action, Independent features, Real Independent features, Hollywood studio stuff, and documentaries. If you check out my bio and filmography (www.angryfilmmaker.com/who.htm) you’ll see I’ve worked on award winning films, and films that never got distribution.

I will look at your work honestly and objectively. If there are problems, I’ll point them out, in a constructive way. No one wants to hear, “This sucks!” My goal is to guide you through the process, so that you can see what the problems are, and we’ll come up with ways to fix them. Check out (www.angryfilmmaker.com/consulting.htm.)

Talk later.




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