How To Make a Movie

August 15, 2017

So there is this IDEA of people making indi-style documentaries about their own experiences or knowledge areas.

But how do you make a movie?

I mean, can one guy really make a documentary movie?

I was walking across the kitchen thinking about the patent-trolling lawsuit against me when the realization came to me to make a documentary about patent-trolling (The Patent Scam). But it was immediately, of course, followed by the NEXT though: HOW?!?!??!

As it turns out, making my first movie was really expensive (about $250,000 or so!)

BUUUUUUUT, it does NOT need to be that expensive for you!

It cost me so much money because I basically made the movie about THREE TIMES before I finally released it… each time surely better than the last.

On other words, since I never went to film school or made a movie before, I was basically getting an on-the-job education, and the cut of The Patent Scam that you can finally see was effectively my third movie… since I re-made the movie three time to get it right…. paying for the film-crew, camera-rental, travel, editing, music, etc each time, of course!

But if YOU have never made a documentary movie, but WANT to, you do NOT need to spend that kind of money! Not if you do it right the FIRST time!

(OK, if you have never made a movie, then there is no way in hell you will get it right the first time, but if you read this document it will sure as hell HELP!)

SO, if you want to make a documentary, do it like this… this is surely how I will make my next one!

First: Even though you are making a DOCUMENTARY, you will STILL want to start with SOMETHING of a script.

Think of an ARC for the story to go through. The voyage of discovery as I work my way through the seamy underbelly of patent trolling is the arc that I (on the third try!) settled on for The Patent Scam (Thanks to Jay Oliver, who is the person who thought of that story-arc for the movie for the third and final version), but you should choose the arc that is appropriate for your movie. A voyage of discovery, starting knowing nothing, and learning yourself, as you go, and taking the audience along with you, is a story arc that I love, and it works in The Patent Scam and it works in the Michael Moore documentaries. Michael starts the movie seeming to know almost nothing, and FIGURES OUT the answers to his questions as he goes, chasing people down all along the way. This is a wonderful delivery trajectory… far far far more embracing than simply watching people spew facts. You want to BE the DISCOVERER. It needs to BE about YOU… about YOU, LEARNING… and sharing your learning with the audience. Michael Moore does this perfectly, and maybe you can, too.

Next: get with some people that you think you might want help from. Brain-storm like crazy. THIS IS WHERE YOU WANT A GOOGLE DOC. A Google Doc is a document that simply lives at a web address online, and you and all of your collaborators can ALL type in it! All at once or all at different times! If you write down the trajectory of the story on a Google Doc, then you can all be in the room together, typing madly on your WIFI-connected laptops, all madly editing THE SAME DOCUMENT! No information is lost. Nothing is “OH I gotta add that later”… everyone types in everything right at that moment. I have many many late-nights under my belt brain-storming with Jay as we sat in the same room, laptops in our laps, madly typing away at the script of The Patent Scam… and since the script was on a Google Doc, we were both working on the same document at once, losing nothing, and procrastinating nothing: Everything we typed went right into the script at that moment we thought of it in our brain-storming sessions. (Now, with The Patent Scam, we had ALREADY interviewed everyone for the movie by the time we got to the script, so we knew exactly what footage we had to work with… right down to the word. BUT, it would have saved huge time and money if we had STARTED with a rough script, and THEN gone and captured the interviews to fill it in with real footage).

So get your friends in EARLY, hook up with the Google Doc, and get that plan fleshed out as much as possible right at the start.

Next: BUY A USED CAMERA! For The Patent Scam, I RENTED film-crews or cameras all over the Nation, and the result is annoying: Different sound and color and lighting for every interview! No consistency! You see, I wanted to keep it cheap and simple, so whenever I was going to interview someone, I would Google film crews for their city, hire the film crew, and meet the local film crew on location. The crew would dutifully film the interview and then let me copy the footage onto a USB stick or hard drive… but each crew filmed things a little bit differently (including the sound!) so now two interview looked and sounded the SAME! It did not ruin the movie (variety in the interviews is not a terrible thing) but if I had it to do over again, I would have bought a good used camera, become proficient in it’s operation at home, and then shot all the interviews myself. (and then sold the camera used at the end of the project for a similar price I paid for it). The movie would have been more consistent… and cheaper. The EASIEST thing to do in life is be the Dilbert-boos and just tell everyone ELSE what you want done without learning a damn thing yourself. The HARDEST thing to do is learn each skill yourself BEFORE you need it, so you can do the job yourself exactly the way you want it done. You know which way is better in the long run. You don’t want to admit it when it is SOOO easy to just hire somebody else, but you know who has to do the job if you want it done the way you want it done.

Next: INTERVIEW! This is the fun part. Interview people. Go on location. Run around with a camera crew filming that thing you are filming. Chase down the experts and the crooks. Hop hither and yon throughout the Nation and the world, collecting your footage. At the end of each day, store it on a single hard drive that has a backup clone that is kept in a safe deposit box.

Now, here is a thing: Be very careful about your naming conventions for your folders that you use to store the interview data. Your camera, like all computers, is stupid, and will give the files and folders names like: ASGG-345876-2534-2250:345534

This is stupid.

Nobody can understand that name.

And I have seen people stumble around with inconsistent naming conventions for their files and folder, and as a result THEY ARE PERPETUALLY LOST, UNABLE TO UNDERSTAND WHERE THEIR OWN FOOTAGE IS. If I had it to do over, then at the end of every day, I would drop the day’s footage in a folder that is the name of the person I interviewed, or the city name of the road-trip, with the date in a consistent format.

Like:

08-20-2015-Raymond Niro interview

09-14-2015-Peter Wolf interview

10-05-2015-East Texas troll hives road-trip

You see? It sounds so OBVIOUS when I say that that I pretty much want to slap myself, and you think I am an idiot for having to spell something out that is so obvious… but using this format from the start would have saved us HOURS… and have our raw footage in a neater format now to make it easier to poke at later if I want to make little mini-movies out of the same footage or something… like maybe to make trailers or something.

Next: Go through all the footage to get ready to edit. The way I did it was to watch all the raw footage and record the TIME and QUOTE of each statement in a simple-text doc on my Mac.

Then, for the prelim edit, I dragged the text around in the simple-text doc until the script (which is really a summary of some of the footage already shot!) looked like the movie I wanted.

Then, when that is all cut and copied into place, I edited the movie to fit my script. Which takes us to:

Next: Now you gotta EDIT this thing!

Use Adobe Premiere Pro on a Macintosh with a big monitor and plenty of RAM and hard-drive. (OK fine use something else if you already do. But if you DON’T already use an editing App that you like, then start by giving Adobe Premiere Pro a try. Doing the basic editing involves learning literally about 6 key-strokes, and since the editing is done by memorizing indices into your raw footage, not actually COPYING your raw footage, you can cut-copy-past-erase-chage-your-mind-do-over-re-do-re-edit-try-again a million times and it is fast every time and you never lose any quality in your raw footage. I made The Patent Scam in Adobe Premier Pro and I look forwards to using it for my next movie as well.

Next: Show it to family and friends.

OK they might have some tweaks, but DON’T WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE IT PERFECT TO SUBMIT TO FILM FESTIVALS! Film Festivals have a lead-time of like 4 months or something STUPID like that (yes I think that is STUPID) to get a film in, so you can NOT get your film perfect and THEN submit to the festivals… you will be waiting for four months doing NOTHING! Instead, as soon as you have something pretty-close-to-final, APPLY to the festivals, knowing you can spiff it up by due-date for the final submission. A ton of festivals seem to want their movies submitted around each NOVEMBER, so plan accordingly.

Next: Distribute it! IF you kick butt at the film festivals, then the distributors will be interested in taking your film.

You can’t get a distributor? Don’t panic! In the days of iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, and other video-on-demand services, you should be able to get an AGGREGATOR that will take your film for a few thousand dollars (YOU pay THEM that modest fee) and then THEY get it on all the pay-per-view or video-on-demand services like iTunes.. and then they funnel the resulting money to you! Now, at this point, YOU have to do the marking! YOU have to hit youtube with trailers! YOU have to have your web page and mailing list and all that stuff! It is up to YOU to get the word out… but there is this thing called the internet that gives you no excuse to fail on that front, eh?

Finally: If you are like me and you manage to actually complete and distribute your first movie, you can then enjoy your wifes’ wise-cracks as you keep comparing yourself to Martin Scorsese and Peter Spielberg.

Oh and if anyone wants to actually SEE the movie I made, then here are the links!

See the trailer:

See the movie:

Amazon Video: http://a.co/h1C0Dmq

FandangoNOW: http://bit.ly/2uGtTOd

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2vYpJkq

iTunes: http://apple.co/2fHKTg6

Vimeo: http://bit.ly/2uLPEI4

Vudu: http://bit.ly/2waHmxc

Microsoft XBOX: http://bit.ly/2vACTD4

YouTube: http://bit.ly/2uFWEul

Catch the EXTRAS:

Hit the Web:

https://www.thepatentscam.com

https://www.facebook.com/patentdocumentary/

See it on TV:

Comcast, Dish Network, Cox, Charter, Verizon, and more.

Buy it on physical DVDs and Blu-Ray:

Amazon DVD: http://amzn.to/2uFUkDF

Amazon BD: http://amzn.to/2x1cHzl