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Top 10 Invaluable Tips for First-Time Filmmakers- (Film Student Edition)

and more pointers before you shoot your first student film

Hello fresh blood! New talent! Full of life. Full of energy. Potential. Full of amazing, new, crazy, path breaking ideas. Welcome. Welcome to this insane, trying, testing and beautiful world of filmmaking where, if you actually love the craft, merely imagining a scene in your head will give you a sense of fulfillment. You are in film school! You did it! Look around you. You are now surrounded by people who share the same passion as you and are not confused by your fixation with films and/or doubt your job security. It is an exclusive style of high! So smoke it up cautiously. Too much, and you could over doze. Here are a few pointers that will keep it a happy high for your first ever student film-

1. MOST COMMON LIE EVERY BRAND NEW FILM STUDENT TELLS HIM/HERSELF, “I DON'T NEED TO WRITE IT DOWN” - We have all been there. You just see the film so clearly in your head. The shots, your dialogues, camera movements, the lighting, everything! You even have the prop colours down to the minutest detail…so why do you need to write it down? You either feel you can’t possibly translate whatever you are imagining into a formatted document with words or that you are just plain lazy/arrogant (YES!) to let a piece of paper guide you in shoot when you would yourself have to write out that paper. Believe me. We have all been there. But the first GOSPEL TRUTH of FILMMAKING is WRITE YOU SHIT DOWN and write it in the correct format or filmmaking is going to hand your ass to you only when your film has been exported and a 100 people are sitting to watch your first ever translation of passion in to something actually substantial. Don’t write and you will only end up making embarrassing and expensive mistakes. There is nothing you will regret more than not writing your screenplay, your shooting script, your shot division. BUT HERE IS THE UP SIDE - No matter how clear you think you are about your film in your head, the moment you sit to write it down, not only would it become more clear, you will actually find all the flaws and would be able to improve your vision and carve it all out with finesse. SO NO MATTER WHAT YOUR AWESOME BRAIN TELLS YOU, SUCK IT UP AND WRITE IT DOWN.

2. DON'T UNDERESTIMATE DEPARTMENTS - Your college will provide you with a crew of fellow students to form different departments and fulfil different roles to get you all the help you need to execute your first film as easily as possible. Do not underestimate their presence and do not let them take it lightly either. Believe me, there would be people who would consider it menial. Lead them. Dont command them. Tell your CAD to keep a stock of glucose around and tell your ED to make sure you never loose your calm during the shoot. You need these departments to function properly so that your awesome brain can execute your vision without any unnecessary stress. Have a person dedicated for continuity and keep a prop guy if you can.

3. TALK TO YOUR DOP -  Another common mistake committed by student filmmakers on the verge of making their first film is that they think they can talk to the DOP straight on the day of the shoot. Even if it is before the day of the shoot, sit with your assigned DOP, walk him/her through every shot you have broken down. He/She is a student too and needs to be your eyes to execute your film. Every shot, every pan, tilt or move must be discussed with the DOP. Get a floor plan done, map out the lighting, ask him what he needs for his shoot.

4. NARRATE YOUR FILM TO THE WHOLE TEAM - Get your entire team, even the spot boys if you have them, in to a room, serve them tea and narrate your entire vision to them with crystal clear clarity. You would be surprised how invested the entire team would get in your film just because you valued them enough to share your vision with them.

5. CAMPUS SCHEDULE - Talk to your campus guards and make them your friends. You will be, most probably renting equipment and shooting floors from your film school and you should know what time the doors lock and who has the keys to

open them at odd hours. 

6. LOOSE CASH - If you are shooting in the Indian outdoors and going all guerrilla, make sure you put some loose cash in your budget because a lot of people on the street would protest and make your life difficult during an outdoor shoot. Try to avoid catching attention but if you do, a little cash would buy you a lot of peace.

7. LOG YOUR SHOOT -  After every day’s shoot, dump your footage and divide them scene wise as a priority. I know you are tired and shoot has killed your back but tire yourself a little more and divide those shots or it will be hell during the edits and could delay it by days if your are not careful. It will also help you reassess the shoot in case you need any patch work done before you wrap.

8. FEED YOUR CREW - I am banking on your seniors to have taught you this but just in case, do not forget to feed your crew during your shoots. If they are there through the day then its breakfast, lunch and dinner. Plan it out during your pre production and add the money in your budget. A well fed crew is a happy an efficient crew. Feed them well. You will thank me later.

9. BE EXTRA NICE TO YOUR CAMERA ATTENDANT - No film shoot ever ends on time. The schedule always stretches beyond the shift. When you rent equipment, especially your camera, it comes with an attendant to make sure you dont break their stuff and it gets back on time. Be super nice of him. Offer him beverages and treat him like a king. Because when your shift extends, the camera company will charge you more for the extra shift but if their attendant is happy, he might just tell them to cut you some slack and you may save some money and keep your budget from imploding.

10. MUSIC & GUT - Everyday before the shoot, play some pumped up music for yourself and for your crew, may be on the way to the shoot, but play it and get people excited for the shoot. Most probably, you will have early schedules and people will need to be woken up. Play music during breaks. Keep your crew alive. And dont let people get to your gut. There will always be someone whining about how late it is or how early it is or how amazing the other student’s production was. Dont let it get to you. Keep your gut strong and zone it all out. Focus on your first ever film. This is why you got here! This is the beginning. Focus on your next shot. That is all.


Prerna Siddharth

MTM Agency

Managing Director and Co-Founder

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