How to make a movie: Tips from a Sheffield film-maker
Whether it’s Snapchat stories, YouTube vlogs, or straight-up blockbusters, film is the medium of the moment. But most of us would have more clue about how to diffuse a bomb than make our own movie. Luckily, we’ve enlisted a local film maker to show us how to get the reel rolling.
Sheffield short film maker Brett Chapman, just back from the Isle of Man Film Festival, where his short was awarded Best Documentary by Mark Kermode, agreed to give us his top tips.
(More interested in watching movies than making them? Skip to the end to watch the film and read his Q&A about it.)
You can do it on the cheap (but don’t be fooled by high budget DIY style)
You’ll hear a lot of film makers saying that now all you really need is a phone and you can go out and make a great film. Now, on one level that’s true and that’s a really good way to start, but it also tends to be established film makers who say this. They ignore the fact that when they go out and shoot with a phone they’re also using thousands and thousands of pounds worth of rigging equipment and lighting to make it look as amazing as it can be.
The film that I just did, “The Residue of a Relationship” I shot on a little handicam and my phone because I was out travelling. So it can be done. The key elements are:
- A camera of some kind
- Some form of lighting, (you can use the light on your phone or you can buy workman’s lighting from B&Q and use those).
- Some kind of sound recording. You can do that on your phone but there’s a lot of affordable equipment you can buy for that.
- Something to edit on. You’ve got imovie on Macs and there are loads of other free versions of editing software for PC’s.
Get it on the Tube
Youtube, as much as Netflix etc., has changed the face film making for the next generation because it’s really put it in the hands of everyone. You can put it online and build your own audience without needing to involve anyone else and there’s the possibility of becoming successful from that.
But be aware of its faults. YouTube has gone from being a space that encourages experimentation to a space that encourages template film making where a lot of the popular videos look and feel the same. I had a travel vlog for about a year and what starts out as a genuine attempt to make something ends up feeling like you need to serve the audience first and foremost rather than creating real authentic work. So try not to get caught up in that.
Share your perspective, (figuratively or literally)
If you don’t have great kit and you’re not already an amazing film maker then what will make your work stand out is if you share your honest perspective. If that means pointing it on yourself and talking to the camera, great. Maybe you’re always looking up when you’re walking around, point the camera up. Make it your personal vision of the world. The more personal you would think the story is, the more people will feel like it was made just for them. Aim the camera at what you really care about.
The dreaded question…how to fund it
This is one of the biggest challenges, but there are lots of ways to do it. For a first film, crowdfunding is still useful – even though the initial bubble has burst with it a bit. If 20 or 50 people can give you a bit of money each then you can put something together.
That film might help you then get funding for your next film and so on. The Isle of Man does a pitch festival every year where you go and pitch a film to win funding, Sheffield Doc/fest do pitch events too where if you win then BBC3 will fund your film. Monetising your YouTube channel is another way; build up enough content so that it can lead to something bigger.
Cast the net
There are lots of websites to find actors like Star Now and Mandy, there’s Facebook groups and Twitter, University drama departments, local theatre groups as well. Get your friends and family in too to nurture a network of people who you enjoy working with. Making a film is hard enough without people you don’t get on with.
Props: beg, borrow, probably don’t steal
There’s all sorts of places you can get props. One of the things we’re starting at Sheffield Creative Guild is a library of things and there’s loads of community initiatives where you can borrow props and cameras. The universities in Sheffield have got equipment and the South Yorkshire film making network have equipment you can hire. The key is enthusiasm and asking, more often than not people will help you out, people want to be involved.
You’d be amazed how often, if say you’re making a documentary, a camper van company will give you a camper van for free if you feature it. You’ve got to be brave and ask.
There’s no use making it if no one sees it
There’s a key thing which a lot of people forget: distribution. The real work starts after you’ve finished the film. With “Residue” I put as much money work into making sure people saw it as I did making it. That means contacting reviewers, online magazines, local papers, YouTube channels. Make those relationships and make sure they’re the first people who see it.
“The Residue of a Relationship”
How did the film come about?
My main obsession with cinema is romantic cinema so the film is essentially a rom-com documentary. It happened quite naturally, I got left seven letters by my ex-girlfriend with instructions on when to open them and I had all this footage from travel vlogging for a year. I used the ideas I had for future films I want to make to make a documentary that really shows what I think about the idea of romance and how cinema impacts on it.
So…is it all real?
It’s all 100% real. The first time that I opened the letters is on screen. All the footage is real, I really go to Sweden. The end of the film is my genuine realisation. It all went exactly as is.
I would open the letter, read it out, go film the imagery, put it into the timeline then go write a bit of script about it. Then go film that and edit it. Traditionally you write the film, film it, then edit it. But I did it all at the same time as I was going, which helped it be a genuine record. Hopefully, it feels fresh and authentic because it’s like reading a page in someone’s diary.
How have people responded to it?
It’s gone down well overall. I think when you do something personal, that’s when you make something that people will really respond to. People will either love it or hate it and either is fine. I didn’t feel like I’d made something proper until I got a really scathing review from someone who hated it, and me. It was like a relief because you know it’s not just your bubble of family and friends who are seeing your work.
I also get semi-regular emails mainly from young-ish teenage boys asking for relationship advice. I think “have you seen the film? Because I don’t think I’m the one to be asking here!”.