So You Think You Can Make a Movie As a High School Student?
Updated on October 12, 2005, 10:00 PM - Written by Tim Buttner
One of the largest misconceptions in the world of making independent student movies is that it is harder than one would think. Many people might say that the trick to shooting a movie is simply pointing the camera and hitting "record". That is not a movie. That is known as the amateur, home video. It is a tape people watch to laugh at their stupidities. Movies are much more.
Movies are places for filmmakers, cast, and crew to convince an audience to laugh, to cry, to shout out in anger or to scream in fear, to give them insight into the human condition. Movies allow escape from the mondane and the petty needs and wants of everyday life. The locations take you to distant lands that might not be known, or to a period of life long forgotten, and to a social level never achievable. The characters may be someone just like you, your hero or someone for you to idolize, or a person to despise because he is the perfect antagonist, one whom you may sympathize, or you may fall in love with a fictional vixen. Movies are not watched, they are an encounter with a life's experiences that are not your own.
The many people involved in a movie's production invest a great deal. Often you gain insight into the life of the writer, director, or producer. Once you step into the movie theater, or turn on the television or DVD player, you are preparing yourself for a special occasion perfectly orchestrated for your viewing pleasure.
When making a movie, one must ensure that careful planning and organization is taken. That is a must, because the slightest mistake can ruin a movie or set the production way behind. There are three production stages, though there are also many sub-productions states. The first of these three is preproduction. At this stage, the first job os to write the screenplay. It is written before the movie, but it is still considered part of the preproduction stage, even if it happens before preproduction starts. Writing a screenplay means adhering to strict rules on the format and story structure. Without a strong story as a foundation, a movie cannot get rolling. Another important feature of the screenplay is the characters; no one will care about what is happening in the story if they do not care about the characters or what happens to them.
In order to achieve appealing characters, you must cast actors/actresses who fits the role and plays it perfectly. The audience will never be convinced of anything in a movie if all they see is a pretty face with no acting ability. They need to be involved in the character on screen, and the actor/actress MUST be that character. The ideal for any director is a performer whi is versitile enough to be able to play several different roles.
Hire a crew that is trustworthy and shares a similar vision as the director's. The costume and make-up department will take care of the look of the characters. Your prop and set department will provide all the essential elements to make the scene convincing to the audience by making sure it is a believable environment.
Financing the project is important and essential. Without proper budgeting, there is no way to pay for all the equipment, materials, and people needed to make the movie. It is important to get the support of a studio willing to loan out large sums of money because they want to see this movie made, and distributed. In addition, there are plenty of independent backers who are willing to contribute money to a production so long as they get credit. There can be many producers. In Narc (2002) there was twenty-one producers, more than the number of speaking parts. The two main actors of the movie, Ray Liotta and Jason Patrick, liked the story and the writer/director so much that they worked free of pay when budgeting and paycheck issues arose. Also, Liotta became a producer just so that the movie could stay in production. This emphasizes the idea of a strong story and a cast and crew committed to the project.
Next, production involves the principal photography of the feature, which may be the simplest, but still complex, part of making a movie. Here is where all the efforts of preproduction come together. The time period for capturing all the scenes in the screenplay must happen in as few days as possible, because of budgeting reasons. The Oscar winning film, Million Dollar Baby (2004) was filmed in thirty-seven-days despite originally being scheduled for thirty-nine. This proves that production can go very well given the right cast and crew, often saving money and time.
Lastly, postproduction is the final lap in the movie completion. It consists of editing, reshooting, adding digital animation and effects and distributing to the public. Editing is usually a strenuous ride because realization that shots were forgotten or subject matter needs to be cut or rewritten will happen here. Hours are spent in a room with a computer, looking at a monitor or TV screen trying to decipher which shots and takes work and how their juxtaposition fits. Orson Welles' film noir masterpiece The Lady of Shanghai (1948) went through brutal editing where a complete hour was removed from the final product. This stresses that even in editing, the story is still essential to keep in mind, and that fine-tuning will happen until the very last minute before the deadline.
Distribution is the homestretch where you can relax, do publicity campaigns and think about your next project. Test audiences will get special screenings and you might fine-tune a bit more, but otherwise your work is done. A job well done. Making a movie is fun, but very demanding of both your mental and physical self. If you have the heart and the will to make the movie, you will succeed. Remember nothing good in life is easily earned and the same goes for a good feature film. To quote Chad Faust, an actor on the TV Miniseries, The 4400, who also makes short films of his own, "Well, I think the most important thing is simply to learn storytelling. That's what people go to movies to witness. I think it's easy for people starting out to get focused on the technical or business facets, but all that is to service the story being told."
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