1 – When you announce that you will make a movie, you’ll get inundated by home musicians wanting to score your project.
Quentin Tarantino said, “Why give the soul of your movie to someone else?” Indeed, I believe he only used a composer once: Ennio Meroconi for The Hateful Eight.
Stanley Kubrick used mostly previously recorded music. So does Martin Scorsese.
Go to sounddogs.com (I’m not associated with them). They have thousands of music choices. Take time to search and listen to many. You don't have to put in your credit card to listen. Only when you’re in post-production do you have to use your credit card to purchase.
They also have half-a-million sound effects and ambiance. Most of the music tracks there have a variety of lengths and intrument mixes. You can score and sound effect your entire movie using sounddogs.
I tried to help a want-to-be musician by using him to score one of my movies. It was his first movie and it caused problems, wasted time, and expense.
Me: "I'll find some music tracks that I like for examples." (Like Lucus did with John Williams on Star Wars.)
Him: "Musicans like to work alone with no imput from the director."
Other time & money wasting problems happened from there, including sending the final music files a few hours before the final mix. I had to do a rush job inserting his music into the track.
I ended up using sounddogs for half of the score. It was less expensive and had the same type music that he provided. Yet, what he provided (on his 2nd try) fit the movie well and I ended up really liking it.
We got a Best Music nomination from the Oklahoma Film Festival. And his music supported the story enough for the movie itself to get 28 Best Picture, Thriller & Sciene Fiction awards at other festivals.
However, I'll never use a composer again on a movie that I'm financing.
If you have a friend that wants to break into movie-music, let him search music on sounddogs with you, edit it into the movie and help with the sound mix. You can give him Music Supervisor or Music Editor or similar credit. But as the money-producer, you have the final word on the music.
2 – Time your movie script by acting out each scene with the stopwatch on your phone. I did not time out my first movie The Tournament and it ended up at 63 minutes and I could not go back to film more.
Fortunately, I timed the script for my movie Forbidden Power. I could have sworn it would be 90 minutes. But it was only 70 minutes. I was shocked. "Oh, no. Not again."
So, I wrote twelve more scenes which brought it to 94 minutes in the final cut. Those additional scenes turned out to be some of the best in the movie.
3 – Akira Kurasawa said, “New directors should learn how to write.” I learned: Once you do all your fancy camera work, designed shots, and special effects, you end up with your screenplay right there on your editing machine.
So, concentrate on the story instead of film technology. Quentin Tarantino said, “I concentrate on what goes onto the page. Making that perfect. So when I’m finished, I’m satisfied with the story whether I make the movie or not."
Make sure your script has at least 65 scenes. This guarantees that the average scene will be 1.5 minutes. Plus, you’ll have 65 pieces of story and entertainment.
4 - Be ambitious. I read an article about indie-film budgets that said: "If you have $5,000 you are allowed two actors, one location, one cameraman and one sound man."
The article continued on to 'allow' you more in each category for each increase of budget. Forget all that. Write the story that you want and budget for it. Forget that one or two locations idea.
The more locations, actors and extras you have, the better your film will look and the more entertaining it will be.
Forbidden Power was filmed in 17 days and had locations in: Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, Las Vegas & Winslow, Arizona. We had 7 lead actors and about 20 supporting roles.
Introducing new characters and locations 'refreshes' your story and 'wakes up' the audience. So do twists, turns and surprises in your story.
You don't have to follow script formulas from books that tell you there must be three acts and 'The hero must discover something at exactly 22 minutes and 30 seconds'. Look at Tarantino's movies, they never follow a formula. Tell the story the way you want.
Every viewer of your movie is aiming his remote control switch at your movie on his TV screen. If he gets bored for one minute (with no movie stars) he's going to switch off your movie and jump to another one.
Director Robert Wise (West Side Story) said, "Pace is not speed. Pace is keeping interest in your story. I try to grab the audience's attention at the beginning and never let it go."
Your story should have a promise of things to come and lead the viewer into the next scene to 'see what happens next'. I think the Back to the Future movies are a good example of one scene leading the viewer to the next.
Those movies are also a good example of clear writing. The co-writers said they spent a long time trying to make the a time-travel and alternate-timelines ideas clear to the audience.
In Forbidden Power, I have a beautiful, mysterious woman give the hero her card and say, "Call me." So, now the viewer might stick around to see if he does and what will happen if she shows up at his hotel room.
Thinking she's a prostitute, he goes to the lobby and gets cash from the ATM machine, then buys condoms, then in the elevator says to himself, "What am I doing?"
After many screenings, I saw that the audience was hooked. But that's not enough. Those types of hooks and questions must happen throughout the story to keep that guy lying on his sofa from switching off your movie.
This begs the question: Am I making the movie for the audience or myself?
My answer is: I make if for the audience, knowing my individuality will be in every line of dialogue, scene and character. And I never forget the guy on the sofa aiming the channel-changer at my movie. How do I make him watch just one minute more?
Psycho screenplay writer told me (name drop): "Hitchcock is the only director I worked for that talked about the audience."
Quentin Tarantino said, "I make movies for an audience with big set-pieces that gets an audience reaction."
Tarantino often uses the expression 'I have to deliver the goods.' Meaning, deliver entertainment to the audience in the genre that he's working in. After that, he can insert his personal, artistic ideas.
The choice of how much for you and how much is for the audience is up to you as a writer.
Most movies these days are a one-incident story. Die Hard comes to mind. That's great. But consider having a story that unfolds over time such as Knowing, The Dead Zone and The Joker. Signs is kind of one-incident, but unfolds over time with each scene holding the viewer till the next scene.
John Frankenheimer's 1962 The Manchurian Candidate, starring Frank Sinatra, unfolds combining war, politics, weird flashbacks, friendships, mystery, karate fight, brainwashing, love story, and assassinations. The story constantly refreshes. Not just a one-incident story or even one subject story.
5 - Write exactly what the erotic or kissing scenes will be in your script, especially for your female actors. Put in the exact seconds that a kiss will take place and what she will be wearing and what it will look like on the screen. This way you won't waste time on the set when it comes to staging those scenes.
If the actress suddenly gets cold feet or lied about doing the scene to get the part? Good luck. That's the fun of the movie business.
For Killer Joe, an actress asked director William Friedkin, "How will you film the sex scenes?" He replied, "Exactly as it says in the script."
6 - Pay your cast and crew. Do not defer wages. This way they will take your movie seriously and show up on time. On Forbidden Power, even though we were not a SAG shoot, I paid the actors SAG scale.
The main reason is this: When you tell someone you are working on a movie, either as cast or crew, do they ask what the movie is about? No. They always ask, "How much are they paying you?" Especially jealous boyfriends of the female actors.
Forbidden Power has six erotic scenes, one actress had four of them. When asked, she could reply to her boyfriend, "I'm getting paid SAG scale." Even so, one boyfriend got so jealous that he refused to read lines with his girlfriend, so she broke up with him saying, "I'm going to do this part exactly as written."
7- Coming up with your budget is not so complicated. Figure out the daily cost of cast and crew, multiply by the number of days you'll need to film it, and then add your other costs. You'll get to the final figure easily if you consider each item and salary.
There will be a lot of unexpected expenses that come up, so add a lot of contingency money and have a lot of credit available on your cards.
Making a movie is about money; writing checks, using your credit cards, peeling off cash from your pocket. This is endless until your post-production finishes. Then comes more money for marketing.
8 – Novelize your script. A script is just a tool to make a movie. You can’t give a script to someone as a completed artistic project. And it might take you a while to come up with the money to make your movie.
How about turning your script into a novel, designing a great cover and putting it on amazon Kindle and print-on-demand?
It only takes a few bucks and time. Now you have a completed project you can hand to people. It also advertises your movie. For movie financeers you can give both the script and your novel to them. It shows how serious you are about that particular story.
9 – Make a full-cast audio-book of your movie. With home-recording and editing easily available you can turn your novel into a recording script with narrator and actors. Then add music and sound effects (from sounddogs) and put it on your you-tube channel.
I produced four full-cast audio-books with stars of the ‘60s such as Rod Taylor, David Hedison and George Chakiris with film-quality effects and music. You can listen to them for free on my youtube channel: Paul Kyriazi.
That’s another way to promote your movie and it’s another completed project. In the creative business that has much competition, it’s completed projects that win over just talking about a project.
Speaking of competition, as Wallace D. Wattles says in his book, The Science of Getting Rich, "We must change from the competitive mind to the creative mind."
When we compete directly with someone, we stay on their level. When embracing our creative minds, we are open to express our individuality more freely. Walt Disney called his creative team 'imagineers', not 'competiteers'.
10 – When searching for financing, people will ask you; ‘How much money do you have in the project?’ As you’ve seen on Shark Tank, business-people like to know that you’re ‘all in’.
11 – When filming your movie, try for some designed shots instead of just the medium, over-the-shoulder, and close-up shots. This will make your movie look more theatrical than like a TV episode where the director just supplies coverage so the editor has many choices.
Take a look at the early films of Mike Nichols to see well designed long-running shots that utilize the moving-camera.
Woody Allen does that most of the time, though they are usually wide shots that don’t move so much.
In Back to the Future 3, almost every shot is designed and not ‘covered for editing’ later.
12 Angry Men (1957) takes place in one room, but the designed shots and actor staging keeps the drama fresh and real.
You’ll most likely be using stage actors or amateur actors in your indie-movie. They do better with long running shots. It may take many takes to get a perfect one, but when you do the performances will be better than just having the camera on them in singles and over-the-shoulder shots. It will also give your movie a more personal style that shows 'there is thought behind every shot'.
Using designed long-running takes for many of your scenes will help you get more scenes per day filmed.
12 – Film in 6K so that if you filmed a master-designed shot and you need to cut it down in the editing room, you can jump into a closer shot with no loss in quality and it will look like a separate camera-set up.
This also gives you the freedom to re-frame shots in post like David Fincher (Gone Girl) often does.
13 -- If you plan to make a short movie, why not make it a feature? I got this idea from an indie producer who spent $5,000 on a short film and then said, “For that money, I could have made a feature.”
Technically speaking, with digital filming, all you have to do is let the camera run for 90 minutes and you’ve got a feature film. But seriously, you just have to add more scenes to your story to make it a feature.
14 - Get each scene in the can completely on the day you plan to film it. None of that, "We'll get the rest tomorrow." Tomorrow you may not get the location, actors or extras back. It could rain. Complete your scene even if you get less shots or less action than you wanted. If you've scheduled a scene for two or three days, that's fine, but complete it in that time.
15 - Never go off schedule. Doing that causes so many problems that it's better to stay on schedule no matter what. When you go off schedule, all the actors and locations have to be called up to change.
When you go off-schedule you'll increase the chances of not finishing your movie that has a limited budget. You'll have enough risk such as: weather, actor illness, kicked off locations, props not there, etc. So why add to that risk by going off schedule?
16 – Now for the big one. You don’t really make a movie. You don’t gamble all your money and other people’s money on a movie. You gamble it on a story.
So instead of having various scripts that you want to turn into movies, choose that one story that makes you so excited that you are willing to go into debt to get it made. Willing to take two jobs to pay off the loans and credit cards you've used to make it. One story that shows who you are, be it science fiction, drama or comedy. One story that your satisfied with if you never get to make another movie again. A story you will be excited about to novelize, make a full-cast audio-book off and design a poster for.
Producer Saul Zantz (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) said: "If your movie is a success, everyone comes around and you have a party. If your movie is a failure, you're stuck alone with the bills to pay."
That's the hard reality you have to face when you gamble your money on a story. So why not make it your ultimate story? A story that you might be 'stuck alone' with, as you 'pay the bills'.
17 -- Last and certainly first: Any indie producer will tell you, "Never give your movie to a distributor." Listen to all the producers on film podcasts. They’ll tell you.
My movie Weapons of Death broke house records in a NYC theater and San Francisco theater, played the USA and sold around the world. Not one dime was sent to me.
When the distributor sold the video rights for $40,000, I called and asked, “Where’s my half?” The reply was, "Oh, our salesman was robbed in the airport."
I’m happy to have Forbidden Power on Amazon that gives me daily reports and monthly deposits into my bank account. Since I financed the movie 100% myself, I own 100%.
I've turned down five distributors that came trolling once they saw it on Amazon. I didn't waste time asking if there would be any up-front money because I knew there wouldn't be. So, I politley told them, "I already have a distributor." (Me)
If I sign with just one distributor for one of the rights, they can make a case that they own all of it. And they would have the money to tie it up in court for years.
By owning the movie, its value could go up by one of the actors becoming famous, winning film festivals or it being discovered by movie cult-groups.
Also, it becomes an ownership that you can passed down to someone. Think of it this way; would you sign over your $200,000 house to a stranger who says they will give you 50% IF they can sell it?
And of course, there are other avenues besides Amazon to explore for sales, as well.
Finally - Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were interviewed together. Tarantino said, "It's the best time to make movies. Anyone can make a movie and have a platform to show it on."
Rodriguez said, "Yes, but there's so much more competition now."
Tarantino shook his head. "But all those crappy movies aren't competition. Just waves coming onto the shore. Make the best kick-ass movie that you can. That beats all of those waves."
I wish you great luck and an enjoyable experiences on all your creative endeavors.