“Before you can be a student’s master, you must first be a master student.” ~ unknown
The majority of those considering a career in creating movies have the aspiration of making a production so mind-boggling the world will provide a standing ovation and gasp because they’ve never seen anything quite like it. Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are only a couple who understand what this feeling provides. But they didn’t start off at the top of the food chain. Getting there is a ton of work. However the rewards are obviously worthwhile, and I’m not just talking about the money and status either. The feeling of touching so many people is beyond all that.
The first step, like learning to walk, is watching how others do it. Everyone gets that you can’t even stroll to your car without having a goal to get there. So make a goal to watch one short every day. Aside from determining if the film was decent, decide if the individual parts such as acting, sound fx, camera shots, etc. provided what each should have brought to the picture. Pick which ones you could do and if you’d want even want to and why or why not. Construct a database with Excel or even another program to visit each day and plot your statistics. Doing this will create information to help you make a better film starting off than some of these clowns do years later.
Here are some shorts you can even watch during your lunch! (This includes Martin Scorsese’s first film, “The Big Shave.”) And here are a few more shorts to watch and learn from for fun.
Read articles of other filmmakers and about other people’s views on the film. You’ll see the way other people dissect plots, effects, etc. and what sells them.
View at least three feature films a week. (You are, after all, committed to this!) Pay attention to the detailed aspects. Why were all the points included, was there a reason, or could parts be omitted and still hold shape? Perhaps you should watch again for something you may have missed.
SMART goals are probably not unfamiliar to you if you involve yourself in any business.
SPECIFIC – Set specific goals and stay away from “next week” or “tomorrow” if it’s a goal you set for today. Procrastinating is your first and deadliest downfall. Why do you want to do this, and how serious are you?
MEASURABLE – Making a short film is not measurable. Most shorts are between 2 and 10 minutes long, so you may want to keep this in mind. Plus, shorts are the best way to get experience in before jumping into dedicating your hard-working hours to a feature film and learning later you misunderstood a process. But use hard numbers and allow them to grow with experience and success.
ACHIEVABLE – Creating a terrific movie like Star Wars sure would be fun – if money and connections were not an object. Chances are expensive sets and CGI isn’t something you can work with just yet. Why pack up the snow gear for a great day of skiing when it’s mid-July? Prevent planning too far ahead by taking baby steps. Bill Murray is the pro on this if you’ve seen What about Bob? Some things to keep in mind when writing a short is to use up to three characters and keep your scenes limited with short distances between them. Use as many free spots and people as you can. Have your staff bring articles you may need if they have them rather than purchasing new and only make them if you can do it cheaper than buying.
RESULTS – You’ve probably heard that most writers use a personal experience and write the idea of the film around it. They say experience is the best teacher, and writers write what they know. Like making a cake, you can do it the hard way by getting all of the ingredients and spending a few hours making the best-darned cake anyone has ever had. Remember, we’re talking about cake, or researching and writing about a place you’ve never been, speaking a language you don’t understand, or trying to makes sense of cultural differences you can't comprehend. You can buy a completed cake from the bakery in a few short minutes. This action would be congruent with watching a film someone else has made or committing plagiarism, which is terrible with devastating consequences. Or you can buy a mix and add your special ingredients to the batter creating delicious work in less than an hour. The same goes for making a film using your life experiences and building on them to share with others who may enjoy and even learn a thing or two from you.
TIME – Be your boss by showing your level of responsibility. Set deadlines and stick to them because you have something at stake even greater than the possibility of being fired—you have the possibility of doing a lot of work and throwing it away for FREE! Out of all the things in life, time is one that’s nonrefundable for everyone.
With all of this information at your fingertips, if you have the dedication and the drive, you have what it takes to make your dream come true. I’m a single mom who completed my degree, built my website, and continue to study the art of making films. I thrive on learning and adapting new principles and values, pledging to use them on my projects because no one ever knows everything.