A few years ago I watched a movie called Tangerine. It debuted at Sundance and had a good buzz and I noticed one of the streaming services had picked it up. I remember turning it on and the first scene was in a diner with two transvestites talking. My first reaction was the acting was pretty good for a tiny budget film. My second reaction was watch. That window behind them is going to have continuity issues. I knew because I had produced a movie about give years prior with the same shot and window. Of course I didn’t film in Hollywood which complicates things more. I filmed in Austin. The self proclaimed indie film capital of the world. Or maybe that’s music capital. Anyway you can film in Austin without a permit and a lot of places let you in without insurance.There are a ton of amateur film peps that will work for almost nothing.
I remember that day. I wanted to kill the director. He was insisting on getting a dolly shot. We got in the location and it took about 90 minutes to setup the dolly and camera. Then the sound guy couldn’t get close enough to stay out of the shot so we had to mic the actors. They spent about 3 hours trying to get thirty seconds of screen time. Eventually it wasn’t even useable. The food arrived and got cold. Then the director struggled to get good performances from the actors after they moved the camera and wasted another hour on a setup. If you have ever worked a production. Best case is one hour to flip the camera to the other side. Then you have to hope the performances match. So basically we got less than one page in the can and had cold food. Then the mad rush to try to catch up. Then begging the manager of the location to give us more time.
I remember my words to the director. Get your establishing shot then go in for coverage. He was a cool guy and the film ended up being surprisingly watchable. Of course he had to hit up his parents for 20k more money for reshoots. And we got those over spring break. He usually was economical but he was a film school graduate and wanted that shot. The dolly move did nothing to help tell the story it was pure flatulence.
But I remember working the sidewalk outside the dinner trying to explain to pedestrians that we where filming and if they could give us one or two minutes otherwise it would ruin the shot. That usually works. Especially in Texas people are kind. The problem was there was no way to monitor the cars or control the traffic light outside the window.
Anyway the thing is when you film out a window on a busy street make sure to at least not get the traffic light in the shot. Also if you are filming out a window be sure you can get the scene before the sun rises or sets because the only thing worse than traffic lights not matching in the background is night and day outside not matching.
The point of this story is that Tangerine had some continuity issues. After the scene I asked my girlfriend if she noticed and she did not so we rewatched the scene and she was laughing so hard I think she ended up on the floor. I didn’t find it funny but she knew my struggles. Most people won’t notice small continuity issues. You might miss them filming. Remember the starbucks cup in Game of Thrones. It happens to the best of us.
What is important is story. If you have a compelling story the audience gets so pulled into the drama that they don’t even notice most of those things. The same goes if your lighting isn’t perfect or your camera work is just ordinary. The office is the most watched tvshow on netflix and they can’t seem to hold the camera still. It can work. I recommend putting the camera on a tripod so it’s still.
I also recommend filming using your cell phone. You can buy an expensive camera. You could even get a red. No one is going to know the difference. A cell phone like a new iPhone will film in high enough resolution so you can screen your film in a movie theater. Not a tiny little indie theater but a large block buster theater. I have seen movies filmed on cheap DSLR camera’s and iPhones in real theaters and the image looked fine. The problem was the camera operator or the edit. Most of the time the problem is the sound. Look at a tvshow like the walking dead. They don’t light most scenes. Of course it’s a horror show and the scenes take place at night so it works having dark sets. Zombies that come out of the shadows are scarier.
The point here is don’t invest in high end gear. They used a Canon 7D to film some of the Marvel movies like Captain America and no one noticed. You could pick up that camera used for a few hundred dollars and a 50mm lens for $100 and match that quality.
What you need is a good story and some skill at post production. Learn how to do the edit. Get good clean sound. Get a great sound mix. Master your story telling skills. You can film a great movie with little money. Limit the size of your crew. Find a few good actors who work cheap. Focus on the the things you need not what you can’t control. If you want to use expensive equipment and have a big crew. You are going to need a million or a few million dollars. Skip the special effects and skip expensive props and wardrobe requirements. Save those things for your second film when you have proven you can do it and people will actually give you money.