How to make a good film great;Film and media studies;Features amp; Arts

12th November 1999 at 00:00
There are are three key stages in film-making - preparation, filming and post-production. Here are a few basic guidelines.

* The first stage is by far the most important - films are made as much in the mind as in the camera and cutting room. Whether it's a documentary or a drama, the better your preparation, the better the chance of a good film. Time is cheap, so use it to develop your ideas. Draw help and inspiration from anyone available.

* What's the story? Work it out in advance - a start, a middle and an end. It sounds simple, but you can't tell a gripping tale unless you know how it ends.

* Map out your structure. If it's a documentary, have a clear idea of what questions you're asking and what you expect the denouement of your investigation to be - although the results of your research may surprise you.

* If you want to make a drama, prepare a script. If you're working with improvisation, prepare a framework or storyboard. For a documentary, have a shooting script.

* How much will it cost? Get help to work out a budget for props, costumes, video tapes and so on. And stick to it.

* Work out people's roles in advance, and acknowledge their importance. Making films is a collaborative art, but working by committee usually results in a pudding of a programme. So decide on a producer (with overall responsibility for organising but also for delegating). Who will write and who will direct?

* Who will sort out costumes, organise props and transport, find locations and ensure you have permission to film there? If you are filming in public, you must ensure you don't break the law or cause inconvenience. You should also ask people to agree to being filmed. You may want one person whose job is to co-ordinate the technical elements - a production manager.

* In drama, rehearsal is important and so is getting people used to the camera before filming starts, even when you're making a "fly-on-the-wall" documentary.

* If you're interviewing people, plan questions and discuss the interview with them first - you'll get more coherent and usable answers. But if it is a "confrontational interview", surprise questions may be better. Plan your strategy.

* Remember to plan as much as possible, but also be open to chance. When filming, plan your shots but keep your eyes open for the unexpected extra.

* Look first, then film. Imagine what it will look like as part of the finished product. Think about sequences. If you're working on tape and you don't think a shot has worked, do it again. Tape is inexpensive. But keep the earlier take. When you edit, you may find it's the best version.

* Find out how your camera works and practise before you start shooting. Domestic video cameras have all kinds of effects built in - most are gimmicks. Don't use them unless they'll really add to your story. Try out all kinds of shots and see how they look - pans, zooms in and out, filming interviews - perhaps framing a question closer or further out to help with editing. Also take cutaways (relevant images you can use to edit interviews so you don't get the jerky effect they call a jump-cut). You may also want shots of the interviewer listening. Film several alternatives - smiling, straight-faced, nodding.

* Make sure the quality of the sound you record is good. Remember, for instance, not to talk while using the camera - unless you're going to replace camera sound with music. You'll be recorded much louder than the people you're filming.

* View the rushes after each session to ensure you're getting the material you want and that it's usable.

* Then comes the task during which a film comes together - the editing. Films are often remade in the cutting room, and editing can be the most difficult and sometimes upsetting task of all, because you will have to decide which of your treasured sequences must be left out.

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