Three Lessons From an Afternoon of Moviemaking

A week ago, several friends of mine and I got together to make short movies.  We really didn’t expect to get much done because when we get together we don’t tend to be very focused.  Yet, we all really wanted to get some things accomplished.

We had only one complete script and two ‘improv’ type projects and surprisingly in the short period of time we had set aside for this, we did get everything done.  I had done a previous filming project that took twice as long and accomplished a lot less.  I tried to determine what was different between the two projects.  Why was one so much more productive than the other?  Here is what I came up with and I think these elements can be applied to any multi-person project.

1. Know when to lead.

When everyone is there to participate and help, someone needs to guide that help and participation.  This isn’t about one person ‘being in charge’ as this role can pass from person to person, but at any given point, one person needs to know what is going on, taking the input from the group and enacting it.  My first film project I was too timid, expecting people to intuit the needs of the project and fall into line.  That was unrealistic and was a waste of their time.  This second time around, we had people take charge, no hemming and hawing.

2. Know the tools

When dealing with any project that has a technical component, during the actual project is not the time to experiment and learn the tech.  The first time I did filming, I had a camera that I had used quite a bit but wasn’t familiar with how it operated in lower light situations.  I spent more time messing with lighting and camera settings than I should have.  The second time around I had extensively used the camera in all sorts of lighting situations, I was quite familiar with the camera settings, and only screwed up one scene because I had it set incorrectly.

3. Know the people.

In every project you will be dealing with people who have a variety of skills and talents. It is important and beneficial to at least have a strong idea of what these skills and talents are before you begin the project.  Knowing the limitations is critical.  In my first movie making project, I had a volunteer actress who didn’t want to swear or fill her mouth with blood (it was a vampire movie after all).  This definitely had an impact on one of the crucial scenes.  Not awful but I suddenly was rewriting and fiddling with story bits when I needed to be focusing on the technical aspects of filming.  In the second attempt we knew what everyone was willing to do well before the filming.

It all breaks down to not being wary of taking charge.  Taking charge does not mean becoming a dictator but being the one who knows what everyone is trying to accomplish and then moving forward with the ideas.  Too often people are just waiting for others to take action.  A lot of time can be wasted trying to get everyone to move in the same direction spontaneously.  A simple “Okay, let’s shoot the next scene” was all it took to get the group in action.

Equipment is always going to be quirky and playing with it can take a lot of time.  When you have people waiting, people who could be doing something else, that is not the time to start messing around with settings and variations you’ve never played with before.  People can  assume nothing is going to get done and stop caring about the project.  When they stop caring, trying to motivate them become more difficult.

Everybody is different and that is a good thing.  Understanding the diverse elements of the people you are working with can come in quite handy.  One of my friends works in theater and has extensive experience on stage production and just knows how things should work.  Her advice improves the production.  I know other people who are just plain shy in front of a camera so trying to force them into the spotlight is simply cruel.