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5 of the Best Things I Learned From Directing My First Feature

December 16, 2012 | 3:07 am | 2,504 views

by Jake Oelman

As I approach the finish line of my first feature film Dear Sidewalk I’m taking a lot away from the experience. Much more than I could ever hope to write here. It’s a virtual avalanche of information and lessons. And just like any filmmaker I spend my days not just thinking about finishing strong but how I will do things differently on my next film. It’s a strange time in the filmmaking journey. Some days it’s exciting and others are a struggle but it’s all part of the process. I’ve included a few of the things I learned on this maiden voyage and in doing so it helps me to better focus my story telling.

1. Every Take Is An Option
This is one of those things that most filmmakers take for granted . Of course they are all options but there’s a harsh reality to shooting and that’s a tight timeline. Combine that with sound issues, location problems, wardrobe malfunctions,  creative differences, technical snafus, character questions, and a whole other grocery list on top of that and it becomes really easy to forget about the importance of all your takes. The more you take notices of the differences and can think about actions to try on every take the more power you’ll have in the edit. There’s nothing worse then sitting in the edit bay saying how you wished you had a shot that doesn’t exist because you didn’t focus yourself enough to shoot it. Provide the nourishment your film craves by keeping these moments off the table.

2. Double Your Prep Time
For a lot of filmmakers, not just first timers, doubling your prep time may seem like an unrealistic request, a dream if you will, but man is it necessary. Prepping is the life blood of your material. Without it the chances of your film falling off the tracks at times or even worse is greatly increased. With proper preparation it’s easier to flush out potential location problems, replace people if need be, learn the nuances of your scenes, and most importantly work with your actors and DP to figure out how to make every scene interesting and dynamic. There’s just so much good that can come from prepping properly and so much bad that can come from not prepping right so do you and the rest of your production a favor and take the time to truly think everything through.

3. Edit While You Shoot
There’s a reason all the big movies do this and while some little movies don’t. It costs money to edit while you shoot but it can cost you more in the long run if you don’t. Editing while you’re in production offers several advantages. First off you’ll always know where you are at with your material. Whether it’s owing pickups, establishing a location, or shooting transitions you need to know exactly what you have. Guessing is for morons. Secondly you’ll be aware of the options you need from your actors to fulfill the story points at the right time. Lastly you’ll know what’s been working and what hasn’t been and adjust your approach accordingly. By editing during production you are providing yourself and your other creatives with valuable information that in the end can be used to make a better movie.

4. Stay in the NOW
There’s nothing a scene or your actors need more than a director who is present and attacking the material. This isn’t always easy to do. It’s one thing to watch what’s happening but it’s something else entirely to project yourself into the material. You need to live it and breathe it just as your characters do. Know what the camera is seeing and know what feels the best for what you are trying to convey. Filmmaking isn’t an exact art but the more you can become physically and emotionally a part of your story telling process you’re going to make a better film. Filmmaking is about having passion and that comes from relishing in the moment and not allowing yourself to go stray.

5. Communication is King
Other than over analyzing a scene or a shot good communication is a huge benefit for you and your creative team. Now don’t talk so much that it hinders your shooting but if the lines are open the harvest will be great. People will be on the same page and that in turn will lead to an organic evolution of ideas. In a perfect world your entire cast and crew will have the best interest of the movie at heart and if you utilize communication you will unlock the magic of cinematic collaboration. As a director I like to convey my ideas by relating to the variety of personalities on set and by being personable and concise. I like to look people in the eyes and be a good listener. You can be surrounded by a treasure chest of talent that will mean nothing unless you listen to them and you make sure they hear what you have to say.

Jake Oelman is the director, producer of the romantic indie comedy Dear Sidewalk starring Joe Mazzello, Michelle Forbes, and Josh Fadem and the Kickstarter funded documentary film Learning to See about the macro insect photography work of his father Robert Oelman. He also produced The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience with acclaimed music video director Kevin Kerslake.

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