Making Movies Issue #1 – An ebook by Matthew Hornbostel (Guide to eye-popping, dirt cheap indie video production)

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INTRODUCTION

Hello. My name is Matthew Hornbostel, and I’m a low-budget movie director. I am not the best out there but I’m getting better over time. This extensive text guide is based on my experience.

The version of this text you’ll see on Bukisa is broken up into parts because of Bukisa’s word limit on articles.  It has occasional additions and enhancements but mostly it’s the same as the ebook on my website.

There’s one thing that will take you from producing garbage to making great entertainment. That one thing is PERSISTENCE. Your first movies will suck, that’s pretty much guaranteed. Mine did.

Most of the good directors in Hollywood started off with pretty embarrassing work. The question is, do you love making movies enough to keep trying? Are you prepared to learn your craft to the point where your work is good? You need to know that the best stuff in life is hard. Success always takes a lot of work, and require personal sacrifice. What’s cool about making movies, of course, is that the “work” is sometimes so much fun!

Because it’s fun, though, people will tell you it’s a waste of time. Don’t be surprised if somebody says you can’t make it in this career. Don’t be surprised if people tell you your movies are awful.

It’s true, this is a competitive field. There are lots of people trying to break in, the salaries are great at the top but not so great for the majority of people in the industry. Don’t expect to get in easily, I’ve been learning for eight years and still have no “conventional” career.

But this route – making movies on a low budget – is actually the best way in. Internships pay little to nothing and don’t give you the same creative freedom or diversity of practical experience. Film schools are pricey and often dated in their approach to the subject matter. (Digital is in, and film is all but obsolete)

Have you dreamed of being a movie director?

Stop making excuses and just go for it – make a movie!

It can be done cheaply.

It doesn’t require millions of dollars.

It doesn’t even require $5,000.

You can make great-looking stuff for next to nothing. Salaries make up 95% of Hollywood’s budgets. If you are working free, and your cast is working free, you will find that your expenses are minimal.

You can make something that is entertaining, exciting, and fun.

You can do this!

Have you seen the trailer for “Duel 2030”?

Hundreds of people have. It’s an action flick with over 100 high-quality VFX shots, miniature pyro, digital extensions, costumes, afull-scale set, bluescreen compositing, props, makeup, and more. All in a $550 production. It’s possible to get good “Production Values” and VFX done cheaply. It’s possible to make a movie that looks and feels “Hollywood”-ish, spectacular andexciting, and to do it with very limited resources. I’ve done that, and I’ll show you how to do that, with examples from my work. (To see what I’m referring to when I refer to one of my projects, note that my videos are all available at http://www.hornbostelmedia.com. )

PLANNING

Here’s the thing. It’s not simple to make a good low-budget movie.

You can make a movie, with no plan, no script, no equipment, nothing but a used $90 camcorder, several friends, and imovie. But it’s pretty much guaranteed to be trash.

(Actually, even well-planned movies often end up as trash.  Mine included.)

If you want to make something good, it will take some time and commitment. And some of that time should be put “up front”, inplanning the whole thing. I have traditionally put way too much emphasis on postproduction, not enough on story. You’ll find that alot of my advice comes from personal experience – failures and mistakes as much as successes.

Anyway, why spend hours making something if the basic plan was severely flawed in the first place?

It may actually take more time without a plan, and will invariably turn out worse. Without a plan up front, you’ll have creativeproblems, financial problems, technical problems, etc, and you’ll find yourself dealing with them during the production.

Your plan may be divided into four categories, or may just be a script (for a simple project).

Four Categories: Script, Budget, Cast List, Schedule.

If you have limited resources it means you need to be more careful and efficient, not less.

And don’t tell me that “everything goes wrong, why have a plan at all”? I felt that way on the Troop 4 movies. They did not live upto the potential of the original scripts. I made sacrifices all over the place and found myself resenting the kids because they had no concern whatsoever for the quality of the movie. They didn’t believe in the project the way I did.

Unpredictability is huge on no-budget movies. Your unpaid actors will decide arbitrarily not to show up at the last minute. Locations aren’t on a soundstage, so weather and location owners will be problematic. You’ll have to make production compromises when you don’t have the money to do what you’d wanted to do.

But if you have a plan, that still is a good thing.

Just roll with the punches and know ahead of time that some things

will fall through. And always have a backup plan ready in case something goes wrong.

You need to start with some essential questions. How much time do I have? How much money do I have? What people are available to me?

Start there and design your movie in context of your existing resources. Don’t try to tackle too much at first, you will be discouraged. Don’t aim for something you can’t afford to do, logistically.

My first videos were almost all a minute or two in length, sometimes 20-30 seconds! You don’t need to start that small, but you shouldn’t tackle a full feature film on the first try, either.

An idea which has always served me well is to emphasize quality over quantity. If I can’t do a really fun 90-minute movie, I’ll do areally fun 15-minute short, instead of a slow, boring 90-minute movie which doesn’t have enough content or resources to justify the length.

Short videos are great fodder for internet distribution anyway.

There’s something to be said for doing a little project and showing it to friends, as a stepping stone to bigger projects. That first project can serve as a hook, that makes other people want to help with the next one you do.

I did my old videos without anyone else participating. Once I’d built a reputation, though, more and more people wanted to get involved.

Tips for planning efficiency:

-Know your resources and schedule around them. If you have a person who’s only in town briefly and you want them in the movie, make sure you shoot everything you need from them on the days they’re around.

“Send in the Clones 4” was nuts in this respect. I interviewed all cast members ahead of time so I’d know when they’d be available and when I should schedule the shoot days.

Also keep in mind that judicious editing can make the audience believe two people are in the same scene when their scenes were shot days apart. You just cut between them, back and forth, or do some compositing, like in the second Troop 4 video with Minhthien and Anthony.

-Keep in mind location shoots have the same issues. You may need to schedule around when a location is available to you. You may also want to shoot at times when there aren’t a lot of people around because crowds can ruin a location shoot. Most people aren’t up early in the morning right after the sun rises, so that may be a good time to go record a scene in a public place (if you can get your cast to wake up that early).

Renting equipment is an option, or buying it then reselling it.

That’s a great way to keep costs down, but only if you are only planning to use the equipment for that one project. 

If you reuse equipment you actually buy on project after project – camcorders, microphones, tripods, software, hardware, and the like, it keeps the per-project costs low.  This is something I do.  The lack of salaries and the savings caused by reusing assets are two key reasons I can, for instance, make an expensive-looking action flick for $550.

Borrowing stuff from friends is also a good thing to try.

-Label all your tapes so you know what’s on them. Store them all in one place so you won’t lose them. Similarly, all project files on your computer should be well-organized so that you can find them.

It’s all summed up in the boy scout motto.  “Be Prepared.”

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