I have been on YouTube for only a few months this year. This is a short update post on why I personally don’t like YouTube and the changes I am going to be making to my channel.Read More
I used to want to be a film director and maybe I still do
I am going to start this by saying that this is not a pity post. This sort of personal post can attract comments reminding me I am young and that everything will work itself out. I know life has a way of working out but I am writing this to share where I am in my life right now and perhaps some filmmakers out there can relate.
I am deeply ambitious and at the age of 15 I knew wanted to be a film director. Shortly after I read Robert Rodriguez's book ‘Rebel without a crew’ I was convinced this was the life for me. I have navigated my entire life around film, I believed that if I just kept going forwards I would reach my dream. In many ways this is not a bad idea, doing something, going forwards is always better than standing still.
A lack of money
Having a financial safety net at the start of your creative career only makes life easier. I have noticed that most people who have successful careers in there twenties either lived with their parents so they did not have to worry about rent or had complete financial support. Its easier to work on your own creative projects when you don’t have to additionally allocate 40 hours week towards a day job.
I made a few mistakes I didn’t get the best education which left me with no real plan or knowledge on how the film industry worked. When I graduated I jumped straight in, I found work but I was still clueless on how to make directing a career.
I know people who have been lucky to find professional film trainee apprenticeships. They where just in the right place at the right time. I have no doubt my career would have gone a lot better if I had a mentor to guide me through the first years. Finding professional training is no guarantee in film and a lot of us will simple have to learn how to do our job on the job.
I have a terrible personality, OK it not that bad, I am head strong, ambitious, friendly and some what lack the social skills to work with people. I have got so much better now that I am older but as a 22 year working on film sets my social skills where not finely tuned, I was not mature enough for the work when I had it.
I found it hard to work with people , I thought I knew more than them and I was arrogant. With better social skills and a more humble attitude I would have not been fired from my first few jobs. This is something I was clueless about when I was starting out, and no doubt with better people skills you can improve faster and make more contracts and friends within the industry.
Arrogance is bad in the long run. However it was this boost of energy and confidence when I was young that got me hired on big projects. It is shame this original energy dried up.
What happens to you at the start of your career is sometimes down to luck. This can be bitter to learn when you believed at one point success was defined from hard work and enthusiasm. I could be working on major film sets right now but that route was not for me. I have not found success at the start of my career but there is still plenty of time left for me to find my way.
When I was 14 years old I overheard a conversation about Film Directors on the school playground. I remember the moment well, my friend Rachel was walking ahead of me talking about how she and her dad where going to attend a film festival. I had never thought about how films were made before this moment. I just took it for granted that they were made. It started to play on my mind, I started to wonder who where the people who made films.
and so by the age of 14 I had decided that I was going to be a filmmaker.
By this point I had never made a film before. It was not like the dreamy stories you hear making super 8mm animations with friends or memories of sneaking into movie theatres. It was not how your typical film director recalls their zeal for filmmaking. I just decided somewhere on a grey concrete playground that I was going to be a filmmaker.
I was always creative, as a child I thought about being an artist of some sort, at one point a Blue Peter presenter, another time an inventor. I liked the idea of ambition, having a life purpose to pursue. The dream of filmmaking was my escape.
That year for my 15th Christmas I got a hand held camera and started to make short films.
I pushed and pulled people from school to act out crazy stories for me, at one point I got a class of twenty students to act out a gangster fight scene.
Like many filmmakers my age I read Robert Rodriguez's book Rebel Without A Crew and I started to immerse myself additively into filmmaking. In my head I dreamt up vast exterior shots of armies clashing - in reality a group of school friends shot each other with plastic guns inside of a school gym.
I entered a short film I made into a local cinema’s film festival and it was chosen to be screened.
I was ecstatic to have my film shown on the big screen. I felt a weight on my heart that night when I didn’t win the prize. Not because I wanted to win but I thoroughly thought there were no prizes being given out, I naively thought we were all winners.
I observed at the festival that my film was not very good. The other “children’s” films had budgets and all round better quality. I didn’t understand it at the time but everyone else had adults help them make the films and mine was just me, my friend and my little brother playing with a camera in the back garden.
I judged my ability heavily and realised I needed more real life experience.
My school held a work experience week later on in the year. luckily someone took notice of my desire to work in film and I got an extended two week placement at a local production company.
I was a shy teenager at 15, everyone at the company was much older than me, I carried out admin work, I was too shy to eat with the others so I ate my sandwiches at my desk alone. My shyness faded as the days went on, I helped out on a location shoot capturing some behind the scenes footage. The next week a short film was being made. I was insulted when the actors looked down on my runner position and called me ‘coat lady’ as it was my job to hold their coats for them during takes.
At the end of the work experience, I decided to get editing software for my 16 birthday (nothing special but it allowed me to edit my short films on something slightly more advanced than windows movie maker and it's use of star wipes). I spoke to the director on my last day of work experience, he was dismissive of me and impolite. I was enthusiastic about filmmaking, perhaps too much enthusiasm for others to handle. On the last night I felt dishearten again as a fake award ceremony was held and everyone cast and crew was thanked for their work apart from me.
I passed my GCSE’s at age 16 despite sitting at the back of classrooms drawing storyboards and daydreaming.
I enrolled in college sixth form and spent three years studying film studies English language and art. I had a messy fun few years, of drinking and partying. I still made short films, they slowly started to improve in quality. I enrolled in a summer film school, that although fun, it had far too many rules for myself. Naturally I am bad with authority, fiercely independent and too enthusiastic, my naïve enthusiasm rubbed off badly with others. Adult Bullies keep propping up throughout my later teenage years, perhaps the jealousy of seeing someone do what they want and living care free. It seems like when you're on a high there will always be people around to push you down.
When I was aged 19-21 I studied film and TV production at university.
The university dropped the course after its first year. The class protested, but we were ignored, the last two years where carried out with less enthusiasm from substitute teachers, the course felt broken and pointless, my grades dropped from As to Cs. Seeing as my university study years could not be saved, I enjoyed my time with drinking and dancing.
I graduated at age 21 and jumped flying head first into film crew work. My enthusiasm had so far surprisingly ‘despite the efforts of many’ not been killed. I had by now some experience on low budget sets.
I narrowed my job role down to Script Supervisor and I pushed, applying like crazy to any job I could find.
Bit by bit I found the work. The first 6 months went well, if I made a mistake I tried not to beat myself up over it, sure the mistakes I made would cost money , but I had already saved the production countless errors.
I pushed onwards, but then suddenly the work took its toll. On feature film shoots I was working 6 day, 70-90 hour work weeks. I done this for 3 months solid and by the end felt rightfully exhausted and mentally broken. I had been trying my very best working for every director I met, but most were not what I had hoped for. My logic was simple I wanted to be a film director, as a Script Supervisor I got to sit next to the director all day.
even on the most professional of film shoots the director never met my romantic expectations.
The director was supposed to be sure of themselves, assertive, logical, honest, rational, powerful. But I found myself sitting next to directors who where far too interested in Twitter to pay attention to an actor's performance , or not putting the care or thought into their crews safety. I lasted 18 months before I decided that film set work was not for me. And I say this to not put you off, a lot of people like the work, the travel, the hours, the teamwork they like it all. But I could not hack it, I romanticised the idea of filmmaking so much that when I saw it as it was I could not bear to see it torn up like that. I started making films for the escapism, and working on film sets took that away.
My last job was a commercial, the director a young hipster fancied himself the next big thing, screamed orders at crew, told me he didn’t understand what my job was, told me to join the art dept instead. He didn’t like the set already built so demanded that a new one was found, when I realised that the 8 hour work day was going to turn into 20 hours I walked out. The experience and disbelief of film sets caused a major problem.
I thought that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I was wrong.
It wasn’t long before I was in debt and depressed. I worked many low paid jobs to get by, feeling lost, hopeless, I couldn’t see the future, the ambition and dream had finally died.
A year later things got a little better, a better job kept me at the same level but allowed me the time to clear my mind and think. There is a problem when you spend 10 years of your life working towards something, only for it to not be what you first thought it was. I had a messy breakup from film.
You learn more from bad times than you do with the good. Last year I tried to make a short film. I shot it but I have been unable to finish it. Working full time gave me no free time to edit, and having no plans for the future left me feeling low. I need plans and creativity in my life which I why I am pushing blogging as a career and filmmaking for fun.
I hope to complete my short film this year and start making my own films again, my way.
I have not finished with filmmaking but I do need to start thinking differently. My enthusiasm has died down, but it is still there inside. I still dream of film festivals and red carpets. I still believe if I keep trying one day I will be good at all of this.
This August I had the month off work and decided to make a short film. However as it turns out trying to shoot a short film in a month was not realistic.
I only finished writing the script at the end of july. I have had other things to sort out this past month and although making a film in a month was possible in my student years – trying to film something now (of quality and with my high expectations) will take time.
I am happy so long as this film gets finished this year. I have atleast got most of pre production down.
Pre production film in 10 steps
I went straight to storyboarding my film after writing the 1st draft. It has been useful to show other people what I have in mind for the visuals. There are also some interesting transitions in the film and planning these out on paper made me realise just how tricky these might be to achieve.
My lead is an actress I have worked with in the past. There is one role I am currently looking for and I have chosen Starnow to advertise from. I have had a lot of people apply for the role so it has been very useful for finding local actors. In the past I have found cast from college drama clubs.
For myself this has not been too difficult. I know a lot of people (or at least my bf does who can help out). Mostly I need extra hands for lifting and setting things up during the shoot. Although now I am thinking perhaps I could get a production coordinator 1st AD on board to help me out with the shoot so I that can focus on the acting. I have had luck finding crew before by advertising on Mandy.
There are four locations in my film. One is on a beach and another a forest luckily i have found these two locations close to each other so these scenes can be taken care of in one day shoot. Another location is a bedroom which needs a lot of set design, I have chosen to use the spare room in the my house so that I can have full control over how it will look.
I feel that props have always been the greatest expense in my low budget short films. I have spent at least £100 so far on props and paint but will be spending £200 altogether on props for my film. I want to make everything look just right, I care very much about the visual style of the film. With my genre floating between fantasy/surrealism I need to take care of my colours, visuals are important.
I only have 2 actors in my film. I have bought some costumes for the lead actress. I may need more than one of the same costume incase it stains, falls apart, gets lost so I bought from a chain shop and kept hold of the receipt. Costume is an easy part of this film, actually I am now having second thoughts on what I bought (maybe it should be a brighter colour…)
7. Set Design
One of the main locations in my film is a bedroom. I have chosen my spare room so that I can decorate it as I wish too (wish means bright pink paint). I find many low budget films to be lazy with set design. Often you see rooms with white walls with no design around the character. I have tried to make my sets look real. I have dedicated a colour to every scene and character.
I have easy access to a canon 5d and lenses but it looks like we might be filming on something a bit better. We also have access to a steadicam and basic lights. Mostly however natural light will do fine – although now I am thinking wouldn’t it be nice to shine a big light through the trees in the forest scene. I have basic access to equipment I have to remember I am low budget but it is tempting to go super cinematic.
9. Special Effects
The hardest part of making my film, this is what I am stuck on. I have 4 unusual transitions in my film and I need to build props/sets to help make these flow together. I need to build a tunnel, stairs and train a rabbit to do tricks. I need help with this , I need some arty people to help me out. I also want to do all effects in camera (no computer after effects help) as I believe it will look more authentic and special. I am making things hard on myself but I very much want this short film to be good.
The final step is to find the days and times when everyone is free to film. With no money to pay people everyone has jobs to go to. I can see this film being shot in stages, I don’t mind so long as it gets done by new year.
It does seem to be taking me a long time to place everything together. But I am doing a lot of this by myself and the lack of money makes everything slow down. I am sure I will be chipping away at this film for the next few months.
How to storyboard a short film.
I have started to storyboard my short film. I need to get a move on, I hope to start filming in as a little as a month. The more prep I do the easier the shoot with be, the more smoothly it will go and the less chance I have of messing up.
Storyboards are used in filmmaking, animations and theatre to help visualise a scene taking place. Storyboards are like the comic book version of the film, using them can help you see any problems that may occur during filming.
Storyboards show various camera angles that would be used on screen – close ups, mid shots, establishing shots etc. A white arrow is used to show a camera movement – zoom, pan, dolly etc. A black arrow is used to show an on screen movement such as a character walking off screen.
White arrows – camera movement
Black arrows – on screen/character movement
A lot of new filmmakers worry about their drawing skills.
It can look impressive to have well drawn storyboards (if only to show off with) but for practical purposes it doesn’t matter how good your drawings look. Stickmen still do the job.
When I made student films I storyboarded every single shot in the film. I was not great with communicating what I wanted with the cast and crew so I relied on storyboards. In the past I was mostly a one man crew, I felt a lack of experimentation during filming, I was afraid to mess up since I only had one chance.
These days I still have one chance but I am more confident. I am going to try and step away from storyboarding, be more relaxed, open to changes and spend more time with my actors.
I am only storyboarding special effects and complex transitions for my short film. I have also done a few location and character sketches since I will likely be art designer too. You don’t have to storyboard every scene in your film.
Some directors choose not to storyboard at all, they believe it stifles creativity during filming. Werner Herzog and David Cronenberg refuse to storyboard. Directors such as the Coen brothers and Ben wheatley storyboard all of their films by the shot.
Not every film is storyboarded
Special effects and stunts are more likely to be storyboarded
I have made a video explaining how to storyboard a short film that can be watched on Vimeo. L
How to storyboard a short film video
I also created the E-book ‘Find Work In Film’ which explains step-by-step how to find and apply to film industry jobs.
It took some time to create the short film storyboard templates. So I have made them downloadable so you can use them too. Next time you are storyboarding you can download the templates here –
I had two goals for this year (2016) – blog and make a film. It seems that wanting to achieve both of these things and work full time this may have been too much. There is just not enough time in the day for everything (I struggle). Yet still I am blogging and I have finally completed my screenplay!
I was juggling ideas around in my head for months before I started writing. I was working on another screenplay I wrote last year but in the end I didn’t feel attached to that script (it had pretty images but no substance). I decided to sit down and start writing something new last month.
I wrote in bursts of 1-2 hours when I had time free between blogging, work and life. Honestly looking back this was not the best writing plan, I wish I had dedicated a whole day just for writing my screenplay. By doing this once a week I would have completed it a lot sooner. Everyone is different but I like to write for a few hours at a time, rather than in small bursts throughout the day.
I have a first draft and I will keep developing the screenplay right up to filming. There are some problems with the characters actions not coming across as well as they could. I plan on actually making this film in August so time is ticking.
I am unsure where I am as a filmmaker right now. I haven’t made a film (that I care about) for years. The last two I made whilst at university where ok but lacked a strong enough hook and quality. I would like to make something strong enough for film festivals, a showcase film.
Also I am suffering from an anxiety centred around filmmaking. I guess I will just have to deal with that, I mean I could spend my saved pennies on therapy or just make a film. I believe my main problem is expecting too much from myself. I spend more time thinking about doing things than actually achieving anything, and then I hate myself for being lazy.
I guess artists deal with the battle of the ego and that of crippling self doubt throughout their career. I am having a self doubt moment right now. I hope that some ego kicks in soon so that I can have the confidence to finish my film. I am planning on spending all of my savings on making this film instead of being careful with my money.
By choosing to make my film I am destroying any financial security I have, I am also putting a set back to online work – by doing this I am pretty much guaranteed to still be working at my full time job next year. Making a film is probably not the sensible thing to do in my life right now. Yet still I am going to make it.
About the Film
My short film is called Retreat
The script is only 4 pages long. I wanted to make a super-short-snappy film as I believe this will be a more focused film and stand a better chance at festivals. A short synopsis –
A young woman escapes into her imagination to avoid the pressures of life
This screenplay has a purpose. I wanted to make this film myself. It needed to be not too expensive. It needed to be good – and I wanted it to be good enough for film festivals. However just completing this film whether good or bad would be a personal victory. It is getting harder to make films – I have too many bills, too much debt and I full time job. It is difficult these days to get anything done, let alone have the time, energy and money to pursue creative projects.
I will be making this film in August. I have a whole month off from work, this will give me the time to make this film, although I will have to be careful with money (I am not getting paid for this month off ) and I will have to do as much prep as I can before August begins.
To make things even more tricky my film is of the surrealist/fantasy genre. This is the genre I want to work within if I am ever to make feature films.
Story Idea Workbook
I wanted to talk more in depth about the script writing process so I have written a workbook on coming up with screenplay ideas. It can be downloaded for free via PDF below. I have written in detail about my script writing process – from original idea, goals, premise, synopsis. With methods that might help you whilst writing your own screenplay.
Download the guide for free below.
Several years ago (I think back in 2014), I made a feature length documentary called the History of Liverpool. Liverpool being the city I live in. I made it with the intention of selling and making money back from the final product. This post explains why I made the documentary. And most importantly why it didn't sell. You can now watch the full feature length film on YouTube here.
My documentary was a mistake to make in the first place
I made it back when I was depressed, I had just quit working on film sets and didn’t know what to do with myself. I began to search online as you do for work and ideas on what I should do with my life.
I found a podcast that spoke about making history documentaries, and how documentaries like this can be sold easily and make money. I was a fool to believe anything could be sold easily, the podcast was exaggerating, simple making a good story for filmmakers to hear online.
I couldn’t think of anything else to do with myself (I was ashamed at the time to get a normal job) so I made a documentary. (not what most people do when they're depressed but it's what I did).
I completed the documentary within 6 months – researched, shot and edited it myself. It was a low budget film, Selling the film proved to be difficult but I managed to make my money back. I have decided that being honest and open about my experiences and mistakes would be more useful, this blog was created for me to share what I learn with others. If anything making this documentary was a terrible idea. I don’t recommend ever making a documentary and expecting it to make profit.
Always Tell A Story You Are Passionate About
I made a terrible decision and made a film I thought I could sell (a history documentary) instead of making a film with a story I was passionate about. This is the worst mistake you could make. You need to live with your film for years after you make it throughout distribution. With documentary you need to talk to many people on why you made it and what the story means to you (perhaps more than with fiction).
My Personal Mistake Was Giving Into Pride I was ashamed that I left working on film sets.
I told some people about my decision to leave the film industry and everyone was disappointed. I was told it would be embarrassing to go from working on film sets to an ordinary job. People were disappointed in me (or was it in my head). I was told I was lowering myself and then my pride took over. I was ashamed to get a normal job and so I decided to start a business instead.
Unsure what to do I started to google for ideas on how a filmmaker can make money. And I came across a podcast by a man who had made a lot of profit making documentaries.
This man had made profit from his film but the profit had been very slowly trickling in over the years – too slowly. Also the majority of his profit would come from market stalls, literally standing at market stalls and flogging copies of DVDs like you would bananas. (It turned out the podcast I had watched sugarcoated the truth, they forgot to tell you the key details on how they sold the film and how hard that was).
The problem is online people like to sugarcoat the truth. I am trying to not do that here selling any film is very hard so make sure you make a film for the right reasons.
Owning The Rights To Your Own Project
The film was shot and edited within 6 months. I filmed it on a basic DSLR camera and recorded with a zoom mic. I enjoyed doing the interviews, but since I was not passionate about the subject finishing the edit was difficult. Everyone who appeared in the film signed a waiver form which would help with selling later on. You can download a copy of the waiver form here to use in your own film projects.
I own the rights to all material shown within the film, images, music and intellectual property. I wanted the film to be able to be shown anywhere TV or cinema if the opportunity came up. My film is not great but the quality at least is OK and people who have been interested in the subject matter have been happy with the film. I also got out Public Liability insurance prior to filming. I am from the UK so I did this through the union Bectu. Overall the film cost £2,000 to make and I made about £3,000 back.
Selling The Film What Worked what didn’t
SHOPS - Before I made the film I researched into shops that I thought would be a good place to sell the film on dvd. You can simple go into a shop and ask for the contact details of the person who buys the stock. Before I made the documentary film I had 10 shops listed who said they would sell my film. The problem was only 2 shops were interested after I made the film. Not because the film was bad, people just like to say yes.
Shops did not care for the quality of the film just as long as the DVD design looked good
However with only 2 shops selling my DVD I made money. One shop has bought 200 copies the other 80. By getting your film into many shops it could be possible to make good money.
MARKETS - I had been told that selling DVDs at markets can still make you a lot of money. This proved to not be true . I sold my film at a christmas market first. The cost of hiring out the stall was expensive, £50 per day and the market was not very busy. I tried out selling at a spring market later that year and didn’t sell a single DVD. I believe that the market culture has faded, some people claim online to have done well selling dvds at markets but I found it to be a waste of time.
TV BROADCAST - Despite local television being interested I decided to not give up the broadcast rights to my film. The television station wanted my film for FREE but also wanted to stick commercial slots within it and make money themselves. A common problem with being an independent creative – people want everything for free.
ONLINE - I sold many copies of my film when I first launched the DVD but after the launch there was nothing. Selling anything online is not easy. If I wanted to I could have spent the past year building a blog dedicated to my documentary subject and gathered subscribers to sell the film too. Since I was not passionate about my documentary story I could not do this.
I learnt how to make a documentary film and sold enough DVD copies to make my money back with a bit extra. I learnt the basics on how to sell a film. I learnt a lot from taking the risks even if they were not so very clever. In the future if I wish to make feature films, I may have no choice but to sell them independently to make a profit.
From now on I will only tell stories I am passionate about. I would love to make surrealist and fantasy films, they may not be genres that sell easily but selling this film would have been a lot more fun if I had passion for the story. If you take away any advice from this article and my experience just know you must be passionate about your films story.