4 Lessons for Making Your First Feature by the Director of Confessions of a Box Man
Confessions Of A Box Man Press Kit 01.jpg

As a lecturer in directing for the past six years, including at FAMU, one of the most prestigious film schools in Europe, I have often heard the question: How much does it cost to make your first feature film? I listen as students cite popular examples of successful self-produced debuts: Kevin Smith's Clerks (1993) for $ 27,000 or Robert Rodriguez & # 39; El Mariachi (1994) for $ 7,000. More recently, Paranormal Activity (2007) was done for $ 15,000. The list goes on.

There is no such thing as a magic number. I recently finished my first feature film, Confessions of a Box Man, for $ 30,000. In fact, a first function can now be added to a smartphone for even less money. Or a feature may not require shooting at all, like György Pàlfi's Final Cut: Ladies & Gentlemen (2012), which consists of 450 classic films and is played in Cannes. The real answer, however, is that this question doesn't matter. The more important question is the one I ask my students: Why do you want to create a feature in the first place? Do you just make a film as a creative act because you love the medium and want to explore your own voice or story? Or is your goal to get inducted into festivals, get sales and become a career ladder? In my experience, the answer to this question determines everything, especially considering that the vast majority of film school graduates around the world will never contribute.

Since I only make films because I love creating, I decided to share some advice that will ensure any young director can get their first feature film done.

1) Find your voice and trust your vision

Film schools and scriptwriting workshops can be helpful, but they also keep those who no doubt believe that there is a right and a wrong way to script and make a film. The problem is, if you actually have something original to say or take inspiration from a new point of view, it is most likely not recognized by others. In many cases, your ideas will even be ridiculed for later praise. True creativity is as rare as it is valuable because it cannot be taught. While listening to criticism is important, it's also important to remember that if you are genuinely intrigued by your own idea for a film, it may well be worth the investment, even if it doesn't come out the way you do have imagined it. This is how we learn.

Directors who have this passionate belief in their own vision are often incredibly productive.

They are artists like Luis Bunuel, Werner Herzog, Jean-Luc Godard and David Lynch, who from their first films are often misunderstood but are completely on fire. The opposite is true for those who live in the shadow of wanting to be liked, accepted and praised, be it by the audience, other filmmakers or festivals. These directors tend to give up. If a filmmaker's desire to succeed is greater than their love of creation, they don't have enough motivation to make it through their first feature film, especially on a shoestring.

Teaser for Confessions of a Boxman.

2) Make as many shorts as you can and with barely any budget

Writers rarely write a 300-page novel. They write short stories first, sometimes dozens of them. This is how you learn to write and how to find your voice. The same goes for filmmaking. I was good at directing because I made over 30 short films, the first dozen of which had no budget. Working in this way forced me to experiment as I couldn't rely on having access to staff or real equipment. I had to be resourceful. I was inspired by films like Chris Marker's La Jetée: a 1962 science fiction composed almost entirely of still images that Marker set to music with a voice-over.

That way, I had no choice but to learn all aspects of the production, including writing, recording sound, lighting a shot, using a camera, editing, etc. Just through experimentation, I learned that I didn't like the results when I did used conventional film grammar, scriptwriting, or acting styles. You weren't me. Who was i And how would I discover that? As I carried on, each technique opened up a new way of speaking for me, especially editing as I started mixing my captured images and sounds with photos, paintings, commercials, and old movie clips that I had recorded online. In Confessions of a Box Man alone, I used over 400 such images and clips. This approach and learning how to deal with composers and sound designers enabled me to make increasingly abstract statements, which in turn gave me the opportunity to improve my own language, which I eventually became fluent in. Thanks to these discoveries made over a decade of making films, I was absolutely confident that I would make my first feature film.

Resolutions (2016): Low Budget Short ($ 250) directed by Mika Johnson and directed by Marco Joubert. All non-actors, crew of two.

3) Do your first role with resources you have, not those you would like to have

On one level, this is a no-brainer. If your aunt owns a hotel, put your entire film there. Or say she has a sailboat, think of Polansky’s Knife in the Water. Or you live near a beautiful forest or a lake. Even better, you can use all the light available. When you write and plan your first feature, you should use this logic at every stage. Take Christopher Nolan's first feature film "Following" (1998) as an example. The script was written and planned as cheaply as possible. This included filming on 16mm films and only on Saturdays for more than three months as the cast and crew members had full-time jobs. To reduce costs, the cast rehearsed extensively, which meant few adjustments, and the crew used available light instead of professional lighting equipment. The homes of friends and family became places. With a budget of $ 6,000, Nolan's first feature film was an amazing success. He won major awards at international festivals, which in turn made him famous.

4) Don't make excuses

Breakdown of Study Scripts as this tool is invaluable for planning and budgeting your first role. If you can't increase the budget you've calculated, either rewrite your script or use your phone to capture stills and record voice overs. If you don't have a phone, draw your movie on paper and write down the dialogue. If you can't draw, learn! Whatever you do, don't stop making your film. Consider the story of Satyajit Ray's first feature film, Pather Panchali (1955). Rey didn't have the money to make his film. But he was a skilled visual artist. After shooting his entire film in watercolors, he reached out to producers who all said no – over 30 of them. Ray then made every conceivable sacrifice to raise enough money to do a quick preview of his film, which didn't convince the producers either. His luck turned when he met the Prime Minister of West Bengal who was previewing a documentary about rural Bengal. Thanks to a misunderstanding, Rey received government funding to make a documentary. Instead, he made his first feature film, which won eleven international awards, including one in Cannes, and is now considered a masterpiece of Indian cinema.

Link to full feature: Confessions of a Boxman

While there are no guarantees when it comes to creating your first feature, the best way to get excited about your own vision is to experiment as much as you can before jumping in, and continuously using your resources on your ideas build up I know. Stay committed to this process and you have a good chance of reaching the finish line.

About Mika Johnson

Mika Johnson is a multimedia artist who directs feature films, documentaries, music videos, XR projects and commercials. Long-term projects include The Amerikans – a web series of 15 short documentaries – and its recently completed debut feature: Confessions of a Box Man, the first in a trilogy. Johnson not only exhibits his work internationally, but also presents, lectures and teaches workshops worldwide. For more information: mikajohnson.com


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