My Strategy For Writing & Directing A Feature Film In 2021
My Strategy For Writing Directing A Feature Film In 2021.jpg

After finishing my microbudget feature Psychosynthesis last year, I immediately started developing my next feature project. But when the pandemic hit, those plans had to change drastically.

At first I wanted to take a much more traditional path than in the past.

My last two features were both created with tiny budgets of $ 12,000 and $ 25,000, respectively, and while I loved the challenge of working in those conditions, I wanted to try something new.

I wanted to see what would come out of writing a feature without worrying about the practicalities of budgeting or fundraising. This would be a full 180 from my usual approach as I usually write scripts to create them for little to no money.

But I figured that developing something without budget constraints would serve two purposes:

  1. It would allow me to research new story ideas that would not be feasible on a smaller budget.
  2. It would force me to raise money by more traditional means and get out of my comfort zone.

After two functions for the micro-budget were finalized and published, it seemed logical to pursue something on a larger scale. Even if the budget ended up at $ 250,000 or $ 500,000 (still small by most standards), it would be enough money to make the film the more traditional way.

That's why last year I started developing a bigger concept for a feature film, which I was very happy about.

But then the pandemic hit … And I had to take a step back and reevaluate the plan.

Did it still make sense to pursue a larger project? I wasn't so sure.

There was just too much uncertainty on all fronts. Investors were hit by the volatility in the equity markets. Production work came to a standstill. Film festivals were closed and virtual.

And even as the situation began to stabilize in a few months (to some extent), more potential problems emerged. Namely, the cost of starting a larger production skyrocketed due to COVID protocols that could increase your budget by 30%.

At a certain point I decided to change gears.

While I was still getting excited about the movie I was developing, I decided to crush the idea that it would be my next feature film. That was actually quite liberating.

I decided to keep working on this bigger movie, but with a longer time horizon. I hope to be able to take photos in 2 to 3 years and not this year.

Ultimately, I think this will be a blessing in disguise as I have more time to perfect the script, raise the money over the longer term, and hopefully build the perfect team along the way.

In the meantime, nothing is stopping me from booting another function – that's exactly what I'll do.

There was a point where I considered taking the year off to focus on my business and just wait until the time was right for this bigger movie. But I'm far too impatient for that.

I love to work and make films, no matter how big or small. While many things in my life have changed dramatically over the years, the desire to make films has remained steadfast, and I don't see it ever change.

Making movies is also the connective tissue between everything I do, from keeping this blog to being Train filmmakers to accomplish Color Correction LUTs. It's all connected through the anchor of feature filmmaking.

Looking back, I really had no choice but to do another feature this year. Even if it meant going back to my roots and booting into another DIY project.

But I didn't want to just do another micro-budget movie using the exact blueprint that I was using before. Every film is an experiment and an excuse to try out new ideas, methods and tactics on the set and off.

The last thing I wanted to do was make the same movie all over again, using exactly the same creative and technical approach. If I didn't want to move up in the budget department, I had to do it another way.

In part, this meant rethinking what kind of concept I wanted to approach and how I would approach the writing process. But it also meant seeing the production process through a different prism that would allow the project to thrive, even when filming against a backdrop of a pandemic.

Although my last two feature films were very DIY and shot with skeleton crews / minimal resources, they still resembled more traditional productions in some ways. Especially Psychosynthesis, This felt (to me at least) more like some of the bigger commercials I've directed in the past.

Ultimately, as I considered all of this, I came to an important realization –

If I don't want to enlarge my next feature film, I should shrink it.

With this next film, I didn't want to try to emulate the dynamics of a larger production. It wouldn't help my creative process or the bottom line in any way. If anything, this would only make further development more difficult, especially since there is no final end in sight for the pandemic.

And when I've learned over the years that if you want to create a micro-budget feature, you have to go all in.

The best movies at this level are often the ones that take bootstrapping to the next level. They are not trying to be what they are not. They lean on the DIY nature of what they are, and by embracing them rather than fighting them, they can produce incredibly unique creative results.

In practice this means that I want to shoot with an even smaller budget than my two previous films and with an even smaller crew. As far as I know, the film could be shot with a crew of 3 for $ 1000. That's the kind of scale I'm looking for.

I will probably be running the project myself – something I have done in the past but not in a while. Not only does this allow me to keep the crew smaller, but it also allows me more control over the graphics, which I really enjoy.

Even under normal circumstances, it is always a good idea to go very small when making a micro-budget movie. That doesn't mean the movie has to look or feel small, but rather that it should be produced in a way that is not derived from larger budget productions.

In today's world, this philosophy is more critical than ever.

By making the scope of your project smaller, you will be far better able to adapt to anything that comes in your way – restrictions, shutdowns, security protocols, or anything else.

Another thing I've done to shake up the process is create a new community for feature filmmakers on a budget – The backlot.

It's a private membership group made up of filmmakers who are making feature films this year (and some who don't but are there as an educational experience).

In creating this community, not only have I the privilege of guiding many other filmmakers through the process of making their own films, but I am also held accountable myself.

We're just getting started, but over the coming months I'll keep reporting on my process, getting feedback from members, and participating in the activities like all the other filmmakers in the group. It has been such a positive creative force already and has inspired me to do my best job to make sure I give all members the best that I can.

This, combined with a completely different approach to writing and producing the film, is sure to result in a unique experience like I have never experienced before.

And to say that I'm very excited to have a new movie on the horizon would be an understatement.

With so much uncertainty in the world, it's a nice thing to have a creative project that you can work on and enjoy every day. Will my next film be the bigger production I thought I would start this year? Definitely not.

It gets a lot smaller. Perhaps the smallest thing I've ever done in terms of girth. But that's the whole point.

And if everything goes according to plan, no one looking at the finished product will ever think about the budget or how the film was made. We only know that.

What are you doing to bring your next movie to life this year? Leave a comment below.

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