The first-ever New Zealand Youth Film Festival held later this year will give filmmakers aged between 15 and 24 a platform to showcase their creative storytelling.
They will be judged by an expert panel from Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Canon, AUT and Adobe – and the winner will be revealed at a gala ceremony in December. It’s a wonderful opportunity for filmmakers who are just starting out on their career. The creative process can be daunting, however, so we have this 5-Step Guide to Filmmaking to help create a compelling film:
From your first lightbulb moment to the white glow of the screen on your viewer’s face, it takes time to sort out the muddle of ideas floating around your head into something with roots in the real world. All film productions go through 5 key stages – development, followed by pre-production, shooting, post-production and distribution.
Step 1: Development
This is the first stage of any production – indie short film or Harry Potter. This is when you’ll take your 20 seedling ideas, or your one shining pièce de resistance, and get it written down. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a computer screen, an iPad, or some good old-fashioned paper, this is your time for brainstorming.
Here are some good questions to ask yourself to develop the fundamental components of your film:
- Why am I making this film?
- Who is my film for?
- What is the story in a sentence?
- How would my characters act if I met them in person?
- What is my film going to say?
Once you have developed the core elements of your story – purpose, audience, plot, characters, and message – map out a loose storyboard of key events that will happen in your film. You can use free templates to help guide you on Canva or Miro.
After you have mapped out each scene’s loose composition and its key events, it’s time to write your script. You can divide this process into smaller, more manageable tasks if you take it scene by scene. Each scene should have a heading, action, character names, parentheticals, dialogue, and a transition.
- Heading: This is the setting in a few words. It usually starts with ‘INT.’ (interior) or ‘EXT.’ (exterior), followed by the place, and the time of day. An example could be EXT. STREET – NIGHT.
- Action: This describes what the audience can see. For example, ‘Jack walks alone under the glow of the streetlights, a skip in his step, smiling ear-to-ear. He hears Kate’s voice from behind him.’.
- Character name: This is the name of the speaker and should be written before any character is heard. For example, ‘JACK’.
- Parenthetical: These are brackets after the character’s name to describe how they are speaking, to be used when needed. For example, ‘(shouting breathlessly)’.
- Dialogue: This is the speech a character says. For example, ‘Jack, wait!’.
- Transition: This is how the scene ends. For example, ‘cuts to black’.
When writing a script, try to ‘show, don’t tell’. This will make your film more engaging for your audience. To do this, you can use script components such as stage directions, rather than dialogue. For example, in a situation where Character 1 is angry at Character 2. 'Telling’ the story could look like this:
Character 1: You’ve really annoyed me. I’m going out.
Character 2: Go. I don’t care.
Whereas, to ‘show’, could look like this:
Character 1 stares at character 2, eyes narrowed with resentment. Gaze unmoving, Character 1 stands with force, grabbing their bag over their shoulder and leaving the room. The front door slams.
‘Showing’ is more engaging because it requires the audience’s careful attention to follow the story, it is more realistic to how people behave, and it helps understand the characters more deeply. By ‘showing’, not ‘telling’, you will have a more immersive and genuine portrayal of life in your film.
Top tip: Stories often follow a similar narrative arc. They start with an exposition that introduces the protagonist (main character) and sets the scene. From here, the protagonist falls into a conflict that creates a problem they must solve. The story follows them through rising action, as the conflict becomes more challenging, ultimately reaching a climax. The climax is the most dramatic, turning point of the story, followed by falling action, as the tension subsides. Finally, the story ends with a resolution, in which the conflict has been solved. You don’t have to follow this arc, but even if it you want to subvert it, you’ll need to know it.
Step 2: Pre-production
Once you have your concept, storyboard and script, you can move on to pre-production. This is the time to get into the detail of logistics. Some great questions to ask yourself are:
- Where do I want my scenes to be filmed?
- Who will the actors be?
- Do I need people to support me as a crew?
- What equipment do I need to film?
- When do I want to be finished filming?
Get your friends together and scout the fantastic, world-renowned locations Auckland has to offer. Cast your lead character, pick your crew, and get your equipment sorted.
Top tip: Don’t worry if you don’t have a top of the range camera, your phone will do just fine. The most important thing is getting started.
Step 3: Production
You know what you are filming, and you know where, so now, get going! Production is the stage in which you bring your vision to life. Some questions worth considering once you start shooting:
- Does this shot capture what I am trying to convey?
- Have I varied shots to include close-ups, medium shots, and long shots?
- Does my composition (spacing of subjects and objects in shot) convey relationships between characters?
- Does the lighting, costume, and makeup tell the story?
The most important thing at this stage is to experiment. It may be perfect the first time, or it may be that when you look through the camera, it's not as you had imagined. That’s okay. Keep trying and testing new ideas, angles, and shots.
Top tip: The distance between the camera and your subject has an effect. A close-up can be used to help the audience understand a character or a character’s emotion, or to show the audience that they should pay attention to a specific object that may be used later. A medium shot is often known as the ‘sweet spot’, as it allows both surroundings and characters to be in the audience’s focus. A long shot is useful to set up the scene as it includes lots of information about the location, or to create a sense of separation between the audience and the story. Oscar-winning 2018 film Roma used only long shots for the latter effect.
Step 4: Post-production
You have completed filming and you have all the footage you need to tell your story. Now, it’s time to put it all together.
Each scene should develop the plot (story). Each shot should serve a purpose. Some questions to ask yourself when editing are:
- Does this scene progress the plot forward?
- Does this shot serve a purpose?
- Do I have a mixture of close, medium, and long shots for different purposes? If not, is this a considered choice?
- Do I need to shoot any extra footage to tell the story?
If you are new to video editing, you can enlist the help of a friend or teach yourself. Some free, easy-to-use tools include Windows Video Editor, Apple iMovie, Shotcut, and DaVinci Resolve. Each of these have plenty of user guides online.
If you’re already well-versed or want a challenge, try Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X.
Top tip: Keep it simple. If you’ve got the script and composition of your shots right, your story should tell itself simply through how it’s put together. You don’t always need lots of fancy effects.
Step 5: Distribution
Your film is complete and ready for your audience. Congratulations! You will have put in a lot of work to get here, and now you will have created something you can really be proud of. A few final questions to ask yourself:
- Does this film tell the story I had planned?
- Does this film align with my target audience?
- Does this film convey the message I wanted it to?
This is the stage when your film would be marketed to an audience and released on a digital media platform like Netflix or in cinemas.
For you, this is the stage when you will submit your film to be judged by industry leaders at Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Canon, AUT, and Adobe.
We can’t wait to see it. Good luck!
Top tip: If you're unsure on any of the information you need to submit your film, you can contact NZ Youth Film Festival here.