Hello Film Doctor friends.
We’re excited to introduce our 100th Monday Prescription today!
For the last 2 years, the Film Doctor team have tried to be of great help to you every Monday, sharing whatever tips and insights we can to support your projects – whether at idea stage or a finished movie.
So today, we attempt to place every main lesson we’ve amassed over the last 2 years into one singular post.
We would like to make this 100th Monday Prescription post the ultimate lessons takeaway box. So what are the shared conclusions 90% of filmmakers inevitably reach, one way or another?
1. The film industry is not for everyone
As fun/exciting/glamorous/adventurous/creative it might sound, working in the film industry is…well, work. It requires the same amount of determination, consistency and patience, as any other career choice – if not more.
And it’s not for everyone – the same way not everyone can become a doctor, an engineer or an astronaut. To begin with, creative inklings aside, to work in the film industry you need 3 essential qualities: stamina, flexibility, self-motivation. In addition, film business is not for you, if you hate uncertainty and change.
The other important decision to make is which part of the film industry do you want to be in? Do you want to write screenplays? Direct movies? Look after the visual composition? Edit? Finding out your “sector” will help inform your career steps and channel all your energy & resources into that direction. The danger of swaying from one field to other and juggling multiple roles at once is spreading yourself too thin – thus, not perfecting your craft and achieving desired heights. Of course, you can find a way to be a successful combination of roles, e.g. Writer-Director, Director-Producer, Actor-Producer, etc. but try building careers as a Sound Designer and Actor simultaneously, and you are likely to lose focus on either side pretty soon.
Don’t be afraid to try roles out, until you settle into the one that fits you the most. That said, you should be prepared to answer all the pesky questions (usually from the non-film industry friends & relatives) regarding career progress, ‘climbing the professional ladder’, income, etc. As we said before, the film industry is not for those who hate uncertainty or seek pre-developed career routes. In the film industry – regardless of whether you are a freelancer or working for a production company – there is no such thing a ‘defined career path’, where entry-level role A leads to middle management role B and you end up an executive C. For example, while a trainee chef will – pretty much, as a given – in a few years rise to a chef de partie/sous chef and can expect to, eventually, become a head chef, a Script Reader isn’t going to necessarily become a Producer or paid Screenwriter – unless s/he wants to. Unless you, yourself, decide that your goal is the Production Executive chair, no one will get you there – there are no specifically designed jobs that always lead to the Production Executive post, but there are some jobs that are more likely to get you there than others. Therefore, YOU design your ‘career plan’ and YOU make it happen.
And once you’ve decided that you’re sticking with it, make sure you’ve “got the goods” – which leads us to:
2. How to make the best possible project – A checklist
So, you’re determined to make it as a Writer/Director/Producer and you’re about to dedicate the next X amount of weeks/months/years to a certain project. Have you done a quick ‘health check’ on it?
Firstly, what is the main foundation of good movie? A good script. Because, without a script that engages/excites/provokes any sort of emotional response, the released movie will be flat/dull/obvious.
A good script has well-rounded characters, with enough depth to them to make believable or plausible (and also to attract actors of value to your production). The audience should be able to experience a range of emotions when following the characters on screen – root for someone, sympathize with another, despise the other. Note, we are not mentioning perfect ones – real life people aren’t perfect, so why would your characters be?
The engaging characters propel an engaging story – regardless of the genre. Wonder which stories get higher % of commission? Turns out, stories based on real-life events.
Say, you’re off to pitch your project around to potential producers, buyers, etc. What’s in your ‘pitch package’? What are you presentation materials? A few very obvious documents are logline, synopsis and very brief press pack, containing team bios. On a further note, if you intended to approach investors, you’d need to build a film package. Largely speaking, a film package is everything you have to bring to the table – all the elements of the future film that are in place, e.g. screenplay, cast, money, etc. If you are to put it into a presentation document, you need to create a business pack, detailing all the project’s elements in place and your intentions for the film. Plus, you will need to include a predicted budget – an estimate of how much you foresee everything to cost, from pre-production to post and promotional rounds.
Once your project is ‘green lit’, who will bring those well-rounded characters we’ve talked about to life? Best suited actors. Don’t save time on casting – make sure you find exactly the right actors – don’t just look for talent, look for the ones who really fit the part. It might take more than a couple of audition rounds, but an actor walks in and nails the part, you’ve got yourself your movie’s heart and soul. Of course, if you’re structuring your film and your finance a certain way then named actors (actors of value) can be essential to gaining pre-sales or distribution. It’s all in the plan!
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and you might find that none of the “items” on this “checklist” applies to your project and your goals for it. There are many roads to Rome!
3. Learn from the best
Chances are, anything we think is a unique problem/challenge, someone else has come across it before. And they might’ve even shared their experience with budding filmmakers via a biographical book, blog or interview. Read them. Listen to podcasts. Attend Q&A sessions. Hear the word from people who have officially done it! That’s the Film Doctor motto.
But, of course, don’t follow blindly. Just because something worked for Christopher Nolan, doesn’t mean you can succeed the same way. Find your own path. Just be informed of the journeys of others, who’ve reached your desired destination.
4. Be inspired
Be passionate about your work. This is an essential rule for anyone working in any creative industry – and the film industry in particular. If you are not passionate about the project, you won’t be able to endure all the obstacles and noes along your way – or put in the hours to perfect your project.
Furthermore, if you are not motivated and inspired, how can you inspire the people around you? – starting with the crew and working all the way along to your eventual audience. No one wants to see uninspired work, right?
5. Top 5 Monday Prescriptions of all time – 2012-2014
If you’d like to further read up on our “lessons learned” summary, you can revisit the following Top 5 Monday Prescriptions since we’ve been active – these are ranked by the visits we’ve had from you lot, over the years. Thank you for letting us know which topics are of most interest to you!
- On film work:
- On perfecting your projects:
- On screenplay checklists:
- On learning from established filmmakers: