When people think of movies, they usually think of the big films released at the movie theater. With budgets in the millions, these films take months to film and have a run time on screen of about an hour and a half to two hours--sometimes even longer. Yet there are short films, too, some less than 30 minutes--some are even less than 5 minutes. Thanks to increasingly affordable cameras and film editing software, making a movie is within reach of those with no ties to major Hollywood studios.
Before you can film, you need a script. People sometimes feel they'd rather just run with an idea and begin filming, the actors ad-libbing. A good script, though, is the foundation of a movie project, with everything that comes later built on its ideas. If you intend to write your own, there are plenty of books available to help you learn. There are also plenty of scriptwriting software programs available, including open source programs. Any word-processing program will do, though. Just find the proper formatting for a screenplay and set the program to follow that style. There are style templates available. Check your processing program or the Web.
A movie takes place somewhere, so to realize the script's story, you've got to find a location where you can film. Choose carefully, because factors such as light, space to put in props and believability will influence how smoothly the filming goes as well as the final product. Take test shots of spaces you are considering to see how it comes across on film and also to prepare for any challenges the space presents. Some locations will require signed releases to use the space. Boilerplate releases are available online, but you might want to consult an attorney as well.
Props are objects that share a scene with the actor. For instance, if the script calls for the actor to blow bubbles with a bubble wand, then do the same with bubble gum, you'll need those props. You'll also need to give thought to the costumes, especially color. The colors in a film should be harmonious. You can think of the colors of the setting, props and costumes as you would if you were picking an outfit. You don't want the colors to clash. Watch a couple of good movies to see how the colors and props all work together. Then, before you start filming, make arrangements to gather the props and all other things you'll need for the scenes.
You need people to bring the story to life. A lot of small-scale filmmakers grab actors from among their friends, family and acquaintances. To avoid hurt feelings, you might want to do a "screen test" of the people you are considering, in case some of them turn out to not be very good. It's important that they look the part and look natural when paired with their fellow actors. Alternatively, you might want to advertise for actors, since there are many trying to break into the business who might be willing to work for credit or donuts. Naturally, if you can offer financial compensation, you will have more talent to choose from.
Lights and Camera
Depending on your planning and script, your need for light can be filled by the sun and by lighting you have on hand. Many small-scale filmmakers have figured out inventive ways to appropriately rig up light sources, not to mention finding ways to capture moving action or overhead shots. Search for tips from those who have done this before, either in your community or online. As far as cameras are concerned, they are more affordable than ever before. Rather than purchase a consumer camera, try at least to buy a pro-sumer camera. (Pro-sumer products are one step below professional grade gear.) Most likely, you'll be working with a digital camera. If you can't afford to buy at least one camera, you can lease one or hire crew that has their own gear.
Director and Crew
Depending on your script, your crew might only consist of yourself. Your project may be more ambitious, however, necessitating a crew. Crew members will operate cameras, hang lighting and deal with other technical aspects of the production. You can advertise for crew as you would actors. Additionally, some cities have film co-ops, where filmmakers network together and pool their resources. Developing a network of fellow film industry workers is important, since you can create more ambitious or complex projects than you could on your own and because you'll learn who is reliable and whose work meets the standards you need. The director is responsible for bringing together all the components of the film to capture an artistic vision. It might be helpful to hire one and consider yourself to be a producer. Try to put the good of the film ahead of your notions of being an artist.
Film Editing and Sound Software
After you have shot your movie, you have to edit the footage, cutting it together to tell the story. You'll have more than one take and likely more than one camera angle to choose from. Editing is a crucial step to capturing the vision of the director and telling the story. All computer operating systems have free video editing software available. Increasingly advanced versions are also available at increasingly higher prices. Your project might not call for the sophisticated features available in the most expensive programs. On the other hand, if you are going to continue to make films, investing in a higher end program might be a good idea. The software suite should come with an application that lets you create and edit sounds. Such applications have music samples you can use to create the musical score for your film.
Sophie Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media. A freelancer for more than 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews.