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Filmmaking has to be one of the most tedious and involved processes in the arts, but it is also quite explorative and allows the artist to understand the importance of the journey over the importance of the goal or end product. I am an avid movie watcher, critic, and writer, so knowing about the changing film industry and the artistic processes behind it are important to me. Over the course of this semester, I learned what an amazing experience it is to discover filmmaking in its entirety. Before tackling this project, I had just delved into creative writing; I did not really understand all that goes into making a movie, like storyboarding, for instance. The class introduced me to these factors and forced me to experiment with them, and I could not be happier that I did.
Overall, I thought the course showed me that there is a film world, this industry that exists outside of everything else. This world consists of festivals, comedians who bash studios, TV shows that go through different writing processes than others, and filming that requires little education. I learned that to be a filmmaker, one only needs to know a few basic things. Nevertheless, I found the assignments challenging and made me look at things from a more technical aspect. Although it is an English Writing course, I felt like the scope of the class revolved around technology and the perspective that students had to take as being the next generation of filmmakers.
The most challenging part of the course was the storyboard. This is probably contradictory to every other student, but actually creating my shots on paper was extremely difficult. I found myself dealing with the classic problem of visually expressing every idea I had in m head. It was difficult for a number of reasons. First, I had never heard of storyboarding before. I did not understand how necessary it was in order for certain projects to be completed. Therefore, I had to acquire a whole new skillset aside from writing. Additionally, I am not that familiar with comic books, so the whole idea of paneling was foreign to me. It was challenging to find pictures that really showed what I was thinking. If I was a good sketch artist, I am sure it would have been easier. I think Noah’s storyboard was excellent, simply because of the fact that it was drawn, basic, and only showed the essential parts of the shot. Lastly, I did not know the technicalities of storyboarding. Could you include dialogue? Do you show or explain shots? How much detail do storyboards usually have? How long are they? These questions were not really answered, perhaps because they do not have a specific answer to them (similar to scripts).
The time to write the first script had rolled around, and I went through my documents of story ideas to see if I could write about one. I eventually picked an idea I had jotted down a long time ago about a dream I had about a really tense poker game. I eventually wrote it as a dark and agonizing script. It was full of angst and rigidity, which is usually what I write. I wrote in a lot of dramatic pauses, sounds of people dying in the background. With that being said, it was not a very explorative process; I wrote it in an hour on a lazy Saturday. Not to say that it was effortless, because no true writing lacks even a small amount of effort, but I definitely did not try to gain inspiration from anything.
When I found out that there were two shorts that were for a grade, I knew that I would have to write one of them with the purpose of directly translating it to screen. The first script I wrote could not be feasibly made into a film because of numerous constraints, so I knew the second script would have to be my choice. When the time came around to write it, I thought about the numerous filmmakers that have inspired me over the past few years. Woody Allen was the filmmaker/writer that really stuck out in my head; I had seen five of his movies in March, the time I was writing the script. The style and tone of his movies seemed doable, and the naturalness and light-hearted comedy seemed like a direction that would be fun for everyone involved. That night I had a dream about one of my friends finding a large bag of money and not knowing what to do with it. I thought about the dream for a long time and eventually decided that that needed to be central to the plot. The next night, I drove home and noticed that my road was dimly lit, perfect for a moody noire-type scene. I wanted people walking in the middle of the road and knew that had to be somewhere in my script. After much toil and hair-pulling, I got the idea down and wrote the script. The first draft was bad, but I knew I had a passable idea.
Before I even knew about this class, during the fall semester, I had thoughts of making a feature in the style of Woody Allen about a college couple. When the class developed and I incorporated my independent feature’s ideas into this script, I asked a girl I knew to be my actress. She agreed.
I then began rewriting the script, making minor adjustments to the characters to make them a bit more potent. I found my actress and I wanted to be the lead actor. I was trying to mirror Woody Allen, and he plays the main role in many of his movies. The supporting actor was hard to find since I do not know many athletes off the top of my head. I then remembered Sean, a guy I had roomed with for two days during orientation in the summer before attending St. Edward’s as a student. I sent him the script and he was very excited.
In mid-March, I realized that my personality does not portray timidity or neurosis. Although I consider myself passive, I knew that would not translate to the screen. I then thought of Mitch, a friend of mine whose personality naturally matches the main character’s. Although I wanted to act, for the sake of the film, I knew that he would be better suited for the role if I was going for naturalness. He immediately agreed, not really knowing what he was getting himself into.
In late March, as I was putting together a shooting schedule and planning our first meeting together, my lead actress dropped out. I was frantic as I relentlessly searched for my actress. After three or four rejections, I came across a resounding “maybe” in a friend named Alexandra. She was flattered that I asked her (she did not know she was Plan F). However, she is graduating in May, and she told me that she had much to prepare for in the upcoming months. Thus, her openness was extremely limited. Desperate, I agreed to the fact that we would work on her time.
This eventually became the root of all my problems, verbally signing a contract that gave her the power of when and how we went about shooting the film. Thus, putting together a shooting schedule became increasingly difficult. The two guys were free basically any time I asked them, but Alexandra, being a senior and an RA, was never available. I eventually found specific hours in which all were available and set those dates in stone.
One of the first scenes in the film was a scene in a restaurant with the couple talking to one another nonchalantly. I was naïve about the whole process of filming on public property. I figured that since this film was not for commercial use, it would be easy persuading managers to allow me to film in their domain. I was easily proven wrong, and the restaurant made it nearly impossible for me to shoot in their place (I had to speak with the owners, and it would take them weeks to make up their mind). Because of this, I decided to shoot the middle of the movie first.
I rented the camera equipment and instantly realized that I knew nothing about cameras. Before shooting, I spent three or four hours learning the basics of both the camera and sound equipment. It was not hard to grasp, but I still had to go through a sort of learning process. I thank the class for forcing me to become familiar with filming equipment, for I am sure this tool will prove useful later on.
The first scenes I shot were the ones of Dean and his friend finding the bag of money. I was having the time of my life, and my friends with me watching me film told me how I was totally in my element. Although there are many problems within the shots themselves, I enjoyed the entire process. The next night, I shot the opening montage. This was exciting, for I got to hang out of a car with an expensive camera and film everything I love about this city. My good friend drove me around, and her obsession with Austin fueled the excitement of the whole night. She even suggested a few sites that made it into the final cut. It was my first time ever really shooting something for artistic purposes, and I discovered that it was a new way to thrill myself.
A week went by, and another date of filming was approaching. Before hand, I tried running through lines with my main actor and actress, but as expected, the actress was not available. So I sat with Mitch and told him how I wanted to direct: I was going to give them artistic freedom and that as long as he got the ideas down, he did not need to read the lines word for word. After about an hour of reading the same paragraph to each other, he eventually recognized what I was looking for. I assured him that doing it in front of a camera would be totally different, but he reacted by saying that would not be a problem whatsoever. The date approached and I told Mitch and Alexandra to print off a few drafts just to have them in abundance. Alexandra came in with the wrong script (I had given her a feature a few months before that I had written that she exclaimed she wanted to read). She later admitted that she had never opened the script attached to the message I sent her. I had to maintain positivity, so I explained the plot, went through the lines with her, and acted out the scene five or six times in front of her before she was comfortable doing it. The scene overall went great, for she was very apologetic and felt like she owed me.
That night, Mitch entered the scene. I then understood how absolutely horrifying his acting was. His line-reading a few days before was on-point, so I had no reason to ditch him and re-assume the main actor role. But now that he was on set, he was nervous, kept forgetting his lines, and had no idea what I wanted. It was as if he totally forgot everything we went through during script rehearsals. It was getting late, and we still had two scenes on the agenda for that night. I decided to settle with his mediocrity and move on to the next scenes.
The next scenes were the ones where Mitch nearly collides with Dean in the street. At this point, Alexandra took on the personality of a Hollywood actress off-camera. Although she agreed to set this night aside for me weeks in advance, she complained about the time of night, among other things. The shots involving Sean went smoothly. We did a quick run-through without rolling, made some minor adjustments, and then shot. It was easy, and it brought me back to the week before where I was legitimately enjoying myself as a director. The shots involving Mitch and Alexandra were agonizing. Although Alexandra was complaining about the time, it was her doing that we were still shooting. She had no idea what her lines were, and Mitch’s word-fumbling did not help her remember. Mitch could not get the idea of naturalness down, and I repeatedly told him to watch a Woody Allen film with him as the main actor and pay attention to the conversations to give him a good idea. He still has not seen a Woody Allen film with him as the main actor. I was getting angry, so I decided that the first take in which they say their lines through completely was the take I was going to keep and use. My standards had obviously lowered. Additionally, my SIM card was full so I had to conserve shots. We ended at about 12:00 a.m.
That week was particularly hard for me. As I went through class, I was slowly realizing that my film was not going to be what I had envisioned. The shots were unnatural; the actors did not really understand the message or purpose of the film. There are underlying ideas that are complete and pure, but if you do not read the script in its entirety as expected, the ideas will not come to life. This was hard for me to grasp, and as artistic and cliché as it is to say, I was feeling average for the first time in a while. I do not emotionally invest myself into many projects, but I had done so in this one. To see it come up substantially short was a tough pill to swallow. But I had to finish, and the good moments with Sean and the memories of having a fun time initially shooting kept me optimistic.
The next scenes were the picnic scene and ice cream scene. Before hand, I was very assertive to Alexandra and Mitch, telling them that they must have the lines down since it was a dusk scene, meaning that we would have approximately twenty minutes to get the desired setting. To my surprise, Mitch and Alexandra actually got together independently and read through their lines a couple of times. I told them to arrive at the park at 5:30 to set up and run through it a few times before shooting. They did not arrive until 6:40.
The sun was lowering and we had to act quickly. As I was about to roll camera, the boom microphone proved dysfunctional, so we had to use the stereo microphone on the recording device which picked up every sound in the area, including the wind. The shooting began, and I only took two takes of those scenes although I wanted at least four. The sun set and we moved to the ice cream scene.
We ran through the ice cream scene multiple times, and they later told me that they had worked on the picnic scene before and did not know their lines for the ice cream scene. It was basically a repeat of the driving scene a week before: Alexandra complaining about everything there is to complain about, and Mitch acting as unnatural as possible. Once again, I settled for disturbingly mediocre acting and sound.
After that night, all of the scenes were finished, and I was ecstatic about working without Mitch or Alexandra. Sean wanted to be kept updated on my footage and editing, so I was in contact with him.
The editing process began, and I knew I wanted to edit from home and not from the computers on-campus. Therefore, since I have a PC, I downloaded Sony Vegas Pro 12 instead of Final Cut Pro. I started chipping away at the scenes, and I found myself picking up all of the tools and processes fairly easily. It still took hours, but I was expecting this. It was not nearly as agonizing as I thought. Being my first time ever editing anything, I was proud of myself that I picked up text media, splitting, fade ins and outs, sound frequency, and all of the other factors that go into producing a film. This was the most explorative process I went through, because the ability to edit a film is something that will most likely become invaluable in the future. I encountered a couple of problems, however. When the final cut was made, a random pop-up would appear in the corners of the screen that stated, “Created by Vegas Pro 12.” This was annoying and distracting viewers from the shots that I created. Also, having to work with decibel levels and wade through all of the horrible sounds proved challenging. Regardless, Sony Vegas was easy enough to maneuver, so I was overall pleased with how the editing came out.
In the end, I learned a lot from the filmmaking process, and now that I have a short under my belt, I realize that I would have done a lot of things differently. First, I would have made sure that the equipment was functional at the equipment rental office. I found out that equipment is everything; not only the technology, but knowing how to use it. Some of my shots were out of focus and could have been crisper with a different lens. Some of them had a couple of lighting issues, which I now know can be fixed through messing with the camera settings. Sometimes I watch movies and think, “How did he/she do that?” Most of it has to do with the extremely expensive technology at their fingertips, but the production crew still has to have a basic understanding of what they want and how to attain it. Without the knowledge and the experience through the application of that knowledge, production crews cannot achieve what they want. This shooting process not only gave me the knowledge, but it gave me the experience. Next time I shoot, I will spend more time with the equipment to get the most out of my shots using different settings.
Something that caught me by surprise was how important casting is. I realize that getting the right actors is important, but I did not think they could be the difference between thematic cinema and a bad movie. I can definitively say that the actors really ruined the message of the piece. And in saying that the actors were horrible, I do not necessarily put the blame on them. I mostly blame myself for picking the wrong actors and also for not giving the correct type of direction and advice to get the most out of the actors that I did choose. At first, I told each of my actors to express themselves and to let their personalities come to life within the parameters of their characters. Since they obviously did not take this project seriously, they had no idea what I meant by my advice. I tried to explain that it was artistic freedom, but midway through shooting, the actors told me that they were not artists. I never really took that into consideration before, that since they did not have the same mindset as me, they could not really understand what I was saying. This is essentially why I blame myself. By the time I gave them specific direction and told them exactly how I wanted things done, it was too late. They had already created a loose idea of how they were going to act based on how they acted in the initial scenes.
After much thought, I began to wonder if the characters were too complicated for non-artists. When I was explaining the characters to my actors, I realized how dynamic they were. I described Mitch the character as neurotic, wimpy, opinionated, but also a bit kind underneath it all. Perhaps that was too much to take in; perhaps he had one too many layers. I described Maria as bitchy, but also loving. I told my actress that she loves Mitch but is simply exhausted and has skewed priorities. How can a non-artist digest all of this and visually express it, especially when she has not read the script beforehand? This is a recipe for disaster. Maybe I should have simplified the characters, or maybe I did not know exactly what I wanted when I explained their personalities. Still, I showed them how I wanted it done before shooting, acting out all of the roles myself. This should have been sufficient advice. The point is that I will seriously consider who I pick as my actors next time I make a film.
In the end, filmmaking is something I would love to continue to pursue. The class really broke me into the filmmaking scene, and I now have a little better understanding of the difficulties of producing a film. I think the most exciting part was seeing my script come to life, despite its unexceptional interpretation. I now know how to write for the screen a bit better, instead of just writing out of creativity. I will look at this film’s problems and successes as a reference for my future pieces.
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