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3 lessons on how to shoot a no-budget feature film

Written by Clarke Scott

Plus three reasons why you should be shooting your own indie feature.

If you’re something like me, working in the business world of shooting stills and motion for customers and brands, but what you really strive for is something bigger then read on. I’m going to show you some lessons I learned from writing, directing, and making a no-budget feature film.

Like many others, my first step into narrative filmmaking was a short film. But I wanted my short film to be somehow different. So I decided to make it a hybrid doc / fiction narrative. I made the short film over the course of about six hours in a day. I used a friend’s apartment and my surroundings, and because we walked so easily, we didn’t need a permit. It was a great experience.

But nothing really came from this short film. I haven’t learned anything that I didn’t know before. No business or commercial work anymore. No new projects or ideas. But I knew I wanted more and something bigger.

While continuing to do corporate work for the next several years, I wrote a feature script and bought it. I took it to a midsize producer in LA who read it and made some notes for me. I rewritten the entire script based on the notes and sent it back – but got crickets!

At that point, 12 months had passed, and I was no further on the way to making a feature film than when I had finished the short two years earlier.

But then I came across the work of the Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Ceylan inspired me like no other filmmaker because he was outside of the so-called “industry” and started his own career by starting a short film with no budget and then a micro-budget while working as a commercial photographer for small businesses in Istanbul.

From his first three self-financed feature films to a Palme d’Or in 17 years, I found his journey extremely inspiring. But I got itchy! And I got tired of waiting for someone to give me permission, and as we all know, time can’t be got back. In the end I said, “The hell with it! I’ll write, direct, edit, direct and produce something myself, just like Ceylan and the outsiders of the past did!” And I did.

Here are three lessons I learned from this experience.

1. Write the script as a visual story

Ceylan’s early films had little dialogue, but I found the quality of the slow narrative extremely compelling. Like Tarkovsky before him, Ceylan used his visual storytelling skills to grab your attention. To take you into the lives of others and let them watch as if you were a silent witness standing in the corner of the room. He did this with camera positioning and intelligent camera movement.

This is an important lesson to include in my feature because I knew it would help me guide the narrative without relying too much on the actors. It helped me a lot to be able to control the story with camera movements.

2. Hire actors to get involved in the project

Of course, you want to find the best actors you can find. One thing to consider when auditing people for the roles is their commitment to the project.

I’m not saying bad action will be enough. I say test people’s engagement when you meet them. If you get off halfway, you’re done! So you’d better find out beforehand.

3. Find opportunities to showcase your skills in multiple domains

Make sure your movie has different skills. Writing, directing, editing, and recording can all be presented in a smart way to show people that you know what you are doing. However, sometimes this only becomes apparent after the film is completed.

Here is an email I received from one of the actors after they first saw the film.

“First of all, you’re pretty talented, Clarke. What a beautiful piece of art you made. From the composition to the play of light to the selection of black and white with the basic colors between music, your eye for beauty, I loved playing with exposure and the emotional and real feeling that came from it. I love the opening. The way the taxi door’s closing door at the beginning led us to the next scene. Your words / message in voice over. Really, really overwhelmingly impressed. ”

I didn’t add this to operate my own horn. I did this to highlight and realize this truth through an example: No matter how well you express it, the people on the set cannot see your vision. You just don’t see what you see. Therefore, as a filmmaker, there are other ways you need to build trust with others.

It’s hard work, but here are three reasons why you should be shooting your own indie feature.

1. You are taken seriously as a filmmaker

One of the best things about filming an indie feature is that it opens doors. You get noticed because it takes a lot of effort, perseverance, determination, trust, and skill to get a feature-length project to completion. This quality alone will make the producers sit up and at least listen. It also allowed me to improve my commercial work.

2. You will learn to be your own producer

You learn very quickly that nobody cares about the project more than you, and the only person who makes it happen is you!

Self-reliance is a very attractive trait for producers and brands as it expresses your passion and says a lot about you as a person when it is added to a resume.

3. You will get a unique experience like no other

Anyone can make a short film. It’s not that difficult. Not everyone can include a feature. It takes resilience, determination, and persistence on the next level. From pre-pro to production to post, getting a feature to the finish line is an incomparable experience. And there are things you learn along the way that you can’t do on any other project.

Suffice it to say that the decision not to wait for the cavalry, as Mark Duplass once said, was the best decision I have ever made in my career. I still have a long way to go, and while you’ve probably never heard of me, I can tell you that the benefits to be gained from this experience are amazing!

Bonus: Why you should make a feature film

I conclude with a bonus video for you that expands the idea of ​​why you should be making a feature film in greater detail.

Do you have any tips for making a feature film? Share them with the community below.

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