How To Produce An (independent) Movie

Cool. Nice to hear. I just took in a modeling job with a deadline so I’ll have to let this sit for a while. But I’ll be back.

Richard, thanks a lot for putting together this thread and sharing your experience.

As I am currently in the middle of my own short film production I can relate to each of the points made so far. All of them make sense and are ‘true’ in a sense that even the ridiculous points you made should really be considered.

My premise when I started about 8 months ago, was to put my best effort, and then something more into this project, doing all by myself. This was meant to be a real world learning experience, so that in future projects I knew what I would face.

It really would have helped to have your thoughts at that time, as I have had some hard lessons to learn, but then nothing is more valuable than your own experience :slight_smile:

Interestingly enough, although this short was intended as a one man project, I got offers from 2 composers ( yes I really had to put down the second offer) and one sound designer to do the audio part of the short.

As production is now starting the collaboration phase has started as well and this has risen the project to a level I have never imagined before. Now I have responsibility as these 2 guys will be putting a lot of effort into my project. This is something new and came as surprise to me, something I had to accept consciously. It is important to recognize this responsibility, accept and eventually act on it.

Maybe one thought about the budgeting: Its not only about money but time too. If you are doing this ( like me) in your freetime and have your real world job and family, time is almost as essential if not more as money. My initial estimations were terribly wrong and they may still be. An honest (self aware) estimation of one’s available time (without jeopardizing your current life) will help keep frustration low, with yourself and your surroundings. Thats one of the reasons I keep track of all the hours spent on each of the categories of this short and take notes along the road of things I’ve learned or recognized. It should prove invaluable to future projects. Relying on memory only is too subjective and biased after some time.

Looking really forward to your next installments. (Your tips in another thread about film editing theory and cinematography were very helpful too :))

Yes, good to mention the fact about time. I did mention it but it was in passing, so thanks for expanding on that. That is very useful information and very helpful to have here. I like your approach of keeping records. I have not been doing that, and yeah, it becomes subjective. So I should take your advice there.

It is good to see you moving ahead with your project. I hope it all works out well for you and your team. Sound is especially important. So it is good you have someone for that. It is something I hope to get into extensively later.

Boy there is a lot to cover here, but it is going to be great to get it all out of my head.

Back to modeling…

As I am currently in the middle of my own short film production I can relate to each of the points made so far. All of them make sense and are ‘true’ in a sense that even the ridiculous points you made should really be considered.

My premise when I started about 8 months ago, was to put my best effort, and then something more into this project, doing all by myself. This was meant to be a real world learning experience, so that in future projects I knew what I would face.

It really would have helped to have your thoughts at that time, as I have had some hard lessons to learn, but then nothing is more valuable than your own experience :slight_smile:
By the way, thanks for that. I was starting to wonder if this turning out to be completely ludicrous.

OK, taking a break from moving verts around.

So next up, we left of at making sure you are out of development before your proceed. And to quickly recap being out of development means - ready to start production.

Now you may be out of development but you are not out of the woods just yet.

In fact you are just ready to walk into the woods. And you are going to want to know something about the terrain ahead before you proceed. I talked before about research in a general way. Know the field. Have an idea of what you are getting into. Well this next section you can bookmark for such an occasion.

These are things you’ll need to know before you even decide to make a film, obliviously. But maybe to some not so obvious. Again, is this another large thing overlooked? Probably so.


I am going to give a general outline of the various aspects of the filmmaking process that need to be known - and fully studied/applied with skill - before you start making a film. Details on each of these things will come later. But your crew of one, or your crew of two or more collectively, must know all of these things well in order to make a professional quality film. They all dovetail together. The hats may be delegated in any fashion but they all need to be worn. If you drop one out, the film will suffer.

I will have to come back and update this later…

Sleep calls…


(I’m just going to edit this now rather than add a post)

OK, as I was walking back from the market, I had this thought. I think this is an important analogy to get your head around.

I have been learning the Thai language. How to write, read and speak it. In the beginning I was happy to learn a few phrases by ear and try and look up the definitions of each word in the phrase in the dictionary. But this required dealing with Romanization of the Thai script because I could not read the script. On a Thai language forum I was instructed by a wise man that I would have limited success learning this way and that the best way I could learn was to learn to read and write the script. He said that it would be the only way to grasp the subtleties and nuances and in effect the real only way to be able to decipher the various tones.

Thai people speak a “tonal” language. And there are five tones. Low, Rising, Mid, High. Falling. Two words can have the same vowel and consonant sounds and yet have a different tone and mean the opposite. One great exampple is “glai”. Spoken longer and with a mid tone, it means far. Spoken with short with a falling tone and usually repeated “glai glai”, means close. So added to the tones you also have short and long sounds. So in effect it is very complex.

Sometime later I enrolled in a school to learn the Thai language. I found them completely inept at doing so and also found learning a language to be very difficult. Something I already knew was hard for me. So I started spending time at home also trying to fill in the blanks.

Then one day it hit me what I would have to do. I would have to look at the long haul. I would first have to memorize the entire 48 letter alphabet and the sounds of these consonants. I would then have to sit down and learn all of the vowel symbols - over a hundred. And learn what all of the sounds were and how to speak them. I won’t go into how the tone rules are embedded into these symbols but, I will say that each of the 48 consonants fit into 1 of 3 classes, and this is key to knowing the spoken tone of the word in conjunction with an additional 4 tone marks. I would then take these basics and learn to construct word sounds, that then had meanings. I would then take these words, learn how to put them together to make more complex meanings, then learn some basics of the grammar and be able to construct meaningful sentences on my own. Then finally work to increase my vocabulary, read books in Thai and in the end be literate in the language.

I knew that to get though this, I would have to resist the temptation to give up and go back to learning phrases. So for about a year, it was difficult to explain to people that I was studying this for so long and yet really could speak very little.

But now that I am through it I am at the second to last stage. I am learning grammar along with meaningful phrases that I can both read and write. Now Thai people think I have been learning the language for upwards of 5 years when in fact it has been little over a year. It makes me appear as if I am a professional. And they often ask if I am a teacher.

Why? Because I spent the time and disciplined my self to learn the basics. Compared to other methods, where people suggest “just emerge yourself in the culture” and so on, you know, just start picking up phrases etc., this has far more lasting workability. And I have friends with an interest in this who would never take this path. Why? Because they don’t approach it as a professional. They don’t have that interest and that is fine.

But this has a direct co-relation to learning the process of filmmaking. I am taking a divergence into this subject for good reason.

Let us break this down:

First you learn the basic symbols. These symbols have sounds (ABCDEF)

Remember as a child with your native language. This is a key step

Then you learn how to construct these smaller sounds/symbols into short meanings - words.

You then learn how to string together words to make sentences and sentences then into more complex meanings and then eventually learn how to tell a story.

Once you can read the language you can then increase your vocabulary and become literate.

The same applies to learning filmmaking. It has basic symbols and smaller meanings. It also has techniques that are far more complex than just writing, to make these symbols appear. And there are various tools to learn far more complex than holding a pencil or learning to articulate sounds with the mouth.

So the main point here is that you have to get into the mindset that you are first and foremost going to learn how to use the tools of the trade. You are going to first learn how to construct symbols with these tools. You will then learn how to string these symbols together to make more complex meanings. Then you will stretch this out further to be able to tell a story.

You have to realize that you are first going to learn and master the basics. Period. We are not even talking a story yet.

Here is the correlation.


There are a host of tools and techniques that go into just creating a shot. If we are only talking about the composition of the shot even. How to compose it, is it long or close, high or low etc?

Each one of these things could be isolated as basic symbols. Camera angle, composition, and What is included/excluded etc. The sound even - another entire subject.

But each of these symbols can convey a meaning.

Camera movement in a shot itself conveys a meaning and should be understood as a basic symbol.


Now you are ready to construct a shot. The shot will be high or low - because you know what that might convey. Have a particular motion - because of what you want to convey. It will show or not show something - because of what that will convey. It will include or not include sounds. It will have a certain action and so on.

Now that you have what all of these things can mean, you can make the shot have a meaning.


The short sequence, made up of a string of shots, can convey an infinite number of meanings depending on how the shots are arranged.

A shot of a man smiling and then a shot of food and then back to the same shot of the man smiling conveys one meaning. The exact shot of the man smiling and to a shot of dead body and back to the same shot of the man smiling and you have another meaning entirely.

Cutting from shot to shot, with each shot showing or not showing things can shorten time lengthen time and do all kinds of things just with how the symbols are arranged in each shot and then how the shots themselves are arranged.


Each sequence then strung together starts to convey more complex meaning.

And finally:


A single shot could make all the difference to the outcome of a story when surrounded by other shots and sequences. Think of the shot in the beginning of Citizen Cane of “Rose Bud”. At the end of the film that takes on an entirely new meaning as the story comes to a conclusion.

And the techniques used to create just that one shot were arranged as symbols to make a specific meaning. What was shown, and not shown and then how the sequence played out all convey a meaning.

You have to understand all of these things separate and isolated as symbols first. Then gradually make more complex meanings to tell as story.

When you understand and can use these things, you then have an understanding of the language of film and are ready to tell a story.

(Ran over the word count again)

Many many animators never grasp this idea. Because being an animator is akin to being the actor. And that is OK. But the analogy is like a stage actor working in a movie for the first time and realizing that the camera won’t always be showing his entire body like the audience sees on the stage. It can take a while for him to get used to. Because now we are speaking a different language. And if you are an animator with aspirations to make films, the transition is basically the same. You have to learn the language of film. Start with the basics and move up.

That is what I hope to do here.

That was great. A really neat analogy of cinematic syntax, thanks Richard. Do movies conceived in Thai come out 30% longer? :wink:

lol. You are welcome.

No. Because, they speak all that much faster so it is a wash. Most Thai people when speaking amongst themselves run 3-5 words together so fast it is like one word with a lot of syllables. I slowed some of these passages down in my NLE and was amazed that each word was perfectly pronounced. Needless to say it makes hearing what Thai people are actually saying very difficult for the farang.

I just bowed a lot, seemed to get me by. Thailand was the most visually stunning place I have been to. But I’m told that we Australians talk to fast also…

If a narrative story is all subtext, is it still narrative? Just listening to Down In Front podcast for 2001 Space Oddesey and realise that the story is almost ALL interpretive. Where does that leave structure, is it “Meta” at that point?

I believe that narrative really only refers to a general idea of telling a story. You could say every film tells a story in some way, be it fiction or non fiction even documentary and educational. Even a commercial tells a story and some are more “narrative” than others.

Great art always leaves room for some input. If the entire plot needs to be derived from subtext and supplied by the viewer it does not make it any less narrative in my view.

Also I think the word narrative is mostly used to distinguish a story film from a film such as an educational film or documentary, that is supposed to be telling facts.

All films have structure, but I don’t think you can say that chaotic structure is telling less of a story than a 3 act cookie cutter plot.

However when a film strays so far afield from anything recognizable people seem to want to call it “Experimental”. However, the best experimental films tell a story and I would not make a special category for that.

We had a great film in our festival I think on the first showing. I can’t remember the name of it, but it had a profound take of racism. The guy had spliced all of the seemingly random footage together and scratched on it one frame at a time. He had some commercials, famous speeches, cheesy TV shows and so on.

But it was how he juxtapositioned it. How he arranged the words that were bing spoken and repeating things at different times against other things. At the end, you were left with an impression. An overall message. It was like the whole film was a montage.

Some people did not get it. We gave him an award. I thought it was extremely narrative and powerful with a message that really hit hard. It was just that his way of telling his story was unconventional.