Adding Value to Your DIY Film

By , posted 30 April 2008

Making a film is one thing, but making a film with no money is something else. When making a film the most noticeable mistakes new filmmakers make are the actors, the locations, and the wardrobe. Now I'm not saying that no other mistakes are made because most of the mistakes filmmakers make the audience never gets to see. So lets focus on the ones that are the most visible.

First we have the actors. Every filmmaker out there wants to work with professionals but most of the time if there is no budget then you're going to have to take what you can get. That doesn't mean you should cast all your friends in your films. If all of your friends are good actors then by all means throw them in front of the camera, but if not take the time to hold auditions. Hell, hold auditions multiple times and make sure you have the person you imagined for the part. Then rehearse as often and as many times as you can before you start shooting. That way you can feel out how things are going to flow once you get to the set and build relationships with the people you are going to be working to death for little or no coin at all.

Also when directing actors (especially ones that have never acted before) make sure you give them room to breath. Don't fall into the usual director clichés like:

"In this scene you're extremely pissed off" or "when you see her your heart is filled with sorrow and grief".

These don't work with non-actors and half the time I'm sure won't work with real actors. What your going to get is actors that look like they are trying to be pissed off or trying to be grief stricken, and that never works on film. What makes an actor hit the mark is when they can really become that person that is written on the page. So instead give directions such as:

"In this scene everyone is trying to talk to you at once, and your dog died, and you can't find your cigarettes."
That way the actor can use his/her own experiences and build up anger that is much more in the moment, or you could say:
"When you see this girl she reminds you of your daughter who you haven't seen in 15 years."

Direct the actor's actions and not their feelings.

Next we have the locations. Don't shoot your film in your back yard (unless you have a really unique back yard or your film is set in a back yard) and don't just film in your friend's bedroom without doing some set dressing first. Often new filmmakers just set up the camera and start rolling without taking notice of what works for the shot.

If your film is about two high school teachers that are having a lesbian love affair and working hard to keep it a secret (it could happen) then the scenes in their homes should reflect certain things about the characters. If you shoot it in your friend's bedroom and he/she has posters all over the wall and x-box games covering the floor, then that is not the best location. But if you dress it a little it could work for you. Add some items that a 25-30 year old high school teacher might keep around, take out everything that doesn't reflect the personality of the character, put a little paint on the wall and you just built a set that reflects who the character is.

Also don't be afraid to beg. Go around town and ask people to shoot in their houses or places of business. The worst thing they could tell you is no. Now there are restrictions when filming on locations that you don't own. One issue faced at most of the locations is time. You have to get in and get out as soon as possible so that the businesses that was kind enough to add production value to your little movie can get back to their normal routine. Also get them to sign a location agreement incase they change their mind after the fact. Good locations add lots of value to any production and sometimes all that's needed is a little elbow-grease or some good old fashioned begging.

Finally we have wardrobe. Don't just let your actors come to the set and jump in front of the camera in whatever they happen to have on that day. At the very least get them to send you pictures of their wardrobe so that you can pick out what is rite for the scene. If they don't have what you’re looking for then go to a thrift store and pick up what you need for cheap. Just think about what is important for each scene and make some choices that are going to add value to your production. A film that looks like it was filmed with your friends at your house, and without any thought to wardrobe and set dressing is not as valuable as a film that was filmed at good locations with well-directed actors wearing clothing that fits the scene. So take the time to think and you won't have to spend as much coin to end up with a great looking product.

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