8 Tips for the First-Time Filmmaker
What I’ve learned from directing a feature-length film
The crew makes final touches before going for a take on the first day of production.
When I directed the 2017-19 Meadows Summer Film Production of The Book of Job, I had no idea what I was doing. What can prepare you to make a movie with dozens of cast and crew members, tons of props and locations, and limited time and money?
Whether you’re making a short film for a class or tackling a feature-length film, here are eight pieces of advice to help make your film a reality:
- Know your story.
All decisions, creative and otherwise, should be made in the best interest of the film, and that’s only possible if you have a firm understanding of the story. Every scene, theme, and character beat should be ingrained in your mind, so that judgment calls become simple reflex. Would a local coffee shop or a Starbucks be a better location? Should a shot remain stationary or incorporate movement?It all comes back to story.
- Start early.
It is impossible to start planning too soon. Before I had even written a page of The Book of Job, I took the practicality of production into consideration. I intentionally set the story in a modern high school to make production more feasible (plus, no need for guns, blood or special effects). When I had assembled my team of producers, we started preproduction work beforewe were even officially selected for the Summer Film Production. It paid off.
- Assemble the best.
Get the right people for the job and you’ll be amazed. I often felt insecure on set with how seemingly little hands-on work I was required to do as director. It’s also incredibly reassuring to know you have people you trust running each department, so you don’t have to. And that’s the way it should be.
- Prepare to pay.
Filmmaking is insanely expensive and chances are you’ll have to pay quite a bit out of your own pocket. Of course, pursue the usual lines of crowdfunding and grants, but get ready to add your wallet to the mix. I took two work-study jobs and allocated a portion of my earnings to its eventual expenditure for my film. So start saving!
- Call in your favors.
Remember all the friends and connections you’ve made over the years? All the sets you’ve worked on and the network you’ve slowly expanded? Now’s the time to pull everyone together and ask for their help. Ask for anything: locations, props, donations, advice. You might be surprised with what you get.
- Cast the widest net.
When searching for anything, from the perfect actor to a fancy sports car, expend every option. The larger pool you draw from, the greater the likelihood of finding the right fit. Send a crap-ton of emails. And consider back-ups for your back-ups. Something might fall through and you’ll want to have your butt covered.
- Make a mantra.
During the making of 8½, Federico Fellini kept a note on set that said, “Remember, this is a comedy.” Sometimes you get lost in the logistics and lose sight of why you’re doing this in the first place. Craft a meaningful maxim that will act as your home base and remind you of your purpose. I stole Fellini’s phrase for Book of Jobto remember to strive for humor both on screen and on set.
- Embrace the chaos.
Things will go wrong. You can’t help it. So make Murphy’s law your best friend. Do what you can, but learn to let go. And every now and again, just step back and marvel at the mess you’ve made – all in the name of art.
Art department to the rescue: Meadows student Aggie Ryan blocks the sun so the crew can see playback on the director’s monitor, held here by Al Bouchillon, director of photography.
Andrew Oh is a recent alumnus of Southern Methodist University with a degree in Film & Media Arts. You can find him writing jokes and babysitting while continuing postproduction work on The Book of Job.
For more information on the film, visit here