Ok this lesson might seem a bit premature, but I can’t stress this enough: be prepared, be organized…
I lived and worked and learnt most of what I know about film-making in Germany, although I am a Canadian, and went to film school in Vancouver, a long story… The Germans are the most organized people on earth. Organization is a good thing, a great thing.
When you are organized you suffer far less from stress, and it gives you more time to enjoy life, to sit in the cafe and drink beer with your friends. This is what the Germans like to do, so they make sure they are well organized so they can enjoy more beer. This is smart.
Although it takes time to be organized, the irony is that being organized saves you time so you can have more quality time. The more organized you are during production the more quality time you will have to get that life changing performance out of your cast and crew. Making movies is all about preparation, and organization. Don’t even think about making a movie if your are not organized.
On the other hand, is it possible to make a movie in a state of chaos?
Some directors actually work best spontaneously, with only a vague idea of what they want to do, which they scribbled down on a napkin in the bar the night before. But this can be very expensive to do, although, since DSLRs make things a lot cheaper considering that you are shooting on SD cards, and not on film, you can afford to shot, and reshot things over and over again, if that will lead to some spontaneous cinematic catharsis.
Why not be creative? This is a new cinematic renaissance, right? We want to go where no one has gone before, and create what no one has created new realities, correct?
But such an approach will probably only work if you are shooting all by yourself. You can still make a film in an unorganized way, but the problem is that your crew will quickly grow to hate you for it.
Being organized means gaining respect of the valuable people who might be working for you for free.
If you are prepared, if you know what you want to do because you have memorized your storyboard and line script, which is a shot list, you will have a much clearer vision of what you want to do that day. And if you show up on the set every day with this same kind of awesome focus your crew will love you, because you will have calmed their nerves, and they will feel like you are looking after them. They will feel like you are in control. You will be like an oasis for them, like a peaceful island of refuge in a raging sea at times, and they will rally around you, and work way better then you could have imagined.
I am not saying that there should be no more room for spontaneity, because the best directors will see new opportunities constantly during shooting, and exploit those opportunities, to make something truly unusual. Francis Ford Coppola is a good example of this when he made Apocalypse Now. He is a very intuitive director, and made one of the greatest movies in history because of it. But a film like the latter could never be made today: it would cost way too much.
But when you are starting out, and you have a limited budget, my tip: stick to the script. Stick to the storyboards, and shot lists, and try and get in as many shots as you can, or coverage as it is called, from as many different angles as you can afford, but keep the train rolling to keep your budget on track, otherwise your unit production manager will kill you.
If you have a limited time and budget, stick to the shot list, just make sure you have at least a master shot, your two shots, and your close ups. Any extra angles are a bonus, and one way of getting them on a tight budget is by being organized!
The Germans have a saying, translated roughly: organization is half of your life, but then you can enjoy the other half.
In my opinion unorganized people do best, not making movies, but drinking beer in the backyard, which is good too.
The really good news is that it is super easy to be organized when making movies.
There are templates, and forms you can use, after you have finished writing your screenplay. These forms will be your guiding light to help make your production shine, all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
I will even show you how to organize the hardest thing of all: the screenplay itself, to make it much easier to complete. I have developed an unconventional outline, which you can simply fill in the blanks, for a full length feature film. I’m probably the only one in the world who uses this format, but it works.
At the end of this Online Film School, when you are done, you will find a resource page where you can download a variety of forms for organizational purposes like: my screenplay outline, line scripts, treatments, storyboards, shooting schedules etc, everything you will need for pre, production, and post.