What is Filmmaking? [Part One]

Who is a filmmaker?

A Filmmaker is one who takes the onus of a feature film from beginning to end, and most commonly fulfills the dual role of producer and director (or more if impelled to do so).

Sareesh Filmmaking

The traditional designations of any feature film have become too professional, with responsibilities demarcated, and boundaries clearly defined so that one knows one’s limits. A Filmmaker, on the other hand, has no such boundaries. He/she must do whatever it takes to get the job done, because most filmmakers work outside the ‘system’, whichever country they might belong in. They are not ‘hired’ by anyone (which even Producers tend to be under major studios), but are the originators of a feature film from concept to execution to release (and beyond).

Now that you know that a Filmmaker is responsible for a feature film from beginning to end, it’s time to know where everything starts (the easy part), and where everything ends (the not-so-easy part). What are the steps involved in filmmaking?

I divide the entire filmmaking process into these steps:

  1. Writing and Development
  2. Pre-production (or Prep)
  3. Production
  4. Post Production (or Post)
  5. Marketing and Publicity
  6. Release, Sales and Distribution
  7. Royalty and Maintenance

In this first part, I will cover writing and development.

1. Writing and Development

The stages involved in this phase are (not always in this order!):

  • Writing an acceptable screenplay
  • Breaking down the script by locations, casting, scenes, etc
  • Budgeting and Scheduling
  • Raising Finance
  • Creating the legal and accounting backbone of the project
  • Signing Cast and Crew
  • Insurance

The Screenplay
Depending on who you are and what you are capable of, you might think you do not need a screenplay. You might feel you will be able to get away with a treatment, a synopsis or even a logline. Eventually, you’ll realize a screenplay (or script, doesn’t matter what you call it) will have to be written, with both action and dialog. An acceptable screenplay is one that is exciting to read, tightly written, has great characters, is professional, is formatted correctly, and is ready to be produced. If it’s weak in any one of these areas, you are shooting yourself in the foot right off the bat. Most movies fail for one simple reason: The people involved couldn’t recognize a good script even if one jumped up and slapped them across the face. If you are not a master of the screenplay, partner with someone who is.

Fore more information on this, read my post on the making of The Impossible Murder here: The Impossible Script

The four most commonly used breakdowns (at least by me) are by Scene, by Location and by Talent. I will explain in another post how to make the best breakdowns. Creating breakdowns is a meticulous exercise that only organized people can execute correctly. If you’re not skilled in these areas, find someone who is. An error in the breakdowns will cost you dearly. It is always wise to have someone else check your work to find mistakes. Successful First Assistant Directors and Line Producers (or Production Managers) are masters at this exercise.

Budgeting and Scheduling
Scheduling is preparing a prep, production and post schedule based on the breakdowns created earlier. I will explain in another post how to make the best schedules. True mastery is only attained after having worked under several productions, and the responsibility of a schedule falls upon the first assistant director. Budgeting is the process of putting a monetary value to the entire process, and somebody who doesn’t have experience in the entire filmmaking process will prove inadequate to this task. A film budget is usually prepared by the Line Producer or Production Manager, and then verified and refined until as precise as can be. If you think these two steps are a joke, the joke will be on you in the end.

Raising Finance
I’m not going into the details of this right now, except to say there are only three legal ways to make money: Win it, Earn it, or Ask for it.

Legal and Accounting
So you think you don’t need a lawyer and an accountant, eh? You wish. A feature film that is not protected right from the start is doomed. As soon as your budget is prepared and funding raised, you need to maintain perfect accounts. You need to register your production company (no matter where you are). You need to protect your intellectual rights (called IPR). These include the screenplay, the title, any other ideas, images, sounds, people, etc that you might have created or have had created for your company. I won’t go into details here as this is not intended to be legal advice. You need to consult a lawyer and an accountant who has experience in your country for correct representation. Choose these people wisely, as they might be with you for the rest of your career.

Signing Cast and Crew
Once you have your contracts drawn up by a lawyer, and an accountant who will file your checks and bills, you are ready to sign your talent and crew. Depending on how high or low you aim, the processes here can vary. One thing you cannot escape from is that you need signed release forms of everyone involved in your project, in any shape or form, or you might never reap the benefits of your labor.

Once you know who’s going to be working for you, you need to get them insured. Skip this at your own peril. A good lawyer is the only person you can trust with this sort of thing, so I strongly advise you to weigh all the options available in your country and decide on something that will protect you in times of calamity. Nobody expects bad luck, which is probably why it’s called bad luck.

In the next Part, I will cover Prep, Production and Post Production. If you are looking for motivation, you can also read my post Doing the Impossible on the making of my feature The Impossible Murder. Keep reading.