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Advice on Tackling Your First Feature?

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  • Advice on Tackling Your First Feature?

    I'm about to shoot my next short in May, and then plan on attempting to finally tackle my first official feature. I've already written the script and have a lot of confidence in it. Also have gotten really great feedback so far from people I know would give it to me straight. It's a script I've been working on and off over a year now, so I've revised it about 35 times, and I'm really proud of myself for all the work I've put into it and kept pushing to make it better, and finally got to a locked script yesterday.

    I'm only 22 but I've had a solid amount of experience with directing and producing, and feel I'm finally at a point both mentally & enough connections in the industry to where I can embark on this journey. So I was just curious as to if anyone had any advice they could give maybe just based on experience to someone who's getting ready to take on their first feature. Anything will help :) I appreciate the support I've gotten from this forum btw. I love how you guys give it to me straight, but everyone's always classy. You guys are awesome!
    Last edited by MrJay10; 02-17-2014, 10:34 AM.

  • #2
    A lot of these are relevant to shorts as well, but were really driven home to me when shooting my first feature. Several of them are having a big influence on how I write & prepare for my 2nd.

    It will cost more and take longer to finish (especially post-production) than you think.

    Try to keep your cast small, and get the best possible actors. Other than the writing, it's my opinion (and yeah just opinion) that that's the most important thing in making a quality movie. And it can't be fixed in post.

    Try to have as few actors per scene as you can, and limit the number of different scenes that each actor is in.

    Be conservative in your estimate of how many scenes you can shoot in a given day. Once you start to fall behind, it's tough to catch up. And you risk losing actors and/or crew.

    Be conservative when you estimate the amount of time that it will take to get from point A to point B.

    Be sure to have plenty of food and (non-alcoholic) beverages on hand, and check on allergies and preferences (vegetarian, vegan, carnivore) in advance.

    Be polite but firm. And if you suspect during pre-production that you made a mistake with putting someone in your cast or on your crew, address the issue ASAP - don't put it off or hope/assume it will get better. It will only get worse as you spend more time together and pressure mounts.

    Good luck!!!!
    Screenwriter and script consultant:


    • #3
      Great advice Mara. thanks :) The most people in one scene I'm pretty sure is like 5-6. Love what you said though about being conservative.

      The good thing about the movie is the locations and budget are very do-able. It's nothing flashy, just regular people in modern day America, so it will just be like houses, apartments, offices, parking lots, really simple places and costumes. How many scenes would you recommend per day btw? I know it all depends, just curious as to what the norm was. thanks!
      Last edited by MrJay10; 02-17-2014, 04:35 PM.


      • #4
        Mara gives great advice.

        The best I can add is, have everything possible set before you hire your actors. This way, you won't have to keep them waiting while you hunt locations and such.

        Everything you have planned, have a contingency plan. Things will happen, and you don't want to be left with wasted time.

        Everything is important. But, if you put lousy actors on screen you're sunk. Good or if you're lucky great actors will carry the movie.

        Also, if you have the resources, do all the fancy things you want to. But, if you don't have the resources, don't spend hours on one shot because you think it will look cool.

        I've had so many actors tell me moronic stories of waiting around hours while the DP and Director got the equipment ready for "the shot", and in the end it took numerous takes and was nothing special in the large scheme of things.

        My DP told me a story about a Dolly shot that took ALL NIGHT long of a couple entering the room and sitting on the couch. Imagine the audience excitement.

        One of my all time favorites is from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. All the magnificent disturbing scenes in that, and the shot they're most proud of is, one of the girls is sitting on a swing in the killers yard. She gets up from the swing and the camera follows behind her. They tracked her low, so the house looked moody and sinister. All the great scenes, and to them this was the crowning achievement.


        • #5
          Some really sound advice from everyone so far.

          Have a solid distribution plan. I've seen great films that have faded into obscurity and I have not found to this day because the filmmaker didn't have a (solid) plan and just flat out failed. I've seen horrible movies do amazing that have sold (or will sell) for years because of clever marketing and strategic distribution methods. In other words, there are art-house masterpieces that don't receive the recognition that the film "ThanksKilling" does. Let me remind you the movie is about a killer turkey who says "GOBBLE GOBBLE MOTHER$#%&ER!". Interesting world we live in, isn't it? Now, if you can make a good movie and strategically distribute it successfully, you've hit gold.

          Finding locations is one of the biggest problems of the indie filmmaker. There are so many factors that go into choosing a location. You need to have plenty of space for cast, crew, and gear. There has to be parking space, refrigeration (for food if need be), controlled temperature (for gear as well as the comfortability of the cast and crew), bathrooms, places for the cast and crew to stay, outlets, no safety hazards, nearby police and/or hospital in case of emergency, and no extra noise that will show up in the dialogue recordings. Secluded areas aren't a good idea either. I knew a guy who was shooting a film mile out in the desert. There was no cell phone reception and little food. They ran out of gas, and were stranded in the middle of nowhere, no human for miles. After a couple of weeks, they resorted to cannibalism and ate the production assi- I mean, someone found them. No one was eaten... no reason to worry. The film Antichrist was actually the BTS footage of a Von Trier that took place in the woods gone wrong. The cast and crew lost their way.... and well... watch the movie to find out. Thankfully, 1/8 of the cast and crew came back!

          Be a real stickler when it comes to sleep patterns. Don't work them too long, from early morning to late night. Really let your cast and crew know when they need to get up and go to bed. Never should you have groggy and unfocused cast/crew members. You want a team of alert and awake people.

          Catering is an important topic as well. Supply healthy food, clearly labeling what it is, and having a wide variety of foods. Unhealthy food can lead to sudden but abruptly ending bursts of energy, but often lead to sluggishness and tiredness. You want HEALTHY FOODS. Or at least real food. None of that processed "I can't read half of these ingredients" foods. REAL FOOD. NOT FAKE CRAP!

          I've heard horror stories from a guy I knew who had shown up on set to find they had McWhatTheHellIsInTheirMeat? combo meals and Red Bull.

          You want to label food so that the boom op doesn't start turning red and getting bloated from that sandwich that turned out to have peanut butter in. You want to have a wide variety so that people with certain allergies aren't left out and can't eat anything. It's also a smart idea to ask if anyone has allergies.

          Treat people well, from development to distro. Don't burn bridges and break relationships. You never know who's going to get their foot in the door, or who you're going to have to call upon for favors. Just... be good. Be cool.

          One of, if not the most important piece of advice a filmmaker can be given is in one single quote. It is the holy grail of filmmaking advice that I have yet to find even ONE person to top.

          “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”

          ― Murphy's Law

          Above is one of my favorite quotes. It applies to any form of work, although I find it to be especially important to filmmakers. It's truth, and it's a truth that every filmmaker must realize. NOTHING is ever going to go the way you planned. An actor's going to drop out, a location is going to be lost, a prime is going to break, you lose a week's worth of footage, etc. Be ready for as much you can be ready for and have 100 backup plans.