Making a feature film. Are You Ready?
How to know when you are, and where to aim if you’re not…
Are you ready to direct and tackle the enormous task of making a feature film? The journey of any painters craft must always start with sketching.
Making a feature film. Trying out new ideas, developing a technique.
I don’t think there has ever been an artist in the history of humanity where their masterpiece was the first project they undertook, nor the second, or the third, or maybe even the fourth. This holds true to all artists, including filmmakers, like you. Getting ready to tackle a large project takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, everything needs to be earned – the undertaking of a feature film needs an unrivalled history of failure and success ideally from short film, before mastery may ever be deduced.
We have met over the years hundreds of filmmakers who have undertaken the epic task of a feature film far too early, and nearly all of them, unless if they were blown out, realised very quickly, that they needed to take a step sideways (and it is sideways NOT down) on to the creative battlefields of a few more necessary short film projects. Shorts develop a filmmaker, they allow them to play with ideas, open their mind and act impulsively. Feature length work isn’t as creatively open in some respects because it prevents bravery from occurring. And when that happens, the filmmaker never sells their true ability as best as they could, or realise the vital detail their work and the collective consciousness, aka the global audience, so desperately requests.
The essence of the work is one which we feel is missed when a filmmaker rushes into a project too early. The greatest of filmmakers have the feature idea already locked in, but by using the festival circuit they can condense ideas into separate projects and then test those ideas inside the industry, not just to their family and friends but to industry peers, festival judges and the wider audiences of the general public.
The Lift-Off Film Festival Network’s approach to programming includes this angle. As a massive advocate of true independent cinema, we see it as the heart beat of the creative circumference, the resting position of ambition and the point where we firmly believe true talent is born. Many short filmmakers are ready to take on features, but those who may have had success with their first few, still may not be fully ready to mange a project of great magnitude. Over the years we have observed the successes and the failures of lots of undertakings and so here is our five solid points that we believe make up a feature film director.
Making a feature film…
1. Your preparation level and attention to detail during pre-production is cast-iron.
2. You deliver to those who deliver for you. You understand the quality and commitment levels that come from people who you pay fairly, and you are not surprised by those who you don’t.
3. You never say “that will do” or “it’ll be alright”.
4. You bring your actors in at the earliest preproduction stage to read the script and offer edits and additions — which you listen to and take on.
5. You understand the dynamic and importance of lighting, sound, rehearsal time, set/art design, music, acting, the editor and colourist. With this you are also fully aware of the types of roles and the importance of each job on-set.
6. You have thought about the purpose for your feature. The reason it exists, why it needs to be said and shown now, what it needs to be now, and who it is for.
7. You are clear as to the preparation required by all who work with you.
8. For every decision you make, you have them countered by backed up ideas.
9. You take the health and safety of your cast, crew and environment seriously. You apply, with plenty of time, for the relevant certificates and approvals for your project to go ahead. Not just because you have to, but because you care.
10. You have at least four shorts in your repertoire which tackle and display all, if not most, of the elements you wish to include in your big project and include all of the points listed above.
Making a feature film. In summary.
Getting this right is fundamental in preparing you to make more and more feature length work. If your goal is to be a fully fledged filmmaker then it is important you stick to the above approach.
The indie feature market isn’t where it should be on the whole, Lift-Off struggles ever year to find the type of work we believe can be achieved without a huge budget but with loads of care. By following the steps we have highlighted and making sure that you stick to a solid creative plan, you can’t go wrong.