Shooting a Movie vs Producing a Movie

Do you feel like your film could be better, but you just don’t know where to tighten it up? Here are 10 pre-production tips for finishing with a better film.

1. Script

Do you have a real script or are you winging it? It’s true, you can get some great Improv actors who might make a story up out of thin air, but they also might fail to meet even your expectations. And don’t ask for a retake of that fantastic monologue, because they don’t remember exactly what they said. Is your script ‘tight’? Does every scene work? Have you cut the characters you can cut? “If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.”

2. Storyboards

Do you have a plan? Not in your head, but one you can communicate to your crew about what this movie is going to look like? Are you shooting, directing and producing it? That’s fine, but then you become the person who’s wasted everyone’s time if you forgot one little thing. Filmmaking is like a math quiz – use scratch-paper and show your work.

3. Rehearsal

Are your actors ready? The question is not do they confidently say they’re ready, but have you gone through the scenes with them and answered all of their questions? If not, be ready for a surprise on set, when you’ve realized the most straight forward and obvious line one page two has been etched incorrectly into an actor’s mind. Imperfect practice leads to an imperfect performance. Get with your talent before the shoot – there should be no surprises on set.

4. Casting

Do you have the right actors or actors you can find? There’s nothing personal against your sister, but if you find the best person for the part, you save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run. If you call your same friends over and over again, be prepared to make the same movie over and over again.

5. Location & Tech Scouting

Do you have camera and mic ready locations? Do your cinematographer and sound departments agree? White walls or glass walls? Nearby airport or freeway overpass? Give your team enough information to help you make better decisions. If folks just show up on the day, it’s going to be whatever it is, too late to change now.

6. Permits

Do you have time to get your shot? That’s what permits provide. Get permits and you know how long you can shoot at your location, and you can schedule with confidence. There’s nothing worse than shooting on your favorite intersection with the main part of the story in the background, and the cops roll up and shut you down. The police can confiscate your equipment in some states if you seem like you will persist in creating a public nuisance and breaking the law. That includes memory cards, tapes, hard drives or whatever. And insurance doesn’t cover any of that.

7. Tech Rehearsal

Does the set up work? Will your lights blow a fuse? Do you have enough lengths of every cable? Batteries? Are you getting feedback? Tech rehearsals are about maximizing your shooting time with the talent. If you’ve got enough to pay people to sit around and do nothing, keep them fed and happy for a couple extra days, feel free to ignore this.

8. Script Supervisor

Is someone taking notes? Script Supervisors are great for keeping an eye on continuity, but they’re notes are indispensable in post. Eleven hours in on day three, you take five to coach an actor, the producer gives you some scheduling info and … where were we? Who has the shot list? Scrip Supervisors rock.

9. Sound Design
Will it sound like a movie or like the web? Putting time in to hire or Foley yourself some great sound design makes the difference between a riveting scene and something that looks a little too artsy or amateurish.
10. Film Intro and Final Outtro

Does your film begin cinematic? Is your ending strong? Transitions come and go (har har) but if your film opens strong, you have a few extra seconds to hook your viewer, than if you just ‘cross dissolve.’ I remember a DP got me a great opening pan and I got really excited watching that short the first fifty times. Because of a pan. It just felt like a movie. Endings are similar. If someone sits through your piece, a strong, powerfully graphic ending will resonate with people. Yeah the in-between should be good too, but these are beats I most often see neglected.

Yeah, there’s also advanced storytelling techniques like devising a narrative color pallet and a solid visual grammar, and perfunctory things like sending out a call sheet and having someone call everyone the night before. What are some little things that take your projects to the next level?


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One Response to “Shooting a Movie vs Producing a Movie”

  1. Anne Stimac says:

    11. Get an experienced production resources/product placement agency or individual on board from pre-production. This simple strategy saves production big dollars from budget by providing free or fee products for the project, and even more importantly saves immense amounts of crew time in searching out and providing every single thing needed to shoot the film. This one addition to your crew pays for itself many times over and gives you the bonus of cleared branding for all placed items which adds a very desirable asset when marketing your film.
    Anne Stimac
    President A-MAC Placement

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