January 22, 2015 at 5:49PM

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Can High Schoolers Make a Feature Film?

Hey guys! I'm a sophomore in high school with a huge passion for filmmaking. I've been making short films for years and have collaborated on projects with friends, but all in good fun. I want to go bigger and show everyone that I'm determined and passionate. I want to make my first feature film. I've got the crew, but, of course, no budget, though I'm eager to use my limitations to my advantage. 1) Is this worth trying? and 2) What are some common pitfalls that I should watch out for? Above all, I want this to be a great learning experience. I know that I will make mistakes and I need that to grow as a filmmaker. But I've never done something on this scale before. Any advice?

You can check out some of the stuff I've done here:
https://www.youtube.com/user/moleshollow/videos

Thank you!

29 Comments

Also, here's some work from my co-producer and frequent-collaborator:
https://www.youtube.com/user/veeycharly/featured

January 22, 2015 at 6:21PM

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Katie Mlinek
Writer/Filmmaker
237

Hello,
I am in High School and am currently in pre-production for a 3-45 minute film. A feature length has to be more than 40 minutes to be considered for an Academy Award. I know what you feel. I am trying to fund right now as well and am thinking about using Kickstarter or find a sponsor. So far thats my route. I am trying to keep my spending for gear and stuff simple and maybe just rent for now and also not trying to spend much on Actors or Crew either. But if I do, I am making sure I fund a lot. I think my idea is good and know it will be completely awesome. I would say just talk around with businesses, churches, etc and see if they would want to sponsor.

January 22, 2015 at 8:36PM

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Jack Fleming
Owner, Photographer, Filmmaker, Director
93

Thank you! I had not thought of asking for local sponsors, I'll definitely try that! Good luck to you with your film!

Katie Mlinek

January 23, 2015 at 5:16PM

Hi Katie, I watched your "Blue Christmas" short and thought it was pretty good. The only change I would have made to it would be to introduce some tight close-ups of the face of the bunny. ( almost like you were shooting the bunny like you would a person )

...As far as shooting a feature film goes, I would only shoot a feature length film if you've got a good story that needs to be feature length. Shooting a long film for any other reason makes no sense to me.

Also, looking at your YouTube channel it doesn't appear that you've made any longer short films. I would look at shooting a few 10-30 minute short films before attempting something feature length.

When I go to Indie film festivals the most popular categories are the short films because you can see 5-6 films within an hour, and usually at least one of them is quite good. The worst experience at a festival is being stuck in your chair watching a bad feature length Indie film, that wouldn't have been any better if it was a 5 minute film. Bad is just bad.

So I would start with finding/writing a good story that deserves to be a feature length film, or at least try making some longer short films. ( longer than 5 minutes )

January 23, 2015 at 10:24AM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
31162

Thank you so much! Everything you said was incredibly helpful, and I definitely agree with you on the shots for Blue Christmas. I have worked on one 20 minute film (it's not on my channel) and am currently in post-production for a second one. I plan on spending the most time on the screenplay and getting a lot of feedback before moving into production. Thank you for the advice!

Katie Mlinek

January 23, 2015 at 5:27PM

Story is king. Period. If you feel like your story needs to be told with a longer run time, then do that. A common pitfall in making feature films is that the pacing is incredibly, INCREDIBLY off in accordance to the style and story. I would second Guy's advice on making a few 10-30 minute films and ease into it. Good luck!

January 23, 2015 at 5:04PM, Edited January 23, 5:04PM

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Christian Gentry
Director, Producer
235

Thank you! I really appreciate your advice! I think I'll see where the story takes me - if it calls to be a short, then I will adhere to its will! I'll pay particular attention to the pacing. Again, thank you!

Katie Mlinek

January 23, 2015 at 5:30PM

Thank you! I really appreciate your advice. I think I'll see where the story takes me - if it calls to be a short, I will adhere to its will! I'll remember to pay particular attention to the pacing. Again, thank you!

Katie Mlinek

January 23, 2015 at 5:32PM

My debut feature (45-50 mins) was shot before I began my 2nd year of Film school. Sure, it sits on my hard drive, and a select few have seen it, never sent to festivals, but it's a personal achievement.

If you aim so high as to shoot a micro-feature, around 45 mins, then you can only go uphill from there. Jump in the deep end, and push yourself as far as possible. I'm in pre-production on my second attempt in 5 years to push a Feature since then, this time double the length 80-90 mins, into production, simply because I know it's possible.

You will learn SO much from it, so don't stress about the story's perfection the first time round.

Good luck!

January 23, 2015 at 7:56PM

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Zachariel Shanahan
Writer/Director
1135

Thanks! Good luck to you as well!

Katie Mlinek

January 24, 2015 at 2:41PM

I would definitely try it, but mostly for the experience. That isn't really going to get you anywhere in terms of recognition, conceivably. It's mostly something you would force your family and friends to watch, as it's hard to distribute.
Probably the most important thing to always keep in mind is to make it interesting. That may sound obvious, but you'd be surprised. The bane of student films are films that just drag on.
If you want to make this because you have had an idea for a feature film that is really good, I would suggest making it as best you can as a short. If people like, maybe then you can go to a feature length

January 23, 2015 at 10:22PM

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DewlparHawl
Director, Screenwriter, Cinematographer
139

Thank you for the advice! The experience is my ultimate goal :-)

Katie Mlinek

January 24, 2015 at 2:39PM

Go for it! Even if it bombs, the experience is worthwhile and like an entrepreneur, a filmmaker isn't doing his or her job unless he is failing at something everyday.

January 23, 2015 at 11:44PM

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Excellent point! Thank you!

Katie Mlinek

January 24, 2015 at 2:40PM

Go for it Katie! It doesn't matter what you make - you'll learn a huge amount just by doing it. If you need any pointers on scriptwriting for microbudgets, I've started a series of posts here: http://bit.ly/mbscript1

Good luck!

Alex.

January 25, 2015 at 4:48AM

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Alex Richardson
Director
3352

Thank you, and thank you for the link! I really appreciate it!

Katie Mlinek

January 25, 2015 at 5:02PM

I wish i had the passion you had now i'd be much farther ahead so you go as hard as you can go... you have time to make mistakes and learn from them. You go and make your film and i'd love to see it when you are through :-)

January 25, 2015 at 9:17PM

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Wentworth Kelly
DP/Colorist/Drone Op
2903

Thank you so much!

Katie Mlinek

January 26, 2015 at 12:36PM

You most certainly can! I'm a Junior in High School, and just finished the rough edit for an 85 minute feature-length film I wrote and directed. If you really want to make a feature, the biggest thing is commitment. It's not something you can write and shoot in 2 weeks, then move on to something else. It took me 10 months of scripting, 2 months of filming, and currently 6 months into editing. But, the experience, and the amount you can learn is incredible!

One pitfall to look out for, is making sure your cast and crew will stay committed with you. I'm guessing with no budget, you won't be able to pay C&C, so they're going to have to truly want to help/ get experience to take the journey with you. I started production with a crew of 14, and ended with a crew of 5.

The most important thing in every video, is the story. Don't try to add more, just to make it longer. It's better to make a compelling, constantly moving 30 minute short, than a drawn out 70 minute feature that doesn't keep your audience retained. That's the key to making a great film. A no-budget film with an amazing story will always beat a $1,000,000 budget, with no plot, or purpose.

One last thing: use your age to your advantage! We spent $0 getting locations, and we shot at county sheriffs departments, historic local buildings, a recently closed school, county-owned buildings, parking garages, etc. and all with permission. So many people want to help aspiring student filmmakers.

If you have a story, and a passion, go for it! You definitely can do it in high school if you prepare yourself for the journey.

January 25, 2015 at 9:41PM

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Craig Douglas
Editor/ Videographer
1763

Thank you! I must say, the cast and crew commitment is what I'm most worried about because I know this will take up a lot of people's summer days for actual production. I'm ready and willing to use my age to my advantage, haha!

Katie Mlinek

January 26, 2015 at 12:42PM

Katie,

Go for it! The worst that can happen is you fail and learn from those mistakes (a process I'm currently going through with one of my first features). When I was in 8th grade, I wrote an 88pg. screenplay for a feature that I still plan to shoot one day. I tried to film it, failed, and shelved it. That doesn't mean I'm never going to work on it - it just means I'm going to focus on other projects for the time being. Major pitfalls are generally not planning enough and relying too heavily on people. When it comes to work for free, people generally don't care and even though they've given you their word (and you might've even gotten it in writing), its still a high possibility they might bail last minute. Always have a plan B and remember that the show goes on. The nice thing about having no budget and non-professional actors and crew members is that everyone has an insane amount of patience. Time is money and without money and professionals, you have all the time in the world. Try and save time when shooting by spending time planning in the pre-production phase. You'd be amazed how often it will save you.

I'd love if you would email me at aidan@cue93.com so we can talk more about this and I could share some experiences that I don't feel like sharing for all the internet (:

January 26, 2015 at 1:48AM

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Aidan Gray
Director of Photography Assistant Camera | Gaffer
1635

Thank you, Aidan! I'll definitely send you an email.

Katie Mlinek

January 26, 2015 at 12:51PM

Of course, no doubt but you need have a short films before. You must build a name.

January 26, 2015 at 5:09AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7943

Good point, thank you!

Katie Mlinek

January 26, 2015 at 12:52PM

I'm in high school, too! Would love to collaborate with you some day. Yes, as other people have said, you can make a feature length film. However, that doesn't mean it will be distributed/watched by all that many. It will probably be lacking in certain areas, mainly based on your limited budget and resources. However, I think it would be an extremely valuable experience as long as it gets completed. Personally, I would suggest making very high quality short films before a feature length film so that you have a bit more experience on something long form.

January 26, 2015 at 10:01AM

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Gareth Ng
Cinematographer
757

Thanks!

Katie Mlinek

January 26, 2015 at 12:55PM

Do it. Didn't read the responses, so this might be redundant…

I would assume the biggest thing to look out for someone in your situation is getting proper releases for your actors and locations. Especially if they are under 18 (meaning their parents will obviously need to sign them). If you decide to put the film online, things can get complicated if one of the actors later (years or months) decides they don't want people seeing them however they've been depicted (actually a likely scenario if your actors are teens). Also for the same reason, I would highly recommend you have your under-18 actors use stage names in case they later want to be able to "Google hide" from the film when they're older and starting their careers or looking for internships etc.

Some good info on releases… http://www.chainoftitle.ca
I use this phone app for releases (invaluable to have one ready to go at all times, particularly for unplanned locations)… http://releasemeapp.com

Best of luck.

January 26, 2015 at 8:03PM

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Jaan Shenberger
designer/animator & live-action director/DP
1035

Thank you so much! And thank you for the links, too, I'll definitely be using them!

Katie Mlinek

January 27, 2015 at 10:10PM

I did. Less than a thousand dollars, 80 minutes long. Haven't done anything with it.
My advice would be: read up on Robert Rodriguez, i assume you have no budget and he has a lot of good advice on doing cool stuff without money. Trust no one. Commitments are meaningless if you aren't paying anyone much or at all. Be prepared to act as your entire crew. Also, be prepared for everything to drag. If you want quality for cheap, its going to take time. lots and lots of time. for me, what was planned as a two month shoot dragged out to three years. be patient, and be prepared to dig in for the long haul. also, something people don't talk about is the logistics of data. you're going to be dealing with hundreds of gigabytes of footage and even more once you start editing. buy some giant hard drives and make sure you have access to a computer that can handle that.

May 24, 2017 at 6:55AM

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Keane Chan Hodges
Some guy.
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