Making a film takes a lot more work than it seems. In fact, it is hard to tell how much work has been put onto a film just by looking at the final result, although we can definitely get a hint of it by looking at the ending credits. What do all of those people do? Are there that many things to work on?
While the first question is too vague and would take ages to reply, the answer to the latter is a resounding “yes”. There are an awful lot of things to work on, especially at the inception stage. Let’s talk about these in terms of a short film, where they are generally more condensed in comparison to a feature.
The very first step where every film begins is the script. This might sound very obvious, but checking this box can actually become a daunting task, especially when it comes to finding one based on a good idea. There are two ways you can get a script: you can buy/obtain one from someone else (in which case I would make sure to choose the right one, mainly according to your financial possibilities), or you can write it yourself. The second option will give you more freedom at the time of adjusting it when some things go wrong – believe me, they will- but the important thing is to have a draft that is as close as possible to the representation of the story sought after by the director (this might be the same person as the writer), to reduce the amount of those things that will go wrong.
So you’ve got the script, now what?
If you decide to give writing one a go, check out this very useful article about scriptwriting: The Script Board: A Guide to Screenwriting
Like in most aspects of business, the two determining factors of a film are time and money. Therefore, it makes sense to start by creating a budget and a schedule. These don’t need to be set in stone, but they should act as a reference to define the extent of what can be achieved in terms of production: locations, actors, crew, equipment, production design, props, costumes, editing, music, catering, publicity and festivals… these are some of the main parts that the budget should cover.
The schedule should work in a way that it sets deadlines to complete the different steps. Without a schedule to adhere to, the production will be all over the place and will turn into a mess. Deadlines will also prevent you from leaving things unattended. It is not difficult to fall into procrastination, which will make different tasks overlap and therefore this will lead to a waste of time and possibly money, which is far from ideal.
In order to figure out a schedule, try to work out how long it would take to complete each task. For example, in terms of location scouting, how long is it going to take to speak to the relevant people, find out what the availability for that location is, how much is it and when can you pay for it to eventually lock it. Or in terms of casting, how many days of auditions do you need to carry out, where and when can you hold the auditions, how much is the audition room, when are you going to have callbacks and when are you going to make a decision on the cast.
Budget and schedule ready, now the rest
Once you have the budget and schedule in place, there’s a valuable technique called script breakdown. It is normally carried out by the 1st AD, however in a short film this may be done by the director himself or the producer. It consists of, while going through the script, identifying key elements such as characters, locations, costumes, props and VFX shots and colour-coding them to be able to know what you will need and how long for. This is tied-in with the production design, which is the visual concept for the film. A good production design should be consistent with colours, costumes, the way sets are dressed and props, since it is an essential part towards the look of the film.
A good pre-production is crucial for the correct development of the film, especially since most elements of production and post-production are sorted out during this stage. In terms of the shooting, you will need to find a crew, the people behind the scenes. Also, the equipment that will be used will be decided from very early on (camera, lenses, grip, sound, lighting). This is important in order to be able to find and compare deals by different rental houses and be able to bargain with them. Or for example, an important on-set element that can’t be overlooked is catering. People work better with their stomachs full, so make sure you keep them well fed.
In regards to post-production, you need to determine aspects such as where are you going to edit the film, what music are you going to use (is it going to be a buy-out, copyright free, originally composed) or if you need VFX shots, which you need to plan in advance.
Last but not least, you also have to keep in mind distribution and publicity. You should think about where your film is going to be seen (streamed online, particular venues), or maybe you’d like to do a festival run, in which case you need to allocate some money for submissions. As for publicity, is the film going to be promoted through social media? Is it going to have a poster? Will there be still photographs?
And by the way, you will find that forms are very much necessary to keep everything organised and most importantly to cover your back mainly against legal issues. Completing location recces, risk assessments and making the relevant people sign release forms will definitely keep you from getting more than one headache.
Juan Cruz is a well-rounded filmmaker based in London. He currently works as a camera technician, continuously learning and developing skills in advanced camera systems used in high-end TV drama and feature films.
In his own films, he likes exploring technology-related dystopias. He also loves comedy and playing drums.