Independent Digital
Feature Production

Creating Digital Movies

Pre-Production

by Malcolm Ferrier - Director of STOP

Developing Ideas

STOP - A Film by Malcolm Ferrier The first step is coming up with an idea for your movie. Idea generation can be the most difficult part of the process or the easiest. You may know exactly what you want to film or you may only have a glimmer. Be sure to jot down any ideas that pop into your head while driving, showering, dreaming, kung fu fighting, etc. and every once in a while compile these ideas into a master idea list. Keep a journal to expand on these ideas. Some of these ideas may have to wait for Hollywood backing to be realized, but with some creativity and possibly some open source software a lot can be done on a limited (or non-existent) budget.

Another technique for idea generation is the following: As soon as you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed, write three freehand pages of whatever pops into your mind. Don't edit, just keep your hand moving. Eventually ideas will begin to appear upon which you can expand.

Synopsis

Once you've singled out an idea that you feel you're not only passionate about but believe is possible with your current resources, you can develop this into a synopsis. Write up a few pages in a word processor (Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, etc.) describing your story, characters, and plot elements. You may want to develop this alone or with your team, depending on your preferences.

Screenwriting

With your synopsis complete, you can begin to develop the screenplay. You can buy script formatting software for a few hundred dollars, or you can do what I did: Download Script Smart, a scriptwriting template for Microsoft Word from BBC here. This will save you some cash and produce the same results as the more expensive software (with a little more effort).

After youíve determined your scriptwriting method, you need to develop the dialogue. If you have the option, sit down with your actors and work through the scenes. If you donít, keep the dialogue flexible so that the actors can make their lines their own.

Keep in mind that as a rule of thumb if youíre using script formatting software, each page will equal approximately one minute of finished movie:

1 page = 1 minute of movie

Casting

Making a film is a huge endeavor, so working with people you like is crucial. The best thing you can do is find dependable friends and fit the characters to their personalities. This way they can be themselves and the acting challenges are simplified. By avoiding "acting" you also avoid bad acting. Also, if youíre filming on video, you can keep filming until you get the take you need because the costs are low. This means that your actors don't need to nail the scenes in one take. In some ways, filming a movie is like living the ideal life. You can choose the best take and forget the rest.

Shot Planning

I start the shot planning process by visualizing the scene in my head and writing down a list of the shots that make the scene happen. Iíd also storyboard key scenes that required more detail. The problem with this method is that during filming the camera would be moved between non-consecutive scenes that required the same camera setup. This meant that the same camera setup (focus, exposure, white balance) would have to be set up twice.

I solved this problem by creating an Access database application that would create a shot list that would order all of the same camera setups together in a report. This application would also list all the required props for a particular scene. You can download this application here, but keep in mind youíll need Microsoft Office with Access (and a little Access database experience would help).

Scheduling

Get a big calendar pad. Write down the scenes you want to film on the days you have available. Call your actors and find out if they can make it on these days. If not, reschedule. Repeat if necessary.

Props

X's Weapon X's Weapon Disassembled Be creative and cheap, but make sure the key props are believable. For STOP I was able to scrounge a lot of props that were passable when shooting on video, but for the antagonistís sniper rifle I ordered a replica from eBay. It made crucial action scenes more powerful.

All your base are belong to us Make sure you have a list of the props youíll need before heading out on location. When people are donating their time and continuity is difficult to maintain in the best of circumstances, having to come back to a location can be a real hassle.

Fighting

Fight Planning Video - Check out the continuity! The fight scenes in STOP were developed with the aid of Mike Rudd, a black belt Aikidoist who trained in Japan with Morihei Ueshiba's students. The movements were thought out with the aim of developing the characters and moving the story forward, rough video was shot of these movements, and then a short video of the fight was edited and sent to the actors.

Once on location, the actors had a rough idea of what the sequence should look like, and Mike was able to double for the actors in some of the more difficult sequences.

Production

Copyright © 2006 Malcolm Ferrier