The New World of Moviemaking The Buzz


Lights... camera... action! Have you been secretly thinking about making a movie? Maybe it's time to get serious. Insiders say it's a great time to get involved in the world of independent filmmaking.

With recent advances in technology, it's become a lot easier to film, edit and release a movie yourself.

"There's probably never been a better time for a young person to explore filmmaking possibilities," says Jim Cliffe. He's an award-winning filmmaker. "The technological advancements in recent years have made filmmaking far more attainable than it was 10 to 20 years ago."

Brian Clement is also a filmmaker. He agrees that technological changes have made it easier to make indie films.

"I would say yes, definitely," he says. "The costs have decreased considerably, even in the few years I've been using a computer editing system. For the price of a used car now, someone can find themselves with a decent set of gear to craft a fairly polished end product.

"The access to the technology has also made clear the need for attention to detail at improving the creative end of filmmaking, which is ultimately more important than the tools used to create a piece of work."

Sarah Fisher, a film director, points out that while new technological advances have made filmmaking easier and less expensive, it's still not cheap.

"There's become a democratization of film," she says. "It's become easier to shoot your film with a professional quality camera -- a three-chip MiniDV -- at a very low price. There's no need to shoot on film if you own a 24p camera, which makes video look like film.

"However, film is still the most expensive artistic medium. You can't finish a film to be shown in theaters, even if you shot on video, without spending thousands of dollars. Post-production costs all add up -- music rights, sound mixing, color correction, film transfers... Filmmaking will never be cheap."

But despite this, Fisher absolutely loves making films. She sees it as an important part of culture today and encourages youth to get involved.

"Youth who have a passion for storytelling will find indie filmmaking very rewarding," she says.

"It's a rich experience to make stories that are begging to be told. Working outside the corporate system is a brave path that ultimately serves the larger community. People appreciate someone who has the guts to tell a story that no one else has told."

So maybe it's time to get out there and get started! And according to Cliffe, you don't need too much to start making movies.

"A cheap miniDV camera, editing software, a script, willing cast and crew is a great start," he says.

"The basic filmmaker package would be a camera, tripod, boom microphone and a simple lighting package," says Doug Sakmann. Sakmann is an independent filmmaker who cut his teeth in the film industry working for B-movie legends Troma Entertainment.

Sakmann says the costs of filmmaking materials have gone down a lot in the past decade or so.

"Ten or 15 years ago, if you wanted to make a movie the only way to do it would be with an actual film camera," he says. "And with film costs and processing costs it would be a long, expensive process that most people could never afford to do.

"With new technology, you can literally buy a camera and shoot and edit a film for the price of buying and processing a canister of film. The quality of the film would be questionable, but you could do it. With all the advances, now anyone who is willing to put the time and energy into a movie can make one."

The software available today -- for relatively inexpensive prices -- is getting rave reviews from indie filmmakers.

"It's put the power of filmmaking in the hands of the average consumer," says Sakmann.

"Most computers even come with built-in editing software. While I would recommend getting a more robust editing program...especially for bigger projects, you could edit on the built-in software to see if filmmaking is really right for you, before you go out and drop loads of cash on things you may never end up using."

Clement agrees that the basics will do just fine. "Really, for a do-it-yourself approach, any kind of camera will do," he says.

"I always recommend to people that just getting their hands dirty by experimenting and learning by doing is a great way to find their own style. These days a basic computer editing program isn't too hard to find that can capture footage and allow the user to edit it on a timeline -- I find this essential."

Equipment is obviously a big part of making a movie. But Cliffe adds that it's important not to forget about the people who help make a film happen.

"If you're a little more ambitious in your filmmaking goals and you're hoping to create quality work and get noticed, then you may want to get the assistance of others who already have some experience and skills to offer," he says.

"Volunteer on their films and maybe they'll help you out in return. Networking is essential."

And it's not just behind the camera where you'll need the help of other people -- it's also in front of the camera. Having the right equipment is an important part of making a good movie, but it's the actors who really make things happen.

"There are also a lot of unknown, talented actors who want to get some experience as well, so hold auditions rather than casting your friends," says Cliffe.

"Just don't delude anyone with promises of a successful film when encouraging their involvement. Be honest and reasonable when discussing your film's potential. Plan your shots well ahead, considering logistics and so forth."

To Clement, the material matters less than the mindset. He stresses that aspiring filmmakers need to just get out there and start creating. They should worry less about the equipment and more about the experience.

"Unfortunately, a lot of would-be filmmakers find themselves trapped in an ideological mindset of refusing to work with anything less than true film equipment, or top-of-the-line editing systems and video machines," he says.

"This is bananas. The first steps in filmmaking don't need to be done on perfect equipment; they just need to be done. It's the experience of organizing shoots and directing scenes that will matter in the creative sense."

All of the filmmakers agree on one thing. Despite it being easier to make an indie film with modern technology, this is still not a field to go to if you're just looking to make a quick buck.

"I would not recommend anyone get into indie film as a career unless they are serious about making movies and believe in what they are doing," says Sakmann. "If they are just looking to make money, forget it.

"They have to be willing to work long hard days for little to no compensation other than the fact that they will get to see their project come to fruition. Money will come if you are good at what you do, and to get good you have to practice and get experience. It took me about seven years to get where I am now, and even now I am still pretty broke."

Cliffe agrees that it takes more than just the right equipment to become a filmmaker.

"I think those who are creative, ambitious, and also have a thick skin to deal with rejection and criticism will do much better," he says.

"Even the most famous filmmakers, who seem to have had overnight success, have very likely paid their filmmaking dues much longer than we're aware of, with plenty of discouragement along the way. Not everyone likes the same movies you do, so it's only natural that there will be those who don't like your work.

"But if someone truly has the passion, talent, patience, integrity and the ability to take criticism to heart, then they're already ahead of the masses."

The filmmakers also agree on something else. To be an indie filmmaker, you need to have a very strong urge to get your story out there.

"This is a medium only for those who have a burning desire to get their stories told by any means necessary," says Fisher. "It requires constant resilience and an extremely high threshold for rejection. Most people say aggressiveness is necessary for this field -- I tend to believe that aggressiveness only backfires.

"There are too many down-and-dirty personality types in Hollywood. Keeping your head on your shoulders and not giving into pressure doesn't require aggression. It just requires standing up for yourself over and over, while having enough confidence to walk into the unknown."

Links

How to Make a Movie
The basics, step by step

Top 13 Sites for Independent Filmmakers
Find out where to get some good info