Thanksgiving is coming up and then it’s time to start thinking about Christmas. And you know what that means: New Years Resolutions! Maybe you’ve wanted to quit smoking or go to a gym or learn to dance salsa. How about an even better New Years Resolution? 2017 will be the year that you finally become a feature filmmaker!
Trust me, quitting smoking is harder than making a feature. But there’s even better reasons you should start off the New Year planning on making your feature film. Here’s a list of a few of them.
Technological advances have virtually eliminated the high cost of gear as a reason why you can’t make a feature film. You can get lights, camera, sound gear for next to nothing. Actually, if you purchase it used on eBay and re-sell it after your shoot, it can cost you zero. Social media has also made it possible to find enthusiastic crew and cast for free or very cheap. There really has never been a better time.
Hollywood has almost entirely retreated from original and challenging films. Instead it is focused on using guaranteed moneymaking formulas – retread, re-makes, superhero films. Even Indie movie king Harvey Weinstein is laying off staff and cutting back indie film production by at least half. The drawback to being stuck outside the Hollywood industry means you don’t have the kind of cash resources available to even low budget indie productions. On the other hand it means you can experiment, discover your own voice, create stories and cinematic styles that are fresh and push boundaries. You don’t have to cover a $5 million production bill. Simply put: We need you to enrich our culture with your original vision!
One of the side effects of Hollywood’s retreat from true indie films is that it has become more and more difficult for filmmakers outside of the golden circle to get the opportunity to realize their vision. Nobody wants to take risks on new talent. This is especially true for women and minorities but really anyone without connections has a very tough row to hoe. This year 100,000+ spec screenplays will be registered with the Writers Guild of America. Less than 100 will be purchased by Hollywood. You can end run this “celluloid ceiling” by being innovative and entrepreneurial. You can begin to build a truly independent filmmaking career and your own audience. But building a body of work requires you make the first film.
There’s something to be said for studying past masters and the work of current directors through case studies and master classes. But, in the end, you will only become a good director, writer or producer by directing, writing, or producing. It’s a truism that you need to do something for 10,000 hours to master that skill. If you spend 10,000 hours sending out query letters and shmoozing, you will get good at sending out query letters and shmoozing. But without a track record none of that will matter because you’re still an untested quanitity.
What’s more, once you make your first film, it gets easier – you know what you’re doing. You begin to develop a distinctive style and voice to your work. You learn what works and what doesn’t, what corners you can cut and what is absolutely necessary. Sean S. Baker, the director of Sundance darling Tangerine, a film about transsexual sex workers shot on an iPhone 5S, had released 4 feature films prior to that big breakthrough. If he had waited until he had financing, until he had been discovered, until... then he wouldn’t have developed the chops to get into Sundance.
Yeah, I know this sounds pretty fuzzy. But think about it: if you spend the next ten years sending out query letters, submitting to contests, and waiting for Godot (Waiting For Weinstein?), while working some shitty cubicle job that you hate, what do you think will be your state of mind? The act of seizing control of your filmmaking destiny will give you a sense of confidence and personal power. It is thrilling and rewarding to make a feature film, no matter where it ultimately ends up. You will be better at pitching yourself and your future projects and you will have a body of work to point to. When you tell people you are a filmmaker, you won’t be referring to the degree you got ten years ago.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that your first film will get into Sundance or SXSW. They almost never, ever do. That’s not the point. Neither did Sean Baker’s first film. But you will have opened up a path towards success and artistic fulfillment that would have been impossible otherwise. And you can do it for $5,000-$10,000-$15,000. If you have partners who co-invest because they too are looking to make a feature film, it can reduce your production bill to less than the cost of a resort vacation or a single course at film school.
So, what are you waiting for?
To read some tips on how to make a microbudget feature film, check out my free ebook by clicking the image below and downloading it today.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Shawn Whitney is a filmmaker who has worked as a development executive for the past 8 years with a production company in Montreal, Canada. He also freelances as a story editor, providing support in the screenwriting phase of development for numerous writers and directors. He has taught workshops on nano-budget filmmaking for filmmaking organizations and festivals and has also taught screenwriting at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University. He has sat on festival juries and is on the programming team at the Victoria Texas Indie Film Festival. He is also himself a screenwriter, with a Made For TV film under his belt and a few TV series in development, and a writer-director-producer who has produced two no-budget feature films. You can read more about his journey to award-winning feature filmmaker here.
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