You want to set your first film in motion.
You’ve got tons of creative ideas and you can’t wait to see your vision come to life on-screen.
But first, you’ve got a journey ahead, one filled with challenges, triumphs and endless possibilities.
Which can come with a whole mixed bag of feelings.
It’s natural to feel a bit apprehensive—you’ve got high expectations. And the fire to succeed burns strong.
We’ve put together this blog post to help guide you through the process. We’ll take a deep dive into the realm of indie filmmaking, explore the key stages of film production and get you prepped and prepared to take the filmmaking world by storm.
So grab your camera. Let’s get this show on the road.
What is an “Indie Film”?
Requiem for a Dream. Little Miss Sunshine. Napoleon Dynamite.
These are just some of the most famous independent films of all time.
Wanna know the awesome thing about indie films? They’re typically made with smaller budgets and rely on the artistic vision of the filmmaker—not restrained by commercial considerations.
Which means something pretty cool: creative freedom.
You can run wild with cinematography styles, unique storytelling techniques and niche subject matters. And challenge all the norms of conventional filmmaking.
The ultimate filmmaker’s dream.
The 5 Stages of Film Production
When it comes to film production, you’ve got 5 key phases: development, pre-production, production, post-production and distribution.
Each stage is centered around a different purpose, with each one leading nicely onto the next.
Many films fall at the development and pre-production stages. That’s why it’s so important to make sure you’ve got a fully rounded vision of what the filmmaking process entails and what you need to make it happen.
Let’s take a look at each stage in detail.
You want your first filmmaking experience to run with minimal bumps in the road.
Which means you need to get meticulous with detail.
Let’s break it down.
This is the part where you shape your ideas and transform them into a compelling concept that’s fit for film. Brainstorming, compelling story creation, character development—they all lay a strong foundation for your film’s success.
Filmmaking is built on creativity but it’s also about getting yourself organized. During the development phase, you’ll outline the film structure, create a script and develop a production plan.
This involves pinpointing shooting locations for each scene, securing permits, assembling a trustworthy and talented crew and putting a solid budget in place.
Take the time for this and you can expect a more streamlined process and smoother filmmaking experience.
- Securing financing
Sure, it’s often the most challenging aspect, but the truth is, your film will fall at the first hurdle without funding.
Which makes it all the more nerve-wracking when pitching your concept or script to investors.
But if you’ve got a spellbinding story, a rock-solid plan and a crystal-clear vision, you’re in with a much better chance.
- Story refinement
This is a stage that’s often missed, which is a shame as it’s a great chance to get opinions and feedback before you head to the pre-production stage. You can ask friends, family, test audiences—anyone who you trust to give their constructive feedback. So you can focus on fine-tuning your script and characters.
Around now, it’s starting to feel a bit more real.
This is the step before production, so you need to take the opportunity to make your final adjustments and prep. And you don’t want to rush it—some pre-production processes can last many months before the first “Action” gets shouted on set.
Here’s what you need to think about at this stage:
- Set design and prop shopping
- Casting and rehearsals
- Location scouting
- Costume design
- Lighting and effects
- Scriptwriting refinement
Ideally, you want to have as much finalized as possible before you go into production on set. You might realize you need to hire some more staff. Or maybe your budget needs a revision, a thorough review of all of your costs to consider if cuts are needed or you can find a way to lower expenses.
But it’s not all work and no play—this is also a time for some bonding between the crew, who are going to be working closely together during the creative process and journey.
The production stage is a big deal for filmmaking first-timers.
It’s an invaluable and major learning experience. You get to dive straight into the detail. Securing the best camera shots, lighting tricks, sound design and editing.
It’s where your ideas go from mere thoughts to materializing on screen. And satisfyingly, the part where all your thorough planning and prep starts to pay off.
Here are some of the tasks you can expect at the production stage:
- Setting up and organizing the technical equipment, such as cameras, lights and sound equipment.
- Filming scenes according to the script and vision.
- Directing the actors and providing guidance for their performances.
- Capturing various camera angles and shots to convey the desired visual style.
- Ensuring proper lighting and sound recording during filming.
- Dealing with unexpected challenges and making on-the-spot creative decisions.
- Coordinating with the costume designer to select and manage costumes for the characters.
- Reviewing and discussing the filmed footage with the director and editor.
- Conducting any necessary reshoots or pickup shots if required.
- Documenting and organizing all footage and production-related materials.
- Preparing for the post-production stage by handing off the footage to the editing team.
One thing to note: all steps may vary depending on the size and scale of the production.
You’ve finished filming. Now it’s time for post-production where the real magic happens.
Here are the parts at play for the post-production phase:
- Picture editing
Rough cut: organizing and arranging raw footage into a coherent structure.
Fine Cut: refining the rough cut, focusing on pacing, timing and overall flow.
Final Cut: completing the final version of the edited film.
- Color grading
This involves adjusting the color and tone of each shot to establish a consistent visual style.
- Sound design and editing
This includes the addition of things like sound effects, dialogue editing and a soundtrack.
- Visual Effects (VFX)
It’s likely that your indie film will have limited resources, but some visual effects may be easy to achieve on your budget. This stage includes things like computer-generated imagery (CGI), digital effects or 3D modeling.
- Titles and graphics
This is where you’ll design and implement your opening titles and closing credits.
- Sound mixing
Here you’ll balance and adjust the levels of different audio elements, including dialogue, music and sound effects, including (drumroll please) the final mix and master.
Your finished product is ready to roll.
Now it’s time to bring it to the masses and ramp its visibility to the max.
By combining effective distribution strategies with targeted and innovative marketing efforts, indie filmmakers can increase their chances of reaching a wider audience, gaining recognition, and achieving commercial success for their films.
Distribution methods can include:
- Film festivals
Submitting the film to relevant film festivals can generate buzz, gain recognition and attract potential distributors or sales agents.
- Theatrical release
Securing a limited theatrical release in independent cinemas or arthouse theaters can create awareness and generate word-of-mouth publicity.
- Video-on-Demand (VOD) platforms
Distributing the film through popular platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu or Vimeo On Demand allows for wide accessibility and potential revenue streams.
Marketing methods can include:
- Trailer and promotional materials
Creating an engaging trailer and promotional materials (such as posters or stills) to capture the essence of the film and compel viewers to watch it.
- Online presence
Building a strong online presence through a dedicated film website or social media channels.
- Publicity and PR
Engaging with media outlets, journalists and influencers to generate press coverage, interviews and reviews of the film.
- Screenings and Events
Organizing special screenings, Q&A sessions and other events to engage with the audience and build a loyal fanbase.
Lastly, Stay True to Yourself.
We get it, it’s a lot of info.
Our advice? Research and plan as much as possible. But also remember your purpose. Your drive. Your dream.
Keep your creativity in mind, but keep level-headed, too.
Get that balance right, and you’ll be calling “and that’s a wrap” before you know it.
The L.A. Film School team
Are you looking to take your filmmaking skills to the next level? Film students at The L.A. Film School have the opportunity to explore directing, screenwriting, cinematography, editing, producing and more.
Learn more about our Film degree programs here.