How to Start Making a Feature Film

This blog isn’t about the technicalities involving filmmaking, but rather about how to avoid procrastinating to start working on what might be one of your largest goals.

So you want to make a feature film. There are countless blogs and books about filmmaking that teach you how to make a feature film and guide you through the long and complicated process. If you’ve already read a ton of these, plus you have a shelf full of books on the topic of filmmaking and still haven’t made a feature film yet, then the problem is not a lack of knowledge. If in addition to that you have a degree in filmmaking but still haven’t taken action, then I don’t know what to tell you. The problem is definitely not a lack of training or amount of research you’ve done. The issue is rather that you haven’t made up your mind yet.

This is also the case for starting any other project. If you’ve spent a lot of time reading about a topic, researching, and brooding about starting something new, but haven’t really kicked off the process, it’s usually because you aren’t in it a hundred percent yet. Some things might still be holding you back, or intimidating you, such as setting yourself too high of a goal or standard, or being to perfectionistic. In which case, you have to reassess your goal and put things into perspective. Winning an Oscar – maybe yes? But perhaps not with your first feature film. So why not put this goal aside for a later time, or realize that this is not a useful goal, strike it from your goal list once and for all, and just start making your first crappy feature film?

Let’s assume that you’ve made up your mind to get started. The next crucial thing is to realize is the fact that the journey is going to be messy. There is no single formula for making a great feature film. Even the big players produce films that flop and don’t make a profit. This is your first feature film. Don’t make it with the expectation that it will get into any festival, get distributed, or make any money. Of course, you ultimately want to produce or direct a film that is successful in these ways without pressuring yourself to such an extent that it becomes counterproductive. Doing this will easily demotivate you, as you will always feel like you’re falling short. Instead, in the beginning, make it your goal to simply complete a feature film while staying sane and not going into debt. After finishing your first feature film, you will have time to scrutinize all the things you’ve done wrong, in order to make a better film on your second attempt. Carefully ration your energy because it is going to be a long journey.

A Project Plan is a must when making a feature film or working on any other complex project. This will help you to stay on track. The more money and resources are involved in it, the more detailed it should be. The very basic components of a project plan that you need to work out are how much it will cost when the major milestones will be completed, and who will execute it. Even if you hate planning, this is the bare minimum that you need to get straight in the beginning. The budget, timing, and people working on it are some of the most important factors that will affect how your film will take shape.

If I were to pick the most important decision in the initial process of making a feature, it would be to choose the right people to work with. Whatever product or service you are trying to make, it is the people working on it that will turn the idea into reality. The best tools, equipment, and ideas will go to waste in the hands of the wrong people. This is why you need the best A-team you can possibly afford or have access to at the moment. If you’ve assembled a team, but feel that the project is not rolling, then something is wrong. You’ve either picked the wrong people to work with, or you’ve not met their expectations in terms of setting the project goal, the way you collaborate, or sometimes even what everyone is getting paid.

As the initiator of a project, you don’t need to wait to become skilled in all aspects of the project in order to start. In fact, if you try to become an expert in everything, you will never start. When I decided to make my first feature film, I was only equipped with a background in acting, some theatre experience during my childhood, and a short film I produced. I did have an idea about what kind of film I wanted to make. However, I didn’t attend film school or any filmmaking courses. I never worked as crew on a film set. I didn’t have specific scriptwriting skills and I didn’t know how to operate a camera other than using my smartphone to snap pictures of food and landscapes. So on paper, the prospect of myself making a feature film looked grim. But I teamed up with a first time Producer who knew something about camera work and had a background in the Arts. And I also got an award-winning Film Director on board who was skilled in filmmaking and was extremely keen on making his debut as a feature film director. This was the core team. A team with the right mindset and a common goal.

Once you’ve got these basics in place, you are ready to go. Don’t let the things you do not understand yet hold you back. You shouldn’t be ignorant about the process, but you need to trust that the question marks that you still have in the beginning will be resolved along the way. And most importantly, don’t let your tendency towards perfectionism mess with your determination to get your first feature film made. Power through the process, be ready to tweak and turn until you finish your project. It is only by experiencing the whole process, facing the reality of doing it rather than merely reading, studying it, or watching other people do it, that you will be able to succeed at it.

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