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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Wilt

My Approach to Filmmaking

I recently had the privilege of producing a 30 minute short film entitled, New Beginning.


It was very rewarding to develop this film and see thru to completion. I feel very privileged to have been able to work on something of this scale because it's truly an honor whenever given the resources to really dive into a passion project and I don't take this for granted. I'm also honored that we are beginning to garner a small following and certain amount of recognition for the film.




Since the completion of the film, I've been asked several times about my approach to production, filmmaking and story-telling. I never really considered the notion that perhaps I have something to add to all the discussions on filmmaking but after being asked several times, I thought I'd share what little knowledge and tricks I've learned over the years. I've been working as a writer/director for nearly two decades and during that time, I've definitely learned a few things specific to low budget filmmaking and commercial production that I am willing to share in hopes that it helps someone else.




Reviewing Set-Up - Ryan is smiling because he knows I'm going to ask that they change something and it will ruin their lives :)

Over the next few weeks, I plan to post some blogs about my process specific to New Beginning and how I came to develop certain techniques that have really helped me over the years.

When I decided that I wanted to be a director many years ago, the two things that I really focused on was how to tell a great story and how to make my work look national on a local budget.

Digital cameras had just come out when I was beginning my career and though I would have loved to be a pretentious filmmaker that was a 'film' purist, it just wasn't a reality with the budgets that I had available to me so I dove headfirst into understanding this new technology and trying my very best to craft these digital images into something that looked closer to film. It wasn't easy back then and I failed more times than I'd like to admit but I just kept researching, testing and pushing to get that image that I wanted so very badly.

The industry took a huge leap forward when the RED and Alexa were released and I was like a kid in a candy shop with these new tools but over the course of time, something really began to stand out to me. Sure, we need to have good tools and I'm extremely thankful that the industry has shifted in a direction that allows those of us with a lower budget to achieve a certain look but I found myself and many around me so focused on the technology that certain fundamentals were being ignored. Don't get me wrong, we definitely need to be informed and we're very privileged to be living in a time when really good gear is actually affordable and available. I would also add that it is important that we stand out in the smaller markets as producing work that looks really good so that we don't fall among the local fodder but to borrow what's been said so many time in the past, STORY IS KING. A great camera and a beautiful shot don't make a good story so there needs to be a healthy balance. What we put in front of the camera is the most important aspect of our production and we need to spend a great deal of time ensuring that we have something worthy of capturing.

I'm speaking primarily to writers, producers and directors here. There are certain other crafts and trades within filmmaking that require vigilance in being informed, understanding and following trends within filmmaking equipment and that's very appropriate but I would still propose that it wouldn't hurt if everyone were mindful of the importance of a strong and compelling narrative.

It was at this time that I took a step back and began re-thinking what skills I really wanted to hone as a filmmaker and director.

I decided that I'd focus on certain specific fundamentals. I still spend time working thru the technical issues of my shoot but it's not the first thing within my preparation.


STORY IS KING

It probably goes without saying but my greatest focus became writing.


I began reading others that I respected, analyzing work that I loved and most of all, I began writing incessantly. Even if you're not a writer or don't plan to be and you want to work with a screen writer, I still think you should spend time studying and practicing writing. I wouldn't only work on screenplays (though this was a focus) but I'd also write just to get my thoughts on paper and more importantly, to simply practice. I don't claim to be a great writer by any stretch of the imagination but by focusing on writing, it has helped me to develop a certain sense of story and structure that obviously translates to film production. Though it could be argued that New Beginning was a fairly simple script, there was a great deal of thought that I put into giving it an emotional edge and how best to structure the narrative to be immersive and compelling to an audience.


WORKING WITH TALENT

The second skill that I began to analyze was working with talent and this proved beyond helpful.

Working with the talent

Most of the experts that we read or hear from are working with actors and actresses that have experience in front of the camera and I've found this to be a very different approach to working with inexperienced talent. I've learned many tricks over to years to pull (sometimes drag) a good performance from an actor or actress that isn't entirely comfortable. You have to approach them differently and you need to create an environment that allows for them to express emotion freely without their insecurities getting in the way. This is a tricky thing for us directors and something we nearly always must contend with on low budget projects. I will be talking extensively about this in a future blog post because I feel it to be insanely important and can be the difference between making your story believable, visceral and emotional vs feeling staged, wooden and stiff. I've grown to love working with the talent and always try to find ways to build a little extra time into my production schedule for not only rehearsals but ample time on set to really explore, play and sometimes manipulate the talent into giving the performances you desire and need.


LIGHTING AND CAMERA PLACEMENT/MOVEMENT

My final key area of interest and study has been lighting and camera movement.

Tracking Shot

I would like to point out that this is very different from arguing over the best brand of camera, sensor, etc. These are fundamentals that make or break your scene. Whether you have a great camera or not, if your lighting sucks, the shot sucks. If you don't know how to move the camera to evoke the emotional tone you want for a scene, it can feel flat regardless of the equipment you have available to you. I spend a great deal of time thinking thru the 'feeling' I want to evoke within a scene and I try my very best to map out complimentary lighting and camera movement (or in some cases, non movement). Educate yourself on these specific portions of cinematography. I chose to be the director of photography on New Beginning myself but this isn't for everyone but regardless of your approach, it's still great to have a good foundation in the fundamentals of cinematography.

I would guess that most of this is not a huge revelation to many aspiring filmmakers but I think it may serve as a good reminder and I hope it's a descent setup for blogs to come that will drill down into the details of how I personally approach my production style. I firmly believe that everyone's creative process is different and rightly so but perhaps some of the tricks that I've learned over the years will provide insight and most importantly, inspiration to a few.


To be continued...






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