Filmmaking for Beginners

Great movies are not made without great efforts. The general audience wouldn’t go beyond the remunerations, budgets, and collections to look into the efforts of the filmmakers and the technology required to make films. Whether you’re an aspiring filmmaker or just want to understand the process of filmmaking, the following guide provides insight into the filmmaking process.

Filmmaking for beginners

1. Writing

This is the first step in filmmaking and most films start with a script. There may be some exceptions where a team of producers, directors, and actors want to make a film and search for a script that suits their budget and other requirements. The final screenplay should be professionally written and well-formatted for any studio or agent to even read it. Industry-standard software has in-built features to take care of formatting.

Central Idea or Theme

Every movie starts with an idea that could be original or inspired from somewhere. The plot, characters, conflict, etc strengthen the idea and develop it into a story.

Plot

The basic plot is developed from the idea or theme. The single most important factor of the plot is conflict. The plot structure could follow a traditional 3-act structure, hero’s journey, organic development, or modern methods. The plot doesn’t change much over the course of filmmaking.

Script

The script is the end product of the writing process. The entire team depends on the script to understand their role in the film. The costume designers, art directors, and production managers study the script thoroughly to start working on the project. The script may change several times over the course of filming as producers, directors, or actors could improvise or suggest changes to the script.

2. Development

The development is the process of extracting information from the script and estimating financial and technical requirements. It is highly important for the shooting/pre-production. Generally, the production team takes care of the majority of the development work but the director is involved in almost all steps.

Script Breakdown

It is carried out by the first Assistant director or production manager. It is tedious work and requires hours of careful breakdown. A small mistake during the breakdown could leave a dent in the budget or delay the project. The breakdown involves extracting the location, casting, art design, costumes, makeup requirements from each scene. After this stage, the information is transferred to relevant departments who prepare accordingly for the shooting.

Budgeting

Budgeting is the process of estimating budget requirements for the whole project based on the monetary value of props, locations, casting, costumes, remunerations, equipment rentals, post-production, marketing, etc. The experience of the entire process of filmmaking is necessary to even start budgeting. The line producer or production manager is responsible for it and this is refined several times before getting approved.

Scheduling

Scheduling is the process of preparing pre-production, production, and post-production schedule based on the script breakdown. The availability of locations, call sheets of actors, props, technicians, etc. The foreign schedules require additional requirements like passports, visas, boarding and lodging, etc which should be taken into consideration. It is generally done by the first Assistant director and should match with budgeting.

The production company should be registered and the intellectual property rights should be taken into consideration for protecting title, script, logos, designs, posters, etc. The laws vary from country to country but the requirements are almost similar. The accounts should be maintained properly from Day 1 to avoid any problems. Everyone involved in the project should have life insurance.

3. Preproduction

The pre-production requirements vary depending on the scale and budget of the movie. Filmmaking involves many people and requires a lot of permissions, so careful planning is required to avoid delays and problems. There are many movies that were stopped at some stage or didn’t get a theatrical release because of avoiding pre-production or underestimating budget.

Research

The writers or directors may not have knowledge of every subject they deal with. For example, Steven Spielberg made movies based on archaeology, paleontology, aliens, futuristic technologies, etc. This requires either immense knowledge of the subjects or blindly faith in the technicians. The directors who depend on technicians without having a vision for the film rarely succeed. So, research on the subject is necessary to understand and visualize the story. It also helps to incorporate minor details in films which helps the audience engage in the movie. The research also helps in preparing the props, costumes, lighting, etc.

Storyboarding

It is the process of depicting the shots through hand-drawn images for all the crew involved to understand the requirements. Sometimes it helps the directors to change some shots before going for the shooting. In Hollywood studios, there are dedicated storyboard artists who work for several weeks or even months to draw storyboards. Almost all action scenes are filmed after storyboarding to avoid over budget. The high-budget movies are going for previsualization instead which is animated video based on information provided. This step is repeated several times by providing updated information and changing the requirements.

Locations

Location scouting is a tedious job involving a lot of time and effort. Sometimes there may be too many options and sometimes there may be none. The director has to make the right decisions at right time and choose the relevant locations. In case the locations do not suit the needs, then the ideal choice is to construct the sets. It is to remember while choosing the locations that narrow spaces may accommodate actors but lights, camera and crew wouldn’t fit in. The photographs taken from various locations help while taking a final decision.

Casting

The cast & crew are roped into the project considering the budgeting and scheduling. The single most disappointing thing about a movie can be miscasting. Even if everything else is perfect, the miscast could ruin the entire film. So, this should be considered as an important decision for the film.

Music

The theme music and the songs are composed during the pre-production or early stages of production depending on the schedule. The background score is a separate process that is developed over time independent of the production and is handed over to the sound mixer during the post-production.

4. Production

This is the actual work the filmmakers have prepared for several weeks, months, or even years. The shooting takes a lot of time and rushing into things may spoil the quality. Generally, one minute in the final cut of film requires more than five hours to shoot. The preparation and efforts are only to improve the quality but don’t help much in minimizing the shooting time. The permissions are required from authorities for shooting in public places, the data collected from various departments should be managed and the rehearsals help in getting better performances. As many people are involved in shooting, networking, and management skills are important. The single most important thing while shooting is to store and protect the data. In the case of digital filmmaking, it is recommended to store data on multiple hard disks to avoid losing the entire film.

5. Post-production

Post-production is the stage where the outcome of production is processed and edited to make it into the film. Post-production includes multiple processes and is crucial for the quality of the film.

Editing

It is a tedious process of choosing the best or final takes of shots and organizing them into a final cut. The editing may involve reordering the scenes to create suspense or to engage the audience. The voice and point of view in the script become noticeable after editing.

Sound Design, Foley and Sound Mixing

The music director takes care of the sound design. Sometimes a sound recording is done while shooting the film using equipment like a shotgun mike but it’s a tedious process. So, most filmmakers focus on visual aspects of the film and leave sound design for postproduction. The foley is recreating sound effects and using them in the film instead of recording everything on sets. The audio in most films would appear like mobile phone clips without foley. There will be a lot of unwanted sounds and there is no scope of controlling the volume of individual sounds. With the help of foley, individual sounds like footsteps, birds flying, wind, etc could be composed in the film. There will be more control for the filmmaker. Sound mixing is the process of creating multiple layers with dialogues, foley, sound effects, and background scores. All sound elements are mixed into stems and finally added to the video to complete the film.

Visual Effects and Graphics

The visual effects in the film need to be planned at the stage of scriptwriting and development. The budgeting, scheduling, and production change depending on the visual effects and graphics. Some scenes need to be shot using a green screen/blue screen, and some may require motion tracking. Most filmmakers add titles to the visual effects category and take care of it during postproduction.

Color Grading

The color correction is a process of adjusting the colors to uniformly align with the scene. The scenes are individual shots joined together during editing. In many cases, the shots are filmed with vast time gaps which may result in lighting changes. These things need to be corrected during color correction to make the scenes uniform. Colour grading is the process of altering and enhancing the color. It is generally done to create a certain emotional response or to bring a certain look to the film. The colorist needs to decide the color palette during the development stage and the production should be done accordingly.

Storage and Censor

The data should be stored separately during multiple stages and overwriting is a bad practice. It is recommended to do versioning and keep a backup copy of the film in each version. The final copy should be stored in the required format for distribution or to send to film festivals. The censor certificate is the last stage in film production. The screening of the film requires a censor certificate and without it, the theatrical release is not possible.

6. Distribution and Marketing

The distribution and theatrical release of the film require planning and it depends heavily on promotion. The prints or digital copy, number of theaters, target audience, demand for the film, marginal profits, etc are to be considered before distributing the film. Apart from the theatrical release, satellite rights, video-on-demand, internet, DVD and Blu-ray are to be planned in advance. The marketing requires a separate campaign and the filmmakers who fail to promote the film rarely succeed in the film industry. The marketing budget should be incorporated at the budgeting stage. The posters, teasers, and trailers are promotional content and their success improves the market of the film.

Independent filmmakers and short filmmakers are preferring relatively inexpensive distribution options like Youtube. The profits through other means will be nowhere close to traditional distribution but it gives an opportunity for them to release the film for a global audience.

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