How to Make a Movie: Part II, Filming

The process for making a movie can be an arduous one. It involves a gigantic investment of time, energy, and effort, all culminating in something that’s not even guaranteed to be good. But in the end, there’s nothing more satisfying than putting hours upon hours of hard work into something and having it come out the way you wanted. The process is equal parts difficult and rewarding, and requires your absolute commitment from beginning to end to make it worth your while. Should you choose to go on this journey, we’re here to guide you along the process. Next up: filming.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Get the right equipment

Now that you’ve written the perfect screenplay, it’s time to move on to the next step: Putting it on film. Since you’ve already written with this part of the process in mind, you’ll be able to focus more on the finer points of shooting. The writing side of moviemaking, while regimented with deadlines, isn’t quite as scheduled as filming is, making the planning stage of this part the most important one. You have your story laid on paper, but now it’s time to bring it to life.

To do this, you’ll first need to acquire the proper equipment. You’ll need a decent camera with an SD card full of memory, rudimentary sound and light equipment, and of course other people to help you along the way. If there’s one thing to remember about filming, it’s that this is not a process for a single person. Enlist the help of friends or collaborators, and you’ll find the process will be infinitely easier.

For cameras, the Canon VIXIA HF R500 will run you just under $250, which for a high-quality camera is a steal. For optimal and cheap sound, you’ll also want to invest in a few clip-on microphones ($15 each) that can be easily hidden under the shirts of your actors. Your other option for sound is to grab a boom microphone for just under $100. You’ll need a separate person to operate it while you film behind the camera, but it may very well be worth the higher price for better sound quality and fewer wires.

Create a shooting schedule

Once you have all your equipment in hand and your film crew in tow, it’s time to lay out a shooting schedule. What are the locations in your screenplay like relative to the region you live in? Will you be able to spend a day shooting on location somewhere outside of your immediate area? Can you find multiple locations close enough to each other to film at in a single day? The key to keeping both you, your actors, and your crew from getting tired and frustrated is a regimented schedule where you know exactly what shots you want where, on specific days. The more structured the schedule, the easier it’ll be to stay on task and avoid unnecessary distractions.

Once you’re on site, be sure you’ve listed out each shot you want on a per location basis. Are there six scenes that take place in a wooded area in your screenplay? Be sure to have all six grouped together on the day you film in that locale. Are there three scenes in a kitchen interspersed throughout your story? Do all of them on the same day, in the same place. One trap beginning filmmakers fall into is getting stuck in a linear mindset of trying to shoot the movie in order of the story. In reality, a vast majority of major motion pictures are filmed completely out of order, since that’s the most convenient and affordable way to get it done.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Time to shoot

So now you have a schedule for each location, and you’ve arrived at the first place on Day 1. So now what? First off, set up your sound equipment (whether it’s the clip-on mics or the boom), make sure your camera is set properly on a tripod (shooting by hand will never be as steady as you want it to be), and use something to denote each take before the action starts, whether it’s a traditional clapboard or a small whiteboard. Once you yell out “action,” then you have to be sure there will be no other distractions running through your scene, especially if you’re shooting in a public place.

As you shoot, it’s imperative that you use as many takes as you feel are necessary. Once you get up to that number, do a couple more just to be certain. You don’t want to get halfway into the editing process only to find out you didn’t get a suitable take, and now have to rally the troops again to reshoot a scene. The best thing you can do for your future self in editing is to ensure that you have plenty of footage to choose from once it’s all said and done. The more you have, the better chance your movie has to look as good as humanly possible.

All this should have you well on your way to putting together plenty of footage to get you to the editing stage. Ideally, you’ll have at least a few hours of film on camera ready to work with once shooting wraps up. With the right equipment, a committed team, and well-thought-out schedule, you’ll have everything you need to ensure you’re officially two-thirds of the way through the production process. For the third and final part, we’ll run you through the ins and outs of the editing process, how to make all that beautiful footage look even better, and constructing a visually cohesive story.

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