Many people dream of making an indie film. Whether it is a small project just for fun with friends, or done with the intentions of getting recognized by Hollywood execs and living happily ever after in the Hills…there are a few standard practices to follow to ensure the success of your film.
I am no expert. With a few indie films under my belt, most of the tips below are results of my failures in filmmaking. Saying that, don’t go into your first film expecting to produce the best cinematic feature ever to grace the Earth. Likewise, don’t give up because of your failures, and instead use them as stepping stones to grow on. I have learned far more from my failures than my successes, and so will you!
So let’s get started :)
As you write, keep in mind your budget, skill needed, and locations. I once wrote a scene that needed to take place in an old morgue. It was ambitious, but as a no-budget film, I didn’t have the money to buy a filming permit and use a morgue for a day. So I had to switch it to a dark alley mid-shoot and adjust all dialogue afterwards. As you’re writing and come upon a setting, think to yourself, “Where can this be filmed?” It’ll save you a headache later on!
Keep in mind what actors you need. Films are a lot harder to do now than they were for me 5 years ago. Back when I was just starting out, half of my acting pool was unemployed, and the other half worked part time jobs. Now, all of my actors have full time jobs, so it can be hard to accommodate schedules. More than once, I’ve had to drop a cast member because they literally had no time to film. Even with people working M-F, most people don’t want to sacrifice every Saturday/Sunday for months to shoot. Try to keep your number of main characters down to a minimum, and cast people in these roles that have similar schedules and LOVE the script (so they’re excited and committed). Minor characters are easier to work in, since they’re needed for 1-2 days.
Just like with settings, when a prop is needed in a movie, think to yourself, “Where can I get this?” One of my first movies would have needed $2000 in props. We would up having to find last minute substitutions for these props because no one had that sort of money. The changes made the film cringy in spots, so this was not a good change for production value.
While filming, always film extra footage, even if you don’t think you need it. Film b-roll. Film extra takes. Film filler scenes. If two actors ad-lib well with one another, let them keep going as long as they stay in character (or bring something extra to their characters). One of my favourite scenes was from my 2016 film Ebony’s Revenge. In it, the four actors were all great at improv and reacted well to one another. What was supposed to be a 3-4 minute scene in the movie turned in 50 minutes of footage and 12 minutes total in the finished film. Almost unanimously, everyone agrees that is THE best scene in the movie, and it helped to up the total runtime to a full 90 minutes
Lastly, HAVE FUN! The movies I’ve made where the actors were relaxed and enjoying themselves are the ones people have given the most positive reactions. The ones where the actors were bored or didn’t really care for the script…it showed in the finished product, and the film fell flat. Those are the movies that I don’t promote. Make sure you’ve got a good cast of people who want to have a good time! This helps with filming on weekends, too. If it’s a bunch of friends hanging out and goofing around on camera, then they are far more likely to have no qualms about filming for 6 weeks