Every filmmaker has to start somewhere. If you have a lot of creative ambitions you will soon realise that it’s very hard to achieve what you want by yourself. And so you will start involving other people in your projects. You will build you own crew, put together a team out of so many different individuals and make others believe in your vision and understand it. It will probably be low budget or no budget at first, you will have to involve your friends to participate, ask around for help from everybody you know…. And if you are doing it for the first time, here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Believe in your creative vision
Something has pushed you towards your idea. There is a reason you are making it into a film and there is a strong creative force that is guiding you through the process. Trust it. Allow yourself to be passionate and share your passion with others. It’s your film, your project and you are calling the shots! It could go in any possible direction, but you are choosing its shape. Sometimes you will feel that it’s the idea that’s guiding you, so trust it – allow it to grow and make strong creative decisions. If you don’t trust your own vision – why should your crew trust you?
2. Trust your team
In order to make your crew and cast trust your directing decisions, you have to trust them first. Trust that they will do a good job and show that you rely on them, meet your colleagues 1 to 1 to explain the value of the their role for the film, show that you are expecting them to carry out their tasks with creative freedom and responsibility of meeting deadlines. And share your thoughts and inspirations with your colleagues – it’s important for them to know why you are making this film.
3. Build the connection with your cast
Your actors are the soul of your film. They will bring it to life and it’s through them that you will channel your creative ideas and connect with the audience. But first you have to establish the connection with your actors yourself. Everybody has their own way of doing it and you will find yours eventually. When you don’t know where to start – ask yourself if there is a mutual understanding between you and your actors. Do you trust them to deliver their roles? Do they trust you? Do they believe in the project? Can you connect with them? It’s extremely hard to motivate somebody who doesn’t trust your vision. And you can gain their trust by showing your commitment to the project, explaining why you chose them for the part, discussing your personal attachment to the characters. Being responsible, organised and respectful also reassures actors that they are on the right project. This is extremely important for an unpaid cast.
4. Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to show your need for help or support – people will contribute when they know that you rely on them and their actions are valued and important. Make sure that everybody feels safe to express their opinions and ideas and ask others for feedback and advice. Never show that you doubt somebody else’s ideas or decisions and don’t be judgmental. It’s important to create a safe space for everybody to work in, so schedule in extra meetings, trainings and even personal time together in order to achieve a better result.
5. Allow the doubt
Doubt can be helpful. It allows you to improve more than confidence does. It allows you to create the space for changes and improvement. Of course, it’s important to make strong creative decisions and stay by them. But allowing just the right amount of doubt is crucial if you want to keep on building your idea and improving. Don’t be stubborn and fixated on achieving a certain point – you might not notice something spontaneous and magical that appears in the process.
6. Practice the art of listening
Listening is probably the key to everything, but especially to filmmaking, since it’s a very collaborative process that depends on mutual understanding. Take your time to REALLY listen to others, to hear their ideas, suggestions and concerns. It shows that you care and respect others, that you want to build a team rather than make your film. People will listen to you if you listen to them. Listening also means being attentive on set and watching your colleagues as they work: sometimes your teammate might not vocalise their concerns, but if you make sure to check on them you can avoid misunderstandings.
7. Pay attention to little things
If it’s a low-budget or unpaid production, you are probably surrounded by people who truly believe in your project and they genuinely enjoy being part of it. Being nice to people who invest their time and energy in your passion project is crucial, and you can do so many little things to show your team that you appreciate their help. Choose your food carefully, ask if anybody has preferences or allergies and make a good effort for your team – food can really be a dealbreaker for unpaid productions. Bring blankets and hot drinks for the shoots outdoors – it will ALWAYS get cold especially for the cast who often have no choice of a warmer costume. If there is a setback in the production, something that always saves the situations is a tasty cookie break!
8. Deal with it
The way you deal with issues on set changes the atmosphere of the entire shoot. Technical difficulties, medical emergencies, weather conditions, creative disagreements, tiredness on set – all of this will most likely happen to you and the only thing that is relevant – your attitude and the way you deal with it. Even the slightest issue can turn into a disaster if you overreact and show your irritation, but with a calm and structured approach everything can be solved.
9. Prepare for the worst
Get ready for rain, wind, road closures, noise, technical difficulties, emergencies, unpredictable inconveniences, etc. You can never be fully ready for everything, but you can try. If you shoot on location, always go for a location recce before the shoot. And if you can – go there with crew, show it to your cast. Not doing a recce beforehand causes many difficulties during filming – it can be time consuming, tiring and (especially if it’s outdoors) uncomfortable for the entire team. It’s very unfair for the actors as the technical difficulties might be frustrating and distracting – there is suddenly no safe space to talk to your cast as it’s all about getting a good shot in these impossible conditions.
10. Have a backup plan
When something goes wrong on set – all the heads will be turned to you. What do we do now? You probably have no idea. But you are the one who has to make a decision – so have a backup plan, always. Be that person who is innovative and can make quick decisions when put on the spot. And keep up a good attitude, in most cases that’s what matters the most.
11. Find your own way to say thank you
Do you realise what you’ve just done? You’ve gathered around yourself creative individuals who all believe in your project. They were here for you and they made it possible. They invested their precious time only to make your film a reality. They are your film. And you can never thank them enough. But you should thank them as much as possible. Don’t forget to say it and really mean it. Throw a party or a small gathering to celebrate the end of the project. Go for a meal together. Bake a cake. Have a big thank you speech. Write thank you cards. Post an emotional Facebook post. Tell your team how much their efforts mean to you. Show your appreciation. You’d be surprised how much it means to others.
And when you lose your balance there are two things that can help you regain your strength:
Stay true: to yourself, to others, to your vision, to your idea and everything that you believe in.
Trust: yourself that you can make it, but also – your collaborators, cast and crew. Only when you fully believe in them you can achieve the best results together.
And everything else – will fall into place by itself.