8 Movie Production Tips Every New Indie Filmmaker Needs to Know

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Everyone has a good self-produced movie in them. 

The adage that everyone has a novel applies to film today since the internet and access to technology have bridged the gap. No longer do you have to wait to get an agent and pray some big-time producer picks up your movie. 

Several indie films have been shot with the iPhone. So what should you know about putting together your own movie?

Becoming an indie filmmaker is well within your grasp when you follow the tips below. 

1. Start With a Dynamite Script

screenplay scriptwriting software

A well-written script is a first and most important step in making a movie. If you don’t have a solid script, even the best film production in the world is rendered to damage control.

Take your time, learn about the three-act structure, and make sure that you stick the landing with your act breaks. Ensure you have an attention-grabbing inciting incident and “All is Lost” moment at the end of act two.

After you’ve familiarized yourself with the Hollywood Story Arc formula, you should dive deeper into the tricks that actually makes a script work. Check out the screenwriting section here on FilmDaft, which can take you from zero to hero as a screenwriter.

Get a free scriptwriting program, and start churning out some pages that you like. You can learn the basics of how to write screenplay format here.

If you don’t want to write a script yourself, you can purchase one from another screenwriter instead.

Put the same attention to detail into reading the script, as you would if you were to write it yourself.

Make sure that the writer has a grasp on a good story, and that you can easily begin visualizing scenes when you read their script. 

Is the script clear and engaging? Did it hold you in its grasp from start to finish? Then you probably have a winner.

Get another set of eyes on the script as well and exchange notes.

2. Bring a Producer Onboard

Seriously. 

Hiring an experienced producer will cut out so many of your woes rather than trying to do it all yourself. A quality producer will be worth their weight in gold for your production.

They wear many hats, and there’s no singular concrete definition of what a producer does, but think of them as a manager that puts it all together.

A producer can handle matters like working with the casting director to hire actors, securing filming locations, getting shoot permits, and keeping the production on-budget.

Look for someone with a resume of projects they’ve put together, and ask them about their expertise. 

3. Begin Creating Tangible Plans and Brainstorming

The thing about making a movie is that so many ideas float around in your head on any given day. This is a labor of love that you’ve probably been dreaming of for some time.

You can’t make progress with your movie unless you get the plans out of your head and onto a tangible format. Open Evernote or a Google Doc, take some audio notes on your cell phone, take a pen and paper, and start banging out some outlines and plans for what you need.

You can also start making a storyboard and sketch out your rough initial ideas.

The more brainstorming you do, the easier it’ll be for you to hit the ground running with your project, rather than lagging and suffering paralysis by analysis.

4. Set a Hard Budget Constraint for Your Production

You’ve got to take care of the dollars and cents issues of your indie film. Set a hard budget constraint, but research it in advance to make sure you can stick to it. 

Expect the cost of the production alone to take up at least 25% of your budget. You’ll also need to consider a marketing and distribution budget and a host of other points.

Consider bringing a finance professional on board to help you keep track of it all.

5. Choose Cameras and Lenses that match your vision

Here’s a great video on vintage Zeiss Contax lenses by Media Division

You must pull together the best production equipment that you need to make your movie come together.

Movies are a visual format, so look for cameras and lenses that match the visual style you want. Take your time to do some research online.

Often you can find old vintage lenses dirt cheap that might match the visual aesthetics you had imagined. Popular choices are old stills lenses such as Canon FDs, Helios, and Zeiss Contax, modified with cinema gears and new mounts. They are also popular as prime taking lenses for anamorphic looks.

Here’s a great video on vintage Canon FD lenses by Media Division

Consider whether you’d like to purchase or rent any equipment from a place like LensRentals.com for your movie project, and assess what you already have access to and can borrow from friends.

6. Hire a sound guy

Get a sound guy (or gal)! Having professional sound quality is essential in any movie project.

Bad sound quality is actually one of the major reasons why some short films aren’t picked up by any film festival.

The sound is what really puts it all together, and upholds the quality of your movie when matched with a high-quality picture. 

7. Develop Grit, Patience, and Flexibility

Here’s a inspirational montage from an old cult classic to remind you to be patient, flexible, and develop grit! 😉 If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. It’s great fun to see Jean-Claude Van Damme in one of his earliest roles.

Bear in mind that taking a movie from start to finish is a marathon, so stay patient and consistent. You will need to develop and exhibit grit, patience, and flexibility while staying open to learning.

Start small, do a couple of short films (or ten!) before taking on your first feature. Creating short films are a great way to get your hands dirty and learn the basics of filmmaking. And you’ll begin to discover your strengths and weaknesses.

There is a lot of trial and error involved with putting a movie together, so make sure that you’re mentally up for the task.

8. Put Together a Reliable Crew That Does it All

Finally, the crew is the heartbeat of your movie. They’re responsible for everything from setting things up, feeding your actors, and pushing the production along.

A film set is like a small community, where everyone has a role to play. Every role is important, so people should be able to work together in a friendly environment. You can read about all the different roles on a film set in this handy guide.

Choose experienced people, but the most important attribute is a “can do” attitude and the willingness to get things done. Take your time when assembling this crew, and you will be better able to get a quality project at the end of it.  

Use These Indie Filmmaker Tips 

Several of your favorites in Hollywood have found value in these indie filmmaker tips.

Whether filmmaking is your dream career, or you’re just trying to make a movie on the side, you can use this article as a launching point so you can hit the ground running.

If you want to learn from legends in the movie industry, check out some of the courses on Masterclass, where you can learn from Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and more.


About the author:

Jan Sørup is a videographer and photographer from Denmark. He’s the owner of filmdaft.com and of the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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