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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Know your limits

imageLow-budget indie producer Philip R Cable has a simple formula: “Overambition + Inexperience = Failure”. He was talking about low-budget professional productions, but it applies equally to amateur movie-makers.

This doesn’t mean you should stay permanently within your comfort zone. It’s good to keep pushing your limits and try to do more with each piece you create. But before you do, you need to know where your limits are, and not try to push too far.

We see a lot of novice filmmakers using Moviestorm. It’s a comparatively easy tool to use, and it can do a lot, so the temptation is always to try and do as much with it as you possibly can. Far too often, people set out to write full-length feature films, series in twenty episodes, huge special-effects epics with massive casts, or intricate psychological dramas. And then they give up, usually for good. They’ve tried making a film, got a little way down the road, and they’re daunted by the scale of what they’ve taken on.

It’s not surprising, really. Making films is, as we’ve said before, ridiculously hard work. It can be fun, but the glamour soon wears off if you don’t see results. When you’re experienced, results can mean getting a couple of good shots, or seeing a scene storyboarded, or trimming a few seconds out of a scene to make it play better. You instinctively feel that your movie is getting a step closer, and you can point at something that proves that. When you’re starting out, however, the only result that really matters is getting the damn thing finished. Every day you work on it and don’t finish it becomes another day of frustration, particularly when things go wrong. It doesn’t take long for the frustration to build up to a point where it’s just not worth it any more.

When you’re starting out, aim small. Simply getting a film finished is an achievement. It doesn’t matter if it’s only a couple of minutes long, and doesn’t have much in it. Review it critically afterwards, and decide what you’re going to work on for the next movie. You don’t have to make the movie more complex - watch a bunch of sketch shows like Monty Python or Little Britain and see how much you can do in a short space of time with a single set, a tiny cast and no effects. Instead, you could focus on getting better camera angles, better dramatic performances, better lighting, or better editing. You could experiment with different ways to lay out the set. If you’re using a machinima or animation tool, you could start messing around with mods and creating your own props or costumes.  But don’t try to do all these at once. You’ll quickly get overwhelmed and feel you’re getting nowhere. It’s much better to get to the end of something, and then move on.

Think of filmmaking like any other endeavour that requires skill and practice. You wouldn’t go into a gym and start trying to lift massive weights. You wouldn’t sit down at a piano and expect to be able to play the Grieg Piano Concerto. Your first driving experience won’t be on the starting grid of the Indy 500. Those are great things to aim at, and with sufficient dedication, you can, perhaps, get there. But you do it one step at a time.

Ambition is a wonderful thing. It’s what drives us all to do more and to do better. But over-ambition will kill a film stone dead, and probably stifle a budding filmmaker’s talent for good.

Unless, of course, you’re Ed Wood. In which case, we salute you!

(0) Comments | Permalink | Posted by Matt Kelland

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