Filmmaking Myth #7: “Making a feature film is the big leagues. I’m not ready.”
Finally, this meme.
It's an idea-virus I've held since I was a kid, and one many of my peers had in film school.
“The Feature,” as if it were some unconquerable beast hidden in the jungles of the mind.
Will you confront it?
Have you prepared enough?
Are you ready?
I’m not sure where this idea originates.
I know for myself, when I was a “professional fan” of movies and filmmakers during my teen years, I read & watched many interviews / documentaries about the process of movie making.
And during this period, I suppose, I got the idea in my head that making a feature is a difficult process riddled with high risk.
And in the end, my movies would be judged alongside those of Hitchcock, Spielberg, or whoever else you admire.
But the TRUTH is that a feature film is a movie with a duration longer than forty minutes.
It’s that simple.
This new idea became obvious to me when I discovered the work of Jean-Luc Godard.
I was 19 years old and surprised at the near-infinite variation of his reinterpretation of the feature film.
Some were only still pictures and voice over, some featured highly-boring documentary scenes for its entirety, some were loose narratives with one or two good scenes, some were abstract collages, and some were spectacular Hollywood-style musicals.
What they all had in common was their duration.
Even though I discovered a new definition of a feature film early on, I still held myself back from making one because of personal pressure.
I felt a lot of pressure to really razzle-dazzle people with my first attempt at making feature-length movie.
The pressure came from nobody except myself.
And so I continued to study and build a fortress of knowledge to hide behind.
During this process, my opportunities diminished, I became more cash-poor, and older.
Still no feature to my name.
Finally I had to let it click: If I don’t make one now, ANY, I’ll never make one.
So I developed the first concrete idea that fell in my lap: a feature documentary about a spoon-bending psychic.
Nowhere in the deepest subconscious realm of my childhood dreams did I think I’d be making a documentary as my first feature-length film, and certainly not a documentary about a magician!
But the opportunity met my desires at just the right time.
This film contains some of my finest cinematic work. And yet the process was a total disaster.
BECAUSE IT WAS MY FIRST TIME MAKING A FEATURE.
The only way you get good at making feature films is by making a lot of feature films.
No matter what anybody says, making shorts does not prepare you for the feature.
If you made a million short films for a million years, you still wouldn’t be prepared to make a feature (well, maybe a little, but you get the idea).
A feature film requires things that are unique to feature filmmaking.
And the only way to get good at that, just like anything else, is practice.
You must exercise your feature film muscles before they’re solid.
Kubrick didn’t start with The Shining, although he had the ambition of The Shining in his youth.
His first few films were basically bombs, and at some point early in his career, he was known as a young director with promise who kept making these peculiar movies which bombed at the box office.
It's hard to believe that Kubrick had that stigma on him at some point in his career.
He made three short films (and practiced heavily his still photography), then made two box-office bombs, then two more features which were bombs but critically favorable, a fourth studio picture for-hire, and then a fifth moderately successful critical and box-office feature, until making his first “true” Kubrick, Dr. Stangelove.
Six serious attempts were needed for Stanley Kubrick to pull off the energetic momentum that became the rest of his career.
If that’s what it took an uncontestable master, what are the chances we have of getting it right on the first try?
Destroy the idea that feature films are precious commodities.
They’re commodities, period… and, in the beginning of your career, they’re more practice (than anything else) which can make you a bit of money.
Remember: A feature film is NOT representative of your creative abilities for all of time.
A feature is a film which is over forty minutes long.
Generate them like you generate thoughts.
You only live once.
If you’re reading this now, and have the idea that you can’t make a feature film because of blahblahblah, please close this website (after this paragraph) and make a dirt-cheap movie over the weekend that’s over forty minutes long.
If you have to focus on only one thing in your first six feature films, I would focus on entertainment value & style. Nothing else.
Don’t worry about telling a deep story.
Focus on purely entertaining stories, or public domain novels & fairy tales.
Then, once you’ve made your stylish cheap DIY feature-film, create an extremely attention-grabbing poster for it.
Partner with a local coffee shop, and show it to as many people as you can.
Take pictures of the event.
Invite bloggers and journalists.
Congratulations, you’ve just started your career as a serious filmmaker.
Do whatever it takes to make the money back on that movie.
If your movie only cost $100 or $1000, it should be relatively easy to recoup expenses.
Once you’ve made the money back on your movie (with a little profit on top) do it again, with increasing seriousness, five more times.