5 Tips From A Virgin Filmmaker’s 1st Time - Raindance

I recently had the opportunity, thanks to Raindance, to go into production on my short film “Wake Up”. I’ve written a number of spec scripts, both short and feature-length, however this stands as my first produced screenplay.

What was also new to me was that I found myself standing in the director’s shoes as well.

The ride was exciting and challenging, sometimes awkward and frustrating, sometimes exhilarating and positively validating – all one’d expect a first time to be when one doesn’t really know what to expect at all! So for anyone out there about to embark upon a similar journey or wishing to, here are 5 things I can share from my experience that may help you…

On the set of “Wake Up” - Danielle Oke with Katie Goldfinch and Damian Nowicki in background (Photo: Ernesto Tapia Vélez)

On the set of “Wake Up” – Danielle Oke with Katie Goldfinch and Damian Nowicki in background (Photo: Ernesto Tapia Vélez)

1. Team – Cast & Crew

It’s team effort that makes a film and the importance of having a great team around you cannot be underestimated. This rings true for any production, but when you have a tight deadline and a low budget, it makes its presence known in leaps and bounds. Having people you can trust, that band together for the common vision, that are exceptional at their job and own reliable equipment (even if it’s not fancy schmancy), that have a sense of humour, is priceless!

2. Casting

It sounds obvious, but I want to stress here the value of getting the right actors for the roles. Once again, this is important for any production, but when time is tight you need to know that you have an actor who can just flick the switch and find that part of them that already is the character, because it’s this actor who can go in there and nail the takes one after the other, time and time again. In relation to the time constraints on our production, we just wouldn’t have completed our shoot if we didn’t have this. Auditions are where this should make itself apparent, so hold those auditions!


3. Coverage and CU’s

It’s imperative to get every line in your film shot, otherwise you’ll need an editing genie to grant your unfinished film a story without holes. Next on your list of prominence is to make sure you have a number of cut-ins and close-ups to play around with. Getting that balance of shots right can be tricky when time is ticking away, but it’s something you can only fully judge when you’re on set. Understanding the importance of having a great cast and crew will shine through here. As well as the next pointer…

4. Preparation and Adaptability

My eyes were pried wide open by how much preparation needs to happen before one steps foot on location.

If you prepare as much as you can beforehand, it definitely makes the ride a much smoother one. It’s also important however to bring the skill of adaptability with you so you are able to move forward with filming even though the unexpected has arisen.

On our set we were aware that drilling noise may be an issue, but we didn’t expect it to sound as if they were coming through the wall, and that’s what we were faced with the morning of our second day of shooting. We set up as usual and proceeded to shoot all the cut-ins and close ups that didn’t require sound. This is a simple example, but the important thing is always to lose as little time as possible, if any at all. If you are prepared and can adapt to unforeseen or troubling circumstances, you are well on your way to being a filmmaker extraordinaire!

External shoot for “Wake Up” - Alice Jones, Katie Goldfinch and Danielle Oke (Photo: Ernesto Tapia Vélez)

External shoot for “Wake Up” – Alice Jones, Katie Goldfinch and Danielle Oke (Photo: Ernesto Tapia Vélez)

5. Space

This one is for anyone who has held back on production because of space issues -it’s surprising just how much you can do in a small space.

It goes without saying that for some shots size is an issue, and some spaces are just not suitable for what you may need to create. But for those of you who always seem to be saying I can’t do this or that because I don’t have the space, perhaps it’s time to reconsider your priorities and define your core goals.

We nearly lost our shoot location because filming was delayed and a new stage set had been built in place of where we were going to film. We chose to make another section of the space work for us instead, shooting most of our film on a 1 x 3m partially raised stage. Sometimes you can end up holding yourself back indefinitely because of space issues. Perhaps you need to raise your limits and allow yourself to be more imaginative with what you’ve got in order to take that all important step in the right direction. Sometimes it’s a case of allowing yourself to move forward, so bigger and better things can happen from there!WakeUponset_2

What would I do differently next time?

In the case of this production, as crazy as it sounds, a rehearsal time never happened with our lead actor. Based on our discussions about character and story and what I saw in auditions, I chose to take a chance and rely on the confidence of Katie’s performance and portrayal, instead of pushing production back further than we already had to. As fortunate as we were to have great actors on board, I believe rehearsal time is so important in giving the whole production that extra edge when stepping on set, so I would definitely have rehearsal time next time!

Special thanks

A heartfelt and humble thank you to the amazing cast and crew who each put their heart and soul into making this film possible: Katie Goldfinch (playing Esna); Richard Dee-Roberts (playing Mellem); Sammy Foster (playing the Light) & Sally Foster; Katy Slater (playing Esna’s mother); Ernesto Tapia Vélez (DoP); Tony Errico (Sound); Chiman Rahimi (1st AD); Alice Jones (Make up & hair); Beatriz Blanco (Assistant to DoP); Damian Nowicki (Runner); Lina Skaisgiryte (Runner). With special thanks to Gareth Potts and the Leicester Square Theatre team for the awesome venue. And extra special thanks to Elliot Grove for believing in me and the project and lending the time and skills of the multitalented Raindance team, including Rory O’Donnell (Casting Director/V.O.) and Mirella Matrai and Elisar Cabrera (V.O.).

Have you just lost your filmic virginity? Have any thoughts/lessons you’d like to share? Please enter them into the comments box below.




Danielle ‘DMo’ Oke is an Australian born artist and writer creating in film, art, music, and other creative streams. She is a produced scriptwriter and writer/director, and has also undertaken roles as producer, development writer, researcher, concept creator and editor. Her painting and video art has been exhibited internationally. She also writes and records as part of the music experiment project Cityless. Her creative studio is The Art Playground aka TAP.

To discover more about her work across platforms, visit www.tapdmo.com or follow TAP/DMo on twitter https://twitter.com/tapdmo

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