PRE-PRODUCTION [PLANNING YOUR VIDEO]
I'll just say, when you're making a video think about your skill level, your tools, your equipment, and all the people and locations and assorted assets you can realistically use in your project. And use that. Because if you plan some harebrained epic project you've no clue how to even approach, you're in trouble. I want you to focus on telling a story and writing something that will be entertaining but that will also be feasible to complete. Work with your creative limitations and use what you have and what you can do, to your advantage. I've seen far too many people try too hard on the first project yet also somehow not hard enough. I'm reminded of Rachel Waltz's video idea over a decade ago. She was one of Sarah's friends, who had all these loopy ambitious ideas for a video she wanted to record with a bunch of her girl friends and she hyped it like crazy. (I recall that it involved a golf cart chase, Bill Clinton, and a swimming pool) But she had zero follow through on any of these ideas, and all the chattering girls never recorded a single shot. So follow through is important! You do not need a perfect first video. You need to plan one, instead, that you can actually commit to finishing.
Often getting a video done means being ready to do almost all aspects of it yourself. You do not need a crew. You are the crew. And you can master every aspect of video production. There are a ton of resources available to help you - books and videos - and no, you don't need to go to film school to learn to make a film. Take the cash that would go to a film school and focus it on learning skills from cheaper sources, buying relevant gear, and then learning more from experience by making a few really cool short films!
A great movie in your head is worth far, far less than a mediocre one that's finished and that people can actually see. (As Wayne Gretsky famously said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.") So get organized and start recording the shots needed to tell your story. They don't need to be flawless; perfectionism will actually make things worse. They just need to be good enough to effectively tell the story you're trying to tell. You're pretty much guaranteed to make bad videos at first anyway, because it's a learning process. But you learn by doing. And over time, your work will tend to get better. So don't freak out if people joke about your videos - I actually embraced the cheese factor by making deliberately comedic videos! If you are making a comedy, laughter from the audience becomes a good thing. It becomes a goal.
And definitely, definitely, do plan things out, organize them, and know exactly what you are trying to do with your project narratively. To trot out another sports quote, this time from Yogi Berra: "You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there." So write a script, ideally in the correct 'Hollywood' format, but it really, really doesn't need to be if it's one you'll shoot yourself. I've printed beautiful scripts properly formatted in Courier New, and I've scrawled bizarre rough outlines on a single sheet of paper, which believe it or not sometimes still turns out well. Snow Siege was one of those and so was Fortress Siege, they were both written during Christmas vacations without access to my computer or printer. And they were pretty decent, though I cannot say the same for 'Full Circle' which had the most bizarrely inscrutable outline ever, including a string of baffling two-word phrases, like 'Swahili Wolves'. These phrases, without the connecting story meanings that tied them together in my head, made no sense at all. But since I was the one making the video, I knew what they were and how they fit together, so even though they were just 20-30 words crammed onto a notepad the size of a postcard, they resulted in a bizarre video that made slightly more sense than no sense at all. And in the end, such scrawlings are just as likely to work as a properly formatted script, because the format only really needs to look good if you're selling the script. And believe me, unless it's brilliantly written, or you have a lot of existing screen credits, nobody in Hollywood will buy your script anyway. Hollywood is bloated and inefficient regardless, and they shoot way too many movies in Los Angeles, and they produce almost zero new IPs lately. Just endless sequels, many of them bad. Forget Hollywood, I don't want any part of their industry. I'd rather make my own 'Hollywood' using the internet as my distribution system. That's where all the media content is headed anyway, because let's face it, theater chains are dying and so are DVDs. People prefer streaming videos at home, for the convenience and affordability of it, and because popcorn at home doesn't have a 1300% average price markup changing the cost from $0.50 to $7.00. (I'm not kidding about the popcorn, BTW, that IS the actual average profit margin on movie theater popcorn.) A lot of people - mostly conservatives - will also gripe about Hollywood's culture, the liberal agenda and the so-called 'gay agenda', which mostly consists of gay people just wanting to be treated like human beings, and quite frankly that's not my problem with Hollywood. My problem is their centralized and monopolistic corporate nature - the fact that our mass media is owned almost entirely by six giant companies, each with a bunch of subsidiary studios and networks providing an illusion of many choices. And though they often take an anti-corporate/anti-establishment/pro-underdog stance in the entertainment they make, they only do so because that sells and they can make money by being entirely hypocritical and disingenuous.
So bottom line, I think you need to work with your strengths, which include wherever you live, which is likely not LA, and that's actually great because you have easy access to interesting locations that Hollywood doesn't use. You have a unique creative vision (I hope) and you can make and release video content without any sort of gatekeeper in your way, because you have modern digital technology and access to the internet! Sure, you have limited funding, but that's no biggie. Every successful filmmaker started out with limited resources anyway. Christopher Nolan's first movie, for instance, was 'Following' - a film done for $6000. Sin City director Robert Rodriguez shot 'El Mariachi' for $7000 which he raised by volunteering for a human drug trial. While dealing with side effects of the new medication he was taking, he also wrote his script. And those were features shot on actual film stock - nowadays the dynamic has changed and more can be done with less than was true in the '90s. 'District 9' director Neill Blonkamp got his ideas for that story greenlit with a 20-minute short called 'Alive in Joburg' made for $10k, and then posted online, which had quite impressive production values given the budget. The old phase - the 1990s - involved making a movie with 16mm film, and getting Hollywood's attention so it could hit theaters. The recent phase involved making a shorter proof of concept video on the internet, and using that to get Hollywood's attention. And now? I think screw Hollywood. I don't care if I get their attention. I don't want it. I want to stay independent, my entire career. I want to run my own lean, efficient studio that's not beholden to their business interests. If you feel the same way, great! I hope to see a ton of people set up their own video channels and networks and websites with video content that does 10 times more per dollar than the best Hollywood can do, and which breaks free of every corporate dependency, yes, even getting free from YouTube. I have vlogs on YouTube but my best content's on HornbostelVideos.com, not there, and the YouTube channel I run is ultimately meant to be a promotional method to direct people to my own websites. Similarly, while I've mostly made my sales through eBay and later Etsy and Itch, I do also have a shop of my own, one I run myself, on HornbostelProductions.com, and I'd like to see that take off too at some point.
I know much of this is a manifesto, not so much about planning a movie. But if you want information about writing, check the writing section - most of the planning process is writing, and storytelling. That section means all that's really left to cover is the OTHER STUFF - which is planning around what is practical, what you can do, and what you have access to. And I've already covered that here. So that pretty much sums it up. I had no cast members but me in my earliest videos, circa 2001. 'House Trek' was just me alone in a house flying through space, and the reason I chose that was because all I *had* was me and the house, a clunky tape-based camera recording VHS quality video, and some really rudimentary VFX and editing software. But despite that lack of assets and no budget whatsoever, I made a video. Was it long? No. Was it good? Not really. But I made it. And then I made the first 'Send in the Clones' (also in 2001) which also had only me as a cast member, talking to three other copies of myself. It was also short and not terribly good, but it was shown to people anyway and laid bare for criticism, and then before long - by 2005 - I had a cast of 22 people all acting in the final part of the 'Send in the Clones' quadrilogy, 'Send in the Clones 4: War of the Clones', a 35-minute loopy action comedy mess, with 200 vfx shots and a $600 budget. The key takeaway is that once you show you can make a movie, even a small, bad one, people will start flooding in to work with you on more. Because you have demonstrated an ability to get things done. You've then got a track record. So that's partly why I advise you to start with something modest in scope and then build from there, improving your skills and ambitions steadily over time. People may not want to participate the first time. If they don't, even if your resources are basically nil, get moving, persist, make something anyway. I did. You can too. Go for it. It's awesome and fun!
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