On Making Your First Movie: An Introvert’s Guide

Once upon a time, I made a movie. It’s called TOKYO: A Matter of Life. No one has even seen it. No one will ever see it. But it did become a genuine Learning Opportunity for someone who loves movies as much as I do. And what I learned, I pass on to you, Impatient Internet Denizen, in the hope that you do a better job than I did.

First, let’s be honest, you probably can’t act. You know those daytime TV soap actors that everyone laughs at? They’re better actors than you. In all probability, better than you’ll ever be. Now is a good time to come to terms with this.

And yet, here you are, theoretical reader, having (apparently) decided you want to make a movie. The traditional way to start here is to get together a group of like-minded individuals and go for it.

This is a dangerous option, as anyone who saw what happened to those kids in Super 8 can testify. If you want to take a safer option that does not involve aliens and government conspiracies, or you never want to have your script read by another living soul, then you’re going to have to star in your own movie.

This needs to be planned for. Even making a cheap, quick little experimental movie means that you’ve signed up to be both the cinematographer and the star…making basics like framing any shot you’re in very difficult.

Maybe having a stunt mannequin will help. Line up the shot on the dummy (or a suitable number of pillows sellotaped together), and then take its place once the camera’s rolling. Not having some system like this will guarantee that some shots will be of the wall above your head or of a part of your body you didn’t intend to commit to digital video.

If you don’t have a stunt mannequin, then you almost guarantee that you’ll have what you can insist is “an art film with a highly original take on framing and mise-en-scene.”

If you do get a stunt mannequin, you will need to explain why you suddenly have a mannequin to the people you live with.

Invest in a microphone if you’re serious. If you’re doing things in a half-arsed fashion, simply speak loudly. Or maybe think of making a silent movie. Necessity being the mother of invention, and all that.

They have free sound effects now. On the Internet. Legal and everything. If you use free sound effects you found on the Internet, it is inevitable that you will come up with a scene where something needs to go BOING. Don’t fight that urge. Unless you’re trying to be Ingmar Bergman. He did not have a scene in any of his movies where something went BOING. But maybe if he had, more people would have heard of him.

Be quick, if you are fortunate to have other people in your life. Obviously, you don’t want them seeing you doing…whatever it is the screenwriter (who is also you, but the less practical and slightly weirder you) is making the actor do for his (or her) twisted view of their Art.

Make props of anything you have lying around your apartment. Remember where you got them from so you can put them back in the right place. Don’t break anything that someone else might miss.

Editing—do it. Video editing software is cheap and easy if all you want to do is dramatic screen wipe transitions and stereo sound effects (see BOING, above).

Keep it short. You are not Kurosawa. You don’t need more than 5 minutes for your little masterpiece. Even that might be testing the patience of anyone you pay/trick/surprise into watching your opus. Including yourself and your pets.

Don’t spend more time on the credits and titles than you do on writing the script in the first place. You are not Robin Williams—your genius won’t just manifest as soon as the camera is switched on. Write what you are going to say in advance. And practice saying it. Even if you’re trying to be the next George Lucas, try to write things that people can and would actually say.

You don’t know what format it should be, so save a copy in every format available. Even whatever it is Microsoft uses now.

Put all the furniture back when you’re finished.

Once you’re done, watch the thing all the way through, at least once. It’s a movie, so try to watch it with other people (and yes, your stunt mannequin totally count as “other people”).

If you love it, then there’s any number of ways you can show off your movie to other people. Upload it to YouTube, say, and let kind-hearted souls there tell you exactly what’s wrong with it, why you are yourself a huge mistake, and the best ways you can choose to kill yourself.

If you hate it, then it can become a learning experience that you can then pass along to others in a small blog post.

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