Guerrilla Filmmaking 101
Why are you doing this? That simple question that I felt I had to answer time and time again after committing all my resources, time, energy and money to a project I didn't feel was 'commercial', and had absolutely no name talent attached was one that kept popping up repeatedly. The answer was very simple; I had to do it. I had a great script, great actors, I happened to have maybe enough money and I thought maybe, if I'm lucky, this has the potential to be a great film. The idea that it would make money never affected my decision to proceed with the film, and once committed finishing was not a question of "if", just "when". I thought it would be a great film. That question still looms in front of every one of my projects; 'Why am I doing this?', and, more frequently these days, 'If this was my money that I'm spending, would I still do this film?' If the answer is no, the answer is no.
If you are considering taking your first plunge into no-budget, self-financed filmmaking and believe you have a great script that you have to shoot, do yourself an enormous favor and honestly answer that question before you start. If you are sick of waiting for someone else's money to arrive on your doorstep before you shoot your first film and are financing it from whatever means available to you, it's a question that could mean everything to the bankruptcy judge at your hearing. Filmmaking this way can literally ruin your life if you walk into it believing that you're a great filmmaker and you can make all your money back on 'the other end.'
On the other hand, there are dilettante's bumping into each other all over LA bitching and moaning about a measly "million for my first feature" that will never make a film, and are motivated by money no matter how well they play the part of the auteur. They should be doing music video's, or move back home, or become bitter studio executives that churn out the kind of stuff that, well, studio executives churn out. What should concern you is the amount of filmmakers walking around town with sixty seven 5 year old cans of film in their closet for the film they can't complete because "insert reason/excuse here".
If you believe your script is commercial, has the potential to be a big commercial hit, do not spend your own money to do it unless you can afford to lose it. You might be right about it being a hit, but the odds are against you. I suggest asking yourself the same question and if the answer is money, your motivation is a common one, and best of luck. I suggest an action film, or porn, or violence. That 'product' always sells. (see article on the 1998 AFM
) For the rest of us working in film, your medium of choice is a very expensive one, and I believe one of the most powerful mediums available to artist's. But you know that. Or at least you should know that.
If you've never made a film before, never been on a set before, never worked with actors or a crew before, never run an inch of film through a film camera before and have never thought of the visual elements of each one of your shots before, or ever made a schedule, budget or broken down a script before, or even if you have, Guerrilla Filmmaking 101 should be able to help you get started in a direction that will allow you to complete your film.
Ok, now, you've made the decision, your answer satisfies you that if no one ever sees the film you still know it will be a great film, and you believe your script is ready to shoot, you're probably wrong.
If you are the only person that believes your script is great, you've got a problem. Your next step is to get somebody else on your side, preferably someone that can help you with production, but getting actors involved is a very good thing. Pass your script out to a few people you trust that will give you honest feedback. Not what you want to hear, but a biased/unbiased opinion. That's usually honest feedback. If you're not making a narrative film, write down your idea for the film in a way that someone else can understand, and get a feel for what you intend the film to be. Listen to what people say, and that's a very hard thing to do. If they don't 'get it,' that's your problem, not theirs. Communication for the filmmaker is everything. Whether it's to the crew, actors or your uncle with the money, a director without communication skills is in a lot of trouble. And at the script level, the start of your film, it's the key to your film being what you want. Have a read-through of your script, get the key characters in whatever scenes you think you would like to hear or you think might have a problem, find some actors or friends or relatives that are interested, get them together in one room and have them read the scenes for you out loud. It's always better to find willing participants that can invest your characters with whatever direction you can give them.
The easy stuff.
Does the scene work? Do any of the lines you've written sound plausible coming out of the mouth's of real people? Are the parts so idiosyncratic/difficult/impossible that you need Brando/Branagh/Olivier for the part? Those are the easy questions, the one's a first time writer needs to know about what he's done from the perspective of voices outside his own subconscious. The hard questions still come back to haunt you, and still ring back to the first question. What do these characters mean to you? Is there any truth in what they say or do? How do you know? What is this film about and do I have anything to contribute to the lexicon? Why am I doing this?
What Is This Film About?
Possibly the most important question for a filmmaker is the one that sounds the most mundane: What is this film about? I have a friend that will probably get the money for his first film and when I asked him what the film was about, he started telling me the story. That's not what your film is about, that's the story. What is it you have to say? What is the film about from the filmmakers perspective, not the writers? The story may be about a used car salesman who murders some customers, but the film is about father figures, last chances, extended families and redemption. This is not a slight distinction, if you're just filming the action of the script, then you really have nothing to contribute and should question your reason for doing it. Tough love bubba, the audience for impotent filmmakers doing what hollywood does every day is thankfully growing smaller very quickly.
Okay. That's lesson one. Cheap, difficult, but absolutely necessary. Finish the script, answer the question, get feedback from people you trust, then do a read-through. If you're satisfied with your responses, the next step should be easy.