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  • Writer's pictureMatt Ott

how to make a film (by making a film)

First things first. I hope you're not here for advice.

(If you know me, you most definitely aren't. If you don't know me... oh boy.)

That said, the only thing I've learned in my years of making films is that making a film is the only way to make a film.

As we've all heard, perfect is the enemy of good. Which is to say, Just Do It ©®™. Which is to also say, stop getting in your own damn way, and start making something. There will always be someone who wants to make things "better" to the project's detriment and eventual death (maybe you're that someone, stop).

Always and forever, making something is more valuable than endlessly perfecting something unfinished.

You'll learn. You'll grow.

You might even make a better thing next time.

So go make something.


Simple Recipe for Success:

  1. Script - Get Fade In or Highland 2 and plot out your simple story using Dan Harmon's Story Circle. Write something imperfect. Then make it better. Not perfect.

  2. Feedback #1 - Find like-minded individuals and share. Remember nothing can be for everyone. This is for you. Ask them "does this story make sense?" not "do you like it?"

  3. Casting - Wherever you are there is likely a comedy club. Go there. Comedians are wonderful collaborators who often have little to do before their evening sets. They will also, almost guaranteed, make your writing better. Just don't let your story threads get lost in jokes that don't matter.

  4. Shooting - Have a phone? Good. You're mostly set.

  5. Sound - Super important. Zooms are cheap enough. You may have a friend that has one.

  6. Lighting - There are a plethora of resources on basic lighting setups. YouTube is your friend. Make it simple. Make it motivated.

  7. Lunch - Get those culinary skills up, you're going to want to feed your people. Making something for the crew can be cheaper... but don't make it feel cheap. If you're going to get help, especially free, fill those bellies. Local restaurants love helping out.

  8. Prep - This is all you. Anything you don't communicate ahead of time (weeks ahead of time, not days or hours) will not show up on the day. Every bad shoot started with bad prep. Soon you'll be in the editing room regretting your poor planning... save yourself.

  9. Shooting - Thus far you've been a god of creativity, summoning thoughts and feelings and weaving them into the perfect story to torture your imperfect characters. This is where all of your miscommunications will rear their ugly heads. Stay nimble. Stay humble. Stay positive. Utilize the minds of the people around you to solve problems... and in this chaos, never lose the thread of your story.

  10. Post - This process starts the moment you start shooting. Make sure your footage is organized. Do not burn yourself out on set because it's your responsibility to watch the footage you shot that day. Then you correct your mistakes the next day, if there is one.

  11. Editing - DaVinci Resolve is free. Again, YouTube tutorials are your BFF. If you've never edited before, learn it. If you have an Oscar-winning editor working on your project, learn it anyway. Nothing will teach you filmmaking and storytelling like seeing what you thought you needed that you didn't... or, more unfortunately, what you swore you didn't need that leaves a massive hole in your work. Again, revisit the thread of the story you intended to create.

  12. Feedback #2 - Find like-minded individuals and share. Remember nothing can be for everyone. This is for you. Ask them "does this story make sense?" not "do you like it?"

  13. "Release" - Now, I'm not saying don't go the festival route. You can. Maybe you should. Pick five. They're expensive. Select three big ones (Austin, Sundance, Tribeca, Cannes), and shoot your shot. Pick one to two genre fests (horror, drama, lgbtq). Then, one to two local fests where you can appeal to them that you're up and coming and want to foster the community. Great films get passed on every fest, do not get discouraged.

  14. Release Release - Prepare a soft landing. By this time you should be elbows deep in your next project, possibly even having it shot. Release a few posters and/or trailer a week ahead of release. Post it. Post it everywhere. Share it. Share it everywhere. Don't look at view counters. They do not matter.

  15. Profit - This living, breathing chunk of content is now yours to utilize to hit up managers, agents and potential investors in your next work. More importantly, it's a marker of where you are so you can see how much you've grown.

But, again, take my advice with a grain of salt.

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