This post is long, but please bare with me as I need help.
I'm in the early prep stage of my first feature, everyday I'm in awe of how much I still have to learn.
My project will be about only 60min long that consists of quite a few Steadicam shots.
I'm hoping to raise about $60K for my budget.
I have a well prepped script and I designed every single shot as precise as it can be.
Everything as of now is till on paper.
I have never shot anything on high end digital (e.g. RAW) nor on film of any kind, 16mm, 35mm.
Because my lack of real experience, I initially wanted to go with RED for its flexibility in post production in case I messed up something. But as I learn more and more about digital. 1) it looked "too good" for my story. I barely need a 2k res for my story. 2) the data management is a nightmare. I don't have the connection to hire a DIT on set, and then source a high end computer to process the large files.
So I thought about shooting on film. Seeing from other people's footage it offers the look and color I wanted, the downside of noting being able to playback gives me worries that my lack of experience will underexpose or mess something up big time.
With digita,l I can use the DJI ronin for steadicam shots, and the DJI OSMOS alike for some occasions to shoot in public where it may be very hard to obtain permission and costly for hiring extras. But if I shoot on film, a few camera I looked Arriflex IIC, and Arri SR2, have scarce resources for power sources, e.g. batteries that work. So I don't know how to complete a long steadicam shot with a Super 16mm camer.
Even if I can complete a work steadicam setup with my budget, there is no way I can get away with it shooting in some of the public locations, even if I obtain the permits, every pedestrians will turn their heads and look at the camera. Which means more $$$ to hire extras.
$60k is too tight in my opinion for a sync sound, color, 16mm, 60min movie, that will be finished digitally. It's not impossible, but for that kind of budget, it adds a complication that you may not wish to deal with on your first feature. If you had $100k, very few/limited locations, had an extremely tight script with FREE actors who are well prepped and don't make mistakes, maybe 16mm is something to think about. I personally wouldn't even contemplate shooting a feature film on motion picture film of any kind without doubling your budget, even if the crew was free.
So that brings us down to what camera to shoot on and in my opinion, for your size requirements, cost and being able to edit in raw, I'd highly suggest the blackmagic pocket camera. It's a S16 sized CMOS imager, captures 12 bit RGB raw to standard SD cards. You can use pretty much any lens you want since it's lens mount is micro 4/3rds which gives you a very short/shallow flange distance (look this definition up for more info on why this is nice). It's an inexpensive purchase so you can own the equipment necessary to make the movie up front, practice with it before shooting and be fully ready when actually in production. Plus, you can very easily add a film look to the Blackmagic Pocket camera in post, since it has very good dynamic range for a camera that small.
In terms of shooting outdoors amongst random people, that's where the blackmagic shines. Nobody will know you're shooting a feature film, the pocket camera looks like a still camera, so nobody will know the difference. I use it all the time for documentary work and nobody cares about it. I haven't been asked to leave once because people thought it was a video camera, everyone just assumes I'm shooting stills. No boom mic and super small crew, you can usually get away with anything you want. Just remember, if you want to SELL your movie, you need to have legal documents for everyone on screen AND location permits to back that up. So be very careful how much you shoot gorilla without understanding the consequences up the road. Sure you can fake those papers, but that gets into a whole other subject.
Not to get your hopes down, but $60k is a very tight budget for a feature. Most of the low/no-budget work I do is in the 150 - 200k range, for good reason too. You need to have good crew backing you up in every department and this cost money. You need actors that are competent and bring life to your story. You also need to insure post production is done right. Many beginners waste their money in production and have nothing left for post and that's why their movies suck. Also, once you're done with the movie, having any hope of earning money from it, is greatly reduced if you can't throw money at the problem. If you don't care about making money and youtube distribution is your goal, then who cares what you do. However, if you do care, you will need more money. This money will be spent getting some sort of decent cast AND paying for a sale agent when finished. I'm not talking expensive A list, I'm talking B- cast, someone who's been acting for a while, has good chops, good connections (facebook/twitter) and is recognizable. That person may cost $50k when all said and done, your sales agent another $10 - $20k. So right there, you're over budget without even shooting a single frame.
SO think very hard about going out and making a feature with little to no money. Everyone wants to do it and there are literally thousands of acceptable features on the market today, but none of them you'll ever see. So if you want people to actually see your finished product and you care about money coming your way in the future for MORE productions, either find more money OR make a few decent shorts first. Take your feature script, make a short from it (on 16mm), put it on youtube/vimeo, go to the festivals, generate buzz and eventually the road to making your feature will show up. Again, if you only care about youtube/vimeo or limited DVD release that nobody will ever see, then it doesn't matter.
In any rate, that's a lot of info for you to digest!
Having worked with many first time directors, (and this may not apply to you since I don't know you) I would say the biggest obstacle to filmmaking in general for first timers is a real reluctance to put qualified production staff on their team. Part of this is an insecurity factor of not wanting to be the least experienced person on set. But don't fear that. Embrace it. Surround yourself with people who have far more experience than you and listen to their advice. Make your film. Make your own creative choices of course but the logistical and budgetary decisions regarding crew and gear require input from qualified production staff and set technicians and if you don't have the experience to confidently make those calls, hire people who do.
There's more to this question of what to shoot on than the few elements you mentioned. With the info you gave we can only generalize. It's really your crew and your producer who will be able to help guide your decisions.
Don't get discouraged! I'm sorry if we turned you off, for sure not our intention, especially not mine.
I think it's great to have aspirations/dreams of making a feature. However in today's climate, it's nearly impossible to get it seen unless you give it away for free. So why spend the money and time? It's the sad realization of our "digital" age, how are you going to make a better product then some big producer self-funding their little indy? Just look at the film festivals, all the top movies are borderline hollywood, multi-million dollar productions. Even the smaller ones are in the 250 - 500k range and have at least ONE A-/B+ actor in it. So yea, it's hard, but not impossible.
You can very easily take one scene from the feature and turn it into a short. Make it a cliffhanger, so people want more. Maybe even shoot a trailer for the feature, generate buzz, build your product and focus on it.This discussion is usually had after you've spent the time to promote the product and you're ready to start shooting, with an audience waiting for the product.
I get so tired of hearing the whole 'You need to throw money at it' approach to filmmaking. Yes, if you want to make a blockbuster project - back it up with the budget. Most low budget stuff is destined for DVD/VOD anyway, even if it gets a limited 3 or 4 screen theatrical run.
Not saying it doesn't take money - but you don't NEED $200,000 to make a feature film. This is not 1990 anymore, when the equipment alone would set you back half that. I have a fully equipped GH4 setup with full lighting and grip support that I purchased outright for less than $3,000 total. The GH4 is a perfectly capable camera, and is around $1,000 right now. Now of course Tyler will chip in and mention how the GH4 is a toy and that you need an Arri or Red (or maybe a Blackmagic, but I think their cameras have too many problems).
If you want to shoot your feature on a GH4 and are looking for a full equipment package for your film, I can hook you up for a pretty good day rate + travel.
The bottom line is this: If this is your first feature - focus on making it a GOOD feature. Don't worry about shooting it on film - since most of Hollywood doesn't even shoot film anymore. Worry about your story, worry about casting GOOD actors - spend a lot of time in auditions and see hundreds of actors if you can. Even among non-professional actors you'll find a good one eventually. Remember, everyone was a first time actor at one time or another.
Now will my advice help you to sell your feature and become rich off of it? Probably not. It will, however, get a GOOD film for your budget, a film that you can use as a calling card for future financing. Without a sales agent you likely won't get into Sundance or the other big ones - but don't worry about that. Submit to 2nd and 3rd tear festivals. Your goal is to win awards, not distribution (I think I read that only 8 films were picked up this year at Sundance).
Edited by Landon D. Parks, 19 April 2016 - 11:01 PM.
Thanks a lot for all the input.
I did not want to go for shooting on film because of vanity reasons but because the digital like red or black magic doesn't offer the look and low res I need for the storage without some heavy unreliable grading which in the end cost money anyway. But being able to playback on set is pretty important for a newbie and also the convenience for a concealed location.
I'm going to make it left and right. Just seeking the best option. Also my end goal is not really to break in anywhere or make any notice. Even if I can get all the shot I want I personally am not even sure I want it to be seen, because the story is just too personal and I feel embarrassed. I meant to make it for my own "appreciation" only. Of course when you do something like shooting a movie, let along my first one, inevitably I have some typical desire of getting accidentally noticed by important people at the back of my head.
But I can see that is just desire now, and steer back on the right track.
A little about my feature, it'll contain some footage and music I won't have right to use anyway. So **(obscenity removed)** it, the hell with selling, I'll just go ahead make it the way I wanted.
Not saying it doesn't take money - but you don't NEED $200,000 to make a feature film.
Heck at least the OP wasn't trying to make a $25k feature. Doesn't matter how good the script is, without talent, without it looking and sounding good, the likelihood of making that money back AND getting investment for another movie is slim to none. Far better to invest MUCH MORE MONEY, get recognizable A-/B+ actors, have a real crew and do it right. Then you'll have a product WORTH selling.
I have a fully equipped GH4 setup with full lighting and grip support that I purchased outright for less than $3,000 total. The GH4 is a perfectly capable camera, and is around $1,000 right now. Now of course Tyler will chip in and mention how the GH4 is a toy and that you need an Arri or Red (or maybe a Blackmagic, but I think their cameras have too many problems).
I actually suggested the Blackmagic Pocket camera, it doesn't get more of a "toy" then that. The difference is that the pocket camera records 12 bit RAW, which allows for much greater dynamic range and more "filmic" image as a consequence. By contract, the GH4 records 8 bit 4:2:0 REC709 MPEG files, which are long GOP, 100-200Mbps @ 1920x1080 or 100Mbps @ 4k. So less bitrate at 4k then 1920x1080... makes a lot of sense eh? I color GH4 material all the time, most of it directly from the camera's MPEG codec. I've not been very impressed with the results. They aren't bad... but they absolutely aren't as dynamic as the cinema cameras.
Once you add glass (primes and a zoom), audio (shotgun, wireless lav's, external recorder), lighting and support (shoulder mount and sticks), you're going to spend way more then $3k. I spent $5k for my BMPCC kit and haven't yet invested in a zoom for my digital rig. The great thing about the pocket is that you can use older 16mm glass without a problem. So I can use my entire Arri B mount cinema primes, including the gorgeous Zeiss 12-120 zoom. This is one of the reasons I haven't invested in a full-frame imager, good glass is just too expensive due to its high demand. Still glass CAN substitute, but there is nothing like good cinema glass.
Worry about your story, worry about casting GOOD actors - spend a lot of time in auditions and see hundreds of actors if you can. Even among non-professional actors you'll find a good one eventually. Remember, everyone was a first time actor at one time or another.
Couldn't agree more. Actors are your gateway, they tell your story.
However, there is a long road between finding a decent actor, to getting a performance out of them. You could have a phenomenal cast, but if they don't take direction well and/or are unable to perform the roles once you're in production, it's a real problem. This is part of the reason why people use "known" cast, just like it's important to have experienced crew on board as well. It's far easier, quicker and simpler to find actors who are already professionals in the film/broadcast industry, who already have a track record and understand how to take the proper direction. Your production will go MUCH faster with trained talent, then people from the local repertory theatre. Name talent also drives people to your production, it makes it easier to market. Even if the cast person's name isn't that recognizable, if what they've been in before IS recognizable, that's huge. This is why finding recognizable cast is so important and critical to the success of any production, especially one where the filmmakers are complete unknowns.
It will, however, get a GOOD film for your budget, a film that you can use as a calling card for future financing. Without a sales agent you likely won't get into Sundance or the other big ones - but don't worry about that. Submit to 2nd and 3rd tear festivals. Your goal is to win awards, not distribution (I think I read that only 8 films were picked up this year at Sundance).
Financiers want to see how much money you made off your movie. They want to see the numbers because in reality, it's all a business. So if you make a product that nobody see's, if you just break even, it doesn't matter how many no/low budget features you've made, no investor will help make your next movie unless you've been successful financially. This is why the idea of a $60k movie kinda blows my brain away because what do you do with that movie?
Well the interesting thing about film festivals is that, they're a lot of work. First off, submission fee's and requirements are quite expensive and complex. Second, you have to sell your movie to the people attending. So if you don't have representation at the festival, you aren't going to get butts in the seats. Remember, most festivals have multiple screenings going on at once, so people have to choose to see your movie or someone else's. This means you need to PAY FOR an aggressive ad campaign both online and at the festival itself. You need to hand out cards, put up posters, build relationships with people before the screenings, so they will see your movie, this is all hypercritical stuff. With so much awesome content on the market today, winning a prize is almost luck of the draw. For years I have been a judge a multiple internet film festivals and I tell ya, every year we have such amazing entries, it's hard to pick a winner. Most of the time we watch the movie with the most press first and if it's good, we may not watch the other one's all the way through. I know that sounds horrible, but when you've got a bunch of people in a small room who have to sit and watch 20 or so movies in a weekend, it's hard to get them to sit and watch. It's the same way at any other festival. Judges sometimes make up their minds based on the popularity of a movie, rather then the quality. I have friends on many judge panels of BIG festivals like Venice and Berlin, they tell me that sort of stuff happens everywhere.
Also... if you go to a low-end festival and you win, you've now proven to a sales agent that you CAN'T do well at a bigger festival. If you don't go to festivals at all, sky's the limit! So there is a catch 22 to festivals and I generally tell people NOT to send features to festivals unless the movie is so good, it gets into a top one. If you wanna run the festival circuit, do it with a short film. It's much easier because people will actually watch them all and if your movie is good, it can get some serious accolades. A good festival run of a well produced short film can launch a filmmakers feature filmmaking career very quickly. Plus, it won't KILL the product if it doesn't go well, since you can't sell a short anyway.
Big festivals and distribution requires a sales agent. SO if your budget is $60k, you aren't spending $10 - 20k on a sales agent are you? LOL
I will refrain from making this a argument thread, and just conclude by saying: If this is your first feature film - the odds that anyone is going to give you anything to make it, let alone cast a bunch of name actors on any kind of lower budget is just not realistic.
Basically, your first feature should be made to be a good calling card for you, not an attempt to recoup a $500,000 investment. If Hollywood hasn't figured out the formula to success, I doubt a first time director has. What one would end up doing is taking someones $500,000 - making a movie that still wont sell - and then no one will ever work with the director again due to the financial loss. This is of course all assuming any investor will give a first time director a lot of money, which I'd highly question unless you have an experienced producer or two behind you who can help to 'sell' you as a filmmaker - in which case your inexperience is not really relevant,
Make features to get in the door, and then worry about making larger budget projects with an intent to recoup the investment. No different than a writer who writes his or her first ever book and expects every publisher to fight for it's publication rights --- only to find that their book was more a learning experience and not marketable.
Maybe I'm naive, but I still stand by my stance on this issue: Your first ever feature should not be an attempt at recouping a large investment. You'll be taken more seriously by investors in the future if you can say 'I'm not a first time director', if nothing else.
Edited by Landon D. Parks, 20 April 2016 - 01:36 AM.
Several reason, really. The main job of the sales agents is to get your movie in front of people who might buy it. They have the connections already made, you don't. Also, they deal with the legal complexities of distribution which is above the heads of most filmmakers.
Not to say you can't be your own sales agent - you certainly can. But you'll need to learn a new job, and you'll not be able to do it as well as those already established with a client list. There also comes a point where you can only do so many jobs before others start to suffer. No matter how good you are at all the jobs you know you can do, each will suffer when you take on too many.
Edited by Landon D. Parks, 20 April 2016 - 01:55 AM.
Yeah. I will still go ahead and make the movie, but now with the mentality that my $60k never existed in the bank. Haha.
Why can't I be my own sales agent?
If it's of any consolation, someone named Lena Dunham made her first two features with less than that amount. Her first 60min feature Creative Nonfiction was made with 15k dollars, She was unaware of what cinema was, yet the film made it SXSW. That's what raw talent can do to even the most untrained/unknowing mind. Her second feature 'Tiny Furniture' was a substantial improvement! You never would've guessed she could improve in as little as a year, and she made that for 50k dollars. 'Tiny Furniture' was filmed on a Canon 7d, but most importantly she collaborated with a group of filmmakers, she didn't do it on her own. I may not be a fan of her work, but I sure do admire her incredible talent to write/direct/act. If you look at Creative Nonfiction, you'll see that poor camerawork can be forgiven if what you see on the screen is interesting. You don't have to be Caleb Deschanel to get noticed, you just need an interesting story, and most importantly interesting actors. I believe John Huston said 80% of directing is in casting the right actors. Here's 'Creative Nonfiction', I like the film. You can watch 'Tiny Furniture' on Netflix.
Edited by joshua gallegos, 20 April 2016 - 03:55 AM.
If it's of any consolation, someone named Lena Dunham made her first two features with less than that amount. Her first 60min feature Creative Nonfiction was made with 15k dollars, She was unaware of what cinema was, yet the film made it SXSW.
Few side notes... Lena had already been shooting short films for years prior to making Creative Nonfiction. She knew what "cinema" was very clearly. Also she started a very successful web series with a cult following prior to releasing Creative Nonfiction. So she had built her audience and when she launched, there were people eager to watch anything she made.
She was not really in the SXSW festival in the standard categories. After being denied by every festival, a friend of hers who worked at SXSW pushed hard to get it at least screened at the festival and it was. But it was not in awards contention, simply screened as a side deal during the festival.
Her second film Tiny Furniture did however win a jury prize at SXSW, but she made the movie with friends for $65k, over the course of a year. Most critical element is that she brought in some real crew to make it work. Tiny Furniture actually looks good, sounds good, is edited well, it's just a nice product. But remember, she was a BRAND at that point. People wanted to see her stuff because they like her. A female actor/writer/director with a following is almost unstoppable. Look at the Mindy Project. Mindy was my next door neighbor growing up, we use to hang out all the time. She moved to California AFTER I did, made a brand for her self and look where she is now! Female star power! This is why being a writer/director is so hard, people associate what they see on screen, not necessarily whose behind the camera.
Lena did everything I've said you need to do, but she already had a great deal of experience making films AND had a great group of friends to help her. Once you add her cult following to the equation, there was literally no way she could fail.
That's interesting, didn't know her first feature was rejected, I found it charming, because she's a natural dialogue writer. But I don't really think her short films were very cinematic at all, she just grabbed a camera and recorded her stuff. I think she learned the importance of having a good camera man as she was making her first feature, I remember watching an interview where she mentioned that she didn't even write 'Creative Nonfiction' in proper screenplay format. Here's an example of one of her early short films... her writing and acting is what got her through.
I just saw the post that was locked, and I have to add that Paul Thomas Anderson wouldn't be much of a "genius" if it wasn't for his crew and Robert Elswit's guidance. You can see his first short film 'The Dirk Diggler Story' where he did everything himself, and it wasn't very good at all! When he finally made his second short film 'Cigarettes and Coffee' he understood the importance of having a professional crew. In the commentary for 'Sydney' or 'Hard Eight' you can hear Paul talk about Robert Elswit's contribution to his films, he admitted that Robert taught him a lot of things he didn't know, and how he's still learning. The function of a director is to merely COMMUNICATE, everyone around him does ALL the real work, and a film would be nothing without the cinematographer or the sound man, or make-up, art department, etc. It's a collaborative medium, I think the challenge for any director is for his/her vision to come together into a singular idea. This is why filmmaking is unique, because it's not like sitting alone in a room to paint or to write, you have to be able to know how to talk and respect other people, to get the best from them. You can't undermine the experience of others, you need a whole army of people to make a film, there is no other way.
The function of a director is to merely COMMUNICATE, everyone around him does ALL the real work
I'm going to argue with you there. First, you need to determine what 'real work' is. Yes, each person on set does their share of work for their department, I'm not denying that. I'm also not denying that a Grip probably does more physical work than a director, but what is the definition of 'work' here?
He seem to be suggesting that the director simply sits back in a chair and watches while everyone else does the 'real work'. That same argument is made a lot of Facebook too, when comparing corporate officers to workers. You know, those CEO's make 500x the hourly rate of their REAL workers? Have you ever actually directed anything (with an actual cast and crew), Joshua? If you have, you should know better. If you haven't, you really have no claim to make that - since you have no experience as a director. The director may not haul lights or drive grip trucks, but I can assure you the job is not that easy. It's really more 'mental' than 'physical', but that does not mean the director gets paid big money to sit back and watch everyone else work.
Most of my directing experience comes from theatre, which is similar to film in terms of directing (casting, blocking, communicating vision to others, etc.). I can tell you, while the Grip might come on the set for a short period of shooting (a few weeks), the director might well have been working on that same project for the past year or two, and will likely continue to work on it for another year after. The director is responsible for casting the picture, which is not easy and requires talent. The director is responsible for bringing the entire crew together to follow their vision to an end product, which is also not easy and requires a lot of skill.
I'm not discounting the work others do on set. Far from it. Filmmaking cannot be done with just a director alone. However, to assume that the director does nothing but communicate and let's everyone else do the real work is a bit of a misleading concept. It also borders on dangerous, because you could make the same arguments about cinematographers, writers, editors... Hell even the sound guy just sits in a chair adjusting volume levels.... EVERYONE is important on a film set. While it's true that no film would get made without a crew, no film would also get made without a director to bring that crew toward one mission.
Edited by Landon D. Parks, 05 May 2016 - 07:39 PM.
I'm referring to hands-on labor. A director brings together a band of talented people to do the things he cannot do himself, and there's nothing wrong with that, that's their job. But the more useful of directors are the ones who can actually elicit better performances from his/her actors, there are some directors who have absolutely nothing interesting to offer, someone like 'McG' who is the worst director I've ever seen in my life. Most of them come from directing music videos and have very little understanding of narrative filmmaking. Consider someone like Alfred Hitchcock, he had great sense of what was cinematic and what wasn't, he knew what he wanted from the time the screenplay was being developed to the final cut of the movie. He wasn't just a 'director', he was a complete filmmaker. I'm not diminishing the role of a director at all, but simply saying that a director doesn't have to do much at all but watch his vision come to life and either say "I like it" or "I don't like it, let's do it again". There are actually some cinematographers who do most of the blocking for directors, so I don't really see what's so special about being a director UNLESS you can be a useful instrument in getting better performances from an actor.
To me the actual making of a movie is in the cutting room, that's where I believe a director is most useful. That's what separated someone like Hitchcock from everyone else. That's where the film is truly made. I have directed a couple of short films that weren't very good, and because of those little movies I learned the importance of getting someone who is more experienced and talented to execute the idea for me. I like to think I have good ideas but poor technical abilities to execute them visually. So I think the position of the director is overblown, unless the director can be useful to: actors, the writer, or even have the ability to put the camera in the right place/ framing. Otherwise, you end up like McG.