Making The Rubber Stamp Film (rubber stamps on index cards), 1983, Photo: R. Dennis Wiancko
1) Spend lots of time deciding what to do and how to do it. The most important part of a film is the core idea. Take time to develop your ideas and to write and rewrite a script, if you are using one. You might be working with this idea for a few years and you do not want to get bored with it. I worked on my first film, The Rubber Stamp Film, for five years.
2) Work with what you know best. One of my favorite animated films ("The Back Brace" by Andy and Carolyn London) is a first film about a trauma in Andy's childhood. What do you know really well? What are you passionate about? This can make the difference between an ordinary film and a unique and fascinating film. I chose to make an experimental film with rubber stamps on index cards because I had a novelty rubber stamp company and a huge collection of rubber stamps. I also knew many people in the business and was able to borrow lots of stamps to keep the process interesting.
3) Stop talking about it and start working. Even if you can only work on your project for a few hours a week, keep at it and you will eventually have a film. If you do not have the discipline to work regularly on your film, stop thinking about filmmaking and try something else.
4) Keep it short and simple. Under three minutes is brilliant. A one minute is a delight to make and does not cost very much. There are festivals just for films that are a minute long (or less). Shorter films fare better at film festivals. Medium length films (15 to 25 minutes) do not fit into festivals easily and are difficult to distribute. Films for children are not shown at many film festivals and can also be difficult to distribute.
Pages from the Missed Aches (2009) storyboard by Dan Schaeffer and Joanna Priestley.
5) Make a storyboard of your film. A storyboard is a simple set of drawings that illustrate key moments and shots in your film. Keep it SIMPLE. Use stick figures. Do your best to show camera angles. Draw images on index cards or on your computer and print them out. Pin your storyboard up on a wall next to your desk and add or remove images as you make changes. Making a storyboard is the best way to organize your thoughts. Of course, you don't have to follow it but it is a great way to get started, it will make your project better and it will save time.
Once you have a storyboard, pick two people whose taste you admire and talk them through it. You'll get lots of new ideas (write everything down!) and you will find out what works and what does not work. For my last two films, I've hired a storyboard artist (thank you Dan Schaeffer). It jump started my work and I got a boatload of new ideas, especially for the transitions from scene to scene. I have seen very smart students ask other students to do a storyboard for their film.
6) Ask for help. Online searches and animation books can answer technical questions, but asking for help from filmmakers and film industry professionals will make you a part of the filmmaking community and you will find out how kind and generous people can be. Jim Blashfield gave me my first animation stand and Joan Gratz loaned me a 35mm flatbed editing machine for years!
7) Work with whatever money and resources you have. Borrow equipment. Ask sound studios equipment rental companies and production houses for reduced fees, evening rates, student rates or free time/equipment. You might become a lifelong customer! Most people fund their first film by asking their parents, relatives or family friends for money, either directly or on a crowdfunding site.