If you’re looking to get into filmmaking, we put together some tips on how to make your first film. If you’re already out there making films, you may already know some of this. But if you’re looking to make your first feature film, and have no idea where to start, then check out our beginner guide to filmmaking!

Step 1: Beginner Guide to Film – The Idea

Every great film starts with a great idea – and that’s where our beginner guide to filmmaking starts! You shouldn’t move on to the next steps without a good concept first. We highly recommend choosing a topic or theme for your film that you are passionate about. You may be living with this film for months…or more likely years – from preproduction to the final product. So if you’re only sort-of interested in making a talking-dog-family-christmas-movie…maybe save that for a short film, and make your feature about something you really love.

High Concept Films

High Concept Films are a great place to start with movie ideas. These types of films are basically movies that can be easily sold to a wide audience because it is an easy to grasp idea. Some great examples of this would be films like Snakes on a Plane (there’s snakes and they’re on a plane), Liar Liar (what if a lawyer could only tell the truth?), and Jurassic Park (what if dinosaurs could be cloned in modern day?). They’re all simple concepts, that are easy to pitch with one line of text. High Concept Films are often easier to sell to investors and distributors because of this (Do you want Snakes on a Plane or an abstract space opera told in non-linear form?). Hollywood loves High Concept ideas, as well; so, if you think you’ve got one, start there.

License an Idea VS Public Domain

Another option for great film Ideas is to license someone else’s story. Turning an existing book or graphic novel into a film is very popular in Hollywood today due to the built-in audience. You could also make an adaptation of a piece of work in the public domain – characters like Robin Hood, King Arthur, or Santa Claus are all in the public domain – which means they’re available for free use by anyone. That’s one of the reasons we made our last film Elfette Saves Christmas – holiday films are often easy to sell because people always want new films each year about Santa – one of the most beloved characters in film.

However, if you’re looking for something more original, you could also look into partnering with an up-and-coming writer – maybe there’s a local novelist that you really admire. It never hurts to reach out to other creatives. You can license the film rights to their work and make a film with an audience already interested in the idea! There are a lot of ways to come up with an idea for your film. Just make sure you are passionate about it, and if you can have a built-in audience to market it to, even better!

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Step 2: Script Writing for Beginners

Once you have your great movie idea, it’s time to put it down on a page. There are a lot of great software options for script writing like Final Draft, Celtx, or Fade In. We’ve been using Final Draft, and more recently started using Fade In as it has a fully functional FREE version – which makes it great for collaboration between multiple writers. Filmmaking for beginners often don’t have a huge budget, so free is always a good place to start.

Beginner Guide to Filmmaking, Screenwriting Fade In
One of our favorite FREE Screenwriting softwares: FADE IN

Writing your script into an actual script program will not only look more polished if you plan to show other actors, crew, or investors when you start recruiting; but, will also help you organize your film as well. Most screenwriting software for filmmaking enables you to pull reports. This is really important when getting organized. For example you can pull reports to show only scenes based in a specific location or just with certain actors. These reports will make your coordinating much easier and more efficient.

Screenwriting Tip: 1 Page = 1 Minute

Another tip to keep in mind when writing: the general rule of thumb is one page of properly formatted script is equivalent to about one minute of film. Therefore, if you have a 90 page script, you’re most likely around a 90 minute long movie. 90 minutes is a great target for a first film. If it’s much shorter, it can be more difficult to sell as a feature. And if it’s longer, it will likely cost more money. So try to stick to a 90 page script.

Step 3: Beginner Guide to Film – Finding Cast & Crew

By the time you’ve reached this step in the beginner guide to filmmaking, you have finalized your idea, and you have written it down in words with a professional script writing software. It’s now time to start assembling your cast and crew. Hopefully, you have built up a small network of people that you can recruit for your core crew. But, if you haven’t, you can post crew calls on Facebook filmmaking groups in your area. We also recommend networking at your local film festivals. Festivals can be great places to meet both crew and actors for your film.

Beginner Guide to Filmmaking, How to Get Crew
Having a FILM CREW that really gels is important for any film’s success

We could do an entire post on Film Crew and different positions (actually we did! – See Essential Film Crew Positions). But in the simplest terms: you need to start with all your key department heads. Aside from YOU as director, you’ll need a Director of Photography for camera, a Gaffer for lighting, a Production Designer for the art/look, an AD to schedule and coordinated, and an Editor/DIT to manage media and post production. Having these key positions on-board is a major step in leading your project to success. Make sure you have rock stars in your key positions and then fill in the gaps where needed, depending on the genre and needs of your specific film.

Step 4: Realistic Budgeting for Your First Film

Unless you’re born a prince or you got that OLD money, you’re going to need some cash to make your film happen. Even if you’re shooting on your smartphone and filming in your Pop Pop’s basement, you’re going need to feed your crew at the very least!

The starting point here is to determine the length of your film and how many days you’ll need to shoot. Put a realistic budget together for each day based on what the script requires. For example, if you know you’re going to need 10 extras on day #3, include the cost of feeding them as well as cast and crew in the budget. If you know you have a bloody death scene on day #12, make sure to budget for a special effects makeup artist that day, and some pints of blood! Breakdown each of your filming days with Crew, Cast, Props, Costumes, Camera, Lighting, and any other Special Equipment you will need.

For your camera budget, try to hire a cinematographer that already owns a camera package to save on money and time on set. They’ll be more familiar with their own gear and DP owner/operators often will give a package price for their labor and equipment.

Beginner Guide To Filmmaking, DP Camera Gear
Partnering with a Director of Photography who owns a camera package can save your film money

For lighting rentals, most lighting houses will offer a three day week (you pay for three days, but get the gear for one week). They often will give even better discounts on longer rentals for feature films. Make sure to ask your local lighting and grip house about long term discounts for your film! These can be key in how to make your low budget indie film happen!

Step 5: Raising Funds for Your Film

Once you have your estimated budget from Step 4, now you know how much cash to raise to green-light your film. Here are some ways to get funding that isn’t out of your own pocket:

  • Form a partnership. One of the best ways to make a film is with partners and friends. If you find people equally as passionate about your idea, they may come on as a producer. There’s so much to do in producing a film, so splitting costs and responsibilities is a big help on a feature film project.
  • Look for grants. Many states and different countries offer incentives to filmmakers in their locations. See what’s out there right now, and if you fit a certain demographic; such as female filmmakers, service member filmmakers, and/or LGBTQ+ filmmakers. You might be surprised at how much money is out there waiting to be claimed by YOU!
  • Crowdfunding can be an option to raise funds! Check out Indiegogo or Kickstarter as options. These can be a lot of work to manage, though. You will have deliverables later you need to follow through for all those “perks”. If you promise 500 stickers to your 500 supporters, you’re going to have to mail all those out later. Make sure to factor that into your budgeting and time!
  • Try finding an investor. Especially if you have a great high concept idea. This can be an easier sell than if you want to go the extremely artsy abstract film, which can be a harder sell to an investor.

Kick it in your self. I can’t think of too many filmmakers that don’t end up putting in some of their own cash. So, save up and keep a little bonus kitty in case you need it. AND you will need it!

All right well that’s Part 1 of our Beginner Guide to Filmmaking. In our next video, we’ll take a look at steps you’ll need to take to start filming!

Beginner’s Guide to Filmmaking (To Be Continued….)

Look out for Beginner Guide to Filmmaking Part 2: Principal and Post Production coming soon! As you move on to principal photography and post production, you might also want to consider 8 Ways to Make Your Film Look More Cinematic!

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If this first part of this beginner guide to filmmaking was helpful, let us know what other tips you might need in the comments below!

Filmed on location at: https://www.LitewaveMedia.com in St. Petersburg, FL.

Special Thanks to the St. Petersburg Clearwater Film Commission Digital Creator Program

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