What's It Like Being a Solo Film Maker

If you've come across this page, hello and welcome to my new blog. I've written numerous blog posts before for my film page  'Jet Slade: Rise of the Black Hood.'  of which I am currently working on and production finishes this year. It hasn't been an easy process but it's been a journey and a learning curve too. So dive in and have a good read and I hope you can pick up something from it and find it useful.
Solo Film Maker:
So what's it like being an independent and solo film maker? Solo means just that, you have to make your own decisions, there is no one there to aid and assist you when it comes to planning and organisation. There are so many different jobs and roles you have to take on and let me tell you, be prepared! Planning is key and you really have to think about what you're doing. I hope by writing this blog post, it will help and assist anyone who is thinking about venturing out and becoming a solo film maker.
Below is just a list of some of the jobs I have to do as a Solo Film Maker:
Writer, Director, Sound Man, Camera Man, Continuity, Costumes, Electrician, Engineer, Roadie, Editor, Graphics and FX, Photography, Music Production, Promotions and much more.

Getting Started:
Where, how and at what point do you make a start? These are just some of the questions whizzing through your mind as you start having these visions of wanting to make a film, after watching one of your favourite TV dramas or movies. There is no straight answer for this as everyone works and plans their schedule differently.

Having an idea or some kind of story is a start. Write down a draft of what your story is about and what it entails. Don't worry about the intricacy of it yet, but the main thing is to have something in front of you that you can work from and build up on. If you're a great writer and storyteller then you might find yourself writing a full story over night, or in a couple of months. It all depends what motivates you at that moment.
In this blog post I'll be focusing on a scene from my film and how I got it from idea to story, script, rehearsal, location and to filming stage and what happens after that. So... Let's get started.

When you read a book, everyone interprets and visualises how they perceive that story to be. This is why sometimes people are unhappy when they see one of their favourite books adapted into a film and it doesn't quite meet their expectation.

At this moment in time I am very lucky because the scene we're going to be focusing on is written by me and is an original story, and I already have a vision of how I want it to look... So where do we begin?

Whenever I write a script I always have a synopsis at the top of the page, so that the actors have an idea what the scene is about. I always add the actors names to the top of the script so they know which role they're playing. At this stage the actors already know who their characters are, but it's still good to follow a format. There have been instances when a cast member can't make rehearsal so another cast member will act as stand-in for them so we can keep rehearsals going (I add the stand-in name to the script for that rehearsal session).

I usually message the cast members involved in a scene around two weeks before we start rehearsals and I send them their scripts. This gives them a good chance to study the script before we meet for rehearsals. I always think some scripts can seem strange because when you read them, they can sometimes have no meaning at all. It's only until you start speaking your lines, getting into character  and interacting with your cast members that it all  starts to make sense. I usually sit down and explain the scene to the actors before we start rehearsal, just to give them an idea of the storyline and what I'm looking for in the scene.
This is a big help as it gets them into the right mode. We tend to just walk through the script to make sure the cast are happy with their part. Sometimes something might not sound right, so I'll adapt and rewrite certain parts to suit. The actor may feel more comfortable saying a line (in the same context) in a different way which still makes sense to the scene and we will go with that and make any adjustments to the script. This is why rehearsals are so important, everyone is on the right track. You will find that even on the day of filming some lines may still change.
Depending on the type of scene depends on how long rehearsals will take before we get to filming stage. Some actors are very busy so you have to plan everything. This is very important as this gives you an idea how long things will take. You soon get used to certain routines and planning starts to become much easier. A reminder to occupy yourself with other tasks while you're waiting for your next rehearsal. I tend to have many things planned and spread out over a monthly period so everything keeps moving. And even then something unexpectedly can happen, maybe a cast member is unable to make a rehearsal date or someone falls ill. So be prepared for that too. Remember, you have a passion and that's for your project, actors don't have the same passion as you and you will have to get used to that.
As the weeks go by and the actors have really got into character, I tend to walk out of the room (make a cup of tea or something) and listen to the actors rehearsing their scene. It's a good way of listening to them as if you're listening to the radio from afar. This technique is really good, as you can tell whether or not they are ready to film the scene. Once the actors are comfortable with the script I tend to take away their scripts and have them rehearse without it. At that point I imagine the location and explain what it looks like and start positioning them and have them move around to suit (I would have usually already done a recce on the location and have taken photos or filmed it so they know exactly what to expect when it comes to the day of filming). This is also a good time to start planning camera angles.
With rehearsals complete, I would have already worked out what costumes and props the cast may need, it is time to plan for filming day. It is always good to have a goal, the cast work better when they know they're rehearsing for a reason and there's a final point to go for. It's pointless rehearsing for three weeks then filming in six weeks. Try to organise yours and their calender so that while the scene is fresh in their minds, that filming is just a few days away. This works really well.

I always go through all of my equipment a few days before film day. This is very important as you don't want to get to your location and forget a vital piece of the cog that can halt production.

Below is a typical list I go through in prep for film day:

01. Batteries (fully charged)
02. Camera (plus camera rig)
03. HD (hard drives)
04. SD Cards
05. CF Cards
06. Microphones (all types)

07. Recorder (video and audio

08. Lighting (stands and spare bulbs)
09. Microphone Cables
10. Camera Cables
11. Lenses (and accessories)
12. Headphones (Cans)
13. Tripods/Slider

I have a tough case that my camera gear goes into and a bigger case that holds my camera rig which is half setup. Any other props and clothing goes into a big strong box. All this fits into the boot of my car (I have quite a big boot) apart from the light boxes which go on the back seat.

NOTE: Make sure that the dates and times are all correct on your devices. This helps in post when it comes to syncing audio to video or just to find the location of the audio in conjunction with the video. This all depends on the kind of recording equipment you use.

Filming Day:
With all my equipment checked, I tend to get to the location hours before the cast. This gives me a chance to sit down, relax and setup my camera rig fully, check it all and set the scene. Sometimes a location can be a couple of hours drive away, so we all tend to set off early. This can be a long day so make sure you prepare food and drinks for your cast.
The cast members may need to put on their costumes and make-up. And depending on the scene, I may have to apply bruising etc. So make sure when you arrange a time for film day, make allowances for this and it's the time you set for the actors for when you're actually going to film the shoot. Some actors may need to get there earlier too.
It is a gratifying feeling to see something that is an idea in your head converted into a script, rehearsed and then made into a scene.

Featured in the scene below are lead actors:
Rochelle Goldman and...
...Stephen Johnson
Also cast members:
Helen Rodriguez, Lynsey Jayne, Chris Dresser and Milja Maaria.

24/70mm lens used in this compressed scene of a clip from my Indie Film
Jet Slade: Rise of the Black Hood
It was an absolute pleasure working with and directing them on this scene, they
were all true professionals, got on really well together and brought it to life.
In the image below, Steve has such charisma and is very comical.
It's amazing to see him switch into character when I shout "And... Action!"
I usually take three lenses with me, 24/70mm 50mm and 85mm... Why do I need three lenses?
Some filming locations can be quite closed in  and sometimes you don't have much space to film, that's where the 24mm lens setting comes into play. I'm able to capture more in a small location. This lens is also great for landscape shots too.

The 50mm lens is my main lens, I think I've filmed most of my scenes using this lens. It's great in low light and has a very narrow depth of field (DOF). But the shots I get from it are amazing. This lens gives you the film look where the background is out of focus. 
Post Production:
When I've finished filming a scene and get home for the night, I tend to go through the footage the next day and mark my favourite take in prep for when it comes to editing. I usually transfer all the film footage (rushes) and audio to a hard drive and label them all in folders. Each scene I film has a name so I create a folder with that name and create sub folders for eg. Film Footage, Camera Footage, Audio. I then throw them into my video editing software and sync everything up and save it as a master file for that scene. I then 'save as' a master edit and this is where I cut and crop the best parts outs in prep for an edit. I have the script (with any alterations) as a guide to work from.
Some people say that editing is a specialised thing, I personally think there are some great editors out there who have an eye for putting your vision together. A good editor is hard to find but like anything you do "practise makes perfect." I've always loved editing footage together and have been editing for many years now, and because I know what I want to see in a scene I can already predict how the scene is going to look.
Below are just four GIF examples of how I edit some of my action sequences and because I am only using one camera I have to be inventive and creative, so I like to use a lot of cut in action. This keeps the scene fast flowing, It's more time consuming and you have to know the fight choreography in and out. Because I devised and choreographed all of the fight choreography, it really helps when it comes to filming a fight scene and knowing how I want the scene to look.

GIFs are also a great way of enhancing your editing techniques... Why? Because you only have a few seconds to get your story across, and that is what keeps it exciting!

Music, Audio and Sound:
A great way of testing your edit is to play and watch it without any sound (mute the audio channels). Strange I know but I do this all the time, it's a good technique for checking and focusing on the timing and pace of your scene. 
Dialogue and audio placement can really enhance your scene. Try to take a little time out to understand your microphones and how they record sound. Some microphones record dialogue better than others, and don't forget to check your audio settings on your recording devices. Actors have different tones to their voices so when you're setting up your mics and recorders, make sure you understand which mic is suitable. (See No.06 in my Equipment List)

I have a boom pole but have never used it since the making of my film, why? I have devised a special mic attachment for my camera rig which allows me to extend my microphone in front of my rig.
Working with a single mic (mono) and understanding stereo imagery can also really enhance your scene. These are the subtle things that really help to improve your scene and then there's the music, depending on the scene and how you want it to sound. Try to create a steady balance for your dialogue, subtle sound effects and then mixing the music in with the scene to create the atmosphere as this is an art in itself. Having a good set of monitoring speakers are also essential.
So... "What's it Like Being a Solo Film Maker?"
This whole subject of being a Solo Film Maker can go on forever and you can get into too much detail, I hope I've covered most of the basics in this blog post and hopefully it helps someone and inspires them to become a better film maker.

For me, being a Solo Film Maker is amazing! You can be creative as far as your imagination can take you and beyond, you never stop learning. I still feel like a beginner in this huge world of film makers but, everyone has to start from some where. And the more you get into it, like anything else you 'will' start to improve.

I hope you've enjoyed reading this blog post, please feel free to message me if you have any questions.

Did I miss something out?

As a Solo Film Maker how do you prepare for your shoots?

Do you have a format that you follow in order to get your scene filmed?

I'm really interested to hear how you prep for a shoots.

Thanks for Reading,



  1. Thank you so much Ed for publishing and sharing this very detailed & informative blog. It is a great little snippet into you solo film making world. It has something for everyone who is aspiring to make a film. I found it very useful concise but detailed and very inspirational. I have learnt so much from you so far.
    I am planning to film some low budget music videos. cooking tutorials and some short vlogs.
    This blog is something which I can learn from and continue to use as a handy reference tool. Thank you Ed Mahoo for sharing your knowledge and experience, keep up the great work..
    Peace Homer

    1. Hi Homer, thank you so much for your gracious comments. I really appreciate your input. It is an absolute pleasure and I am so pleased this blog will and can help you in some way. I look forward to seeing the progress of your music videos as I know they will be just as good as your music. Thanks again, Ed


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