(originally published on Medium)
As a First-time Writer/Director/Producer:
I’m Mahum Jamal. I completed my first feature film, A Good Dream, in 2016. Here are some learnings that I got from the process for other people embarking on their first-feature journey.
- Come in with a specific vision. You won’t have any opportunities to flounder on set, so make sure you know exactly what you want.
(in addition to the above) Stick to the details. The details are what differentiate quality from the pack.
- Make sure you’ve already “gutted” your script for the foundational meanings before you bring on board your crew. You will have to be the person with the answers, so make sure you have them. It’s a privilege for an actor to ask you “What does it mean?” and get an answer. You have all the answers, never take that for granted
- Be 100% confident about who you are bringing on board your team. If you’re not, don’t be afraid to make changes when you’re on set (fire them).
- The industry is the wild west. Don’t be afraid of lacking experience if you have vision and an idea. Go balls deep. The process will figure itself out. Don’t be afraid to start by over-thinking the process. Thinking about it too much sucks the fun out of it.
- Bring in a trusted ally. Make sure you have someone you completely trust through the experience who will reinforce that you are making decisions for your and the film’s best interest.
- Don’t be afraid to say something is not right as many times as needed before it is.
- Don’t let anyone take the reigns. They belong to you. This goes double for women. There will be other professionals on set who will want to lead, such as your Assistant Director (AD), your Cinematographer (DP), the other producers, even actors, but the film is your vision. You are in charge.
- If you have 10 minutes of daylight to shoot a rooftop scene and can’t go back to that location, you better shoot that scene right in the first take.
- Create boundaries. It’s ok to take a night off your film to blow off steam.
- Try to hire as many professionals as possible. It will raise the caliber of your film and your reach to other professionals. Find people who have experience on larger sets. That isn’t to say you should discount the novice, but a degree of professionalism will allow for a smoother-run set. Contact people whose work you admire already. You never know, they might be interested in working with you.
- Don’t be afraid of getting down and dirty. Your first film is no time to get prissy about changing the set yourself or moving props around to your liking. If you don’t have time on set to explain yourself, do it yourself.
- Subway scenes. If you can’t get permits, then just shoot the scenes in the AM.
- Working with actors is a fully empathetic and emotional experience. Their performance will define the quality of the story. Allow them to trust you and tune into their emotional cues. This will help you lead them to the emotional place you need for the character. The supporting actors will struggle not being the lead of the film, and the lead may struggle being the lead of the film! You will have to be there to support all of them. All actors will compete for your attention, but sometimes the lack of attention will drive them to do better.
- The most difficult part of the process was watching the film pulled apart in pieces and having to reconstruct it from my mind to the reality of it — That translation process from imagination to reality is excruciating.
- Being called original is one of the greatest honors.
No one cares about the film more than you. You are the life of the film! Remember this.