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How to Make a Feature Film From Scratch: Part 2

How to Make a Feature Film From Scratch: Part 2

A close up image of a film camera being held by a cameraman

Here’s the final installment of How To Make A Feature Film From Scratch. Read PART 1 here.

After yourself and your DOP, your Editor is the most important person in the whole production, because he’s the person who is going to save your life! He is the person who actually has the knowledge of how to turn your overrun, manic, stress-filled, undershot, over shot, piece of brilliance into something that will make you confident enough to try and get on the phone to Hollywood.

This is the best tip I’m going to give you, begrudgingly. There are hundreds of Editors who work full time in TV cutting long form (1-hour programmes) week in week out, their brains have become like clay. They have all been through hell with untalented Series Producers and Oxford Graduate Execs telling them what to bloody do. They are sick of it and they are all really talented compared to you. They know how to hit a deadline, they genuinely know what ratio to ingest all your material, and more importantly, they know how to edit and structure a long film so it entertains.

Unless you absolutely have to, DO NOT USE editors who cut short films, or corporate videos!! This is a golden rule unless you have absolutely no option. Because after twenty minutes on the timeline they’ll be f**ked, and 40 – 45 minutes in the timeline they’ll have their heads in their hands and they’ll be walking out making excuses as long as the Queen’s speech. A good, long-form TV Editor will jump at the chance to make a feature film because no one in TV is ever going to give him or her that chance! But you are!

So, once you have your partners in crime, start to double up. Look for the best DOP and 1st AD, start scouring Spotlight for actors or whatever avenues you wish to pursue. But my best tip for finding actors? And I’ll tell you this reluctantly, ‘fringe theatre’! Some of the best actors I have ever seen are performing at the top of pubs, or in small fringe theatres. Think about it? They have to pull off a performance with strangers sitting a few feet from their face.

Two of the best actors I ever hired were in a fringe play in the basement of a pub in Fulham. They blew me away when I saw them with about six other people watching one evening, and not only did they perform amazingly for me on camera, one went on to star in the feature film, Billy Elliot and the other to star in a Ridley Scott film; all from one fringe play.

So, right now I am guessing you’re thinking about money and funding? Well, there isn’t any and let me tell you now, no BFI or Creative England is ever going to give you a penny, EVER! And the reason for that, I’ll save for another day, it’s a lot of political bulls**t that can get you in a lot of trouble if you ever tell the truth.

So, you work, as does your producer or co-producer, and because you believe in this feature so much, you’re going to spend what it takes from your own money and from your producer’s money to cover the expenses. And by expenses I mean travel costs, food, camera hire, although the right DOP will have his own lights and contacts. I once worked with a cameraman who carried his own make-up. It was funny to see him dabbing someone’s forehead, but there you are!

All of these can be hired or bought at minimal cost if you’ve been smart enough to write a script that doesn’t need an exorbitant amount of costs, which was one of the golden rules. Also, and this is important. If you are really serious about this feature film being worthy of being screened somewhere, you need to be insured! You can go ahead without any insurance and I will leave that to you. But I have never made a short or a feature without insurance…but that is your decision to weigh up if a light falls on someone’s head.

Ok, you’ve got your script, locations, the crew is coming together and so is the cast, what next? Ok, this is so important I can’t emphasise it enough. You need to work out a very accurate time schedule of each scene. And to give you a guide, you’re a bunch of amateurs, so this is going to take longer than normal.

My guidelines are about half an hour to fifty minutes a shot, and if you are brave enough to shoot on film, maybe an hour and a half with lighting. But, this is a guerrilla film I hear you say, and yes it is, but boy can I tell you when the lighting on the wall behind your actor is flat or dull or has shadows, you’re throwing your money down the drain. Pure suicide! You need to have the ambition to make your film look like a film.

And before you start throwing, Tangerine at me, the recent feature film shot on an iPhone, f**k off and do your research. They had a viewfinder and lens attachment on that phone, plus a professional soundman with a boom and mics picking up crystal clear audio and that’s not forgetting they were filming is Los Angeles with the best sun and daylight in the world for making movies. So, if you can afford to go and film in Los Angeles, go and do so.

Also, have you seen the actors in Tangerine? They’re superb. So, don’t get sucked into the digital hype: we’re shooting on the latest 5D, we’re shooting on the iPhone, we’re shooting on the….save your f**king breath; a brilliant script my friend, followed by brilliant actors and brilliant Direction is what it’s all about. Story is king! 5D my f**king arse! You go and try pulling focus on it?

The final thing you need in this equation is luck. Without luck, you’re not getting anywhere and that’s a hard commodity to purchase. But a lot of it comes with the mindset: your film is going to succeed, you will see it through come hell or high water, you won’t listen to anybody who tells you that you CAN’T do it, or uses the word ‘can’t’ in their conversation. Avoid these people like the plague, along with all the short filmmaker groups who sit around in bars fantasising over their bottles of Peroni.

Feature filmmaking is only for the brave, the reckless, the foolhardy, the people who are craziest enough to believe in themselves! Because if you believe in yourself, you REALLY, REALLY believe in yourself – trust me – you can go all the way!

The author of this article made his first feature film for £30,000, won three international film festivals and attracted the attention of Warner Bros and Film 4. Watch the trailer at Razor Films

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