I have not made my own independent feature film yet, but I’ve worked on a few. (I’m getting ready to shoot my first 16mm short, and there’s a thread about it in this forum.)
Are you planning to make the film yourself? Or are you going to shop the script? If you’re going to shop the script, go all-out. If you’re going to make it yourself, take your resources into account.
Read Rebel Without A Crew by Robert El Mariachi Rodriguez. It’s very inspiring. Rodriguez planned to go to Mexico and shoot a film for Mexican television distribution. He figured that he would make three films in Mexico, so that if they didn’t turn out well nobody would notice. He looked at his resources: Access to an Arriflex 16s camera (borrowed), a friend in Mexico who had a house and who knew people who had ranches, and ten years of experience making super-8 and VHS ‘home movies with plots’. He’d also shot Bedhead. I don’t remember, but I think he showed Bedhead to a professor iin order to get into the film programme at the University of Texas at Austin.
With his resources in mind, he wrote a script. He would use friends and friends of friends for the cast. He’d hoped to get a Mexican soap star for the female lead (he’d noticed that Mexican action pics always had a soap star), but he couldn’t get her. He got a local girl instead. He would work without a crew so that he wouldn’t have as many mouths to feed. He didn’t have access to a synch camera, so he knew he would have many cuts when the dialog (which he recorded after the fact – a sound take) went out of synch. His experience editing VHS movies allowed him to be very economical with the film stock. In effect, he ‘edited in the camera’. El Mariachi only took 25 rolls of film.
My best *fiend was inspired by El Mariachi, shot for only $7,000, and decided to make his own film. It cost a bit under $40,000.
Format: Digital video is certainly a viable option. A friend of mine uses JVC GV500 cameras and edits on a Mac. You’d never know it was shot on video. But you need to know how to use Final Cut Pro to get a film look. Most of the direct-to-video films I’ve seen that were shot on DV looked like video.
16mm film gives you a better look, I think. If, by some miracle (as happened with Rodriguez), a studio picks it up, they will do the 35mm blow-up. The problem with 16mm is that it’s much more expensive than DV. If you don’t know how to use a film camera, you may not get what you want. Get a light meter (I use a Minolta IV-F) and break out the old 35mm SLR. Practice your exposures!
Try to get good location sound. My friend’s film, Cut Up, was about 90% ADR because the sound recordist didn’t know his job and was using poor equipment. My friend said it was an expensive pain in the arse.
Lighting is very important. Yes, a good script is essential; but you must have good lighting. Good lighting makes all the difference in the world. My friend was lucky enough to get a guy who did some lighting on Sex, Lies and Video Tape.
Making a film is a royal pain in the arse. The hours are long. Everyone gets tired. Much of the equipment is heavy and needs to be carried to difficult locations. People need to be fed. Crew may not have much experience. Actors may have personality issues. Scheduling is a hassle. Weather may stop you from using a location on the planned day. (Be sure to have a Plan B!) Everything seems to take two or three times longer than planned. Money is always an issue. Making a film is mentally exhausting as well as physically exhausting.
But I keep getting involved in them. At the end of the day, it’s very rewarding. In an hour I’ll be out the door to be a cameraman on a short film. It’s cold outside. We’re going to shoot into the night. I’ll be tired. But, dammit! I love it!
Okay, about the camera angles. A director or DP will probably have his own ideas. Personally, I wouldn’t write the angle into the script unless it’s necessary. For my short film, I have not included camera directions. I’m directing it myself, and I know how I want it to look. I don’t need to give myself directions. If someone else were directing, I’d leave the set-ups to his own ‘vision’.
Storyboards can be very handy for getting everyone on the same page as far as how a scene should look. I’m no artist. Still, I’ve made this storyboard for the first scene of Somebody. I don’t have the time to draw the rest of the film. I may have access to an artist who will do it, but I’ll probably do without.
Right. I’d better get ready for today’s shoot…