Confessions of a Rookie Filmmaker

Here’s another humorous yet honest post from Phil Stevens. Phil is in my mentorship program. He recently had an experience that brought back some serious memories and feelings of my first BIG shoot. I think you will find his candor and experience refreshing and inspirational. It’s about the making of  short video addressing the issue of bullying. Enjoy.


I want to pull out my hair, but alas, I have none. Can I borrow yours? It’ll grow back.

I planned this film shoot out step-by-step. Handpicked crew, check! Perfect location, check! Cast locked in, check! Script done, check! Equipment borrowed or rented, check! Shot list complete, check! I’ve planned this thing down to a level of detail that actually makes me quite nervous.  Ooops!

Suddenly my head is filled with a hundred questions on ‘What if’s?’ What if:

  • I don’t shoot it right?
  • What if I cross the 180?
  • What if someone messes up the audio?
  • What if I can’t get the emotion out of the kids I need?
  • What if the script supervisor misses a scene?
  • What if my editing sucks and ruins the story?
  • What if I should have used a DP?
  • What if I can’t find the perfect music for the piece?
  • What if no one cares that we even make this?

What do I do with all these fears and uncertainties? Where do I go to get this questions answered and possible get some encouragement? Well, there’s my always-encouraging wife. She would say, “Babe, you’ve gotten really good at this. You’ve done your homework, now go shoot!” My mother would say, “Keebler, (don’t laugh I didn’t ask for that nickname) you shouldn’t worry baby. You’re so smart and talented. You know your great cousin-uncle Pookie… blah blah blah.”

Wait. What’s a “cousin-uncle?” Nevermind mom.

Although it felt good, it wasn’t enough encouragement for me with this size of a project.  I needed professional film level encouragement. I had filmed things before, but they were all comedy pieces. I need the voice of Odin that encourages the mighty Thor, “You can do this son. You have what it takes. ”  Heck, that’s what every son wants to hear from a father. That you’re simply good enough, equipped even.

I sought out the encouragement of my film mentor, Ron. I simply sent him an email entitled “Intimidated.” I explained how the weight of this shoot has me anxious and uncertain. I included all the bullet points above. He responded very quickly. As busy as he is, I can always count on that guy and that means a lot. He simply said, “Ah. NOW you’re a real filmmaker!” He then gave me these tips/suggestions (my thoughts in red).

  • Have all your checklists made ahead of time. Try to think of every possible thing you need. Yes, but I’ll double-check my check.
  • Make a shot list ahead of time. Do you have my shot list template? (Google docs) I stole that template a long time ago Ron. What else you got?
  • Ideally you would have a dedicated DP, but don’t freak out that you don’t. Freaking!
  • Make sure script super is aware of the 180 rule. Plan an overhead diagram of cam placement for each shot if you need to. Done – great advice!
  • Lastly, go with your gut. Don’t second-guess yourself while on set. Exude confidence and assurance (even if deep inside you’re freaking out). Listen to advice from people, but if something on set doesn’t seem right, go with what does. Basically, stand tall and be a leader in this space. Got it!
  • Oh, and pray! Some supernatural help and favor is always nice. Way to go Ron!

Of course, I made some rookie mistakes, but the entire shoot went pretty well. Whew! We created an emotional piece that carried the message of the cruelty and reality of bullying across. Within a day of being published, two schools from different states have already requested copies of the short film to show their students. [Way to go Phil!]

We were able to add to the score a beautiful song from UGA student, Katie Morgan of 12Stone Church and Play Chase Music called “Stars*”.  I used this song because it reminded that these kids could stand up together to be heroes against this victimizing tragedy.

These kids made me so proud! The reality of bullying is very real. It damages kids emotionally and physically. In a recent study, 77% of the students said they had been bullied. And 14% of those who were bullied said they experienced severe (bad) reactions to the abuse. I would love if anything that from this short film parents sit down with their children and have a crucial conversation about the act. It might be that your child is being bullied right now or maybe as a victim they are still feeling the effects of a previous bullying. Maybe they are witnessing it at school, on the playground, neighborhood, bus and are afraid to step in and help or tell someone. Maybe they are the bully? The stakes are high and it’s worth the 15-30 minute discussion.

Watch the Film

Until I cry or whine about something else in filmmaking. Take care.

Phil is an aspiring filmmaking in my mentorship program. He heads up social media marking for local technology company. When he’s not freaking out behind the camera, he’s quite the talented (and funny) actor in FRONT of the camera. He heads up casting for a mega church here in the ATL area, and has a large pool of amazing talent to select from on all kinds of projects. If you’re in the Atlanta area and you need actors, Phil’s your man. Follow Phil on Twitter: @getyerphil.

5 thoughts on “Confessions of a Rookie Filmmaker

  1. Thanks Phil (and Ron). We just started pre-production on my first really big project and this advice couldn’t have come at a better time!

    1. Bill,
      Ron’s advice comes in handy quite frequently nowadays. I appreciate his patience with me. Especially when he has to tell me things twice or 3 times. Or…

  2. Thanks for this post was great to read..
    Ron, any chance I can have access to those templates? I would love to use them myself!

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