5 Things I Learned From Directing my First Film

Hello again you beautiful people! Yesterday I had my first shot at the director’s chair shooting a five minute short film titled Whitetails. We took about half a day to do it all. Needless to say, it went a lot worse than I expected. The best way I can think to describe it is this: Imagine you have been wanting to buy ice cream for a while but you didn’t have the right equipment or people to help you (I know this is a terrible analogy but just go with it, ok?) Then you finally get the things you need to get that delicious ice cream and you see the ice cream truck coming around the corner. Well you start setting things up for the truck to arrive safely but the idiot that designed the truck forgot to put breaks on it. Since you already committed to getting that ice cream and you have all these people there to get it with you, you try to stop the truck by standing in front of it and get run over by it. That’s how making my first movie felt. Like I got hit in the face with a truckload of something I love. But I may be a bit of a masochist because, after everything that went wrong, it was a great learning experience and a ton of fun despite all the stress. Anyway, I made a short list of things I think will make your process slightly less painful than mine. Check it out!

 

1. Understand and accept that things will go wrong. 

Even the most prepared production will have their share of problems. If anyone tells you that they have a foolproof plan for producing a film, they’re dead wrong. You cannot predict where calamity will come from. Maybe your sound guy isn’t that experienced and missed the best take you had on your toughest shot, or your actress calls ten minutes before call time saying she won’t be able to make it. Luckily, I was aware things would go wrong, and since this is not the first time I have had to deal with a disastrous situation, I was able to keep my cool throughout the storm. For those of you that have not had a major crisis, or maybe still haven’t learned to handle them, remember these four golden words. This too will pass. You may feel like you are in a sinking ship throughout your entire production. It may seem like the problems will never end. But they will. So just do the best you can with the tools you have in hand. Things will never go as planned. But if you refuse to accept this, and try to stick to your original plan, your production will suffer far more than it would if you roll with the punches.

 

 

2. Take your time.

There should always be time for rehearsing. I only had time to do one rehearsal for my five page script. Ideally I would have liked to have done three. I know at the indie level it can be hard to dedicate a ton of time to a production as most of us are doing this on the side, myself included. But it is better to take a month or two to be sure you have things locked down instead of trying to cram everything in over the weekend. This is especially true when you’re shooting at night. Believe me, even though your cast and crew may be willing to lose sleep two or three nights in a row, the quality of your film will suffer immensely if you go down this road. Tensions will be high and mistakes will be made. The main reason most filmmakers can’t take their time is because of scheduling issues. Again, we all have side jobs or school to deal with, along with a personal life. But the next item on the list should help with this.

 

3. Hire locally.

When I say hire I mean as in actually pay. I won’t get into it today but I strongly recommend that you pay everyone working with you, regardless of the amount you can afford. Aside from that, the second most important thing I want to emphasize when selecting your cast and crew is to find people in the same town as you. It may seem illogical to hire the local cinematographer that barely has any experience instead of the awesome one that lives only five hours away. But it will be a lot easier to coordinate with someone who you can meet with on a daily basis. As with anything I recommend to you guys, There is always an exception to the rule. If an actress fits your role perfectly and is easily reachable through video chat or text, then by all means go with her! But you will save yourself a lot of headaches if you find people closer to you.

 

4. Make sure your crew knows their equipment.

There is nothing more frustrating than having to wait on your DP to google how to disable zebras on his camera because he has never done it before. Remember what I said about rehearsing? this is why we do it! We all know filmmaking is a very time consuming affair. We should not waste time waiting on any of the crew members to learn about their gear on the fly. Troubleshooting is one thing, but if the root of the problem is that they bought their camera a month before production and never took the time to learn to adjust the settings, then we have a problem. Bonus tip, If you have inexperienced crew members, make sure you break down their role in baby steps. It’s better to be annoy them explaining the simplest of things than for them to ask you what to do every five minutes. You will have enough to deal with as it is, I promise.

5. Stick to one job.

I know many of us don’t have access to a full crew. Sometimes We don’t even have access to a full cast! But until you get really good at directing, you should try your hardest to avoid doing more than one job. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to act, direct, and monitor sound. How do you think it all turned out? I did a terrible job on everything! Directing is a job that requires a ton of multitasking as it is. You should not try to pile any more on top of that unless you have to. However, this is probably the toughest thing to control in an indie production. But I know that if I had done this along with everything else on the list, the quality of my film would have increased tenfold.

 

 

Well, there you go. There are a great many things I learned yesterday, but to keep this short I only wrote what I consider the most important ones. More importantly than any of this though, is to keep a positive attitude no matter what and to respect your cast and crew. Without them there would be no film, good or bad. In short, even if your production is a convoluted mess, you will still learn what you need to fine tune about your process. I hope you guys found these tips helpful. and if you have anything to add please do so in the comments section. As for Whitetails, keep an eye on the blog and you will find updates in the next few weeks.

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