Making a movie is a lot of work. Some very short movies can take several months to make, while others can take several years. Though the movie making process follows the same basic steps, each moviemaking experience is different. Budding filmmakers should know all about the long hard road it takes for a film to go from an idea to a blockbuster hit!
Of course, not every film is going to be a hit. Not every film is going to be seen on a national or international level. Most filmmakers have many small projects, which still take months of hard work to receive relatively small amounts of praise. However, a true filmmaker will make a movie to improve the craft, make a statement, or try to change the world...not for the millions of dollars he or she can only dream of making.
The following article will guide you through the entire moviemaking process from start to finish. Though some of these steps are interchangeable or can be combined together, the basic structure of moviemaking is listed below.
- Start with an idea. Every movie starts out as an idea. In its fledgling state, the movie may be based on a generalized concept. Some ideas are based on themes. For instance, you may want to make a movie that is a thriller. You do not have all the details ironed out yet, but you definitely know the kind of movie you will be making. This is the very start of the process since you can make a movie about anything, and you already know the basic premise.
- Expand upon the idea and iron out the details. You know the basic premise. Now you have to decide what kind of characters will be in your movie. Making lots of notes and using pre-writing methods such as balloon charts or taking notes may (or may not) be helpful during this time. Once you have an idea of the characters, you can develop a storyline.
Ask yourself the following questions:
Write the screenplay. Once you have expanded upon your idea, it is time to get your ideas down on paper. You can type them in a Microsoft word document, or you can use a screenwriting program such as Final Draft. This software costs a little bit of money, but it is worth it since it formats your screenplay as it should be formatted. The screenplay may need multiple revisions before a final draft is completed.
Decide what direction the film will take. You have your final copy of your screenplay ready. Now you must decide what you want to do with your film.
- Who are these characters?
- Why should we, the audience, care about them?
- What are they doing?
- What is their purpose?
- What happens to them throughout the film?
- How have they changed by the end of the film?
Set a budget. Depending on which option you chose for production, you may or may not have to set a budget. If you went with a studio you can propose a budget, listing how much everything you want and need is going to cost. However, this does not mean they are going to give you as much as you want.
- Some screenwriters send their screenplay to an agent and/or studio to review. Here, your screenplay may be rejected or accepted. If an agent accepts your work, he or she will be the one to send your screenplay off to production companies.
- While you can send your screenplay to some studios on your own, most do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. The agent will definitely come in handy because most good agents can send new manuscripts and the studios will look them over, not turn them away before even looking at them.
- Another option is to enter your screenplay in screenwriting competitions. Hollywood insiders run many of these contests. The prize is usually some sort of contract with a studio. This is a good way to sneak into Hollywood without an agent.
- You could always find producers on your own. While this is rare, you may be able to get funding from businesses looking to make their way into Hollywood. Therefore, it is definitely worth a shot.
- The most common way for filmmakers to produce a movie is by making it themselves and funding it themselves. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood -- like Vin Diesel and Kevin Smith, for example -- started out by finding their own funding sources. Vin Diesel earned money through telemarketing and Kevin Smith borrowed money from family and friends.
If you are doing the film yourself you need to make a detailed budget listing everything you will need, who you need to hire, how much everyone gets paid (if anything), how much you need for props, the cost of equipment, the cost of filming on location -- the budgeting needs go on and on. Once you have a budget in place, it will be time to find cast and crew members.
Find crewmembers you can trust. The crewmembers you hire are as integral to the film as the actors are, if not more. If you have ever watched movie credits at the end of the film, they go on for quite a long time and list every person associated with the film. Those will be all your crewmembers. If you have a small budget, you may have to do a lot of the work on your own.
Typically, you will need grips, gaffers, art directors, set designers, special effects artists, visual effects artists, a second unit production team, an editor, makeup artists, stunt men/women, cinematographers, a sound editor, casting directors, a director (if you are not directing it), an assistant director, costumers, lighting experts, props masters, and even craft services (who provide food to the actors and crew).
Cast the actors. Now that you have a director, casting director and other helpful crewmembers, you need to cast the actors. Though it may sound like a simple process, casting an actor for a role can be quite difficult. First, you put out a casting call. List what you are looking for (i.e. 25-year-old brunette female), and where and when auditions will be held. Then wait for people to show up. Once you have narrowed your choices down, you may want to call back some people to narrow it down even more until you have the right actor for the part.
Prepare for Production. Now that you have cast your actors, it is time to prepare for production. This may involve introducing the actors to one another, rehearsing, discussing characterizations, getting the sets up, buying or making props, and purchasing costumes based on the size and needs of the story and the actors. There is a lot of prep work that needs to be done prior to the beginning of filming the movie.
- Set days actors need to be on set. A movie is not filmed in order. The sequences of filming dates depend on when actors are available and who is working together in a specific scene. If actors A and B have 20 scenes together and A and C have 3 together, it is more logical to do a steady stream of scenes when A and B are together than to spend the day doing A and B scene 1, B and C scene 5, A and B scene 3, A and C scene 7. Actor C would be doing a lot of sitting around, and no actors want the director to waste their time.
- Start filming. The main part of the production process is the filming part. A lot of work goes into filming. Actors need to have their lines memorized. Long hours are spent filming the scene, redoing the scene, changing the scene, adding more scenes, and a lot of editing and cutting of scenes in the script occurs, as the vision of the director (who may be you) becomes a reality. Many directors do this because they may have other ideas come up when they are filming or they may find a more economical way to shoot a scene.
- Wrap up filming. Filming may take months or even years. As tweaks are made and scenes are added and deleted, the scope of the project will change. This also means filming can take longer than expected. Once the last few scenes can be shot, the cast and crew usually throw a post-production party. However, as soon as the celebration is over there is so much more to do.
- Tear down the sets. Some sets will be torn down. Others will need to be put away for other movies. As the sets are torn down, the costumes are put away, given away, sold, or destroyed. The props are thrown out, put away for use later, kept as souvenirs by cast members and crew, or they are sold. Everything needs to be returned to its original state prior to filming. If you are on location, make sure you do not leave a bunch of things where you film. Clean up after yourself!
- Add sound effects and digital effecting. If any special effects or digital effecting need to be added, then this is the time to do these things. Any scenes that need some work in terms of digital enhancement will be done in post-production. However, some crewmembers start working on this prior to the end of filming, so it all just depends on who is doing the effects and when they wish to do them.
- Edit and splice together. The film needs to be put in order. The audience will not want to see a movie that does not go in order unless that is the point of the movie. The editor needs to cut out scenes, splice them together, and do all the editing the film needs. This can take months or years depending on the film's length and how much filming was done.
- Run it past a test audience. Before you submit the movie anywhere or get it publicly released, you should run a test screening. Leave papers on the seats and have audience members write anonymous comments. What did they like about the movie? What did they dislike about the movie? What could have been improved? Based on these comments the film may need some changes. You will have to bring actors back in to film new scenes if you hope to appease the crowd. If you like it the way it is, you do not have to change it. However, this will give you a basic idea of what the average audience thinks of the film.
- Wrap up post-production. This may include submitting the film for a rating though this is not usually done until the film gets public distribution in a movie theater. Still it is something that may have to be done. You should also make a trailer. Some filmmakers, like Steven Spielberg, are ambitious and make their trailers while filming is going on. However, many filmmakers do it during editing.
Marketing the Movie
- Submit your movie to festivals. You have the movie, its ready to go, and now it is time to submit your movie to the big film festivals. You can choose from a wide variety of categories where you may enter the film. Some of the most popular film festivals are Cannes, Sundance, New York Film Festival, L.A. Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and Toronto Film Festival. Practically every big city in the world has a film festival, so you are sure to get plenty of exposure.
- Advertise your film. Whether you do it in the paper, on television, or on the radio, you may want to buy advertising space and show your film. Local theaters love hometown filmmakers. They may be willing to show your film for a nominal fee (or even free minus ticket sales). You can call up the local radio station and television station and have them mention the event or pay for advertising during public service hours.