Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tips for Independent Movie Makers

By now, everyone knows that I review stuff for Dread Central, the greatest horror-news site on the planet. Mostly I do books, but I pretty much review anything that winds up in my mailbox. Because of my work ethic, I've gotten to review some really wonderful movies. I've gotten to see movies that no one ever sees. I've also been subjected to some of the most banal and horrible things ever committed to tape. So I thought I'd take this opportunity to give a few pointers to independent film makers to increase your chances of actually being reviewed, and of getting good marks from me.
  1. Don't hire your friends as actors - Hear me out...What I mean is, don't populate your cast with your buddies just because they're your buddies. Make sure they can actually, you know, act. Nothing kills a film more than bad performances by the actors, and you, the film maker, have so many resources to cull talent. Local colleges, theater programs, hell, even CraigsList has a section where indie films are being cast. Granted, most of them seem to be porn...But I digress. The point is everyone...say it with me, everyone...has to audition. Cast whomever is best for the part. Your friends who believe in you and understand what you're trying to do will understand.
  2. Make nude scenes count - Nudity for the sake of nudity does not equal art. Nudity in general doesn't equal art. Granted, I for one enjoy seeing a naked body as much as the next guy. But in the case of making a movie, if you want your flick to be taken seriously, make sure there's a reason for that person to be naked. The random shower-scene is just cheesy, and having a girl in the flick just so she can show her enhanced bosom and die is just plain bad film making.
  3. Make the blood count - See above.
  4. Tell a good story - The script is what's important. Your movie could have all the coolest special effects in the world, could have the most beautiful actresses, and be slick and gorgeous, but without an actual story, you've got a pile of crap. A story has to have a plot, a beginning and an end, motivation, inciting action, conclusion...all those little things that some English professor somewhere tried to teach you. If you were paying attention, you're already past this point.
  5. Don't be hampered by a tiny budget - You don't need the latest and greatest cameras, light rigs, etc. to make a movie. You need heart, you need technique, and you need intestinal fortitude. I've seen some truly wonderful films shot on high-8 and I've seen some real garbage backed by the Wienstiens. Learn your craft. Watch movies (good movies) and learn from those film makers. Hell, watch the bad ones too and learn from their mistakes. You can learn an amazing amount about filmmaking from watching Plan 9 From Outer Space. Camera angles, lighting, composition...all these things are your friends, and all these things separate your movie from ninety percent of the garbage out there. You can do amazing things with just a camera, a single light, and a little thought.
  6. Be proud...But not too proud - When you're done with your movie, chances are you're going to screen it for your nearest and dearest, and most of them will tell you how brilliant you are. Enjoy it. Soak it up. Then get back to reality. If you submit your work to the public (i.e. film festivals, critics, etc...), someone is going to hate it. That's the nature of the business. No matter how much you've put into it, someone will call it a stinking turd, and it's your job to suck it up, smile, and move on. Don't argue, don't start an internet campaign against the critic, just accept his statement, acknowledge in your own mind that he's probably retarded or was an abused child, and move on. It's only an opinion. Remember what they say about opinions.
  7. Take care of your actors and crew - I cannot stress this enough. Don't be a dick. Again...Don't be a dick. Without your actors and your crew, you have nothing but you, a camera, and an unrealized vision. It truly is a collaborative effort. That doesn't mean suffer the idiot ravings of a Prima-Donna on your set. But be gracious to your actors and crew. Thank them for working with you. And when you're done, you'll have something that all of you can be proud of instead of another war story.
  8. Avoid stereotypes - Especially the bad ones. A cage full of giggling, drooling over-the-top lunatics is...well...cliche, lazy, and just not interesting. A cage full of giggling lunatics in which ONE is standing calmly, watching you and smiling...Now that's unsettling. The point is, if an audience has seen your characters in a hundred thousand movies before, they won't be interested in them. Give them something new, real, and original.
  9. Continuity is key - Remember the famous movie in which the lawyer changes clothes a dozen times in the span of one trial in one day? Go to this site: MovieMistakes. Sad, isn't it? Make sure there is someone on set who's whole job is to make sure everything matches. Trust me.
  10. Hire a local band - Unless you're Motzart, John Williams, or Danny Elfman, you're not a composer. The "music" that comes from you playing chords on your Cassio keyboard does not work as a movie soundtrack. Sorry, but it doesn't. But guess what? In every city, town, neighborhood, there is a garage band. There are local kids that are dying to get their sound heard. If you like them, approach them and ask them about using a song or two in your movie. Go (again) to the local college and seek out the music department. Guaranteed, there are at least a few folks there with some ideas as to what music would go with your opus, and they'll be happy to work with you for a credit in your film (and maybe one on IMDB...You never know).
Okay, these are just a few hints about making movies. I can't tell you how many filmmakers break these "ten commandments," and whose work turns up as steaming piles of bunny-dung because of it. Don't take my word for it, though there are others out there that are MUCH more knowledgeable than me. If you want to read what I pretty much consider the bible of micro-budget film making, get Gregory Lamberson's book Cheep Scares. There are literally thousands of books out there about indie film making, so grab a few and learn. Learn your craft, work hard, and remember names like Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg. All of them have one thing in common: They started off EXACTLY where you are right now.

Until next time...

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