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Calling All Filmmakers

As filmmakers, we all have a duty to tell the story as well as we can no matter whatever the subject matter of our film is.

We need to make sure that we strive to do everything with the utmost of quality. The overall piece of art truly says something about who you are as a person. I’m not saying that each story that you tell will say something about you as a filmmaker. I’m saying that the way in which you execute the production, film the subject matter and edit the film says everything about you. It will tell your experience. It will tell your attention to detail. It could even tell whether you are a messy person or an orderly person. If you want to go the distance, which I surely pray to continue excelling (and I do as well myself), then overall quality of the production will be at the forefront of your mind during pre-production. There are several facets to and important observations to building a film production company and creating/capturing any film production well. Here are a few.

1. The Contract:

Come up with a format of a contract for your different film products. We will address creating different film products and/or packages in another article. The contract must look professional, and in my opinion should have your company log in the header at the top of the document. Make sure that you format it clean and professionally. Number each point that you address in the contract. In some cases, we label the contract, “Film Production Contract” and in some cases, we label it “Film Production Agreement”. As you deal with and get to know clients, feel out what type of personality that your client has. We all know that a contract is a contract and an agreement is also a contract but words often scare people. Make sure that you have a signature spot for the client and for your company as you are both entering into a legally binding agreement; I mean, contract. You as the film producer promises to offer your professional film production services and the client promises to offer compensation of some sort; hopefully money. I could literally go on and on about film production contract writing. I promise that I will, but in one of the next articles.

2. The Script:

Whether you wrote it or not, you as the filmmaker or director will have to approve it to go into pre-production. The overall plot should be clear, and your details must make sense when acted out. Your viewers don’t need all the information up front as long as the story clearly leads up to it and offers, either a great climax or conclusion. If it’s a commercial, highlight film or company promotional, the script must tell the story of your client in the most effective way possible. Don’t be afraid to give your client your input. After all, they should be looking at you as the professional in your field. Look up some scripts on the internet and get to know formatting and how they are written. Subscribe to or purchase a script-writing software like Final Draft. The more of an authority that your clients feel that you are and can trust your judgement in your own field, the quicker you can expand your business and you’ll find that you’ll be able to begin to raise your prices slowly to match what you have to offer clients. At the same time, don’t be a know it all. It’s o.k. to be great at filming but suck at writing. We all have time in life to grow. It is truly my recommendation that you work to learn to write and write well. This often comes with spending time reading other people’s bodies of work.

3. Shoot location(s):

If you are filming a feature-length or short film, then locations have not only to match your script but offer some sort of grand, awesome, impactful or beautiful cinematic or production value. Production value is what can really set you apart from other “video production” companies or aspiring filmmakers. Over the years I’ve really worked to transform my business model into one that is highly professional looking and sounding. Even though I have worked in huge multi-million-dollar Hollywood studio movies, they were not my own. Once I began producing my own movies, I made the transition from video production to movie and film production. It did come at a cost though. Apparently, more clients search video production than film production. So, I found other companies that couldn’t do what we could do were higher in the organic search engine searches. If you are doing a commercial, highlight film or company promotional, often you have your location selected for you because it’s shot at the client’s place of business. Sometimes they have multiple locations. If so, we do charge extra for every location shoot.

4. Film production equipment:

Choose a camera that offers not only a great sensor that offers great color and white balance capabilities, but one that offers a great range of frame rates. You’ll find that part of your cinematic value may come in the form of slow motion or fast motion which comes best with the ability to variably raise and lower your frame rate. Also, lens adapter type. Industry standards is Canon. Preferably L series lenses and Canon or Zeiss Cine or Prime lenses. These are expensive. Companies have come out with great alternatives such as Rokinon. I’m not simply plugging Rokinon, but if I gave all of my recommendations this article would turn into a book. Great audio is incredibly important. I’ll skip all the differing opinions and tell you what we have used for years that has provided amazing dialog recording. We use Sennheiser G3 lapel mics and Sennheiser and Rode and Azden shotgun mics with Rode Mic Boom, Blimp and Dead Cat; (You know, the fuzzy wind muffle that covers the Blimp).

Like every aspiring filmmaker, almost 18 years ago when I started, I quickly found that you could make your own camera equipment for way cheaper. Well, guess what. They were also WAY cheaper in quality. It didn’t take long until I rebelled against that idea. I mean I did the 1-inch pipe and counterweight on the bottom with a ¼”-20 screw on top to mount the camera onto to be used as a fly-cam. I made the PVC pipe track and make shift dolly. I admit, I did use some of that equipment for a year or so. But I learned that part of being taken seriously as a filmmaker with a client-base is showing up to your film shoots with real equipment, showing that you were willing to invest into your craft and be “all-in” with your film-making. Word spreads like wild fire in a community if your film work is good and your editing is superb. You’ll find that you’ll get calls from people saying that “Billy Bob” or “Jacky Sue” or whoever, recommended you to them and was told that your work was great. They’ll want to talk to you about how you can help them to tell their story about their business or product. There are so many more parts to a location or set environment film shoot. Any sizable shoot has many departments that handle different functions of the shoot. I know I haven’t mentioned things like set lighting, or much about pro-audio/sound nor anything about editing. I just want to provide a few tidbits of information that may help you on your path to building your film production company.

5. Each and every individual shot:

If your desire is to do this as a career and truly want to strive to success like the big boys of film-making, I encourage you to strive for perfection in every single shot. Set the foundation of your business as one that cares about each individual shot that is performed. A soup is made up of multiple ingredients. You want to start out with the best of the best of ingredients. Never try to mask the flavor of a bad ingredient with another great ingredient. The same in film-making. You don’t know how many times I’ve heard one of our crew members over the years say on set, “That’s o.k., CGI guy will fix it.” Or “Don’t worry, we can fix it in post.” NNNOOOOOOO! Never rely on fixing ANYTHING in post. Shoot for the edit. If you have something to fix in post and you are still on-location, RE-SHOOT it. There’s nothing like having one to three safety shots if the time or budget allows. Start with the best ingredients. Start with the most thought out, measured and prepared take. And then when you have “Pictures up, sound speeding,” as we say in Hollywood when the camera(s) are rolling, and the sound is recording, that next take will be executed with precision because you paid attention to detail. Then your overall product will be great because you took the time with each and every shot to pay attention to detail.

6. Camera stability:

If a viewer is watching a movie, the goal is for them to actually be in the story and watch the action as if they are truly there. One bad camera bump, shake, or movement, then the viewer is shaken out of then story and brought to the reality that they are actually watching a movie and not in the story. Your camera should be a window to the story, not a camera showing the story. This is pretty much why every single movie theater reminds the audience like three or four times to silence their phones before the movie. With bad camera stability, the viewer will constantly be reminded that they are looking through a camera; and a badly handled one too. There are many different types of camera stabilization platforms. There are tripods, monopods, shoulder mounts, (mounting) rail systems, fly-cams, Steadicams, handheld gimbals, car camera mounts, camera jibs, booms and cranes, track and dolly, camera sliders and a host of other types as well. At least start with a great medium to heavy-duty tripod with fluid head. This is pretty much where life begins for camera stability. You’ll have to master your pan/tilts as fluid and smooth as possible. Then you’ll mix pan/tilts with smooth zooms. These days in the age of digital SLR film-making you’ll need a good follow-focus to do your smooth zooms which also will require some sort of rail system to mount the camera to as well as the follow-focus. If you’re good and confused, use Google. It’ll show you everything that I’m saying. B&H Photo is a great place to see most of the equipment that I’ve mentioned. There is so much more to this section but once again, this is an article, not a book. I’ll share more in another article.

5. There is your passion as a filmmaker and story teller:

If you don’t have passion. You’re pretty much in the wrong business. Passion is what fuels your artistic ability. Film-making is in no way clinical. I mean, many parts of it truly is scientific, but film-making is not clinical. It is more organic. Each story needs to be a living, breathing thing that must be brought to life. And that life is spawned by your passion as a filmmaker. Some may call this vision. I do describe some things as vision, but in this instance, I must use the word passion. It has been said by people of my business partner Christopher Dearborn and myself, when they hear us tell a story or pitch a scene or camera blocking or a script, that each of us light up with excitement in the way that they can literally see the story that we are telling through our excitement. This is what I call passion. I love hearing passionate storytellers. They provide the life of the two-dimensional story. Film-making is an art form and requires artistic expression which requires you to be an artist.

I have so much more to say but will have to continue in one of my future articles. What I will be doing is taking each of these sections and more that I have in mind and exhaustively writing about them. I’m not saying with film-making, that it’s my way or the highway. I learn new things every single day. My experience has come from almost two decades of learning and overcoming obstacles that we’ve come up against as we film in many different environments and scenarios. Failure is important. I’ve failed many, many times in my film work. Without failure, we don’t get better. But, you don’t even get the chance to fail and learn if you don’t try. The goal is to no longer fail because you’ve learned to overcome. It’s this experience that will grow your business and your film-making to accomplish your dreams.

I look forward to hearing your comments and questions. Feel free to contact me. I have been teaching ground-base as well as aerial-based film-making for many years.

Thank you for reading my article and until next time; may God bless you.

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