I recently read an article from a website about making documentaries, and I decided to have a different take on it, but using the same headings.
1. Stop sitting and get to work
Frustration and impatience are essential features if you want to make a movie without money. Combine this frustration with a significant accomplishment: Unless your surname is “Coppola,” your short film will receive much attention at Sundance, or if you have many rich uncles you will not make a movie for more than $ 100,000. You will have to work for it and even after work; it’s unrealistic that you can get to do something with a significant assumption.
2. Stop worrying about writing something marketable
My first documentary about Belper, Derbyshire was not a commercial product, it was made to highlight the beauty of Belper, and yet for my business plan, it wasn’t a good move. Looking back, even if we had Jason Statham who was born just down the road in Shirebrook, Derbyshire in the project, it would have been difficult to pull it off.
No one knew me, and I did not have an industry presence. For that reason, I decided to rethink the project. Make a personal movie with a “nano” budget. It was a documentary that you are willing to die for. For me, committing to do something incredibly personal was what gave me the energy to withstand the difficulties to come.
3. Work with close friends, especially the most brutally honest ones
I’m not exaggerating when I say that making your first documentary film will be the most stressful thing I’ve ever tried. The less money you have, the harder it will be. My recommendation is to work with people who challenge and question you, work with those who are not afraid to be sincere and who will do everything to make you better and better day by day.
Work with people who respect what you do and not just those who seem helpful to you. Besides, it would help if you worked with people you trust sincerely. What unites them is a shared trust in doing whatever it takes to make the best documentary possible. These collaborations are rare, but once they are found, you must hold on to them.
4. Crowdfund (collective financing); for the first and last time in your life
With my first documentary I used my own money, with my second documentary “Shreds of Rome, I used Kickstarter. To do this, I used Twitter and Facebook accounts in a constant stream of updates, reminders and personal pleas to help me.
Did I lose Facebook “friends” in the process? Yes. Did I lose followers on Twitter? If I care? No, because I managed to finance my feature film. These social media offer a unique and straightforward opportunity for you to connect with all the people in your past and present.
If you have a reputation for being a kind and considerate person you will be surprised to see how many of your friends and contacts come to help you. Ask the entire team got involved. So, instead of three or four friends, I had fifteen or twenty asking for support. However, remember, crowdfunding is better if it is requested for a project and this is achieved. Once they have done you the favor of helping you, it is much harder to get them to do it again.
5. More than postproduction: Budget for film festivals, trips, and exhibitions
In spite of having collected the necessary money for the production of the film, I had not contemplated many of the expenses of the postproduction. You must take into account that editors are needed (image and sound), and if you are not a specialist do not do it yourself, leave it to the professionals.
Make sure you budget for a minimum of thirty festivals. You must contemplate the three types of festivals; If you risk all your money in the higher level, you risk not being selected in any. While the intermediate and lower level festivals can help your movie get good reviews. There it is much easier to have contact with the organizers and programmers; relationships that are useful to boost your work, in addition to linking with the press and with other filmmakers who can always give good advice.
Budget for travel and accommodation: Most festivals take care of this, but you should never assume it at all. Otherwise, you could miss the projection of your film, and that is not all good, it is also important to live this experience. You can not expect your documentary to be talked about and criticized, let alone get feedback if you sit at home.
6. How can you “pay” your collaborators
When making your first documentary, there is a lot at stake – and the same goes for everyone else. Your producers, actors and the team invest the time of their lives and work, and sometimes they do it for free. But why would they do something like this if they do not expect to get something in return?
What do you look for in this experience?
If you do not ask yourself these questions, you have neglected your responsibility as the director, since they are a fundamental part of the entire project and if they are committed to it, you must honor their time and effort that they have given you. Your job is not only to treat them well but to worry about them and inject them with encouragement so that they are convinced to make the best movie possible. If you operate from this perspective, they will be willing to “buy” the idea and join the process. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to transcend and be part of something collective, something bigger and by making a documentary, you can provide that to your collaborators.
7. Between 7 and 24 days shooting days for production
Even though you do not have a lot of money, that does not mean you have to force yourself to shoot in 8, 10 or 12 days. If the project is your passion, you do not want to make mistakes, and you want to make sure you have enough time to do it right. For me, 24 days was a perfect amount given that we had many locations and movements we had to do.
For a script that takes place in one place, from one day is a comfortable period to carry out the project. If your script is just under 100 pages (which surely is), you can shoot between 4 and 6 pages per day. This rhythm will allow you not to be overwhelmed or tired and above all not to exploit others.
Remember, although it is a low budget documentary, you have to do it with quality, and for this, you must take the time and be careful in the placement of the camera, the lighting and the details of the performances. Another tip, remember to have the filming plan ready to know what day each of the scenes will be filmed.
8. Get to the movies early and wake up earlier
To start the day, we started filming earlier than normal and carefully studied each scene that would be filmed that day; analyzed the script and the list of shots. I was the first to arrive at the film set, and the cinematographer also came an hour before the call to review what we would do.
9. Embrace the fact that you will not be at Sundance or Doc Fest
Repeat that three times in the morning and three times before sleeping. Remember that your documentary is on a meager budget, and, generally, Sundance does not accept those “nano” budget movies. They allow independent films, yes, but that they have one that another personality, or with big budgets and connections of the industry.
If you want to be successful with your movie, you should think beyond London. First, follow the system of festival levels that I described in point 5. Second, send online “screeners” to press people in the cities where the festivals are held. If you know people from the industry, contact them and ask them to watch your film. The more people in the middle see your docuemtary, the better. In other words, you do not need to be in Sundance or Doc Fest to get to movie theaters. You have to make a good film and have an appropriate strategy.
10. Get the most significant number of opinions and criticisms
For the filmmaker who makes films with these micro-budgets, critics are his best friends. They have the power to create positive atmospheres that attract the attention of distributors. The best thing is that, while you attend the festivals, you meet them and talk to them; you do not have to convince them of anything, just that they place you. Your documentary, if it’s good enough, will do the rest.
The beauty of micro-budget cinematography is that it can easily rely on the success of a first project. It is much easier to raise funds for the second film once you have managed to do the first. Now, you have more than vision and passion; you already have a product. As they say, the best time to finance your next movie is while you’re filming the current one.